While 2020 brought many changes, challenges, and contention, we leveraged digital means of staying connected in order to deliver as much impact as possible

It goes without saying that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years for so many of us across the globe. Inherently, challenging times allow us to reflect, readjust, and respond to situations in ways that make us stronger moving forward. These times also allow us to be uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable can help us think in more dynamic and creative ways – and that is just what 2020 called for.

Regardless of the difficulties and restrictions posed on many of us this year, the empowering people. Network (epNetwork) team has persevered with a number of projects that will hopefully continue to have a positive effect on entrepreneurial development communities worldwide. To name a few, the epNetwork team checked in with our epAward 2019 winners in a blog series, conducted  digital workshops for the first time (which came with much excitement and many learnings), and launched two reports on topics needing urgent attention and action: ‘How Digital Solutions May Enhance Social Financing’ and, most recently, ‘Social Enterprises as Job Creators in Africa.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some reflections from 2020 directly from us, your epNetwork team.

Anna Balas

Learning & Development; epNetwork; Communications

What project(s) are you currently working on that you are excited to launch/roll out next year?

I am excited to announce that our epMentoring program will be launched in 2021! After our kick-off on January 12th, the cohort of social enterprises and mentors will get to know each other during our first bootcamp. As you might guess, this will of course take place virtually, like everything else this year! It is the beginning of our 8-month program, during which the organizations will be closely interacting with their personal mentor and work on challenges that they are facing in their development.

We are all looking forward to a better year in 2021. What hopes/goals/focuses related to your work do you wish for as we move forward together into next year?

As an internationally active organization we are, of course, used to collaborating with our partners digitally via email, Zoom, Hangouts – you name it! Nevertheless, our day-to-day business is normally interrupted by events and meetings throughout the year where we get the chance to interact with each other face-to-face. I hope that this will be possible to some extent in 2021!

How have national/regional restrictions put in place this year impacted or changed the way in which you work to support social entrepreneurs?

Usually we would have hosted several workshops and trainings (aka “epOnsites”) in real life but then COVID-19 came, bringing with it travel restrictions and curfews which made all travel plans impossible. We changed our approach and hosted digital workshops, including several in the first month. Overall, these successful workshops have been impactful, but over time we made several observations. The number of participants in our digital workshops was declining and a kind of “engorgement” took place (the “engorgement” was something that I could also observe myself when I was invited to video conferences). Sometimes one has to step away from the monitor to remain sane. Plus, we realized that the COVID-19 implications were starting to take a toll on our network members, and attending an online workshop was simply not their priority. Nevertheless, we are planning new digital formats for 2021, hoping that they will be beneficial for epNetwork members.

More people have worked from home/remotely in 2020 than ever before. How have you adapted to this way of working?

Well, I am quite privileged in that most of my work can be done from home. I also have enough space and a (more or less) stable internet connection. I have never been more aware of these privileges than in the last months. I have not been at the office since March 2020 and as the COVID-19 numbers in Germany are rising, it seems that, at least, for the winter months we will primarily continue working from home. But every medal has two sides and, on the bright side, sometimes I am also amazed how – in general – working life has changed over the last months.

Sabine Baumeister

epNetwork; Learning & Development; Communications

David Hoffmann

epNetwork; Social Ventures Support

Without doubt, 2020 has been a challenging and difficult year for everyone. How have the events from this past year made you think about the work done by epNetwork members/social entrepreneurs around the world?

This year has been dominated by COVID-19, but people tend to forget that in January we started with bush fires in Australia, ISIS attacks, and a political dispute between US and Iran. Additionally, we will be at the crossroads of climate change for the next decades. We need to rethink our approach, and social entrepreneurship does that – it adds real purpose to capitalism. This need is more evident than ever!

How have national/regional restrictions put in place this year impacted or changed the way in which you work to support social entrepreneurs?

Travel restrictions have shown our industry what is possible with remote interaction. We should contribute to Co2 reduction by drastically reducing the amount of international travel and establishing local structures. Trust and relationships can also be built via digital communications.

Without doubt, 2020 has been a challenging and difficult year for everyone. How have the events from this past year made you think about the work done by epNetwork members/social entrepreneurs around the world?

Being a social entrepreneur has always been a difficult but rewarding road to travel. This year it has gotten even harder but we have seen how important inclusive business models are in times of crisis. The grit, persistence, and courage to pivot shown by many social entrepreneurs has been inspiring. I think, in times of crisis, we have to take a hard look at where to apply our resources to help entrepreneurs not only overcome the crisis, but to grow now and in the future. Also, there will be specific sectors that will suffer a long downturn whereas others might experience growth opportunities. We should think about where our biggest levers lie.

More people have worked from home/remotely in 2020 than ever before. How have you adapted to this way of working?

