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.

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.