Digital responsibility

Our European society, which consists today of 27 Member States is transforming rapidly due to technological, societal and cultural change. Changes in the field of digitalisation and automation influence the way we live and work faster than before. These trends reshape European and global economies in fundamental ways.

Creative- and digital businesses, high-tech manufacturing, and knowledge-intensive services are taking advantage of technological change and add increasing value to our economies. On the other hand low-tech industries, labour-intensive manufacturing and routine jobs are at risk of disruption.

In light of this development I came up with the idea for the European Social and Digital Innovation Program (ESDIP), which can be seen as a solution (in concept form) among other European tools to enhance digital transformation. ESDIP advocates digital transformation by means of applying entrepreneurship as an economical agent and through bilateral collaborations between economically different regions / cities within the EU.

The idea is to develop a sustainable and holistic startup ecosystem for early stage ventures, which is largely operating on the basis of cloud computing technologies and where collaboration with geographically diverse infrastructures forms an important element of the framework in order to digitally bridge between the different regions.

The innovative capacity of the project is captured in its framework (or conceptual structure) and anticipates on two drivers of change – social innovation and digital transformation. The combination of several features (USPs) makes the framework an unique and inclusive startup ecosystem. I’d like to elaborate two of the most interesting features:

1. Pan-European approach and ideology: ESDIP is created with the idea that a pan-European approach has the greatest potential to enhance economic relations between different European regions. The good thing (to be validated) about this approach is that it could enable a positive societal and economical effect on economical diverse regions. In advocacy, (bilateral) collaborations are key and I’d like to call it the collaborative advantage of Europe.

Social innovation and digital transformation can change the course of the future. Economic prosperity shouldn’t only benefit the lucky few (Western- and Northern EU Member States) – it should provide equal opportunity for all.

2. A startup ecosystem which is independent from privately owned physical space and geographic location: The concept introduces a new approach for incubation and digitally bridges between economically different regions / cities within EU. At the same time it overcomes existing incubation problems.

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The idea is that ESDIP establishes partnerships with existing coworking spaces as well as educational and cultural institutions in pre-defined cities / regions. These so-called “partner hubs” are essential as they provide different startup teams a physical location with necessary facilities (e.g. workplace, internet, meeting room etc.) Regardless of their geographical location they form important communication- and distribution channels to reach out to potential startup entrepreneurs and stakeholders. Great effort to scout suitable hubs should be invested through collaboration with regional partners like Economic Development Agencies.

As part of the ideation process I presented the NRW-Forum the basic principles of the concept. Alain Bieber, the Artistic Director of this cutting-edge contemporary museum, is naturally interested in supporting cultural and digital entrepreneurs. The idea to provide cloud-based incubation services for talented entrepreneurs is in line with their long-term digitalisation strategy. We believe it would be a good thing to bring this concept to a next level and eventually collaborate with / transfer to a third-party.

Writing concepts like ESDIP or Sustainica makes me aware of the challenges, opportunities as well as (technological) inequalities. Even as technology becomes more affordable and internet access seems increasingly ubiquitous, a “digital divide” between rich and poor remains. Feel free to drop me a line in case you’d like to know more about this concept.

North to South

During a five-day-visit to Berlin my colleague and I crossed the city multiple times to meet & greet with different companies like coworking hubs, incubator-and accelerator programs, a Business Angel Association as well as a think tank. They all work with startup ventures and provide services for entrepreneurship. Five out of 11 companies focus on sustainable entrepreneurship* and their scope differs considerably; social entrepreneurship, green technology, smart cities, mobility and everything in between.Climate-KIC Germany Accelerator

During these meetings it became clear that they support and coach entrepreneurs in their own way through the different stages of building a company. I also gained a better insight what particular role social entrepreneurs play as change agents in the public-/private sector.

On the surface, many social enterprises look, feel, and even operate like traditional businesses. But looking more closely, one discovers the defining characteristics of the social enterprise: mission is at the centre of business, with income generation playing an important supporting role. Value for the social entrepreneur lies in the social benefit to a community or transformation of a community that lacks the resources to fulfil its own needs.

