German Social Entrepreneur

On June 13, 2019, Dr. Branko Woischwill (FU Berlin, JFK Institute) had the chance to meet Christina Klein, social entrepreneur (Hanseatic Help e.V., Hamburg). In this interview, local and general success factors of social entrepreneurship are discussed.

Question: Can you describe your social enterprise in two or three sentences?

Christina Klein: Hanseatic Help is a local NGO, we provide logistical support for social organizations in Hamburg and throughout Germany. We support refugees, homeless people and other fellow human beings by distributing donations, encourage voluntary work, intercultural encounters and help with a variety of integration measures in education, training, work and society.

Question: When talking about social entrepreneurship, please describe the factors in your region that affect the success of social entrepreneurship. If someone wants to be successful and influential as a social entrepreneur, which conditions in your region influence the success of social entrepreneurship in a positive way and in a negative way?

Christina Klein: Hamburg is a very tolerant, diverse and social city. People are open for social projects and are instantly interested in supporting them. Lately somebody told me, that the acceptance of NGOs to get financial support is way higher than for social businesses, which I can confirm. Generally speaking: People are easier “to get”, when you talk about a lot of voluntary work with the outcome f.e. to reduce suffering. But when the business factor is added, people become some kind of more careful. I think, this is a mindset, which makes the work of social entrepreneurs in some ways even harder. They have to proof that they are worth to be supported. I think, social entrepreneurs are helping in many cases even more than any NGOs, because they are not only reducing the suffering. They have a way different value chain, for example by helping to make people successful, who maybe never experienced that in their life’s. It is a next level of fulminant and in important one in this society.

Question: Which networks in your region play an important role in successfully gaining influence as a social entrepreneur? What are the characteristics of these networks? How can one gain access to these networks?

Christina Klein: I have the impression that the key might be to get to know as much as people you can, who are operating on the same level like you. As Hamburg has a huge amount of networking events every week (around sustainability, woman empowerment, new work and so on) it can function like a fertile ground for a social entrepreneurship, I would recommended this as a first step. To mention some- “12minme”, “Moin&Machen” or “weciety”. Start to join them, if you feel confident, you can apply for a talk, build your own network, by making as many connections as possible. Obstacle – you need to speak German for the most of these events. Learning the language to start to follow the conversations may be the first step.

Question: Which resources in your region are important to succeed as a social entrepreneur? What are the characteristics of these resources? How can you get access to these resources?

Christina Klein: I would come back to my previous point – language and a personal network. I think everything else can be evolve out of these two. If you do not know, how to do it, you can always ask somebody, who is doing something similar like you or has a local understanding of these things and can support. To do it alone may be a hard way to start and it requires a lot more resources and terms of money, time and personal power.

Question: If someone wants to succeed in your region as a social entrepreneur, what knowledge should that person have? In what way can one obtain this knowledge? When talking about knowledge, what obstacles in your region should be considered to gain more knowledge?

Christina Klein: As everywhere, you need to understand the German principles of how to build up a company. Probably some workshops are offered by the Handelskammer around this. A fundamental knowledge of online marketing and crowdfunding is always helpful.

Question: What can be said about a specific mindset – let’s call it the social entrepreneur mindset: How relevant is such a mindset in order to become a successful social entrepreneur?

Christina Klein: Enormously, and not only for social entrepreneurship, I think, it has always an influence on anything, what we do in our life. But, not everyone is born with it or has the privilege, to have had parents with this kind of forward leaning attitude. You can change a mindset by starting anyway with some bold actions to surprise yourself. It is always better to start than not to do anything it at all.