Gelaine Santiago the Co-Founder of Cambio Market

Quitting your stable corporate job to start your own social enterprise takes a lot of courage and conviction. The thought of which can scare even the bravest of individuals. Gelaine’s career story shows us how you can gradually make the transition and why there’s no better time to be a social entrepreneur than today.

What does your job entail including what a typical day might be like?

As a startup, everyday is totally different (but there’s always some running around involved!). Our team is super small so my fellow co-founder and I largely share responsibilities. I spend most of my time managing our day to day communications and social media marketing, graphic design, community relations, customer service, and product management. We have community partners and suppliers around the world who we work with and research to ensure they meet our ethical standards, so I’m responsible for discovering new products, researching new partners, and then managing each of those relationships going forward.

Can you briefly describe your career path and how you got your current job? 

I’ve had a volatile career path, but it’s set me up for my current path in social entrepreneurship. I graduated from the University of Guelph with a BSc. in Biology (I originally wanted to be a vet) and a minor in Political Science. After university, I completed the Human Resources Postgraduate Program at George Brown College and worked for two years in financial services as a Talent Acquisition Specialist doing recruitment, social media, and employer branding.

I was always interested in social enterprises and non-profits (I’ve been a serial volunteer all my life) and actually met my co-founder Jérôme while volunteering. In 2014, we started ChooseSocial.PH together (an online directory about social enterprises in the Philippines) as a side project. When we began receiving requests about buying social enterprise products in Canada, Jérôme and I realized the potential for an ecommerce platform like ours. We both quit our jobs over the summer and launched Cambio Market shortly after.

What’s the coolest part about your job and what’s the biggest challenge?

The coolest part is doing work that’s truly interesting, challenging, and meaningful. Since our social impact is so embedded into our business model, the better we perform as a business the greater our social impact. That’s pretty cool!

The biggest challenge right now is resource management. When you’re working in a small team with few resources, everything is urgent and important. It’s critical to streamline our processes so we can grow and be sustainable, but never sacrifice the quality of our products, our social mission, and the high-touch personalized experience we deliver to our customers.   

What advice would you give to a job seeker looking for meaningful work?

As Robert Witchel from the Jays Care Foundation said in his Bmeaningful interview, “meaningful” is a subjective term. Take time to first determine what meaningful work looks like to you and then form a plan around that.

Don’t focus on a job title or even on a particular company – focus on what you’re good at, what you want to be better at, and what the world needs. Meet with people working on projects you find interesting and impactful and learn from them. Take baby steps if you need it – start by volunteering or taking up a passion project (like we did for ChooseSocial.PH) without expectation of profit. You never know where it will take you!

What can you identify as the biggest opportunity in your sector right now?

Social enterprises (businesses for good) have been around for ages and have made a big dent globally in developing nations like Philippines, but it’s still a fairly unknown concept in North America. Many people think the only way to give back is through donations or working in a charity or non-profit. There’s still so much education and awareness to be done.

Things are slowly changing though and we’re seeing more and more social enterprise startups, support organizations like Sojo and Social Enterprise Canada, and some places have even begun teaching social entrepreneurship in schools. That’s awesome! There’s really no better time to be a social entrepreneur!

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