Three weeks ago Germany’s Federal Ministry of Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth hosted a multi-stakeholder conference on ‘Advancement and diffusion of social innovations in Germany’. The conference brought together a diverse group of civil society organizations, foundations, government agencies, companies and financial institutions. The 200 conference participants were looking for a new rhythm of innovation in Germany’s social sector.
The range of ideas presented at this conference should grab the attention of a wider audience. Take a listen to some of these songs:
- ‘The social impact lab tune’: In one session, representatives of NGOs, municipalities and companies met to discuss how start-up labs for social enterprises can be set up in more German metropolitan and rural areas. Norbert Kunz, whose company iqconsult runs social impact labs in Berlin and Hamburg, led the discussion.
- ‘Breaking down walls rhythm’: Germany’s third sector is one of great diversity. Nevertheless a couple of large welfare organizations often set the tone in public debates. For a foreign observer this is best illustrated by the fact that the Caritas, the welfare arm of the Catholic Church, employs around 500,000 people in its various regional associations, hospitals, etc. The conference tried to break down walls between these large organizations and small social enterprises. Caritas, for instance, ran a workshop in which it presented how it promotes social innovation within its organization and how it works together with social enterprises.
- ‘Transfer anthem’: Professor Dr Hans Fleisch, secretary general of the German Association of Foundations, presented in another session the idea of a transfer or scaling foundation. This would be an institution in which foundations would funnel funds to jointly support the scaling of good practices.
- ‘The social reporting song’: The Social Reporting Standard is now being used by a growing group of foundations and social enterprises. In one of the sessions this initiative presented examples of how grantees and grantmakers have implemented the standard in their daily work.
A conference with around 200 participants can hardly be compared with a big rock or pop event, and accordingly the media coverage of the event has mainly stayed within the sector. Nevertheless, something special happens when Ashoka, Diakonia, kfw, parliamentwatch.org, Vodafone Foundation, Zeppelin University (these are just examples for the many institutions present) try out to dance together. I have to think about the small rhythm & blues concerts that started to change the face of popular music in the 1940s and ‘50s. The multi-stakeholder conference brought something to the forefront that has already been happening for a while in the social sphere. Song by song, it may change the way we perceive social innovation in a country like Germany.
Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner of Active Philanthropy