Round-Up Talk on Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship

In this multi-part interview, five international experts report on how they deal with the topic of social innovation and entrepreneurship in very different ways. They also give tips for people who also want to convert their innovative ideas into concrete solutions and social and sustainable business concepts.

Our experts

Evans Quartey Hammond

Evans Quartey Hammond is a DAAD alumnus and an energetic and enthusiastic energy engineer from Ghana. He has a bachelor's degree in Renewable Energy from the University of Energy and Natural Resources, as well as a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering (Energy and Power Technology option) from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is the CEO of Ecox Energy Consult, a Ghanaian start-up that specialises in solar system design, installation, and maintenance, HVAC design, bio-briquette production from agricultural waste, biogas digester design and construction, energy efficiency projects, and the promotion of green hydrogen development projects. The company is open to collaboration and all forms of financial assistance.

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Tamara Ferreira Schmidt

Tamara Ferreira Schmidt is a Brazilian physicist specializing in Financial Engineering, Capital Markets and Derivatives. She has over 15 years of experience in investments and product structuring in traditional and disruptive markets. As a consultant and creator of personalized content about investments, startups, innovation, digital currencies and blockchain, Tamara has already lectured at São Paulo Tech Week, Tech Week FATEC, Trevisan Business School, Brazil-Germany Fintech eTour, TEDx KanzlerPark 2021, among other events. In 2020, Tamara was granted the German Chancellor Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She had the opportunity to investigate for 17 months the impacts of alternative financing and policy instruments on the Brazilian and German early-stage entrepreneurial ecosystems in partnership with the German Crowdfunding Association. Tamara is a mentor in entrepreneurship and startup areas at the Women’s Global Mentoring Program, which supports women in the STEM industry at all levels. In March 2022, she was selected as a female blockchain talent to participate in the DLT Talents Program from the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. Tamara can be reached via LinkedIn and her website.

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Ingo Steffgen

Ingo Steffgen has accumulated over 20 years of professional experience – as an academic, entrepreneur, and business whizz alike. He studied computer science and holds two international postgraduate degrees – a Master's degree in Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) as well as a Master of Business Administration (MBA). He is a Social Entrepreneur, Coach, and Mentor as well as Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He describes his life's work-in-progress blueprint being about integrating professional and personal lives. Ingo is a semi-part-time digital nomad and has been moving countries at least twice a year since 2007. In 2011, after 14 years in the corporate world, he moved from for-profit to impact-first sector. In his mind, self-employment is for everyone and enables people to stay in control of their lifes.

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Magdalena Parcheva

Magdalena Parcheva holds a PhD in Administration and Management. Currently, she is Head of the Social, Economic and Legal Sciences section at the Research Institute, Technical University of Varna, Bulgaria and part-time Assistant Professor at the Management and Administration Department, University of Economics of Varna, Bulgaria. She has experience as a lecturer in management and entrepreneurship and as an expert in project management. Magdalena has participated in the management teams of five EU-funded projects and is project manager of two international projects. She is a national expert consultant to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works for awarding a European label for innovations and good governance at local level. Also, she is the author of 52 academic publications. Her research interests lie in the fields of:entrepreneurship, corporate entrepreneurship, social innovation, and wworkplace innovations. She is alumna of the Roman Herzog Research Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and a member of the following professional organizations: Union of Scientists of Varna, Bulgaria, Economic Sciences Section and Humboldt Union in Bulgaria, Social Sciences and Humanities.

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Raju Gurung

Raju is currently a venture advisor, entrepreneur and consultant working at the intersection of technology, globalisation, biology and sustainability. He first got into entrepreneurship at the age of 17, shipping arts and crafts from Nepal to Asia pacific markets. He has been through typical start-up stages, made mistakes and continues learning. Currently, he runs two social-impact start-ups – IKIGAAI and PlanetLocal – to empower small independent artisans and women in the developing world. He also runs 10x innovators – a consulting unit dedicated to helping aspiring start-ups, entrepreneurs and corporations to build new ventures. He supports them in customer development, entering new markets, finding product-market fit, exceeding customer expectations, reducing organisational complexity and building solid systems to drive impactful innovation and resilient futures. Over the last six years he has been actively involved in the European start-up eco-system to help entrepreneurs realising their ikigai – their reason to wake up in the morning. He organised start-up weekend events in Denmark, has served on the jury at numerous events, including iGEM x Y Combinator-hosted competitions, and been part of Founders of Tomorrow. Most importantly he has personally coached over 60 start-ups around the world through his engagement at Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship (CSE), TH.O Hackathons, Venture Cup, Global Innovation Catalyst, among many others. He is sector and region agnostic, and he supports start-ups and ventures across all verticals and stages. When he is not working, you'll find him stretching and meditating, exploring new places, and engaging in photography.

