Blog Posts on Waldzell

During the past year of 2009 I have been involved in writing and researching for Waldzell an institute in Austria.  I have edited the official website, blog, meeting interviews and reports for each year. You can read all the reports I edited and named here and the past meetings from 2004-2008

Having been captivated by the idea of an interdisciplinary dialogue, I enthusiastically wrote several blog posts whilst attending social entreprenuer events and conferences.  One of these was in Prague hosted by Emmersense-this blog post you can read below.

Dialogue is good and important, but without action, then dialogue is wasted. This is a warning for us all I believe in times when we stand precariously on the tight rope of a darker or brighter future. It is within our hands to find balance between the sides and bring them to a future that is diverse and is mutually benifical for us away from this incessant world ego.

The calm after the initial storm has brought forth a pertinent conference organised by social entrepreneurs Emersense and the infamous, traditional Erste bank during Prague`s EU presidency, to find mutually enriching collaborations. Banking for Social Entrepreneurship from June 19th-20th at Česká Spořitelna couldn`t have come at a better time.  Waldzell took a long anticipated trip on a train filled with eager, young social entrepreneurs representing an array of philanthropic organisations such as Ashoka, Caritas or feisty researchers and panelists compiling their final notes on the journey.  Inevitably we started chatting on the way and we could tell just from the energy generated from our initial conversations, that this was going to be one dynamic event.

     Waldzell took a long anticipated trip to Prague, for the conference on Banking for Social Entrepreneurship from June 19th-20th at Česká Spořitelna.  After a long train ride, we arrived at the conference just in time for the opening speech by Andreas Treichl, CEO of the Erste Group.

I couldn`t help but notice a wavering of anxiety in his voice as he spoke out to an seemingly odd mix of social entrepreneurs, artists, bankers, press, politicians, and philanthropic facilitators.  As he went on to stress, that the worst of the crisis is not over, it seemed that his anxiety came from suddenly feeling this huge responsibility--and about time too--to be accountable for social deficiencies that have been for so long ignored by banks in favour of profit making strategies.

With increasing demand for transparency, from both the governments and the public, we have arrived at a point in time, where banks are looking to social entrepreneurs to light the way through the smoke and ashes.

The New Landscape. Re-defining The Roles of Governments, Banks and Social Entrepreneurs

Governments are not the ones to dynamically navigate their way through public life.  However, they provide guidance and support to increase best practice.  Franz Karl Prüller, Director of Social Programs at the Erste Group highlighted governments` role to set standards and enforce these standards.

“We cannot have poor services for poor people, there needs to be services that do not infringe on the dignity of people and we need to have services that live-up to certain quality standards and that is another quality function to ensure that that is the case. Basic service provision, basic security provision and creating the enabling environment to set the standards.  Then on the private basis fulfill the needs for people, raising the awareness with the social integration award.  This is by saying that if I am going to make a difference there are people that recognise what I am doing, it gives recognition and motivation, this is awareness raising, social engagement, social action and provision”.

I agreed enthusiastically. Evidently, government`s strengths have always been to regulate and to measure.  For years we have looked to the government to solve micro issues in the social sector, when really, the scale and their responsibility to service major areas such as health and pensions hinders their speed of delivery on several fronts.  Meanwhile, in many areas the public`s situation gets worse and more often than not, civil society has turned to fool and folly with impatient desperation.  This can then cause illegal disruptions, that, in turn, provoke easy finger-pointing at victims of this inequality.  Social Entrepreneurs and their enterprises are small and mobile enough to navigate into tight spaces, to where the issues are really going on-with the people, in small, dynamic and changeable groups.

Prüller, echoed my thoughts by eloquently stating that we need both.  “We need the creative entrepreneur who is able to point to the singular defect or challenge in society and we need those who work on a continuos basis to provide widespread large scale services on a sustainable basis. If we can find a combination of those two and if we can find a way that these become mutually enriching the experiences that are there in the social service providers and the creativity that is there in the individuals and social enterprises, then, I think we have won”.

As, Felix Oldenburg, Ashoka`s Country Director of Germany added: “In my conversations with the Federal German Government and the European Commission that I have had over the past few months, there is a great curiosity about social entrepreneurship and the nature of social innovation and for a very practical number of reasons”.

    As both Prüller and Oldenburg, pointed-out, the government simply doesn`t have enough resources to provide for all the necessary services.  “Government funding in discretionary social spending will dramatically go down as a result of not only of the crisis but also the large demographic shift which will force governments to spend an ever higher proportion of their budget on health care and pension”.  Oldenburg emphasised “but on the other hand..” as Prüller stated “..this form of taxation leaves space for privatization to come into play”.

Through Innovation, Social Entrepreneurs are Transitioning Between Old and New Models
Oldenburg emphasised, “So there will be a huge gap to be filled and the government will have to find different sources of funding beyond the traditional state delivery models or the big established social sector solutions that are essentially 100% government funded. Certainly that is just the practical realization, beyond that there are promising signs that are starting to shape up the post lisbon strategy, if we indeed get to shape a European strategy around social innovation that will be a guiding idea for the next ten years that will be a very helpful top down model that will be encouraging governments to think about the role of social entrepreneurship.  Social entrepreneurs are leaders of this innovative model, if we get a social innovation agenda, the role of social entrepreneurs will be very central indeed”.

Re-building and Maintaining a Sense of Solidarity through Empathy and Awareness of Common Good
However, as Dr. Erhard Busek pointed out, this takes time. We need to give time, but, simultaneously we also need to move things ahead and make concrete successes.

