Nothing can replace personal contact when it comes to establishing lasting connections.

Within the empowering people. Network, Sabine Baumeister is responsible for activities including offline workshops and training sessions and helps to make the virtual network visible in “real life”.

The German and Scandinavian studies graduate is working since the founding of Siemens Stiftung in 2009 with social entrepreneurs. Before this she spent over ten years in the Communication division of Siemens AG. This is an area dealt with by the epOnsite training sessions too.

What makes the empowering people. Network different?

The empowering people. Network brings together inventors and social entrepreneurs from all over the world who develop and use technological solutions for basic services in developing regions. The network would like to make more potential users aware of these solutions internationally, initiate partnerships to make greater use of them and thus provide better basic services for more people.

Since 2014, the empowering people. Network has been offering regional training sessions for developers and social entrepreneurs under the name empowering people. Onsite. What is the background here?

A network is only as good as its members. Nothing can replace personal contact when it comes to establishing lasting connections. The training sessions are restricted to specific regions, for example various East African countries. This regional focus offers the right mixture of cultural and socio-economic similarities and differences. Participants can learn from each other and then remain in contact afterwards. Working closely together over the three days creates a familiarity within the epNetwork team itself which allows us to share ideas even after the training sessions.

How do you choose the topics for the training sessions and how do you convey these topics?

The epNetwork has participants throughout the world and we therefore know fairly well which topics interest entrepreneurs, and inventors. Communication is one example. In the start-up phase in particular, dialog with customers, business partners and potential investors is an important success factor. Our participants are plagued by the question: How can I explain my product or business model in a few succinct sentences? How can I produce with limited resources communication materials which meet the expectations of investors who often have westernized ideas? Who is my customer and could there be target groups somewhere that I might have overlooked?

A key feature of the epOnsites is a participative learning approach. Although we or experts pass on a basic level of theoretical knowledge, the main priority is to enable participants to come up with the relevant answers for their company themselves through asking questions and setting tasks.
We aren’t the experts, the social entrepreneurs themselves are. It’s particularly nice to experience “aha moments” in the group or among individual participants.

How can you in Munich know what social entrepreneurs in the field really need?

Generally speaking, we always develop our content and the plan for the epOnsites in a mixed team made up of the Stiftung, partner organizations and experts from the region. For the last epOnsite for example, we worked with the German “adelphi” organization and Romy Cahyadi from Jakarta. As head of various organizations including Inkubator UnLtd Indonesia, he was able to contribute both specialist and local, regional knowledge.

Network members very often contribute ideas and starting points. In March 2016, an epOnsite took place in Panaruban, Indonesia, where Tri Mumpuni, a member of our network with her social company IBEKA, is based. We took the opportunity to visit one of her MicroHydro hydroelectric power plants and used it as an example for a workshop in the field. During the next epOnsite in Uruguay at the end of May 2016, we’ll visit our network member Ana Luisa Arocena and her organization TRIEX. TRIEX has set itself the task of disposing of toxic waste, e.g. the waste produced in hospitals.

Is it possible to see how participants use what they’ve learned at the epOnsite in everyday life?

We’re in close contact with most participants via a variety of channels. With some participants, we know that they’ve developed ideas for partnerships after meeting people at the epOnsite. Realizing the ideas sometimes takes a bit longer but we still try to liaise and communicate with people.
It’s also great to hear that social entrepreneurs have successfully completed an investor pitch using what they learned at the “Communication” epOnsite or, in an entirely different situation, felt much more self-confident and competent during an interview with the press. We often hear that the epOnsite participants “replay” the entire workshop with their own team.

What other continuing education opportunities are available in the epNetwork?

The epNetwork offers a very wide range of opportunities for continuing education. They can all be found on our platform www.empowering-people-network.org. For example, we work with the Inclusive Business Accelerator and, together, offer an online bootcamp for social entrepreneurs. During an online training session at the moment, they can learn how to better reach their customers with lower incomes using specific marketing and distribution strategies.

Since April 2016, the Self-Assessment Tool for Social Entrepreneurs has also been available at www.samforse.org. Using an online questionnaire that can be filled in easily, social entrepreneurs can check their company for strengths and weaknesses and are given valuable tips for further development.

We’re also working to provide some of the training content in the form of explanatory videos. They’ll also be available at www.empowering-people-network.org

What in your experience is the most important thing during the epOnsite training sessions?

Without a doubt, personal contact with network members. However trivial it may seem, it’s very important. After all, there’s no substitute for a real-life encounter. I mean this with regard to me, the team and the network members, but in particular the network members between themselves. This is the only way to establish a basis for real partnerships, to see each other on an equal footing and to learn from one another.

Personal connections in the region are very important. After all, the local conditions often pose considerable challenges to the team. Sometimes, contrary to all forecasts, the weather is very unpredictable, terror attacks take place in the immediate area, or there’s unrest – we’ve seen it all before. For us, it’s a challenge. For our participants from the region, it’s simply part of everyday life.

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