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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Social Entrepreneurship in Germany - An Israelian Perspective

At the beginning of September, we met here in Berlin with a group of people working on Social Entrepreneurship. One of them was Victor, a professor from Israel. Here are some of his reflections:

"When Markus (whom I met in Copenhagen at a conference) heard I was coming to Germany, he suggested we meet with the people at SELF, an incubator for social entrepreneurship that is just opening up in Berlin. The driving force behind SELF is Wiebke Koch, a German woman, who was born in the East and has moved a great deal since the age of 14. Wiebke began in the business world but was disturbed by that world, which she said made people "sick". So she began to work for NGO's, but there too she found that there was tremendous "waste" and "inefficiency" (and perhaps more than I cannot remember). In Australia she was introduced to social entrepreneurship. When she came back to Germany, she wanted to get involved in the the social entrepreneurship community, but she couldn't find it, so she decided to start one. She became involved in SOL (the Society for Organizational Learning) and there she met the people who were developing "the Hub". Essentially the Hub is a developing network of incubators for social entrepreneurship. This meeting gave her the idea of creating a Hub, which they call SELF, in Berlin.

Wiebke has been developing this idea of SELF for at least two years and it is set to open in November. SELF, and "Hubs" in general, are physical spaces, generally in large cities, that provide space, facilities, infrastructure, networking, and other services for social entrepreneurs. In addition to the physical space and infrastructure, SELF will offer three "business models" or services: an "incubator" for starting entrepreneurs, an "academy" for functioning entrepreneurs, and consulting services to business on the issue of innovation.

After much searching and almost giving up, SELF found the "perfect" space, over 600 square meter in a big residential-industrial building in Kreuzber. The space is currently being renovated, so we saw it in the middle of construction. There will be a large space for offices, to be rented to SE on a kind of time-sharing basis (from a few hours a week to full time). The offices will be located in a large open space with no dividing walls, so that the entrepreneurs will be in constant contact with each other. There will be another space for the academy, a "chilling" space as Wiebke called it (a kind of a lounge with food, informal meeting), meetings rooms, a library, and a kitchen.

Wiebke has put together a very impressive team of people to bring SELF into reality. Although each member of the team has a nominal role, they all are in the process of defining their roles individually and relative to each other and this role definition process is something that will continue to evolve as SELF comes into reality and evolves. "

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