How Peer Coaching Can Help Shape Sustainable Social Enterprises

This year, Siemens Stiftung’s empowering people. Network (epNetwork) facilitated its annual workshop from July 9th – 12th in Cairo together with 35 social entrepreneurs from various countries in the world. Most of them have been part of epNetwork for many years, with around ten of them joining for the first time as finalists for the empowering people. Award (epAward). To achieve good outcomes for each organization and to leverage their broad expertise, we decided to focus on a peer coaching approach – a completely different and new workshop format.   

When starting to prepare the workshop a couple of months ago, we had the following questions in mind: What differences can we make? What motivates the network members to travel around the world, and what justifications are made considering the time and resources spent? With those questions in mind, we decided to match the power of personal exchange with an in-depth analysis of the most pressing challenge for each organization. The goal was to deliver a clear next step for each participant. This approach also corresponds with our findings from external evaluations and surveys: the network has the ability to establish unique opportunities for peer exchange, providing enormous value to the members. The focus that was applied here was peer coaching. Together with the facilitators, Magdalena Kloibhofer and Barbara Börner, we developed a three-day platform for peer coaching, where participants consulted and advised each other on specific challenges of their social business.

When the participants arrived, they also had various questions in mind. What can I expect from a peer coaching session? Will I be able to open up about my challenges and concerns? What might others think? And, will I receive viable feedback? One of epNetwork’s long-term member organizations, represented by Anke Hoffmann, Head of Country Development at OneDollarGlasses, had an answer that fits all questions: “Listen carefully and be committed. You can always learn a lot from each other, even if you do completely different things.” Based on this spirit, the Peer Coaching sessions started.

Two methodologies were applied: Magdalena’s tool was called ‘Solutions Prototyping,’ aiming to deliver concrete solutions to challenges, based on SEED’s “toolification” approach. Barbara offered the so called ‘Systemic Swiss Knife,’ revealing a set of tools such as active listening, which enables participants to give structured feedback and advice.

“Within recent years, there has been a shift away from classroom-style training for social entrepreneurs towards a more hands-on approach that generates concrete outcomes,” Magdalena explains. She continued by saying that “receiving feedback from people from different industries, work cultures, and social backgrounds can lead to unique solution ideas. We empower social entrepreneurs to help each other sustainably, and to achieve this, the workshop participants followed three steps: present a challenge, collect solution ideas and identify the most achievable and suitable solution, and finally, prototype your solution.”