Change the World with Enthusiasm: Visiting Professor Dr. Roger Evans – A Social Entrepreneurship Story

Text: Decem Poon | Photo: Decem Poon, Prof. Dr. Roger Evans

Visiting professors are an important source of input and inspiration to enrich students´ learning experience as they bring their expertise and experience from their culture and specialization into the classroom. Prof. Dr. Roger Evans, visiting professor from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, is teaching at the HfWU this summer semester and bringing his expertise in social enterprise, rural business and project management to our students.

“What makes a difference is the interest, belief and enthusiasm to create an impact”

Prof. Dr. Roger Evans in the Highlands of Scotland

Prof. Dr. Roger Evans has always been interested in agriculture and working outdoors since his secondary school time. He followed his passion in his university studies and pursued his PhD on the husbandry of Linumusitatissimum (Linseed) in the Newcastle University in the North of England. Since 1980 he worked at the Scottish Agricultural College as a lecturer, rural tourism course leader and senior consultant until forming his own company in 2004.

Prof. Dr. Evans´ passion in rural tourism originated at the end of 1980s when the agricultural industry was adversely shaken by major changes in EU agricultural support introduced to combat food overproduction and declining food demand all over Europe. By the end of 1980s, agricultural incomes were under great pressure, consequently putting the way of life of farmers and farm employment in the rural areas under great threat. Having a close affinity and a special bond to the agricultural industry, Prof. Dr. Evans dedicated to investigate ways to help revitalize and boost the economy of rural areas. In cooperation with some Irish experts who shared the same interest and passion in rural area development and empowerment, Prof. Dr. Evans found out that diversification of income, that is, income derived in alternative ways, can help absorb the shock in the agricultural industry. Through rural tourism, farmers can make extra business in addition to farming as a source of income, hence stabilizing the economy in the rural areas.

The transformation of the agricultural industry has also caused adverse impact on people´s life in the rural areas. Many of those who used to work in the farms and rural areas faced unemployment and needed to find other ways to make a living. The lack of farm management skills has placed some of them in a difficult situation during this time of change. In view of this, Prof. Dr. Evans initiated projects for stimulating local change, funded through the European Union PHARE program, which was established to support communities in new EU countries to overcome specific development problems stemming from their relative isolation within the national economy, whilst preserving the interest of the local population and respecting environmental concerns.[1]

When being asked where the line should be drawn between social enterprises and non-social enterprise, Prof. Dr. Evans emphasised that it is the top business aim and the consciousness of “doing the right thing” that differentiate them. Differentiating social enterprises from commercial entities, social enterprises give priority to “doing the right thing” over profit maximization. Social well-being stands at the core and is the biggest driver of the business. Most prominently, the profit of social enterprises is reinvested back to the community to do social good. Only by doing so can society develop in a sustainable manner.

Many of us at certain point in time have made statements like “If I were the business owner, I would do things differently” or “I wish I could make a change and make the world a better place”. However, only very few of us have taken the step to start a project because uncertainties and fear have made us hesitant to take a step forward. Being an optimistic entrepreneur, Prof. Dr. Evans thinks and acts completely opposite – he believes “if there is a will, there is a way”. Luck does not come from nowhere, rather it grows from enthusiasm and resilience, despite all resistance and difficulties one might encounter. His proactive and stewardship orientated mind-set, and sense of mission are what drive him to serve and empower the vulnerable and to continue his pursuit of entrepreneurship.

During Prof. Dr. Evans´ entrepreneurship journey, he endeavours to steer and get involved in projects to explore possibilities and build his network. His participation in Euracademy is one of the best examples. With the mission “Build up knowledge, capacity and networking for rural development”, Euracademy is an organization supported by the European Union, individuals and project development to connect like-minded individuals, engaging them in discussions and putting ideas forward into plans and actions.

Prof. Dr. Evans being a conference moderator

Not only is Prof. Dr. Evans an entrepreneur, he is also an educator. Currently he is teaching “Project Management” in the MBA International Management program and co-teaching the International Masters of Landscape Architecture. He believes that treating students as individuals rather than ananonymous group is important to inspire and stimulate students´ learning. He enjoys talking to students, sharing examples and anecdotes, and challenging students to think in different angles and scenarios.

In a guest lecture about strategy and business planning for social enterprises
Prof. Dr. Evans explaining the business planning process

When our conversation came to the end, Prof. Dr. Evans raised an interesting question “Do you see the glass half full or half empty?”. Seeing the half full glass, Prof. Dr. Evans is a good example for those who are about to embark their entrepreneurship journey. To Prof. Dr. Evans, staying optimistic, persistent and compassionate is the key for entrepreneurs. Even though the journey can be full of uncertainties and ups and downs, not only the goal but also the process are what bring enriching experience and development to entrepreneurs, making their first step worth taking.