How compassionate ventures can help us prepare for the next crisis

This is the story of Fred, 50 years old, father of two, DJ and wedding entertainer. Nobody expected him to set up a project that would, in just a few days, mobilize dozens of volunteers and help hundreds of Ukrainians. And yet, that is exactly what he did. Dr. & Senior Researcher Amélie Wuillaume summarizes what we can learn from Fred’s story about compassionate ventures.

Fred’s life took a new turn on February 24, 2022, when he learned about the invasion of Ukraine: “I was watching the news with my wife and I said, ‘Let's do something. We can’t just sit around and watch TV.’” The following day, Fred went in search of a warehouse to stock the medical supplies he was collecting and told his friends and contacts all about it on Facebook. That really set the ball rolling. Donations started pouring in, new volunteers kept showing up, and Fred soon had to find a bigger place to run his project.

Compassionate ventureFred’s story is a textbook example of what scientific literature calls “compassionate ventures”: projects launched in response to a crisis situation, triggered by the compassion for a community in need. Though Fred may not have been destined to become an entrepreneur, yet, when Ukraine was invaded, he stepped right in. The scope of his action was limited at first, but very quickly a full-scale project was defined, developed and refined, with a clear focus on the future. Thus, the initial providing of first aid supplies evolved toward setting up an organization to help Ukrainians who stayed behind, supporting education and inclusion of Ukrainian children in Belgian schools, etc.

None of this would have been possible, as Fred gratefully observes, without the commitment of numerous volunteers. On very short notice, he managed to engage neighbors, friends, family, co-workers, strangers, etc. on quite an impressive scale. How did he pull this off? There is much to be learned from the communication used by compassionate entrepreneurs, that is for sure. Here are three crucial tips which Amélie Wuillaume uncovered during her research:


1. Reach out on social media

With the rise of social media came new ways and opportunities for communicating. We can now reach out to many individuals and from distant places, share our personal stories, and reinforce our message across the world in no time at all. Though not all effects of social media may be positive, still, they provide compassion entrepreneurs with a highly effective tool to quickly reach out to a critical mass of potential donors and volunteers. Social media creates a feeling of closeness, a connection, a bond.

2. Find the right tone of voice

Reaching a wide audience is one thing, but engaging them for your cause is another. Compassion entrepreneurs excel at really tuning in with their audience, listening to what drives them, and including them through familiarity, spontaneity, togetherness. They speak from the heart, person-to-person, using hashtags, pictures and words to stress that “together, we can make a difference”. They also express their gratitude to the members of their audience for their engagement. While referring to the seriousness and urgency of the current situation, they also express their hopes for a positive future, underlined, e.g., by using emoticons depicting love, energy and strength (🤩❤️🎇💪). Additionally, compassion entrepreneurs also update their audience regularly, interact with them and post in sequence, to maintain their engagement.

3. Learn from the past

In times of crisis, one needs to act fast and effectively, there simply is no time to lean back and reflect. Understanding how compassionate ventures work, can help individuals and communities to prepare for the next crisis that may be coming soon and may be even more severe. Compassion entrepreneurs understand and adequately communicate with their stakeholders, thus reducing the time needed to mobilize them and gather resources. This management of the audience is key and contributes to the reach of expected outcomes; enabling the concretization of the compassion-based project by gathering the needed resources. But the influence did not stop there. By acting as true inspirations, the compassion entrepreneurs encourage people to engage further. This ‘over’ engagement contributes to the achievement of unexpected outcomes that go beyond the project’s initial frontiers. Their engagement led to the enlargement of the initial scope of the project, the replication of the project in other places, and the persistence on the project when entrepreneurs faced compassion fatigue and were tempted to stop their ventures. Learning from stories such as Fred’s, will help us react faster and more appropriately in the future.


 Researching compassion ventures

Fred’s story is just one of the cases Dr. Amélie Wuillaume and her team researched: “We started by documenting all campaigns launched on Crowdfunder in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Crowdfunder is the largest online social fundraising platform in the UK. We identified 250 projects that were set up to either help Ukrainians leave their country for a safer place or support those who stayed behind with food, medical supplies, etc. We collected the project descriptions, project goals, and the number of donations. We also interviewed 12 compassion entrepreneurs and analyzed their social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram) to gain a broader picture of their communications with potential stakeholders.”

As the three tips already show, there is much to learn from compassion-based projects. Further research can yield even more useful information. Subscribe to our newsletters to stay up to date.


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