Social entrepreneurship, a concept known to few of us, explored by many of us, and confused by the majority of us. The lattermost is no wonder as it is linked to the bigger concept of entrepreneurship, whose most common examples like Facebook or Amazon do not have a social aspect at their core. Nonetheless, in recent years the concept of social entrepreneurship has been widely researched and applied to many projects around the world whose main objective is to respond to a social issue.
Social entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship at large are not static concepts, and we should not expect them to be so; both ideas are constantly evolving to be able to respond to the newest and most urgent trends, needs and social issues. Bearing this in mind, as future public policy experts, we decided to embark on a one-week-journey to understand, develop, discover, rethink, and reconstruct the concept of social entrepreneurship with the Haniel Stiftung, Apeiros e.V. and the Christliches Jugenddorfwerk Deutschlands (CJD).
Dismantling and reconstructing
In order to rethink and reconstruct the concept of social entrepreneurship, we had to engage in a process where many ideas and beliefs had to be both dismantled as well as rebuilt. As a starting point, we had to reevaluate the idea that entrepreneurship projects with a social focus are almost impossible to accomplish, as from a financial point of view they are hard to sustain. As we learned and put into practice at the 4th Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship workshop: “Das Soziale new gestalten: Soziale Unternehmungen, Bildung und Migration”, social entrepreneurship projects are developed and later implemented by following a detailed process where the financing is one of the most important steps. In fact, the financing is considered a necessary requirement for a project to come into existence.
Secondly, social entrepreneurship goes beyond a social cause, such a project has the objective of solving a determined social issue that affects the well-being of certain groups of people, communities and/or the society as a whole. In this vein, a very specific problem with a very specific set of actors have to be clearly identified and mapped. The identification and mapping processes are fundamental pieces of a project as they set its mission, vision, objectives and most importantly, recognition. One of the most difficult, but crucial challenges for a social entrepreneur is to build the case for a social issue she or he aims to solve. While entrepreneurs carry out product and market research, social entrepreneurs have to engage in a thorough research process to prove that a certain social issue exists and that there are people negatively affected by it. Believe us when we tell you that in order to prove the existence of a social issue, numbers are very important, and become one of the key aspects of a social entrepreneurship project.
Consecutively, the “social” in the social entrepreneurship concept, is not only about the people affected by a social problem, but it is also about those who believe in the significance of a certain issue enough to be willing to finance it. In this regard, a very important distinction has to be made: target group and client. In the world of entrepreneurship, most projects have the same target group and client, and hence do not need to make any distinction. However, in the sphere of social entrepreneurship, this distinction is paramount. An easy way to explain the aforementioned distinction is that the target group is the conglomerate of people for which the project is developed, the people whose lives will be enhanced by the product or service the project provides; whereas the client is a person, organization, institution or community that finances the project, in other words, the actor or actors that pay the bills. When reconstructing the concept of social entrepreneurship, this factor is of significance as it is the first step to secure the financing for a project.
Lastly, social entrepreneurship entails more than creating projects, it is about developing and implementing businesses. In other words, social entrepreneurship can be understood as the process of creating socially-oriented firms. In this regard, the process of building a socially oriented firm follows a similar path as the other types of firms do: i) find a problem; ii) ascertain; iii) establish effect mechanisms; iv) define a business model; and v) present and develop.
Putting theory into practice: the creation of Migmap
Throughout the course of the workshop, with the support of our mentors as well as with the help of our fellow participants, our team created Migmap. Migmap is a project focused on responding to the migration issue in Germany, aiming to reduce the number of college dropouts among international students and achieve higher levels of inclusion in German universities. Our research showed that the latter represents a considerable issue for state universities in Germany as the dropouts cost them thousands of euros each year. Furthermore, it is important to consider that international students in Germany have a 1,8% higher risk of dropping out of their university studies [i]. The three main reasons behind the higher dropout rates are: i) Difficulty in learning culture/system; ii) German culture; iii) Insecurity through administrative processes with German public authorities. Based on this, we created Migmap, a personalized mentor and coaching program for international students aimed at supporting and guiding them to overcome the aforementioned challenges and give them the tools and skills they need to finish their university studies.
Furthermore, thanks to Migmap we could show our fellow German participants all the challenges we, as international students, have to overcome to succeed in our endeavor as Master of Public Policy candidates at a German university. It not only helped us to develop more empathy towards each other but also turned this workshop into an enriching multicultural experience.
Beyond the workshop: a cultural experience
The workshop also turned out to be an excellent opportunity to learn more about German culture through its language, landscapes, and food. In this sense, it was not just a social entrepreneurship workshop, but an exercise of immersing ourselves into the German culture.
Concerning the language, we must confess that at the beginning, as non-native German speakers, we were not just afraid, but terrified. How would we get along with the people? Would we be able to understand the content correctly? And most importantly, would we be able to express our opinions and ideas in the best way? The answer to everything was a big YES.
In the end, the language concept became a very valuable learning experience that led to further integration and cooperation among both of us and the other participants; not only we were challenging ourselves to carry out the experience in German, but the other participants also challenged themselves to make sure that we could perfectly understand everything in order to establish meaningful conversations.
Moreover, we had the privilege to enjoy the view of the Berchtesgaden mountains. On the very first day, Hans Wolf von Schleinitz (from CJD) and Dr. Rupert Antes (from Haniel Stiftung) gave us a tour showing the installations around the Alpenresidenz Buchenhöhe. With the latter, we could grasp beautiful impressions of the place while also learning about German history. The installations are close to the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, a museum that provides historical information about the use of the mountains by Nazi leaders in the past. From where we stood, it was also possible to observe the famous Berghof (mountain house).
Additionally, we learned more about the work of the CJD since it has an Ausbildunghotel in Berchtesgaden. The CJD is one of the largest social and educational organizations in Germany. It provides adults as well as young people guidance and opportunities for their future development (CJD, n.d.).
While being surrounded by these beautiful landscapes, we did not miss the chance to get more involved with the German “wandern” culture and we took a group hike throughout some of the most beautiful mountains in Bavaria. The hike gave us an excellent opportunity to appreciate the view and get to know our mentors and colleagues better.
Of course, a visit to Bavaria is not complete without its delicious food! Every day we had the opportunity to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. We even discovered that a cake made of zucchini and chocolate can be a delicious combination. Moreover, each meal that we had together gave us an opportunity to interact with our fellow participants and team members to share common interests, life stories, and even find out curious facts about Thüringen such as the Thüringer Klöße song.
As all participants came from different backgrounds and different parts, it also provided an amazing networking experience. We had the opportunity to share immensely interesting dialogues with PhD students, entrepreneurs, business analysts, consultants, teaching fellows from North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, and several other places, including people from Switzerland.
In the end, not only we were able to rethink and reconstruct the concept of social entrepreneurship, but the concepts of language, networking, intercultural exchange and teamwork as well.
This all would not have been possible without the support of the Haniel Stiftung who we are very thankful to and hope that our experience also offered great value for future projects.