Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by a character named Spiffy, with founders working on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For December, the focus is on SDG 5 – Gender Equality and SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities. There is so much at stake, so let’s see what’s being done!
Welcome back, earthlings! This is Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist interviewing entrepreneurs whose mission is to create a more equitable world. Today I have the honor of talking to Andrew Funk of Homeless Entrepreneur.
Spiffy: Thanks for the opportunity to tell me about your work, Andrew! What challenge are you addressing?
Andrew: Thanks for having me, Spiffy. So, the challenge I'm addressing is how to end homelessness for homeless people who want to be active, working citizens. Homeless Entrepreneur’s mission is to promote economic empowerment and poverty reduction via work and active citizenship, so people living in social exclusion can improve their quality of life. We believe every citizen has the opportunity to participate regardless of age, gender, sexual preference, political alliance, or religious belief. We invite everyone to join us in our mission.
Spiffy: Wow, Andrew! Even I can join? What motivated you to start this?
Andrew: You can totally join us, Spiffy. So, did you know that I experienced homelessness myself?
Spiffy: I didn’t know that!
Andrew: Yep, and I realized I could help others who were going through a similar experience. I had raised 300,000€ for a startup and my first son was about to be born so I was living a dream, however it quickly turned into a nightmare when the money was spent on salaries within six months and, consequently, my family life deteriorated at the same speed. There's nothing more motivating than solving a problem that affects you and your loved ones directly. My desire to improve the current model — which is based on assistance — by focusing on economic empowerment and poverty reduction, will last a lifetime. I'm aware that I will not end poverty in my lifetime. I'm also conscious that I have an opportunity to create programs and models that can inspire others to continue our work until poverty, as we know it, no longer exists.
Spiffy: With more people like you working towards that goal, it can be achieved sooner rather than later! Can you say more about how Homeless Entrepreneurs is creating a more equitable planet?
Andrew: Sure, Spiffy! Our organization is working towards a more equitable world by focusing on people’s best qualities and supporting them in their development — instead of just subsidizing their weaknesses. Believing in people and holding them accountable for their share of their work as they become active, working citizens within their means is the only way I can think of creating real social equity. A balanced relationship that is based on true collaboration, trust and transparency is the answer.
Spiffy: Are there any recent milestones that you’ve achieved?
Andrew: In response to COVID-19, we created three new programs: Homeless Helpline, Homeless Voices and Homeless Hostels Work (HHW). These are helping us identify homeless people we can help and connect them to the resources they need. The housing solution saved 19 people from possible Covid-19 infection, and enabled five of them to enter the professional world again. We are currently in stage two of HHW, and aim to prove that its sustainability is a key solution. This new model is ending homelessness faster.
Spiffy: I always want to know what entrepreneurs do with failure. What has your experience been?
Andrew: I don't believe in failure and chalk everything up as a learning experience. We are constantly looking for ways we can improve our programs and listen to all of our stakeholders so we can identify challenges and risks and turn them into opportunities as quickly as possible. There's not a day that goes by in which we don't receive feedback — this is why we keep growing as an organization. Giving up is not an option because it would be giving up on every single person in our community.
Spiffy: There are a lot of people counting on you! Now I hear you have children, what kinds of things do you learn from them?
Andrew: My one-year-old daughter, Blake, teaches me how to be a better person every day. She also surprises me by reminding me how important it is to have our priorities in the right place. Patience is one specific example. Whenever I feed her, I have to understand that she needs time to eat, swallow and — most importantly — toss her food on my clothes and touch my glasses as she laughs. We can either get upset or laugh and embrace the moment for what it is — a beautiful exchange of playful gestures between two human beings at different stages in their lives.
Spiffy: Thoughtful interactions are so important — and an extra dose of patience. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience, Andrew?
Andrew: Yes, Spiffy. I believe that we are all connected and have the opportunity and responsibility to make the world a better place. My job is to improve current systems, models and programs to end homelesness. I do this with the aim of helping protagonists, alongside public and private organizations and volunteers, who want to participate in that process. Homeless people are first and foremost people — homelessness refers to their housing situation. Empathy will help us understand those we help and vice versa.
Andrew Funk leads a lean startup called #HomelessEntrepreneur that empowers homeless people by providing them with tools, resources, networks, unconditional love and a holistic program. He believes a Smart City without homeless people is a Smarter City.
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog