Mihai Patru: Unique Capacity Building for Mission-Driven Leaders and Businesses


Ladder is a publishing platform for various picture books and online programs whose mission is to empower over one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews from our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship ecosystem builders, who advance the UN SDGs.

Hey everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary reporter reporting on planet Earth. I am delighted to speak to Mihai Patru, Executive Director of Caravanserai Project, which helps create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that accelerates and supports social enterprises. Let’s see how he does it!

Spicy: Welcome, Mihai! It’s wonderful to meet you. Can you start by explaining the challenges you face in your work at the Caravanserai Project?

Mihai: It’s a pleasure to be here, Spiffy. Everyone knows that being an entrepreneur is not only a long-term commitment to a mission and a vision, but also a lonely journey. The Caravansérail project was created to energize entrepreneurs driven by a social impact mission and to support them throughout their career. Ensuring they have the right support to build strong and sustainable businesses is essential in their efforts to generate systemic change. More often than not, these entrepreneurs focus on their mission and pay less attention to their infrastructure needs. Through our programs, these agents of change, whether at an early or more advanced stage, have access to technical support focused on financial sustainability, strategic planning, digital tools, human resources and leadership.

Spicy: Just what entrepreneurs need! What motivated you to work on this?

Mihai: From our own experiences as entrepreneurs, we have learned first-hand how important it is to surround yourself with a reliable support system and to develop sustainable and forward-looking businesses. The Caravansérail project has supported over 40 start-up entrepreneurs since 2018 and over 500 organizations participated in our other capacity building programs in 2020-2021. Witnessing their growth and seeing changes in their approach to their work continues to motivate us to develop unique resources and innovative tools that will help them advance their missions and remain relevant in their industry.

Spicy: Can you talk about how the Caravanserai Project is working to make the world a fairer place?

Mihai: I’d love to, Spiffy. Supporting social impact entrepreneurs and mission-driven businesses is part of our contribution to a fairer world. Yet this is not enough. Caravanserai Project is very specific in the way it designs its programs. Our long-term goal is to establish and develop networks of entrepreneurs that will continue to exist after our programs end. We firmly believe in the power of networks and support systems as a tool to continuously energize change agents and create an ecosystem they can always count on when they need it. Building a fairer world doesn’t happen overnight and is not the result of a week-long effort. It requires continuity, consistency and collaboration.

Spicy: Can you tell us about an initiative or milestone that you are really proud of and the type of impact it will have?

Mihai: Since 2016, when the Caravanserai Project was created, our organization has grown steadily, especially with regard to the projects we have developed and the programs we have designed. When the SEED Lab pre-accelerator launched in 2018, we never thought it would have such an impact. Currently, it is hosted by the University of California Riverside Extension. The fourth cohort will begin in October and bring together impressive early stage social entrepreneurs from Southern California. There is no doubt that the nearly $ 1 million Wells Fargo Open for Business Grant that the Caravanserai project has received, represents an important development and is a sign of appreciation and confidence in our vision.

Spicy: No doubt about it! Can you talk about a project you have worked on that illustrates the impact you are striving to have?

Mihai: Caravanserai Project had the privilege of supporting nearly 40 early stage social impact entrepreneurs in Southern California through the eight-month SEED Lab pre-accelerator. The program energizes entrepreneurs and social impact businesses in the region’s historically marginalized communities and other agents of change, with limited access to resources. We have worked with entrepreneurs addressing a variety of issues including: mentoring high school students placed in foster care (The Seed Program), reimagining how victims of sex trafficking are assisted and reintegrated into society (Magdalena’s Daughters), Aging and Tech Awareness (Yohocare) or Supporting Formerly Incarcerated Men (Advancing Steps) and much more.

Spicy: Before signing, is there anything else you would like to tell our audience?

Mihai: One of the questions we receive concerns the name of our organization, Caravanserai Project. The caravanserais [kar-ah–van–se-ray] were well-known meeting places along the trade routes of Asia, North Africa and South East Europe. They provided merchants and travelers with a place to rest and opportunities to trade and exchange goods and information on the challenges ahead. They have played a crucial role in cross-fertilization and the exchange of cultures by exposing travelers and locals to new ideas, beliefs and languages. As a hybrid social impact company striving to identify, engage and energize mission-driven leaders, Caravanserai Project aims to be that kind of meeting place for and support mission-oriented leaders. throughout their journey.

Spicy: This caravan image is powerful, Mihai. Thank you for taking the time to tell me this story, and all about your amazing work. It has been an honor.

Mihai Patru is the executive director of Caravanserai project and is Entrepreneur-in-Residence on Social Entrepreneurship at the University of California at Riverside. He began his professional career as a diplomat at the Department of Foreign Affairs and is the recipient of the US State Department Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellow (2013-2014 cohort). Mihai completed his graduate studies at Central European University in Budapest (MA 2010) and SAIS at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC (MIPP 2017).(First published on the Ladderworks website on September 21, 2021.)

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Illustration of Spiffy by Shreyas Navare. Follow the interviews of the founders of Spiffy who are building a fairer world here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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