How can we make these successes?  Busek stressed the need for solidarity, but how can we create this kind of solidarity?  There are several factors. One key ingredient that certainly caught my  attention in light of Waldzell`s mission is empathy.  Prüller echoed that this is a pertinent factor to promote in civil society.  “Partly because of communism and partly because of capitalism, a large majority of society has been basically looking after themselves, irrespective of other people`s concerns.  Even some take a perverse joy in the suffering of their neighbor and it is exactly that mentality that we need to change”.  How can we change that? “...By working on the consciousness and awareness of people.  By actively engaging them so that they can recognise that it is for their common good to support other people that are less fortunate and less able than themselves, then there will be an overall enormous societal gain and this conference is necessary helping us to go on with that”.

    Joint conferences and awards such as last weekend`s in Bucharest on Social Innovation are, as Prüller highlighted, instrumental in raising public awareness and important advocates of change.  This is where the philanthropic associations step in.  Ashoka has been providing an umbrella for the fragmented market of social entrepreneurs since 1981 and is one of the leaders, as well as key players, Emersense and good.bee an initiative of the Erste Group, all are gradually shaping the citizen sector.  Putting Social Entrepreneurs at the forefront of this sector is a vital component this process.

    “....A big shift that many people in the social sector have come to realise is that  we need to think about the models of delivery and the models of finance.  Ashoka world is at the tipping point that is fueled by these two factors. Increasingly the social sector or business people are beginning to identify themselves as change makers”, hence the chosen name for Ashoka initiative with Erste Group: Change Makers “This is certainly a great day for this reshaping that we mentioned and a powerful statement for that shift”.  These synergies are shaping our new economy and we are able to look beyond our back gardens to find the fruits of our labour beginning to grow.  How apt that we should collectively propose and experiment with solutions in the main building of Česká Spořitelna.

Are The Old Values Really the New Values?
Erhard Busek illustrated in conversation before the opening speech, that in fact the new values are the old values, a thought that echoed out across the conference.  Busek mentioned that in order to gain an understanding of what we mean by solidarity, it is important to look to the trade unions.  I took up Busek`s advice and closer to home, asked my father, a University Education Director, born the same year as Busek, what “solidarity” means to him.  He points me in the direction of the Chartist movement.  As I look, Fredrick Jameson`s famous phrase, “Always historiscise” rings through my ears.  Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom during the mid-19th century between 1838 and 1850.  The apparent failure of Chartism as a political movement in the mid-nineteenth century proved only to be temporary.  Five of the six points in the Charter were adopted by 1918. Eventually it left a huge impact on parliament and gave impetus to a political reform and to trade union organisation.  Suddenly, I realise the impact that Social Entrepreneurship can really have, but also how true it is, Busek stresses, this needs time.  Time to have an impact on government, but, as Prüller states, in the meantime, we need to have concrete successes within these times.  This is why Social Entrepreneurship as a collective movement needs to make these concrete successes happen.

Getting Back to Bank`s Old Values as a Key Component of Sustainability  
Sustainability is a key factor here.  Ashoka, as Felix Oldenburg recounts, through their Global Social Financial Services initiative are working with banks to help them to feel and understand what their core and basic values are.  Banks are places that are able to make and find new connections with people who want to change the world.  When they connect a source funding with a cause and enable that cause to help it grow far beyond what it could do organically, that`s been the role of banks for a thousand years.  That`s how we`ve built the great businesses of today and that is how we will build the great social entrepreneurs of tomorrow”.

    So, Busek`s words ring true, the old values are the new values.  In light of current times Felix Oldenburg recognised that “people see themselves more and more as change-makers.  If you have a wealthy person today witnessing what has gone on over the past year or so, their thoughts may be, what`s my responsibility with the wealth I have accumulated, what will I do with my skills, my empathy, leadership, team-work and experiences and what am I going to apply them to, to create something that lasts and outlasts me, something that I can pass-on”. Banks are part of the same equation and we need to factor that in when navigating through this new, evolving landscape.  “The banks are about connecting people from around the world who would like to make a difference from different angles”  Oldenburg pointed out.  “Increasingly today, it is a one trillion dollar market but from the perspective of re-discovering what they are about”.

The Future of Social Entrepreneurship

 So what needs to be done? Prüller reminds us that “The social economy is in it`s infant stages in Central and Eastern Europe, we are just seeing the beginnings of it.  In India and Latin American Countries these developments have gone much further. “We need the legal infrastructure, the creation of legal frameworks”...perhaps this is the further role of the government.  “Already, one of the challenges to us overall as a region is to see to it that young people who have interesting ideas, in terms of what they can contribute to society and how they can make these contributions sustainable how we can create an environment for these people so that their ideas can grow, their ideas can live.  There is no conducive, enabling environment for these sort of activities, this is a major challenge.  To create an environment where people with good ideas can find not just the money, but also, the societal support for what they are doing”.  Prüller emphasises the importance of social services.. “They are actually the largest employers, this is not just costing society, but it is also bringing enormous wealth creation to society, this is one important element that is helping to create that enabling environment and as Oldenburg pointed out, it is a one trillion euro market.  Waldzell is not only part of that market, but also part of the re-shaping  of the landscape by providing, with it`s interdisciplinary framework a conducive environment to support and nourish social entrepreneurs with banks, corporations, governments and private investment individuals and to collectively define our harmonious future.      


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