Originally published July 20, 2016.

MakeSense is a global community that connects social entrepreneurs and citizens - the idea being that creative minds (from all backgrounds) can help social entrepreneurs overcome their challenges. Founded in France in 2011, today MakeSense has engaged over 20,000 citizens from 130 cities around the world. In this interview, Nathalie Roy explains how she became a Gangster and tells us what MakeSense has in store for Germany - including the upcoming SenseCamp in Berlin. 

Where did the inspiration for MakeSense come from and what is your motivation for getting involved? 

For me it all started almost 3 years ago, when attending a SenseCamp in Paris: a weekend around social innovation organized by MakeSense. I gained so much energy from meeting other changemakers, discovering inspiring initiatives and working collectively on concrete societal challenges that I wanted to get involved more deeply! A few days after this event, I joined the Gang and became a Gangster, that is to say one of the active members in the community.

How has MakeSense grown as an organization? 

MakeSense is a platform that connects social entrepreneurs with citizens willing to help them to solve their challenges. Born in France in 2011, it has been growing steadily thanks to the power of the community: today, we are more than 1,800 active members in 130 cities around the world; in five years, we have gathered more than 20,000 citizens in different events around social entrepreneurship. There are now community developers based in South America, West Africa, South East Asia, Middle East and Europe to support the community.

How does MakeSense choose which initiatives to invest time, volunteers and ideas into? Since the organization is a "no borders community", where does MakeSense actually step in and help develop and foster ideas?  

There is a set of criteria that we use to “select” which entrepreneurs we are going to help: for instance, we ask the project holder to be fully dedicated to the project and to have at least worked on it for 6 months. It should be an initiative aimed at achieving a sustainable business model and of course it has to have a positive impact on the environment and/or on society. Though these criteria are guidelines, great importance is given to the impact, thus we are usually prone to helping an initiative if we feel it is aligned with our values. 

“No borders community”: you are right! It's not only the community that doesn’t have geographical or physical borders, but it's also about giving the mental space and freedom to create and develop new concepts. Gangsters design events, launch mobilisations on specific causes that matter to them, and constantly think about innovative ways to promote social entrepreneurship. In fact, that’s how SenseCamp was born in 2012!

How do you structure and organize teams and volunteers across borders? 

We are present online and offline. Makesense.org is the online platform where social entrepreneurs can post their challenges and citizens can offer to help them.  Hold-ups (creativity workshops designed to find solutions to a specific challenge), SenseDrinks (informal meetings around social entrepreneurship) and other events happen within local communities called “hotspots”. Social entrepreneurs, volunteers, Gangsters and the full-time team interact with each other through Facebook groups. Being a global community is definitely one of the main strengths of MakeSense.

Within hotspots, volunteers with experience train and help new ones with the support of community developers based in different parts of the world. That’s how the community grows!

Community Engagement in a Glocal World

As a volunteer, what have you learned from your MakeSense experience? 

When you are a Gangster, you can potentially learn a wide range of things, from cross-skills such as facilitating workshops to specific knowledge around social entrepreneurship related topics (app design, community building, crowdfunding, naming…)  

My own main learnings have to do with:

  • Collective intelligence: at the end of Hold-ups, I am very often amazed by the solutions we come up with and the impact it is possible to achieve collectively. It shows that 1) co-creation is really worth it 2) everyone can play a role in solving society’s problems, whatever age, background, occupation, etc.
  • Power of networks: I made numerous quality connections since I am involved in MakeSense activities, it increases both my capacity to help people and organizations to connect in their turn and find the right partner/associate/audience/client, and my ability to get help as well when I need it. 

Can you tell us more about SenseCamp? 

SenseCamp is an unconference dedicated to social innovation and social entrepreneurship, hosted by MakeSense community. Generally planned over a weekend, it brings together the global MakeSense network and the local social startup ecosystem. Part of the agenda is organized (presentations, workshops, etc.) and the other part is in a form of a barcamp, which means that everyone can come and start a discussion or workshop on a topic he/she would like to address. The event is designed to be highly interactive and collaborative, with a number of informal times, well-being sessions (e.g. yoga), shared meals, in a friendly atmosphere including music, dance and fun.  

What can we expect from SenseCamp Berlin this year? 

This year, we are exploring the topic of borders: political, social or personal borders, borders of the mind, of technology, of the city, and borders of social business!

From the 29th until the 31st of July, you will have many opportunities to question the way you see the world, and hear how other successful social entrepreneurs, such as Günter Faltin, the keynote speaker, see the world. Other topics and subjects include - how to work on empowering yourself, use your death for your life, hear about crowdsourced societal mapping, cultural detectives, how to share your skills while travelling or how to use improv theatre for acceptance and cooperation…

Plus there will be hold-ups, disco soup, music, "creative relax" Sunday with brunch, yoga and other surprises waiting for you!

Information and tickets are available here: sense-camp.org

Discounted tickets are available with the promo code: ** sensefiction **

How can people get more involved with MakeSense? 

The best way is definitely to get in touch with the community offline. If you can’t come to SenseCamp Berlin this year, just check the calendar of events on Facebook to know when the next opportunity is!