Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Roberta Ventura (RV:) I am an Italian with a lifelong passion for the Middle East. Formerly an investment manager, I became a social entrepreneur when it became apparent that the knowledge and experience I accumulated in my twenty years in the City could be put to use to help others.
MB: What led you to start SEP Jordan?
RV: During the twenty years I worked in the Asset Management sector, my husband and I donated to various NGOs supporting refugees, mainly Palestinian refugees. During the same timeframe, we observed how quality of life in refugee camps across the Middle East had actually been deteriorating. So, in 2013 we decided to take the matter into our own hands with a project, designed to become a brand and to demonstrate that the private sector can and must get involved when the emergency is over.
By working with talented individuals who happen to be refugees, we hope to bring thousands above the poverty line and restore their dignity and inspire others to do the same.
MB: What is the main problem you are trying to solve?
RV: Evidence shows that once you become a refugeee, you are likely to remain a refugee – and so are your children – and their children too. If we stick to the way we are collectively approaching “refugees” then millions of people, generation after generation, are doomed to depend on charitable aid and face clinical depression. This is a cycle we aim to break at SEP.
Roberta Ventura (left), Founder & CEO, SEP Jordan, with a refugee artist
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
RV: Time. There is too much to do and too little time!
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
RV: We work today with 500 embroidery artists in Jerash “Gaza” camp in Jordan. The vision is to work with 3,000 individuals in Jerash camp, before setting up similar operations in other camps. We want sure all 3,000 will produce as many SEP creations as they feel is suitable, relative to their needs and potential.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
RV: If you see it as inevitable, you will begin to visualise ways in which you can align profit and purpose. It is not simple, it is not easy and it does not happen overnight, but it is inevitable, so you may as well make the most of it.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
RV – No emotions in business.
MB – Who inspires you?
RV – The SEP artists. Each of them is a super-hero. They are the most resilient human beings I have ever had the honour to meet.
MB – How do you define success?
RV – If today is the last day I get to live, I have done everything I possibly could to fulfil the SEP mission.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
RV – Conflict resolution.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
RV – The Autobiography of Malcom X
MB – What do you do to relax?
RV – Yoga.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.