Wilderness Entrepreneurship Competences
For the first edition of IP EWE, the competences for entrepreneurship were not clearly articulated before the programme implementation. However afterwards, a set of competences that capture the learning goals of the IP were identified. Based on a free interpretation of the study by Lans et al. (2013), and in line with the initial ideas that shaped the IP, five clusters of competences for wilderness entrepreneurship were constructed:
• Opportunity competence, which refers to problem spotting, an eye for innovation, a sense of creativity and foresight thinking. It is also considered as an action oriented competence with aspects of self-efficacy.
• Social competence, which refers to dealing with diversity, interdisciplinarity and multi-stakeholder contexts at the interpersonal level referring to communication, facilitation and enabling participation.
• Normative competence, which refers to the ability to deal simultaneously with diverse dimensions. These dimensions may be perceived as conflictive yet require to be integrated in a sustainability perspective such as economic, ethic, political social and environmental dimensions. This integrative view on society and environment makes that this competency also deals with moral decision-making and citizenship (Closs 2011).
• Complexity competence, which refers to the ability to focus on complex problems and system thinking. It is the ability to identify and analyse (sub) systems and domains, and the ability to understand and reflect on boundaries and interdependencies. This competence also refers to the ability to explore uncertain futures (Enserink 2010).
• Business competence, which refers to the ability to realise and manage project and business opportunities.
The main IP assignment aimed for the integration of the above-mentioned competences by giving the IP students the task to create a business model for regional development in Western Iberia. This assignment challenged students, while working in interdisciplinary and international teams, to transfer problems into business opportunities and to come up with innovative and sustainable solutions in a complex situation within multi-stakeholder contexts.
Students operationalized the business competence on the level of creating a business model while the other aspects of the business competence (ability to realise and manage a business) was considered outside the scope of this IP. When creating a business model students also worked on the opportunity competence as it deals with innovation and creativity. From the questionnaire it became clear that students recognized this competence: “I learned how to make my idea creative and at the same
time convincing.” Students remarked that being creative is hard, but considered it a must in solving new kinds of problems and added that an open mind is necessary. When asked what they learned about nature entrepreneurship, the majority of the participants indicate that they now have a broader view on the topic. They now see that entrepreneurship is a nature conservation strategy that brings opportunities and have a reservoir of examples on how to connect business to nature. Especially the students with a background in ecology or ecology-related subject considered nature entrepreneurship as an eye opener.
During this assignment, students were deliberately put together in mixed groups. The interdisciplinary and international groups led students to work on their social competence. They had to deal with diversity and interdisciplinarity and came to learn the importance of social skills such as negotiating and clearly communicating. The majority of the participants indicate that this interdisciplinarity was very important and needed for good results or right decisions. Students reflect on this as follows: “Interdisciplinarity is necessary to make the right decisions when solving complex situations”. They also express doubts: “Not sure if it worked, because it felt more as if we were just adding different disciplines together ( so including everything) instead of going in between.” Learning outcomes in relation to intercultural communication and language were mentioned by many students: “I learned that intercultural communication is even harder than I remembered and that it is challenging to stay open minded while you feel like others don't.” In a general way they praised the collaboration with all the different cultures, because it opened up new ways of thinking about and dealing with the issues involved: “Different cultures also leads to different interpretations of issues. Learning how to deal with this can minimize the conflicts. It was really important.”
During the stakeholder meetings, students developed their social, normative, and complexity competences. They came to learn the importance of social skills such as communication while recognising the complexity of a situation in which different norms come together. A student remarked that the Rewilding Europe's concepts sounded pretty easy and logical in theory, but that is was almost impossible to do in practice. Although recognized as hard, students appreciated being exposed to the diverse opinions as this quote exemplifies: “One thing can be bad for someone and good for another person. It is good to hear different and sometimes even completely opposed opinions about one thing.”
Learning outcomes regarding the potential of the Rewilding Europe initiative and entrepreneurship further laid the foundation for the complexity and normative competences. Whereas students had seen the potential of the Rewilding Europe initiative before and used to consider it as a 'simple' answer to land abandonment, they increasingly realised the associated complexities and the diverse contexts. They were able to contest the concept of 'wilderness' and realised the relevance of local support. This made them doubt the possibilities of rewilding areas. Normativity became also apparent when dealing with the concept of nature entrepreneurship. Students remarked that they changed their view on 'making money' and started to see it as a necessity for a sustainable company or NGOs. This concern for the economic aspects seems to be a delicate issue as one student concludes that this is especially important for those conservationists or ecologists who seem to think that “nature is more important than mankind and that money is wrong”: “You can also use money to do good things.”
The majority of the participants considered networking and the use of networks as a very important part of entrepreneurship, which relates to both the social and the business competences. Students reflected on that aspect with remarks about the importance of networking for the development of business. They acknowledge especially the examples provided. Networking is mostly regarded as positive but students also problematized it: “Networking is very important to make choices that work for a longer time, but it also makes things more difficult, because opinions of people differ. I was thrown between different world views when speaking to one person and then to another.”