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Markus Sauerhammer: "Let's finally cut off the old pigtails"

Markus Sauerhammer: "Let's finally cut off the old pigtails"
Photo: © Kristoffer Swetje / Startnext Crowdfunding

Whether and how the GroKo comes is not clear. However, the new coalition agreement now explicitly mentions the topic of "social entrepreneurship" for the first time. What exactly is planned? And what can social entrepreneurs hope to achieve? We talk about this with Markus Sauerhammer from Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland e.V.  


CCB Magazine: Hello Markus, in the new coalition agreement the topic "Social Entrepreneurship" is explicitly mentioned for the first time, also "social innovations" are mentioned several times. In the coalition agreement of 2013, however, "social innovation" was mentioned only once. What do you expect from the new government?

Markus Sauerhammer: A lot. One would think that Germany would play a pioneering role in the field of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. But that is not the case. The study "The best country to be a Social Entrepreneur" puts it in a nutshell: All in all, Germany ranks 12th among the 45 richest countries, but only 34th/45th in the category "Support from the policies of the respective government" - between Greece and Mexico. I find that more than embarrassing. That is why the inclusion of "social entrepreneurship" in the coalition agreement is praiseworthy. But now it's time to back up the announcements with concrete measures and resources.

We need a new innovation center in Germany in which social startups, civil society and the government work together on future-oriented solutions

CCB Magazine: However, the paper does not name concrete measures, instruments or targets, nor does it specify the exact dates when and to what extent something on the topic of "social entrepreneurship" should be implemented. Isn't that a bit thin?

Markus Sauerhammer: This is it. The positions of the various parties also show that there is still a lot of room for improvement. In other countries, the topic of social entrepreneurship is already much more advanced. For example, Great Britain has set up a fund for investments in social and societal innovation of over £600 million via Big Society Capital, and has also given strong financial and strategic support to the establishment of a network similar to the Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland (SEND). As a result, this network now has well over 5,000 members and cooperates with six ministries. In our opinion, there are four central points for the future: Increased financing of social innovations, increasing visibility and networking, removing barriers to starting a social start-up and promoting talent for a career in social entrepreneurship. Our proposals can be read in detail here.

CCB Magazine: Enlighten us: What is social entrepreneurship for you?

Markus Sauerhammer:By Social Entrepreneurship, I understand, like my association, the development of solutions for social challenges with entrepreneurial instruments. Social Entrepreneurship is in many cases a hybrid of classical startups and non-profit organizations. Its primary purpose is the positive social and ecological impact as well as economic sustainability. It's therefore about the sustainability triangle of ecology, social and economic sustainability.

CCB Magazine: In the coalition agreement, however, the social aspects outweigh the ecological ones. The issues of the removal of time limits from employment contracts and possible full employment are central. Ecological issues are of secondary importance. Does that disappoint you?

Markus Sauerhammer: In relation to the ecological, yes. I personally consider a solution to our ecological challenges to be just as important as many of the social aspects. After all, a broad section of society will only be enthusiastic about ecological issues if we strive to find a solution for the social and existential and reduce fears. And on the subject of "removing time limits from employment contracts" and "full-time employment": We need to discuss this. In my view, however, digitization has brought us into a period of permanent change. Work as we know it today will change radically in the coming years.

CCB Magazine: What exactly do you mean?

Markus Sauerhammer:Work will become more flexible. And so it would be time to try out new and modern instruments - at least experimentally - for the further development of our welfare state. While in other countries experiments around the Unconditional Basic Income are common practice through governments - Finland was the first European country to introduce the Basic Income last year - similar initiatives in this country like my "Mein Grundeinkommen" have not yet been supported by the state.

CCB Magazine:But isn't it a contradiction to demand free entrepreneurship on the one hand and to hope for support from the state on the other?

Markus Sauerhammer: I do not see this as a contradiction. It's about taking on challenges for society as a whole, and this is where social entrepreneurs do the groundwork. They test models from which politics can learn.

CCB Magazine: Can you bring some examples?

Markus Sauerhammer: Take the platform CityMart: CityMart revolutionizes the solution of municipal challenges. If a city identifies a problem, the employees of the responsible authority usually issue a call for tender to find a solution. However, it's not clarified or considered in advance which procedure could offer good or better solutions. This is where CityMart comes in: it facilitates the search for suitable solutions so that implementation is more target-oriented and ultimately no resources are unnecessarily consumed. As a user, I can then see how the problem has already been solved in other cities and which of the solutions have worked and how. But the paradox is that although CityMart founder Sascha Haselmayer comes from Germany and is an excellent social entrepreneur as an Ashoka Fellow, not a single city in Germany works with him. International cities such as Paris, London, Dublin and New York, on the other hand, are already among the CityMart users and support the project. Haselmayer has reported on his experiences here in enorm magazine. I don't want to know how many millions or even billions of taxpayers' money have been burned by the ignorance of this one social enterprise alone.

Are in a good mood: The team of Social Entrepreneureship Netzwerk Deutschland e.V. Photo © Frederike Coring / Copyright Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland

CCB Magazine: Social entrepreneurs, as it is often said, take a notch: They tackle issues that are not sufficiently represented by politics and advocate solutions that the state is unable to solve. Doesn't this mean that the state is abandoning its responsibilities if it increasingly leaves the field to economic actors?