In waves. Having a regular and balanced schedule has become very important. Exercise and a healthy diet are crucial. It is easy to become sucked into the screen these days with never-ending online availability. I started my position at the foundation remotely during COVID-19, and I was curious to see how I would settle into the role while being able to understand the various initiatives currently being addressed. Luckily, I was able to travel to Munich and Erlangen a few times, meeting quite a few colleagues in person, which was extremely helpful. Diving into partial lockdown mode again, it has been easier to build on the initial meeting and setup in-depth conversations virtually. I generally felt very welcomed by my colleagues who genuinely seemed curious to get my perspective on various topics. I think there are some exciting topics and change ahead of us in the development cooperation team and I’m looking forward seeing everything fall into place next year.

Bastian Müller

epNetwork; Social Enterprise Finance & Business Development

Jessica Sandler

Working student

Without doubt, 2020 has been a challenging and difficult year for everyone. How have the events from this past year made you think about the work done by epNetwork members/social entrepreneurs around the world?

The COVID-19 crisis has affected each of us, yet, disproportionately, those living in low income countries sometimes saw the problem exaggerated due to poor infrastructure, lack of health insurance, fragile governments, and other problems. Many of our epNetwork members immediately adapted to COVID-19, producing face shields, providing health care services, or delivering food and hygiene products across low-income neighborhoods, amongst others. In our epNetwork Global/COVID-19 WhatsApp group, members were able to share their thoughts and ideas with each other; these developments clearly showed to me the important role social entrepreneurs play in contributing to a more equal and sustainable world through their innovative approaches.

What project(s) are you currently working on that you are excited to launch/roll out next year?

I am currently supporting our new Advocacy Team and had the chance to organize three small workshops together with my colleagues. The topics that we reflect on and critically discuss in this “planet” (white fragility, SDGs, postcolonial power structures) are of high relevance for the work of Siemens Stiftung, and I am very excited to see how these discussions will develop. As a student of development economics, currently writing my thesis about COVID-19 prevention behavior from a gender perspective, I am very much looking forward to a session about gender in 2021!

What project(s) are you currently working on that you are excited to launch/roll out next year?

I am currently working on my Master’s thesis about women in social entrepreneurship. I will talk to female entrepreneurs from the epNetwork ecosystem in order to get a better sense of their respective journeys. I am excited to listen to their stories and share my findings when I submit my thesis in Spring 2021 – and of course to finish my academic career and dive into the professional world.

We are all looking forward to a better year in 2021. What hopes/goals/focuses related to your work do you wish for as we move forward together into next year?

I am very much looking forward to working on our new website which we will be launching at the beginning of 2021. Moreover, I am beyond excited to see how epNetwork will develop and which inspiring personalities and solutions will find their way into the network through our next epAward which will roll out next year. In sum, a very special year to come for epNetwork!

Ann-Kristin Schmidt

Working student

Carola Schwank

epAward & epNetwork – Program Lead

More people have worked from home/remotely in 2020 than ever before. How have you adapted to this way of working?

In days and weeks of the first lock down in March, I thought our work could never be done from home in the long run. I had just arrived home from a trip to Nairobi where I attended the Sankalp Summit and had met partners and epNetwork members, many of which are now old friends. With the switch to virtual platforms as a means of communication, I found the exchange and collaboration with my colleagues worked fairly well. But I also realized that our partners in Africa, Asia, and the US felt as near as my colleagues here in Germany! They worked from home as well and, in the end, we have had more intense exchanges than before. So, the encouraging thing is that collaboration has continued successfully. However, calendars full of online meetings have become the norm. Maybe in 2021 we should be a bit more conscious about how we care for our time.

What project(s) are you currently working on that you are excited to launch/roll out next year?

Just a few weeks ago, we published our study about job creation in Africa which revealed the enormous potential of social enterprises to create employment and income opportunities. In the 12 countries surveyed, it was determined that they can provide more than 1 million new jobs by 2030. Through our longstanding cooperation with social entrepreneurs, we are aware of their objective to contribute to better living conditions and, at the same time, offer jobs especially to groups that have poor chances in the labor markets. Our study has now officially confirmed this and gives us convincing arguments in exchange with relevant organizations within the development sector. Jobs linked to social enterprises are urgently needed. Therefore, it is my goal and wish in 2021 to support the development of projects based on the study that will help social enterprises grow and create new jobs.

More people have worked from home/remotely in 2020 than ever before. How have you adapted to this way of working?

To be honest, it went relatively well. Ending up in your colleagues’ living rooms can actually have positive side effects on your working routine. The biggest challenge for me personally was that the home office agenda had to be aligned with my children’s seemingly boundless home-school plans. Nevertheless, we are privileged to be equipped with the appropriate technical equipment and to have a reliable network. Many of our partner organizations and network members are facing far greater problems here.

We are all looking forward to a better year in 2021. What hopes/goals/focuses related to your work do you wish for as we move forward together into next year?

I really hope that we can keep the positive learnings from this crazy year in tact in the future: flexible working environments, more conscious handling of travel habits (plus the associated Co2 reduction), and a certain sense of global cohesion. Because, at a certain point, I think we felt that we are all in the same fragile boat.

Julia Wachsmann

epNetwork; Social Ventures Support

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