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DISCOVERING THE POTENTIAL OF "LEARNING JOURNEYS"

Social Entre- and Entrepreneurship as Key Competencies for Creating Sustainable Innovation-Oriented Organizations

Carolin Gebel and Claudia Neusuβ

Organizations are learning communities: They learn—or forget—the things they need in order to cope with a constant process of change. To be open to new ideas and approaches, both profit-based and nonprofit organizations require alert employees who are self-confident and creative, who can reflect and analyze, and who have social and communicative competence as well as leadership and teamwork skills. That means the ability to manage change, complexity and diversity, as well as to promote innovation and help shape society. Ever greater significance is being attached to entrepreneurship as a key competence for successful, flexible and innovative organizations facing change.

As agents of social change, social entrepreneurs make use of creative, entrepreneurial talent and knowledge. Their efforts are fuelled by a high degree of enthusiasm and conviction. They draw upon experience and knowledge from different disciplines as a foundation for their skills, yet at the same time are willing to question precisely this experience and knowledge and to take on new conceptual approaches, a will for social change, and new perspectives in order to sustainably address social challenges that have not yet been satisfactorily solved.

By striking off on new paths, social entrepreneurs raise awareness for the social benefits of economic systems (Dees, 2002; Yunus, 2007). Financial and material resources may occupy their attention to a greater (social business) or lesser (social entrepreneurship) extent. These resources, however, are viewed primarily as a means to an end. The main focuses are on addressing imbalances in society by entrepreneurial means and on generating social capital.

Here is where we launch our "Learning Journey" approach. It is designed as a journey to develop key social entrepreneurial competencies such as fostering innovation and teamwork on a sustainable basis, promoting social expertise and responsibility, using values as orientation, and bringing new ideas into the world. The core elements of a Learning Journey consist of sharpening and developing individual perception, and promoting entrepreneurial action. As such, Learning Journeys are not only of interest to future social entrepreneurs, but also to actors at different levels in company hierarchies who approach their work with an entrepreneurial attitude. Known as social entrepreneurs, these actors generally exhibit equal measures of innovation and personal responsibility. The needle of their value-orientation compass points toward sustainability, which supports their navigational skills as they shape their environments.

Our motivation and encouragement for pursuing the Learning Journey developmental strategy are due in part to having received a special recognition award in the field of university innovation in 2008 from the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft (innovation agency for the German science system) and the Bundesvereinigung der deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (Confederation of German Employers' Associations—BDA). In 2011, the Learning Journey titled "Spaß haben, Gutes tun, Geld verdienen—Sozialunternehmerische Schlüsselkompetenzen für zukünftige Fach- und Führungskräfte" ("Having Fun, Doing Good, Earning Money: Key Social Entrepreneurial Competencies for Future Specialists and Managers") received the prize for "Beste Lehre an der Fakultät Wirtschaft und Management" ("Best Course in the Business and Management Department") at the Technische Universität Berlin.[1]

As developers of organizations, as consultants, as teachers and coaches, we see a wide range of fields in which Learning Journeys can be used. In this article, we examine which constellation and qualities of key competencies are especially significant in promoting social entrepreneurship.[2] We view social entrepreneurship as an attitude, yet also as a key competence in itself which should be developed and linked in all respects to other key competencies. Which key competencies are of special significance in which organizational and cultural contexts can only be determined on a system-specific basis ("What is important?"), and thus cannot be specified beforehand.

Taking two examples of actual practice, we show the development potential that Learning Journeys have in different contexts of application. Our example in a university framework provides a view of how Learning Journeys can be used as a space to develop key social entrepreneurial competencies and foster future specialists and administrative personnel. Taking another example from an in-house business setting, we trace the steps and effects of the process to show how Learning Journeys can be used to create a more vibrant organizational culture.

  • [1] This chapter derives from the symposium we led at the MOT Conference in Vienna on December 3, 2010. We would like to express our appreciation here for the invitation and the opportunity to present and discuss our Learning Journey approach to developing social entrepreneurship.
  • [2] The term "key qualifications" ("Schlussel qualifikationen") has been used, further developed and critically questioned in many different contexts since its introduction (Meertens, 1974).
 
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