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Five experts, five questions: question 1

Social innovations aim at creating a more worthwhile society for all. How would you define social innovations, and – in your view – which are currently the greatest challenges to which social innovations could provide solutions?

Tamara Ferreira Schmidt:

The Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business defines social innovations as new solutions to a social problem that are more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals. Working in the financial market and researching related topics, I can mention the lack of access to the conventional financial system by poor people as a big challenge. Microfinance and crowdfunding are social innovations that handle it somehow because they give people an alternative to escape the subsistence cycle. Other solutions from different fields can be highlighted as well. Wello's initiative emerged from identifying the need of people who need to walk kilometers to get water in underdeveloped countries. The company created an instrument (WaterWheel), with an affordable price, which holds up to 50 liters of water and can be rolled along the path traveled, being an alternative to clay pots.

Ingo Steffgen:

Over the past decade I have repeatedly redefined the term ‘social innovations’, at least for myself. On the one hand, I realised over the course of the years that the concept as such applies to all (radical) reformers. For example to Martin Luther, but certainly even further back than that. The other aspect is the fact that this is not always about specific disruptive societal improvements, but about small things that can make a difference. This is why social innovation to me is everything that enables us to make friends across borders and to build intercultural networks that form the basis for peace. Opportunities for open-minded exchange are vital here, including through social media but even more so due to the fact that everybody can learn about different cultures and learn to appreciate them.

Magdalena Parcheva:

At the present stage, social innovations as theory and practice are gaining special relevance. Social innovation is the subject of increased research interest, it is the focus of public programs and stimulus measures to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is difficult to give an unambiguous definition of the term "social innovation", as it has many faces. Innovative technological solutions that are co-created and contribute to the integration of vulnerable groups in education and the labor market are examples of social innovations. New approaches and forms of cooperation that have been developed and adopted by various stakeholders and address challenges related to climate change are a manifestation of social innovation. New mechanisms for citizen participation in the process of shaping local policies that contribute to good governance at the local level is another example of social innovation. From the management point of view, social innovations comprise new business models that aim at both achieving economic efficiency and realizing a social mission. Social innovation is also the combination of new social practices that invariably accompany the implementation of technological solutions, and thus contribute to the improvement of economic development and quality of life.

In this sense, I would define social innovations as new solutions that have been developed together with different stakeholders in response to societal challenges in order to achieve social impact. Social innovations create social value and contribute to social change and sustainable development. Today's social challenges are manigfold: social inequalities, climate change, the social side of digitalisation and the growing use of robotic solutions and artificial intelligence systems. The consequences of the hostilities in Ukraine lead to major public challenges as well: human tragedy, humanitarian crisis, large-scale refugee waves, as ell as economic consequences that have their own social projections.

Evans Quartey Hammond:

Social innovation is a paradigm that consists of new ideas or hybrids of existing ones that are used to empower people and foster social solidarity, thereby contributing to economic viability and social change. The concept aims to meet new needs that the market has not satisfied, as well as to develop new, more satisfying ways of giving people a better social life. Social innovations could include the creation of biodegradable bags made from non-edible plants, bio-briquettes made from agricultural waste, a global action plan for zhe transition to renewable energy by 2050, as well as regenerative agriculture. Social innovations can be used to address social issues, such as social exclusion, high unemployment, poverty, and environmental challenges by bolstering people's capacity to meet their own needs. The emphasis is on developing people's skills, reinforcing their self-confidence, and motivating them to adopt positions and solve societal problems.

Raju Gurung:

Our current reality is that we live in a highly polarised and unequal world where far too many groups and societies have not been incorporated into the new industrialised and digital economy. If executed correctly, social innovations are an important antidote to this problem. In my view, social innovation at its core is about reducing human suffering and enabling human beings to enjoy a better quality of life. 

Currently, social innovations still focus on Maslow’s lower level of needs – ensuring global food security, eliminating homelessness, securing access to clean drinking water and clothing, and finally providing access to jobs. We need to enable smart interdisciplinary teams of social innovators to come together to solve these complex challenges. Furthermore, we need better policies, incentives and co-ordinated eco-systems to enact these challenges.

Discuss with our experts and others in the community!

In your opinion, in which areas are social innovations particularly necessary to solve existing social challenges? Maybe you also have your own innovative business ideas to create a more sustainable and liveable world? Tell us and others about it in our community discussion.

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May 2022

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