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Story behind Lightup Impact: Valeria and Eeva

Eeva Mäkinen, October 2021

Meet the people working at the heart of Lightup Impact.

“Making ideas happen” 

Valeria: This quote reminds me to act upon my ideas. I think people have great ideas all the time but they are either too busy or too scared to be outspoken about them and often they just don’t put them into action. Making ideas happen for me means to act upon anything we believe in and taking the first concrete steps to put our plans into action. 

“Make your own path” 

Eeva: This reminds me to block the noise and always do what I feel is right. This guides my life, personally and professionally.

Eeva’s questions for Valeria

What drew you to social entrepreneurship? What is your source of inspiration?

Community for founders Entrepreneurial program Network of companies, social enterprises and large NGOs (Facebook Post) (6)

Valeria: I think I always had a secret will to contribute to solving problems in our society but because I did not choose a career in international development or sustainability but rather a scientific one, I thought that it was just not possible to combine these two paths. Everything changed for me when I first heard about social intrapreneurship after taking the ‘social intrapreneurship in innovation and health course’ organized by MMH and Ashoka while I was a cancer researcher at Boehringer Ingelheim.

It was for me love at first sight with social intra/entrepreneurship. I remember thinking: why have I never heard about this before? This course triggered something in me, the phase of acting upon some thoughts I had for quite some time. I  understood for the first time how I could use the infrastructure and the network at BI to create shared value for business and social sector and to solve a problem I really cared about: women in rural areas in Kenya and other parts of Africa are still dying in high numbers from cervical cancer, a disease that is preventable when women have access to the right education and health tools. 

It was during my social intrapreneurship journey that I built friendships and working relationships with many other social entrepreneurs in women’s health in Kenya. This wonderful journey as an intrapreneur is what drew me to social entrepreneurship and ultimately led me to Lightup Impact. Why not use everything I learned as an intrapreneur to channel opportunities and the right network to underrepresented voices of early stage social entrepreneurs in the women’s health field in East Africa?

Eeva: My first love was geography. It felt as if I had found the answer to everything in the world. The word geography comes from geo=earth and graph=write. So essentially, geography is about exploring human-earth relations. I chose to study development geography because I knew I wanted to understand global power relations and inequalities in the world. This was the starting point for me engaging with global development issues. I travelled, worked and lived in many countries, including Costa Rica, Brazil and Mexico. I was especially interested in gender and development, and how it is addressed in practice and in theory. 

Geography applies an interdisciplinary lens and approach to relations between environmental, social, cultural and political issues. These interrelations and a “can do” attitude are met through social entrepreneurship, which is the perfect combination with my endless curiosity, commitment to creativity and ethical values. I felt like I had found the answer to how to just do things, instead of waiting for someone else to produce the things you want to see in the world. I felt like I had found my true calling, where I could apply all my passions. 

How do you come up with your ideas?

Valeria: My ideas mostly come up when I talk to people. People are the greatest source of my inspiration. I just love to connect with people by listening to their stories, experiences and challenges. I am pretty sure that every time I came up with an idea it was triggered by a specific person or conversation. So yes, people are my greatest source of creativity. 

Eeva: My ideas come in silence, often through writing or dancing. I believe in thinking through different perspectives – by turning the eye the other way around sometimes can open up entirely different ideas of the same context. I also believe connection between people, places and things around us is the catalyst to new things and change, so relations between practices and people help me with my ideas. 

What have you learned from your journey as a social entrepreneur?

Valeria: I have learned that investing in people and inspiring them, making them feel how much you really care about the cause you are fighting for is what really makes the journey successful. 

Eeva: I have learned that fundamentals drive everything, and you need to pick the right people to work with. Trust, commitment and true connection between people is everything you need. 

Community for founders Entrepreneurial program Network of companies, social enterprises and large NGOs (Facebook Post) (11)

Who are your role models?

Valeria: My role models are my parents. I often think about the type of life I had and that the path that I have chosen for myself all boils down to the wonderful opportunities, education, love and liberal way of thinking that my parents have provided for me. I truly believe I would be a different person if they wouldn’t have given me the space to make the choices I did, even when they were not on board with them. In the end it was my whole life path which brought me today to become a social entrepreneur and all the little steps and experiences in my life that brought me here today also started with them.

Eeva: Myself, and the people who have always been there for me. 

Drawing from your experience, what advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Valeria: Don’t be scared to be outspoken about your ideas and do not fear judgement. Talking, sharing and feedback is what shapes and transforms ideas. Most importantly, do not forget to act upon your ideas, make them happen! Believe in yourself and find strength in your peers and in the people around you that connect to the cause you are fighting for. You are not alone. 