To me it is inspiring to understand how companies like Social Impact Lab manage to create a comprehensive ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, where startup founders can rent a physical space for working, participate in networking and exchange, and have access to business advice and start-up support. Also our visit to Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership – Climate-KIC – with focus on climate change was very inspirational. They help startups with innovative ideas in the field of e.g. Urban Transitions, Sustainable Production Systems and Sustainable Land Use. They aim to turn the climate challenge to a business opportunity and their mission is to enable Europe to lead the global transformation towards sustainability.

Another example is the independent not-for-profit research institution Borderstep that advocates the green economy by researching different topics like e.g. Green IT, Smart energy, environmental technologies and Sustainable Entrepreneurship. They also advocate the use of the Sustainable Business Canvas (German) for the systematic development of sustainability-oriented business models.

To summarize my findings after an inspirational week in Berlin: I experienced that sustainable entrepreneurs enact a holistic approach to a venture startup that embeds environmental, economic and social sustainability dimensions. The result is a social enterprise that applies commercial strategies to maximize social impact and environmental well-being alongside profits for their shareholders. It is nonsense that social businesses are not able to support themselves financially – in fact their business models are as competitive and in many cases more innovative than traditional businesses!

*Sustainable entrepreneurship stands for a business driven concept of sustainability which focuses on increasing both social as well as business value – so called Shared Value.

Learning the basics

On the 9th of March our team of the Sustainable Startup Program will be hosting CSR Hub NRW — a series of workshops about the basic elements of Corporate Social Responsibility at the Factory Campus in Düsseldorf.

The event is especially interesting for startup entrepreneurs (to be) from various industries and people with an interest in sustainable business. What to expect — a practical introduction to topics related to social, ecological and responsible entrepreneurship as well as innovative business models.

kerbholz_madeincologne_wearecity_koeln-17During the workshop Moritz Blees, co-founder of the successful Cologne based startup Kerbholz will share his insights into their Business & Revenue Model (they make wrist watches and sunglasses out of wood) and our team will moderate a topic about the Sustainable Business Model Canvas. We will elaborate on the canvas building blocks social costs and social benefits — an interesting theme for my next post. I’m also very excited that we managed to join forces with the CSR Hub — an initiative of the Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP). In 2016 I had the opportunity to work with CSCP during the Sustainica conference.

I believe that the workshop offers a great opportunity to get familiar with the CSR-basics and is free of charge (taught in German). And our team has the opportunity to advocate sustainable business practices among startup entrepreneurs in the region. Feel free to join us on the 9th in Düsseldorf!

A matter of attitude #1

This month’s Blog is an introduction to a series of Blog entries I’d like to write. I look closer at the added value of conscious entrepreneurs and their behaviour towards decision making, why I believe this is so relevant for the community and how you can be part of it.

We go to work to make money and it is just about making money. We then try to balance our lives in the little time we have left after work by doing other things that are purposeful, healthy, socially responsible, and spiritually fulfilling. On the other hand we have a desire to connect with something larger than ourselves and to live from a higher sense of value and purpose. Does this sound familiar? The question we ask ourselves — is making money and consciousness related?

It might sound like that it doesn’t. But the truth is that these elements actually support each other. I believe that a more responsible way of entrepreneurship and doing business is in fact intertwined.

For many of us live is about accumulation as much wealth as possible with all that it entails, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But we can do better. What if you as an entrepreneur have the capacity to evolve and progress to a more balanced relationship between purpose and profit? I think this is the key to do business fundamentally different — and more sustainable.

I’m talking about building a business that is honest, value-and performance driven, and responsible — often known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) publication “CSR: Meeting changing expectations” has the following definition: “Corporate Social Responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large.”

colorado-rocky-mountains-national-park-nature-pathIt sounds idealistic but basically it is about making responsible decisions in which you, others, the society including the environment flourish as an outcome of your company fulfilling its objectives and mission.

