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 his 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 surrounding us. 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 collaborative idea.

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.

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!