Markus Sauerhammer: It's not about the state getting rid of its responsibilities. It should promote what is good for society and what brings progress. At present, it is only the economy that is producing the greatest part of the groundbreaking innovations, especially those from outside established organizational structures. Just like many start-ups, social entrepreneurs are questioning existing solutions and establishing completely new solutions that ultimately win through with a higher benefit for the respective target group. This is where the state should think of the entrepreneurial and the social together and promote them in a targeted manner.

CCB Magazine: But isn't there a danger that this is subject to social economic interests?

Markus Sauerhammer: One should not be played off against the other. Let me make a suggestion: What if we set up a completely new solution and innovation process in line with our values? A quasi-new division of labor in line with our values between politics and new economic models.

CCB Magazine: How could that look like?

Markus Sauerhammer: This could mean that social entrepreneurs work on new solutions for our social challenges and that the state takes over these solutions when they are proven to be effective - but social entrepreneurs should also be able to earn money. And such projects could be tested without difficulty. A new center for social and societal innovation would be a good start. I ask myself why this is not yet in place for the taxpayer-funded Digital Hub Initiative? What we need is a kind of innovation center in Germany, where social startups, civil society, the state and welfare work together on future-oriented solutions.

CCB Magazine: But isn't the topic of social entrepreneurship fundamentally overestimated? You write on your website: "We are facing a multitude of social challenges. Climate change, child and old-age poverty, reform backlog in the education system, integration of refugees or demographic change". These are problem areas that cannot be solved by social entrepreneurs. Isn't the state primarily responsible for these issues?

Markus Sauerhammer: The one does not work without the other. It's about a new way of moving toward each other between the state, business and civil society. To achieve this, however, we must finally cut off the old pigtails and abandon the idea that "the state" is an abstract institution that must not change. The state and its organs are us! That is why we as civil society should help shape this process of renewal. And social entrepreneurship is an important instrument for this.

"The state" is not an abstract institution that must not change. The state and its organs are us. That is why we as civil society should also help shape this process of renewal. And social entrepreneurship is an important instrument for this

CCB Magazine:Let's talk about money. Statistics show that more than 80 percent of all startups fail within three years. If you take stock: What are the most common reasons why social entrepreneurs fail?

Markus Sauerhammer:The reasons are manifold. But most projects fail not because of the financing, but because of a lack of response from the target group. Here, social entrepreneurs have a much harder time than traditional companies. For many of the social entrepreneurs, the state, municipalities or public institutions are the potential customers. At the same time, however, it's difficult to be taken into account in public tendering procedures - public financing instruments for start-up support are in most cases not adapted to the needs of social entrepreneurs. In addition, the instrument of start-up subsidies has become a toothless tiger due to the changeover from a statutory compulsory benefit to a discretionary benefit with placement priority on the labor market. Especially well qualified social entrepreneurs do not have access to this funding instrument. As an alternative, the coalition agreement for 2013 announced a start-up period similar to parental leave. Unfortunately nothing has happened here.

CCB Magazine:Among KfW's financing instruments, however, there was already a first pilot for a financing program for social entrepreneurs.

Markus Sauerhammer:This is true, but the program did not really meet the needs of the target group. Instead of developing it further iteratively, it was simply discontinued. In addition, the coalition agreement for 2013 also envisaged dovetailing crowdfunding with KfW financing instruments. For social entrepreneurs in particular, this would have had great potential, since a large number of the actors involved collect start-up financing through it - if only for lack of alternatives. Unfortunately, nothing has happened here either. Fortunately, some state development banks are now setting a good example. The Investitionsbank Berlin has also set up its own financing product for this purpose.

CCB Magazine:You emphasize the lack of instruments in the start-up phase. But it's also about financing growth. How far have we gotten?

Markus Sauerhammer: Impact Investing is still in its infancy in Germany. In the area of purely economic innovations, one works with venture capital and this is intensively supported by governmental instruments such as the High Tech Gründerfonds or the investment grant venture capital. Unfortunately, there are no such instruments in the area of social innovations. This also applies to the area of sustainability: the instruments of public support for start-ups have so far not rewarded social or ecological added value at all. Everyone is talking about sustainability, so sustainable solutions are needed. How do we intend to transfer our values into a new age when current subsidy and tax policies reward entrepreneurial action that ignores social and societal aspects?

CCB Magazine: There are also positive examples. In the context of migration movements, for example, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, together with the betterplace lab and openTransfer, organized a Digital Refugee Summit. Are these not ways in the right direction?

Markus Sauerhammer: In any case, I do not want to belittle that either. But the Digital Refugee Summit was only organized during the so-called "refugee crisis", i.e. from the time when it was actually already too late. Another example is the social enterprise Kiron Higher Education. This company received start-up funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to expand its own work. Here in particular, I expect a lot from the announcements in the current coalition agreement.

CCB Magazine:What is your goal as a network for social entrepreneurs in the future? What will you fight for?

Markus Sauerhammer: We live in a time of great technological and economic upheaval. So far, however, we have primarily focused on economic use. But it's much more exciting to see what added value we can create for society in this period of upheaval. This is where we want to bring about a change in thinking. We are committed to making progress that benefits society as a whole - whether by making the economy more sustainable or solving the major social challenges of our time!

CCB Magazine: What do you specifically hope for from politics?

Markus Sauerhammer: What we would primarily like to see from politicians are similar framework and funding conditions to those for economic and technological innovations. That would be a start. So far, social and societal innovations have unfortunately fallen through the cracks in many funding programs. We would like to see a new adjustment here. And we have already made concrete proposals. You can read them here.

CCB Magazine: Markus, thank you for the interview.

Profie of Markus Sauerhammer on Creative City Berlin 

Category: Innovation & Vision


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