In my next article I will write about the principles of CSR and why it is relevant to (startup) businesses. Stay tuned!

Mapping for a good cause

Since October 2016 I have been adding schools and other points of interest in rural Tanzania to Openstreetmap.org – a community of mappers that contribute and maintain data about roads, trails, cafés, railway stations and so forth, all over the world.

The Tanzania Development Trust (TDT) www.tanzdevtrust.org is a charity that supports projects in Tanzania and they also work with the OpenStreetMap tool. TDT funds development projects in Tanzania since 1975 and is supported by international volunteers.

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The first TDT project I worked on was focussing on the area around Mugumu, Serengeti to help protect girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). Maps of rural Tanzania are helping social workers access remote villages and rescue girls who are being forced to undergo female genital cutting.

For more information about FGM please visit the WHO website.

It is quite a strange experience, while tagging buildings and roads on your computer screen, that you are able to help people to navigate in a region I’m not familiar with – and that at 10.000KM distance! It is great that digital technology can actually have a direct impact on our fellow residents. But at the same time are girls both in health and psychologically seriously injured during ritual ceremonies. Therefor FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights. It reflects a culture of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

My internet consumption each month is >25 hours (easily) and I thought why not combining my online presence and volunteering at the same time? For me online volunteering worked out pretty well and in average I am spending 2-3 hours every week on the mapping. If you like to support the Tanzania Development Trust or similar good causes, you could have a look at the United Nations Volunteers website.

Bukit Lawang

In December last year we went on a trip to Indonesia. One of the places we visited was Bukit Lawang. A small and popular village located on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to numerous birds, plants and mammal species like the Sumatran orang utan (Pongo abelii).

The 2.5 million hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The site holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species (source: unesco.org) so we booked a three-day jungle trek in the hope to find orang utans.

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We encountered five orang utans and several other animals – an experience to be well remembered. Walking through this kind of forest makes you feel small. Plants and trees are growing everywhere – absolutely amazing.

But besides all the beauty and excitement I also sensed that the village and the Gunung Leuser National Park is facing some challenges too. For example the amount of litter in the village is something which can not be overlooked. Plastic packaging, bottles and other stuff is scattered around the place. During the trekking we spend the nights at two different base-camps. Also here were traces of litter evident.

I assume the amount of visitors will increase in the years ahead and I would like to see that as something positive as it brings prosperity to the residents and many trekking-businesses. But the increase of visitors also puts pressure on the amount of waste produces – not to mention the collection and processing of the waste. And as most people come for jungle trekking the increase of visitors will also put a burden on the forest animals. Other challenges are palm oil production and illegal logging (the harvest, transportation, purchase / sale of timber)

I have email exchange with Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking – one of the many trekking businesses in the village. They organised our jungle trip in a very professional way and with one of the directors I reflected my thoughts. It’s a relief that they have the same opinion and in fact they initiated the CARE NOW project to fight some of the issues. This initiative focusses on education, training and support of local communities about waste (management, reduction, separation, processing) and the impact on the environment. Another project they support is the BUKIT LAWANG TRUST. The purpose of the trust is to engage in environmental and wildlife projects in connection with the endangered Sumatran orang utans.bukit-lawang_gunung-leuser-national-park_2016

I truly hope that other local businesses take an example of Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking and that local authorities will anticipate timely in order to secure the future of the people, the park and its wildlife.

A fresh start

Whoosh… time flies when so many things are taking place. Several months have passed since the successful edition of Sustainica & Planet B. The Sustainica project was a personal milestone as it gave me lots of experiences to reflect on as well as new opportunities and ideas.

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For 2017 the focus of the Sustainable Lifestyle Initiative is to contribute to conscious entrepreneurship, sustainable development and environmental matters. I partly do that by publishing stories on this blog and through the temporary assignment I currently work on  – the Sustainable Startup Program. Why these topics in particular? After some years in the private sector I developed a personal and professional interest in these fields and some of these experiences I’d like to share with you.

My next post will be about an exiting trip we made to Bukit Lawang in north Sumatra. Stay tuned!