At the age of 15, Courtney Linnecar decided to escape her home on a farm in the Manawatu. She says “To this day, I don’t know how on earth I got my parents to agree, but I was accepted on an exchange programme and went and lived in Berlin for a year”.
Now aged 30, Courtney has since studied European languages and business tourism at the University of Otago, lived in Madrid and Seville as an English teacher, worked with tigers in India, and helped run an eco-tourism project in Sierra Leone. She laughs and says “My twin brother will tell you, I’m always in a rush”.
Her mission now is bringing social media skills to businesses that do good and make money at the same time: the social enterprise sector as it’s known in the UK. Next year she wants to
take back to New Zealand all she’s learnt, because “if you have something to offer, you should help with what’s going on at home first.
“I’ve used this overseas experience to learn as much as I possibly can, now I want to take that back and put it into practical projects. I’m still to assess what that is. But there are so many great things going on in New Zealand. We’ve got so much privilege – the space, the beauty, the people, the resources – but just like any other country we’ve got our things that we can work on.”
In Sierra Leone, she felt the twin strands of her life – the business of sustainable tourism, and her ability to communicate across several languages – come together. And it was social media that made it possible.
The focus was a community-based tourism project. “You’re using tourism to facilitate positive change: an economic or social benefit. These guys have so many difficulties that might not be at the forefront of our minds. They have to worry about survival and where the next meal is coming from. It’s where a Western standard meets an African standard and you try to build capacity to close that gap. After a certain amount of time – we were aiming for five years – you give it back and let them run it.”
The project attracted interest from around the world and Courtney noticed something: “Everyone who was coming to us, they were coming through social media. They’d heard about our project, and they wanted to come and see what it was like in the flesh. So I was getting people from all over the world, coming via Facebook and Twitter. You’d sit at a table and it was like a mini-UN”.
“I thought, gosh, this is amazing. You have your friends, your peers or whatever, but a lot of them won’t have the same interests, the same beliefs, the same passions as you. Online you can connect with these people wherever they are – you’re all in tune.”
The final piece of the jigsaw was coming back to London, and working alongside her English husband. Until then Courtney had always alternated periods of paid work with voluntary projects “It’s always been a bit cat and mouse for me - I’ll earn money doing one thing, and then I’ll go do the good work. I’m now at the stage where they combine, because I’ve been introduced to the idea of social enterprise through my husband.”
Her own business, Peasocial, is a social enterprise, helping others in the same boat. “Social media is a great powerful tool. I want to help others use it. Because it’s free, everybody thinks it’s straightforward, but I want to see social enterprises use it better”.