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#alumnistories: Sustainable Entrepreneurship's alumna Valerija

Date:02 June 2020
Author:Campus Fryslân

For some years before I enrolled into the Sustainable Entrepreneurship (SE) Master, I had been looking at different studies, in different fields that I found interesting, wanting to expand my knowledge, specialise in a particular topic (so far in my career I was more of a “generalist”), and maybe even change the job. I would regularly spend a couple of hours per month looking at what was on the offer and contemplating what I should choose. I have a family and, at that time, I had a career which kept me very busy. Taking those two circumstances into account, studying again would require some sacrifices from me and my family, and somehow I did not manage to find anything that would justify that… until one day in January 2018, when I saw on the RUG/Campus Fryslân website the description of the newly developed master programme in Sustainable Entrepreneurship. After thoroughly reading everything, I sent the link of the programme to my family on our family WhatsApp group, saying: “I’m doing this!”.

The SE master programme was everything that I was looking for! First of all, my concerns regarding sustainability existed already for some time and was reflected in the way I was changing my personal habits and the way I lived. Secondly, my educational background is in entrepreneurship, and throughout my career, I worked with entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurial support institutions, and even assisted in establishing two social entrepreneurship initiatives. Finally, the study was interdisciplinary, and even promised to be transdisciplinary – I found that a wonderful opportunity to combine my many interests, and maybe even “get my hands dirty” working with sustainable entrepreneurs. 

I applied and got accepted. I was a bit nervous at the beginning, because of going “back to school” and because I was by far the oldest. The oldest in the sense twice the age. But after the initial awkwardness, and when we got to know each other better, I really felt at home in my group, and I believe I’ve made some friends that will remain so forever.

I’ve experienced studying SE as intensive, but extremely enjoyable. There is a lot of information one needs to absorb, a lot of papers to read, there are practical assignments that keep you busy most of the time… But then, a couple of months later, you look back and are stunned at how much you have learned, how your understanding has deepened, and how some concepts or processes, which seemed abstract or completely unknown before, are very clear and familiar now. And the people … I really enjoyed being surrounded by the people, both classmates and lecturers, with whom I share certain values. Actually, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel weird or that I have to justify that I eat vegetarian, reuse packaging, or wear second-hand clothes. Moreover, the whole atmosphere at the Campus Fryslân is very friendly, informal, open, collegial, multicultural – one very easily feels at home there.

At one of the last presentations of our assignments, one lecturer informed us about two PhD vacancies at the Campus – one in the area of leadership and sustainability, and the other regarding social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship! Even though I hadn’t yet sat down to think about what I want to do after the study, I knew that researching social entrepreneurship would be at the top of the list. Social entrepreneurship always had a special place in my heart. I believe that it is extremely important to support people in living safe, fulfilled and dignified lives. Moreover, I knew how much the social enterprises in Croatia that I worked with struggled to survive and continue doing the good work. Nothing would make me happier than helping such enterprises by developing new knowledge which might make their work easier, and their success more probable. I developed my research proposal, applied for the vacancy, had two interviews – and got the position!

What is life like after SE? First of all, there is life. Most of my colleagues, including me, are doing work which has to do with sustainability, in both public and private sectors, or are sustainable entrepreneurs. I think the SE study is a great step towards a career in a field which is becoming increasingly relevant for our society. However, life will never be the same again after SE. One learns so much about the wicked problem of sustainability, and how it manifests itself in almost all areas of our lives, that no decision and no action is without sustainability considerations anymore. And that can be hard sometimes.