Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Andrew Funk, founding president of the Homeless Entrepreneur Foundation. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Andrew! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing at the Homeless Entrepreneur Foundation?
Andrew: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! The Homeless Entrepreneur Foundation’s mission is to promote economic empowerment and poverty reduction via work and active citizenship thanks to both public and private civic partnerships, so people living in social exclusion can improve their quality of life. We empower motivated people with potential around the world experiencing homelessness by connecting them with a network, tools, and resources through our programs and projects.
Spiffy: That is a great mission! What motivated you to do it?
Andrew: I experienced homelessness myself. Once I was able to end my state of homelessness, I wanted to help others. It's hard to empathize with homelessness until you experience it. I was stripped of my previous prejudices and ignorance and forced to face the obstacles and opportunities of homelessness. I had 30,000 contacts on social media, an entrepreneurial spirit, and the desire to improve my situation, which is what fueled my motivation when I had little to nothing. It's been a long journey since, almost nine years to be exact. What keeps me motivated is the results I see in the progress of our community. We define success as the size of a homeless person's smile and how long it lasts, which is directly correlated to our community.
Spiffy: How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?
Andrew: The Homeless Entrepreneur Foundation has three main programs. Our “Helpline” connects us with individuals experiencing homelessness around the world, so we can provide them with local resources and opportunities. Our “Voices” program gives them a voice, so they can connect with our community. Our “HELP” program helps them become active, working citizens again. These programs are accompanied by inspirational projects like the European Union (EU) Report, which will be presented to the European Parliament, and the Social Impact Room, which gives tourists an opportunity to create local impact while traveling. Providing our growing community with greater knowledge allows them to recognize how they can create positive social change as we work together towards a more equitable world.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience/community?
Andrew: We have worked with 100 interns from around the world this year, which is a milestone that we are extremely proud of. Collaborating with future business professionals teaches us about their concerns and interests, while we educate them about how to address homelessness in a more efficient manner through hands-on experience by focusing on what they love. For example, university students studying social policy are developing our EU Report to understand how 12 cities are addressing homelessness, based on assistance or empowerment-based solutions. They have joined conferences including the president of Ukraine and multinationals during Financial Times' events. Inspiring the youth inspires their parents, future employers, and us, too!
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn’t give up. What did you learn from it?
Andrew: Becoming homeless is the most definitive failure I've had to overcome. I lost my home, my job, my family, and almost myself at the same time. I had to go back to the basics and understand who I was and where I added the most value to society. I hit rock bottom but never gave up, even as I fell. I learned that the last two things you lose when you are homeless are hope and your cell phone. I no longer feared people threatening to take material objects from me. I no longer feared myself. I had to focus on being a better person and dedicating my life to what I truly loved—helping others. The only catch was that I had to help myself first. I would have never asked to become homeless, but it made me a better professional, father, and husband.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Andrew: Don't let school get in the way of your education. Focus on strengthening your core values and financial skills, so you can become more resilient in the face of adversity. The educational system will provide you with a great framework, and it's up to you to make it exceptional! Become a dream engineer and always challenge yourself to be better no matter how loud people clap for you. And, most importantly, have fun and do what you love!!!
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Andrew—it’s been an honor!
Andrew Funk, founding president of the Homeless Entrepreneur Foundation, is a social impact activist for homeless people and an international keynote speaker, who believes people with potential and experiencing homelessness can be empowered to come out of poverty by connecting with the Foundation’s helpline, sharing their story, and building a strong support network as they become active, working citizens again. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino at Hubspot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on December 12, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.