Imperfect transparency and coordination slow the work of social entrepreneurs in developing countries, but Sabine Baumeister has solutions for both.
Baumeister is Senior Project Manager of Basic Needs and Social Entrepreneurship at the Siemens Stiftung Foundation, which works to improve basic services and education in its home country of Germany, other European countries, Africa and Latin America.
The foundation launched the “empowering people. Network“ to assist social entrepreneurship, award good design and train innovators around the world. We asked her five questions.
E4C: Who is in the Network?
SB: Our Network consists of inventors and social innovators who have created low-tech products and solutions that can be used by people in developing regions. Simple yet ingenious innovations such as funnels or solar cookers can empower people in communities by offering them a way of accessing fresh water or fuel for example. If these innovations are embedded into social businesses then a knock-on effect is achieved creating employment in the area.
E4C: Have you seen how this works?
SB: Yes. In the field we are working in we focus entirely on low-tech products and solutions. Three years ago we held our “empowering people. Award.” The competition identified exactly these kinds of simple solutions that could have a great impact on lives. We can only thrive as individuals and communities if we can access basic products and services: Water, energy, sanitation. We know there are still whole regions of the planet that face severe challenges in attaining these things and we are trying to tackle this by making these products visible and accessible.
E4C: Do you have access to these products?
SB: Our global competition helped look after that aspect! We received over 800 entries, the majority of them excellent. We verified a selection and now showcase them on our Solutions Database. This Database is visible to everyone and might be especially useful for those working on the ground in these regions. That’s what we mean about transparency. We have always known these solutions were out there. Locating them and making them visible on an international stage is a crucial part of our endeavor.
E4C: How do you train entrepreneurs?
SB: Well, the training aspect is very important. We aim to link together social entrepreneurs that we know and offer them know-how on topics that they are unfamiliar yet important for their businesses. I’ve just returned from Bogotá in Columbia where we held our second three-day workshop, “empowering people. Onsite” on the topic of Communication. Film, social media, working with the media – just achieving awareness for a product is not easy nowadays. We asked experts in these areas to come and work with the social entrepreneurs and innovators so they could gain an insight into these skills and use them in practical situations.
E4C: How did the workshop go?
SB: Brilliantly! Communication is a wide and complex discipline and the somewhat smaller organizations in our Network often do not have the resources to conduct professional and continual communication activities. They have a completely different business so they don’t often think about marketing their products, although it is essential. We also have workshops planned in the future on scaling up business and the creation of business plans – basically things that social businesses need but have less expertise in.
When the format of the “empowering people. Onsite” was developed, the overall goal was to equip social entrepreneurs from the Network with skills in different fields that are important for their day-to-day work. But it isn’t only the educational part of the sessions that is important, these meetings are an ideal opportunity for inventors to connect, exchange experiences and even create new synergies that you don’t think of unless you talk to someone face-to-face. Our “empowering people. Network” of course also exists virtually and we also offer online-activities. But these live meetings are really essential to bring this network of people with similar mindsets to life.[ssba]