We talked to Vladimira Mesko Briestenska, founder and CEO of The Future Farm, about safety in entrepreneurship, and this is what she said.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: We have been lucky enough to navigate through the past year with solid physical health, and at the same time, my family has not been hit hard by the economic lockdown so far. Of course, we needed to pivot in the way we operate; however, it’s been a major privilege that the nature of our professional lives has allowed us to transition to the digital and remote form. So overall, it’s been most challenging from the mental and emotional health perspective that comes with isolation. Building daily routines, staying in close connection with the community, contributing and serving others where possible, all of this has been very helpful to keep sane, keep meaning, and a north star.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Future Farm.
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: For the past eight years, I’ve been working alongside all types of entrepreneurs across both emerging and developed markets and realized very quickly that they (including myself) had been greatly struggling with their mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing. Most of it is due to pressures and challenges related to their entrepreneurial journey and life choices. We started to look around for the available support and open conversation on this subject but found very little. Given the huge value that entrepreneurs create for our economy and society while solving some of the toughest problems, I strongly believe we have a responsibility to create a more nurturing environment for them to thrive, create and help minimize those stress factors that impact their mental health. As an outcome, I founded The Future Farm with my cofounders and core team to raise awareness about the topic, create a safe space for the entrepreneurs to share their experiences, and start addressing the root causes of this problem. We must apply a systemic approach to solving this challenge, and this can be done only through collective action together with other stakeholders like governments, investors, media, and civil society organizations.
How does Future Farm innovate?
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: Initially, we started with a proposition to help investors better understand the experiences that the entrepreneurs and their investees go through from a mental and emotional health perspective. After a few conversations with investors and funds across the globe, we understand that the market is yet too nascent, and we need to first focus on raising awareness about this topic to create greater momentum and movement. Only that can help us substantially move the needle and make those stakeholders aware that they are part of the problem and need to act and take some of the responsibility. So, we try to listen to the market, to people whom we are serving to give us a signal on what is the right strategy and tactics to drive change. Active listening, empathy, and coming back to the drawing board with open minds have allowed us to innovate how we go about solving this challenge.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business operations?
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: Until this day, we have been on a bootstrapping journey, self-funding our operations. The last year has been challenging on our finances from the perspective that we needed to secure income from other means to allow us to continuously support our work at The Future Farm. Gratefully so, we have been able to do that.
In terms of the ways in which we work, we were working remotely before the pandemic; hence we were comfortable with the remote model. However, we have been experimenting with the frequency of our team meetings to engage and find ways to cultivate belonging and maintain the more organic connections that you can have meeting somebody in the corridor of an office. Finding the right balance between screen time overload and not losing productivity and the team spirit has certainly been a focus. And also, how do you support each other through this difficult time, not forgetting about our individual mental and emotional health.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: Given the nature of our business, where most of our team members have a portfolio of 1-2 other projects that they are working on, it allowed most of us to sustain and support our living needs. In the case where one of our teammates needed to secure a more stable income, we decided together that letting go was the best solution for both sides. In reflection, the learning has been to keeping conversations open and transparent, sharing the state of the business with the team, and also to listen to the needs of individual team members and find solutions for those together where possible.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: We have not applied for government support during the pandemic; however, we are currently raising sponsorship for The Future Farm. The most interest comes from individuals and private and public organizations that are aligned with our vision of healthier entrepreneurship and would like to be part of a wider movement.
Your final thoughts?
Vladimira Mesko Briestenska: As leaders and entrepreneurs today, even more than before the pandemic, we need to start by taking responsibility for our own individual health: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Only then can we create, contribute, serve and provide for others and society at large.
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