Lessons Learned from the SensAbility Conference

This is a small conference for social business taking place for a second time at the campus of the WHU school of business. It’s organized entirely from the students. And the organisation was really good. I would like to list in short what I learned from this event.

German people like to talk a lot before they take action. And most of the participants were German. As an English friend of mine says, if the cow goes on the ice the German are going to discuss for month who is guilty, the ice will melt and the cow will die. On the opposite, English will save the cow and then they can discuss for centuries about it. What is better? I think the second, but let don’t underestimate German, because in many areas this way of thoroughly thinking is giving really good results, especially when you have enough time for it. But on a conference you have often a very limited time, so I was really happy, when a young and dynamic german guy interrupted the discussion, because he wants to act and not to talk. This guy turned to have a nice social business – helping to establish as many social businesses as possible. Here is his webpage: Living Responsible.

The next really inspiring talk was given from Peter Spiegel from the Genisis Institute He gave us amazing examples of social businesses who already worked for millions of people. Most of the examples were of course from the developing world, but there were still some from Europe. I think that it is really important to start to look at our society and not to mix too much in the societies of the developing countries. All of the great examples in these countries he gave were done from natives for the natives! I hope that Peter Spiegel is going to publish blog or book with all the great examples he found through the years. This will be an inspiring one. As inspiring as the conference Visual Summit The first time it took place, there were about 900 participants. And after the conference more than 100 started a social business. That’s a good percentage!

But his talk was not only about giving examples. It was about what social business is and how to innovate as well. We have always the solutions in our own hands, but we can really see them. It’s always important to step back and to look form distance or the change the position from which you are looking at some problem. And never forget – a good solution cannot be complicated. The simplest, the best. It’s always like this. In nature everything is as simple as possible and as perfect as possible. And when we are speaking about products, the right question is always: “Do we need it?” If yes, do we need everything or only the basic use of the product?

The best example he gave was from the educational system. Teachers and scientists in South America were thinking why the education system is not working well? Why so many people are living the villages and go in the ghettos of the big cities? The answer was quite simple. The whole education system and all of the books were written from people from the cities for peoples from the cities. And this system and books create the bad image of the villages and make people go out of them. A new system and new books were written, especially for farmers and it turned out that farmers are much smarter than assumed! They hat then much more success than the people from the villages. In a next post, I’ll write in detail about one great project and how we can create vital villages and why (believe it or not) people from the villages are much more creative and innovative. Actually most of the greatest innovators in the history come from the villages and not from the cities!

What’s one of the biggest problems of the education system today? It is that there are not enough teachers, these are not inspired and don’t know how to cope with the difficulties in school. And almost no government seems to have the solution for these problems. But it’s simple, quite simple. You just have to change the point of view or turn back to the history and explore how it used to be. What about students teaching the teachers how to teach? Yes, students know best what they need and what they want. They can tell the teacher best how to teach. This model already functions quite well in some schools. In Finland they let some of the best students be teaching assistants. These not only explain better, but inspire better as well and are a good example for the other students. This is a model for areas where there are not enough teachers. And this is a typical situation in the villages in the developing world. This was the model in Bulgaria some hundred fifty years ago, when the country was still under the Turkish yoke. The older children used to teach the younger. This system helped a lot to improve the overall peoples’ education and after the liberation and the establishment of a independent country, Bulgaria developed in less than five years towards one of the most democratic and innovative countries in the world.

Normally countries provide social services to its citizens. But Australia decided to turn this upside down and started to act as a social investor. The country invests in companies who provide social services. This change of the view point seems to work really well. Worth mentioning is the Ashoka community, which mission is to help social changes in the world and create social entrepreneurs. And the Design Thinking School in Potsdam, which goal is to create innovators. Another interesting initiative is Stop Talking, Start Planting.

One of the highlights of the conference was the “show” of John Bird, the publisher of The Big Issue magazine. This is a magazine, which is sold by homeless people in UK. They buy it for one pound and sell it for two. This way they have some basic income and socialize with other people, learn how to work and so on. The aim is to empower this people to jump out of the poverty and make their own living. So it is actually an investment in social transformation out of poverty. I’ve said show and not presentation, because John is a typical Irish guy – easy-going, open-minded and always joking and laughing. So his presentation was much more like a show. We all had a lot of fun. On the same time he told us many things, which were extremely honest and serious and very important. He gave us a lot of clues how to help people out of poverty. And he gave us many good reasons why we have to do it. If you calculate the social expenses of a western country, you’ll see that financing the poor people on the streets is much more expensive that the whole education of a business school graduate. We not only spend so much money for the poor, we actually spend them against the poor. We spend all those money to keep them poor. A new way of thinking is needed. John Bird knows this best, because before becoming a publisher, he was a poor homeless guy as well. He is a guy with a long experience on the streets and in the jails. A unique guy, because there are really seldom people starting from the bottom of the society and achieving so much. We can learn a lot from them.