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This article is the first of a series on “Berlin’s Changemakers”, people with a passion to drive positive change in their communities by making use of their skills, knowledge, and network. With this series, I want to highlight these people and show that there are many ways to have a positive impact on our society and our planet.

Australian entrepreneur Natalie Magee is one of the many people I met in the social impact scene since I moved to Berlin about five years ago. Natalie is the founder of By Heart Projects, a social enterprise including three different projects: a Workshops Series, Changemaker Tour Berlin, and Music By Heart. With her work, she wants to inspire and empower people to start projects on their own and advocates for social entrepreneurship and the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Her newest project is Changemaker Tour Berlin, a walking tour to discover solutions that social entrepreneurs have created to solve the problems which confront ​the city. Through the tours and workshops, she has reached more than 3,000 people so far. For this new series “Berlin’s Changemaker”, I interviewed Natalie in May 2019. The answers have been slightly modified and the interview shortened for better reading purposes.

What motivated you to start By Heart Projects?

What motivated me to start By Heart Project was that I met a lot of people from every walk of life from all around the world who were feeling the same thing and repeating the same phrases to me. They were unhappy about the direction in which business and society is going and they were unsatisfied in their job. They wanted to make a positive change and try projects on their own, but they lacked the knowledge and confidence to start something. And so I decided to start By Heart Projects to try to provide people with a framework, the knowledge, and the inspiration of how they could start something themselves.

Many people start with a fixed idea in mind and then realize they have to change it. Was is the same for you?

Yes, our first concept was to develop an online Social Entrepreneurship program and we did. But along the way we changed it as we realised the most effective is people interacting with each other and with social enterprises directly. Also, there are so many companies that offer e-learning courses already and they are very skilled in that. Where I am most effective is when I connect with people and bring them together. So that’s how By Heart Project evolved into a workshop series and then it furthermore evolved into the tours.

What made you move to Berlin?

I moved to Berlin in 2016 because I was very inspired by Germany’s effort to welcome people with refugee status during the migration crisis. I really wanted to be a part of that. I was previously a music teacher and a musician, and I had the idea that I could provide perhaps some free music workshops for the children (Music By Heart) who are arriving in Germany before they are able to go to school. That’s why I came. And then, I was so warmly welcomed by the community and I made friendships, I decided to stay. 

Did you know someone in Berlin before moving?

I had been in Berlin once before, so I knew I liked the city, but I didn’t know anyone. I came with my boyfriend though, so it wasn’t just me. The first six months had been very hard. I came here to help a particular community and it was this community who ended up helping me. Of course, I had to go through all the difficult stages of arriving as a migrant in a new country and it was very complex and difficult.

“I came here to help a particular community and it was this community who ended up helping me.”

How would you describe social entrepreneurship and what does it mean to you?

To me a social entrepreneur is a person who looks into society or the environment and identifies a problem and comes up with a solution. Traditionally that has been the role of charities who rely on donations. So the social entrepreneur builds a business model around it so that the solution can be implemented in a self-sufficient way.

How is the social entrepreneurship scene in Berlin different from Australia or your home town?  

What I have learned from Berlin, that I never experienced before, is an incredible amount of self-organisation and self-motivation from the population in Berlin. So a great example is the MakeSense conference you and I were part of as organisers last year. We had a team of about 15 people who volunteered to make the conference happen and about 170 individuals attended who also chose to attend the conference. That for me was something really amazing to witness. I feel like that is missing a bit in Australia, even though things are changing. Fridays for Future is becoming very popular in Australia, and there is a huge push for adopting a more vegan lifestyle. Australian people are coming more and more engaged, so that’s very exciting.

What helped you the most during your journey?

Something that really helped me was to remember not to be in love with the solution, but the problem you are trying to solve. The very first version of my tour and the one we are running today are quite different from each other.

Secondly, what really helped me was to join a startup competition of six months. Just because you are a social entrepreneur, or because you are trying to do something social or ethical, doesn’t mean you don’t have to compete against traditional businesses. You have to compete against price, quality, professionalism and going into that traditional business competition helped me to remember that. 

Another element that helped me very much was my 10 years in the music industry because it taught me so many skills. I never imagined how well they would translate into being self-employed. Like resilience, self-determination, constant feedback loops and consistency.

“Something that really helped me was to remember not to be in love with the solution, but the problem you are trying to solve.”

What are the main challenges you faced so far?

It has been very challenging to confront the realities of arriving in a new country as a migrant. It was the first time I experienced people around me having significantly more rights and advantages than were available to me. Trying to engage and participate on the same level without having the same resources was very challenging.

How important or helpful have programs, competitions and mentoring been for you?

The starting point for me was definitely becoming a part of MakeSense Berlin. This was a huge turning point because I realised I wasn’t by myself. And I made some really amazing friends who were an incredible support to me. I particularly met some amazing women, who inspired me and made me see I could also do that. And once I became part of that network, I got to know other networks and it grew from there. I participated in an Eramus+ program through TeachSurfing in Armenia and there got encouraged by another amazing and inspiring woman, Diana, to apply for the Ashokas ChangemakerXchange program. Networks and personal connections have been very important.

One other turning point was being accepted as a young pioneer to the Global Social Business Summit 2016 in Paris. That was the first time I got to met Prof. Mohammad Yunus in person and this again, was a huge turning point. I was really inspred by this experience.

What tips would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs and changemakers?

The major advice I would give is to deeply understand the problem you are trying to address before you take any action. Be ready to adjust and modify this as you go based on the feedback you get. Never stop asking for feedback. The solution you think people and the environment need is quite often not the right solution needed. You can only discover from research and experience.

My second advice would be once you have this understanding of the problem, just get out and start testing it. Just do it. It is invaluable because you find out quite quickly whether it will work and whether is needed.

To round off the interview: What plans do you have for the future?

In the last month, my attention has been drawn to the topic of sustainability in tourism, because tourism is growing at an unprecedented rate and we are simultaneously at a moment in our history, where we have to have a serious look at our resource consumption and the way we live and travel. And so I feel that the tour is a really powerful tool for initiating change in this industry. I will pursue more in-depth sustainability in tourism.

I also want to incorporate my music more in my activities in the future. And as I mentioned to you earlier, we have recently expanded our Changemaker Tour Berlin to school groups, universities, and corporate teams. For the future, I plan to further expand to three new routes.