Eeva to Valeria: I agree with Valeria. If you feel like doing something, start doing it! Share your ideas and don’t give up. 

What is your motto?

Valeria: Dream big but start small. After all, Rome was not built in one day 🙂

Eeva: Trust the process and grow new limbs. Never make yourself smaller than you are, you are here to expand. 


What are your values that guide your life? Are they the same as for Lightup Impact?

Valeria: The values that guide my life are empathy, love/passion and courage. For sure they are values that I also identify Lightup Impact with since it is a product of my values as a person. 

Eeva: Creativity and courage. They align the road of Lightup Impact for me. 


What do you do purely for enjoyment with no end goals?

Valeria: I really like to bring people together in every situation. I do it with family, with friends, with colleagues and strangers. There must be a reason why my friends call me “the glue”! I just enjoy seeing how affections and connections develop naturally between people with the right trigger. 

Eeva: I like to dance and write. But I also just like to be and let my mind wander freely. I often take slow walks while doing this. 

What do you do in your freetime? Why?

Valeria: I love to travel and explore new places, I am always seeking for a new adventure. I also love the seaside, water is definitely my element so I spend a lot of time swimming  in the sea when I can. Family and friends are also very important. I spend a lot of my free time going out with my friends or connecting with my family in Italy. Ah, I also love dancing because it’s just so much fun, I feel I can express myself freely while connecting to others. 

Eeva: Dance, music and writing! I also love challenging myself to learn new things. 

Valeria’s questions for Eeva


Who is in your opinion a changemaker? What are the qualities/personality traits. Why do you think you and Valeria make such a good changemaker team?

Eeva: I believe you need three Cs: courage, curiosity and creativity. You need to believe in your cause, and be brave enough to listen to and define what your own values are, and align your mindset and causes around them. Me and Valeria work well together, because I believe we both are very hardworking, but truly know how to enjoy life as well. This means that we have fun brainstorming and trust each other. What I really like about Valeria is her authentic and sincere attitude towards everyone. She is also extremely patient and has a high sense of integrity. 

Valeria to Eeva: I couldn’t agree more with what Eeva just said. This is why we are such a great team. We share the same values, passions and attitude towards life. So happy to have found her! While we have many things in common I think our strength is also that we have such different backgrounds and experiences that truly complement each other. I already learned so much from her. Also I trust her fully. And can you believe it that we met through an online event? Destiny!

Why did you want to be part of Lightup Impact? Why Lightup and not another social enterprise?

Eeva: I chose Lightup Impact, because I know that what you do is important, but it is even more important who you do it with. I knew I had found people I can do things with wholeheartedly. So for me the mission of Lightup Impact is very important, but it is the values and people that create the meaning behind the company.

Where do you see yourself and Lightup Impact in the next  five years?

Eeva: I see us growing geographically, and perhaps expanding to other areas of development as well. I see myself learning and growing, full of energy and working with things that bring me meaning. 

Valeria: I share the same vision as Eeva. I also see Lightup Impact expanding and having a positive impact on the lives of social entrepreneurs and communities around the world. I want to grow and develop our concept further together with our team. 

What do you think of our team, what are our strengths? In what ways do you think we create impact?

Eeva: Our strength is that we truly care about each other and our cause. We believe in the power of difference, so we try and tap into our team members’ strengths which are found in different backgrounds. We want everyone to feel like they are meaningful to the company. Our impact is who we are as people, our commitment to creating authentic connection between people working for the same causes, which is the foundation of our community. We transfer that true connection to our community and members, who we know personally and by name.

Valeria to Eeva: I could not have described it better 🙂

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Meet our changemakers

Team Members

1. Valeria Santoro (1)
Valeria Santoro

Founder & CEO (Austria)

hrvoje Cvija
Hrvoje Cvija

Business Development Consultant (Austria)

Chris-Irina (1)
Chris-Irina Sela

Community manager (Austria)

Jenifer Muganda Ohiwa
Jeniffer Muganda Ohiwa

Customer scouting (Kenya)

Eeva Makinen
Eeva Mäkinen

Communication Manager (Germany)

Benedict Ochieng Ogutu
Benedict Ochieng Ogutu

Customer Scouting (Kenya)

About us

We are a dynamic and international team all driven by passion and determination because we want to make a difference for the growth of our founders and ultimately for the lives of women and girls that need our guidance and support. We care, we share and we learn together while being focused on achieving our goals as a team.

Lets get in touch and collaborate

Follow us on social media to get updates on our progress in the women´s health and gender equality field. Any other question? Just drop us a line!