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Reaching the Next Level: Empowering Organizational Development for Social Enterprises

Social entrepreneurs were courageous enough to take the step into self-employment and commit themselves to a social goal. But what happens next? How do they manage to make the organization successful and build a solid foundation for the future? How can they set a proper basis for supplying more people with their products or services and for creating more jobs that are urgently needed? The empowering people. Network by Siemens Stiftung has set itself the goal of assisting social entrepreneurs in addressing these issues and supporting them with a concept specifically geared to their individual needs in organizational development.

Structures and processes are essential

When start-ups leave the foundation phase and begin to grow, they have to take care of establishing sustainable structures and processes. But often they do not know how to complete all tasks associated with it. Sometimes they are not even aware of their challenging situation and what the reasons are. This may not impact them immediately, but the company’s success will depend on it in the future and, as every entrepreneur knows, half the battle is won with thorough preparation. empowering people. Network member Wesley Meier, co-founder of EOS – a start-up that invented an affordable drip irrigation system – has reached the growth phase with his organization and is aware of his new challenges: “We are at a point where we have to be simultaneously active in many areas like business development, product marketing, business planning for the next year, supply chain development and much more. At the same time, our staff is expanding and we need to grow into a strong team where everyone clearly understands their role.”

Human Resources Management is a good example for a scope of duties which is not always a priority item on founders’ agendas. But when there are more tasks and requirements crucial to making progress, it becomes more important to find and integrate the best possible employees that provide the respective competencies. Social entrepreneurs usually start their projects alone or in small teams. With the growth of the organization, many of them have difficulties to find suitable employees, familiarize them, convey missing specific skills, delegate responsibilities and hand over decision making power. In the long run, it can be a vicious circle: founders face extreme personal workload but feel that they cannot delegate power because they do not trust the competence of others. At the same time, employees are not willing to dedicate to the company because they are not given any responsibility. For sustainable success, it is important to learn to break this cycle. Social entrepreneurs need to ensure a high level of qualification and commitment within the workforce to retain promising employees, build clear process chains in all business areas and find structured ways to make the best decisions possible, so that the organization can stand on its own two feet.

But Human Resources Management is just an example out of a variety of topics that are important if entrepreneurs want to reach the next level with their organization. Agile Development Processes, Leadership Styles, Decision Making Models, Communication Strategies and Feedback Culture are fundamental keywords and crucial when it comes to the sustainable development of an enterprise.

In the end, they have to ask themselves what will happen to the organization if the founders leave the company at some point? Are the structures stable and is the team qualified enough to continue the social mission and the business or will the organization collapse like a house of cards? To answer questions like this, there are many approaches to organizational development. But the content from specialist books cannot simply be transferred to the world of social entrepreneurs. Their situations are too complex and individually complicated to be covered by best practices. The constant battle between protecting the social mission, striving for a successful business, coordinating volunteers from all over the world and building up a constant workforce is already a challenging task.

Together with SEED/adelphi, Siemens Stiftung generated a comprehensive modular tool box system for Organizational Development, that was also used during the epWorkshop in November 2017 in Amsterdam.

Individual tools for individual challenges

For this reason, customized solutions are needed to actively and individually support social start-ups in reaching the next level with their organization. The empowering people. Network by Siemens Stiftung therefore deals with alternative holistic solutions, especially for the need of social entrepreneurs, and aims to support them at every stage of development. Instead of working with best practices, the empowering people. Network follows an approach that focuses on the individual stories and challenges of the entrepreneurs. The concept is oriented towards offering different ways and tools in which each entrepreneur can select and integrate sections individually according to his or her own conditions without prescribing a ‘perfect solution’.

Together with SEED/adelphi, Siemens Stiftung generated a comprehensive modular tool box system for Organizational Development. It gives every entrepreneur the chance to choose the exact content that fits to his or her organization’s needs. In face-to-face workshops that take place several times a year in different parts of the world, the empowering people. Network provides social entrepreneurs a rare platform to share their stories and work together with organizational development experts on their businesses. What characterizes the workshops is the mixture of carefully selected theoretical content, interactive collegial consultation, self-work on elaborated worksheets and open space sessions in which the participants can discuss their own topics with peers and are able to benefit from their experiences and possible synergy effects. A particular focus is on preventing entrepreneurs from simply copying supposedly good Western structures they find in specialist books, and showing them different opportunities that can be adapted to their cultures and particular organization’s needs.

“The approach of Siemens Stiftung has taught me a lot about organizational development”, says Wesley Meier of EOS, who attended the empowering people. Workshop in Amsterdam, where almost 50 social entrepreneurs spent five days exploring a variety of methods and tools for organizational development and worked on solutions for their individual growth. “Since I returned home to my team from the workshop, we went through a detailed process of redefining each role and setting clear metrics to measure activities completed with a plan to implement this in 2018. Additionally we plan to let data drive our decisions similar to the holacracy model we got to know at the epWorkshop. I really appreciated learning all those things”.

Holacracy is a self-organization system that is based on roles instead of functions of employees and does not use hierarchy levels but rather data for decision-making. In this way, responsibility and credibility are assigned to the teams rather than individual leaders. It fits perfectly to the Organizational Development tools of the empowering people. Network and was therefore an essential part of the empowering people. Workshop in November 2017.

Wesley Meier (left) is the founder of EOS and was part of the epWorkshop in Amsterdam where he worked on his organization’s processes and structures together with other participants from all over the world.

Wesley Meier and his team have already been able to use many of the tools they were introduced to during the empowering people. Workshop.

Not only talking but acting

For the Siemens Stiftung, dealing with organizational development was the next logical step in its empowering people strategy. “When we first started, our main goal was to identify social entrepreneurs with innovative technological solutions and help them to get more attention on the one hand and build up a business network on the other. To further support the empowering people. Network members on their way to success, we take the next step where – in addition to funding – the greatest challenge lies in getting out of the pioneering phase and to shape the growth phase in a sustainable manner”, says Carola Schwank, head of the empowering people. Network.

And the empowering people. Network has already celebrated first successes with its Organizational Development Approach. Many start-ups work with its free self-assessment Manual for Social Entrepreneurs (SAMforSE) – a success evaluation tool geared towards the ecosystem and business model of social enterprises. The toolbox system now allows further capacity development and has already been used at empowering people. Onsites in Ghana, South Africa and India in 2017 and the big empowering people. Workshop in Amsterdam was completely based on the toolkit on organizational development.

Nicolas Chevrollier, founder and managing director of AnLuMa, was part of the empowering people. Workshop, too and is convinced of the concept: “Together with Magdalena Kloibhofer from SEED, I conducted some parts of the workshop and it was great to experience how intuitively the participants handled the tools. I am sure that many of them were able to draw great added value out of it. Small companies in particular need very flexible approaches to work with, and rely on […] the exchange of knowledge with others in the same situation.”

For 2018 further on-site activities on organizational development are already planned and will take place in different developing regions worldwide.


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Article last edited on: December 09, 2021