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All about social startups: The On Purpose case

On Purpose trains senior social enterprise executives in the one-year associate program. The trained so-called responsibility in professional life at the same time social, environmental and commercial challenges. The concept was successfully introduced in Germany. How did it go and what can we learn from the others? We talked about it with Fabienne of On Purpose:

On Purpose has come from the UK to Germany. Now a few years have passed. Did everything go as planned?

Entrepreneurship – whether social or non-social – always means dealing well with insecurity and being able to react spontaneously to changing conditions. If doing everything in a completely new market as a startup “as planned”, that would be very surprising. But so far we are very satisfied with the thoughtful and steadily positive development of On Purpose Berlin. Our vintages are growing. We started with 14 associates a year, and now 26 associates complete our program each year. However, working closely with people still makes small groups necessary. Therefore, a natural limit of the vintage strength for us is 20 participants. Our success is also reflected in the fact that some of the partner organizations have already worked with us again and again, which speaks for their satisfaction. Nevertheless, we regularly notice during acquisition that our generalist approach still needs a lot of communication and explanation. The organizations often expect project-specific specialists instead of highly qualified generalists.

Of course, our work is also accompanied by challenges. Collaboration with people and organizations is always a very individual one. A lot can happen on both sides within a year. Here it is then necessary to prove instinct. The positive development of On Purpose in Berlin is slowly but surely emerging in our growing core team. It all started with a one-man show, today we are three permanent employees and one part-time employee. There is also a student trainee and an intern. Our internationally growing community, consisting of our mother in London and our sister in Paris, as well as our network of mentors, coaches and trainers, has always been instrumental in our development. They now form a reliable network that helps and supports each other.

Our national network has also played a major role in our development in recent years, not least because of our vision, which is based on a growing community. The social enterprise scene in Berlin is growing. Now only other cities have to follow. In discussions with organizations from central Germany, for example, we often notice that it is time to break through the Berlin bubble with our themes and visions.

Hand on heart: What can we learn in terms of social entrepreneurship from the UK and France?

Well, let’s take as an example the recognition of the charitable nature of On Purpose Berlin. We were denied a name as gGmbH here in Germany, while our sister in Paris and our mother in London operate as non-profit organizations. Of course, this recognition would have given us much easier access to certain initiatives and awards, and of course financial resources.

Regardless of the company name, there are differences to our mother and sister, e.g. the centralism prevailing in France and London. All big companies are located there directly in the capitals, which leads to interesting collaborations. In Germany, however, many of them can still be found in the south and west. When it comes to initiating partnerships with larger organizations in order to promote sustainable and social change there too, the local difference in Berlin is clearly noticeable. Social entrepreneurship has long been part of the economic system, especially in London. There are therefore more partners from the public sector. On account of the small number of start-ups in Germany, one can also see that the risk appetite here is very low.

And to come back to my note from just now: in Anglo-American, it is sufficient to be certified as Bcorp. Social entrepreneurship is simply more strongly promoted here, irrespective of the legal form. We are therefore very pleased that with the Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany eV (SEND) an initiative has emerged in Germany, which aims to help the topic not only to become more well-known, but also to facilitate social start-up entrepreneurs , For example, in 2017, together with the IBB, it managed to make promotional loans available to social enterprises. So things are moving within Germany as well, the movement just has to grow now!

What did you do with On Purpose?

Our goal is to actively contribute to an economy that works for everyone. For us this means, among other things, supporting the connection between entrepreneurship and sustainability in a social and ecological sense. In order to connect both worlds and to ensure further growth of the social enterprise sector, however, junior staff are required who also have the necessary skills for this! That’s why we launched the associate program. The one-year continuing education year provides highly qualified employees from the corporate sector with the appropriate tools to promote social and ecological change and to play a major role in the world of the German social enterprise sector.

What impact do you achieve in Germany?

First of all, it is important to understand that our program supports not only people but also very different forms of organizations. From the foundation to the limited liability company – from the trade in consumer products to the work on humans – Startup or large companies: our associates support where they can work! And so, with a successful collaboration, the impact of the partner companies will also be a small part of our impact. In Germany, we now have 55 fellows – ie former participants who have successfully completed our program. Our international network already consists of more than 450 Fellows today. Of these, 85% continue to work on the combination of sustainability and entrepreneurship after the program. On average, each of them has generated an added value of approximately € 56,000 for the partner organizations in which he / she was involved in the program. Worldwide, this now adds up to some 25 million added value for the social and sustainable sectors.

What are your other plans?

In the medium term, for On Purpose Berlin, it’s time to start growing healthy and steady. It would be great if we could win 13 or even more participants and partner organizations in the coming year. After all, the goal is to keep our community growing and thus to generate a sustainable influence on the economic and social development in the world. In the summer we will also be working on a fellow who should support our team here in Berlin regarding the Learning & Development Program. In the long term, digitization in relation to the expansion of our training program will be an issue for us. Also, the feasibility of the program in other cities within Europe or even worldwide, will probably still be an issue for us.


Also published on Medium.

Published inStartups

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