When people ask how business can benefit from social activities – learnings  in India 

Often I’m asked: How was it in India? What did you experience? Is it safe? There must have been a lot of poverty?! Do you go back again? Working with a NGO as a business representative ?A lot of questions and I could tell many stories, describe places, summarize events … I might be wrong, but somehow I have the impression that the people who ask often expect answers that are somehow underlining what we hear in Europe about India. And that’s in most of the cases rather negative things… But what about the winning experiences? What about the learnings? 
The inspiration – a takeaway that stays

Strange, but true: there is one question that people normally do not ask even I consider it as the most important one: Which were your most inspiring moments, those moments that made you uncomfortable, challenged you and created more than a souvenir to take home? 

So, here in short are my personal winning moments, my inspirational learnings/ lived in every moment “out of the (office) comfort zone”:

Awareness: Some situations are really tough to see. It’s not a TV show or some news somewhere, somehow, people that I do not know. Things happen in front of you and you are part of it. In the office or at home I can switch off. Just forget about it. Here you can’t. You cannot stay out of the process. The contribution you give will always leave a trace. What you do, counts. Difficult to say that the focus planned was a different one or that you have not seen. But there is a side effect, too: it makes you feel as someone who can effectuate change, do good, implement. 

Passion: Doing something needs more than willingness and a good concept. It needs people who implement with passion. That’s what I experienced when I went to the villages with the local NGO people. Passion gives you the energy to go through and to engage even more than planned in a concept paper. It gives a sense to what you do. To you as a human being and to you as an employee. Because it counts. In every step, in every co-creation with local stakeholders, in all discussions coming from different points of views (business or social) there is that much hidden learning and the idea to make more out of it just develops when you can “see” it.

Mindfulness: This is the spirit we have to take back into our daily work. If not, we should really ask why we keep doing things – at home, in the office, in our daily life. The direct contact with the outer world has another big advantage: The NGOs really understand how to make their message resonate with their audience. They get immediate feedback for what they do. They interact from human being to human being and develop not just based on agency research and statistics. Who wants to learn more about intended and unintended positive and negative effects, about impact making and performance management should definitely think about an exposure trip to India and work with NGOs. 

Innovation: We do a lot of things and activities, because they are part of our culture and values. We just do them and do not even notice that they are not normal for others. We are used to them since years. Then, suddenly, these same things and activities are questioned, not “true” any longer. The lack of them or the different usage/ look and feel of items forces me to be creative, to invent a new way on how to get a similar result or to make me understand that I do not need them at all. At home and under normal conditions these deeply held beliefs on how things are done are extremely difficult to surface and even harder to discuss and change. There is no better model for learning how to serve “customers” than experiencing it every day with “change makers”. Nonprofits and NGOs are masters of engagement, often finding creative ways to do more with less. In the combination social – business – disruptive social entrepreneurial ideas it takes you to a very different and much more impactful level of strategic thinking and concrete implementation.

Simplicity: The strategic paper work is nice, the reality looks often different and needs simple and pragmatic solutions. Implementing is based on people who make it happen. The key for success is to make complex things simple and to create trust. It’s about learning how we can go away from ‘let’s do technology or distribute items’ (or to give huge amounts of money’ as a declared CSR contribution) to a real engagement that aims to help building the capacity in the community of underserved populations. What counts in all that is to work in collaboration with local stakeholders from many different backgrounds – wherever possible – to ensure that it is accepted and sustainable. We cannot do business if do not create marketplaces first!

I’m convinced: These learnings are essential – for all who want to make a better world and those who want to make sure that they and their business will be successful even in the future! Multiple challenges need multiple solutions. Complex health issues cannot be solved by one player, one project, one single sector only.

Business has arrived in the social century

It’s not about running some social activities apart from business. It’s not about digital and social media only. It’s about acting in a different way, by bringing business and social worlds back together. We have to learn to run business also like that, to integrate the social parts into it. The social element has to become a part of our daily business!
By the way: We offer such a week experience opportunity in rural India to managers from different business sectors on an international level. Focusing on social entrepreneurial knowledge and experiencing, interaction and being out-of the comfort zone. Are you ready to make change happen? If you are interested, have a look at http://www.innovindia.org

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