When stepping down feels like stepping up
14 November 2019 - Leon Reiner

After four years helping build up the structure and activities of SEND e.V., the German Association of Social Entrepreneurs, I have left my role as Board Member.

And it feels great.

I started getting involved with SEND because, in my role as co-founder of Impact Hub Berlin, I was being asked a lot of questions about what the government should do to promote social entrepreneurship that I didn’t necessarily have good answers to. So together with a group of friends and colleagues, from Ashoka, Startnext, Social Impact Lab, Talents4Good and tbd.community, we started to “Lobby for Good”.

I experienced many firsts in building SEND. From the first meetings at BMW Foundation in 2015, organised by Ryan Little, to the first event with high-level politicians at Impact Hub Berlin in 2016. There was the amazing crowdfunding campaign on Startnext to bring social entrepreneurship into federal and state coalition agreements across the country, that led to the first ever public discussion of this topic in Germany’s parliament this year. It has been an incredible ride and these were just some of the milestones.

A lot of gratitude

After two years of build-up to the actual founding of SEND, and two years as a founding board member, I’m handing my board position over to the next generation of amazing social entrepreneurs to keep on lobbying for a better policy framework for social entrepreneurship in Germany

As Anna, Norbert, Naomi, Matthias and I are leaving the board, I wanted to share my gratitude to them for an amazing experience, and to my team at Impact Hub Berlin who enabled me to spend some of my time on this adventure.

When reflecting on the past years with other departing board members, some learnings transpired that will stay with me and hopefully inform the actions of the inspiring new board members. 

We’re better together

It sounds too easy and obvious but especially when trying to influence policy, this has proven true many times over. SEND really was and is an effort to build something that grows opportunities and the potential to solve the grand challenges of our time. And it was and is only possible because we act as a collective. If we can manage to keep nurturing this mentality of collective impact in the social entrepreneurship community, we will be significantly more successful.

Use the weapons of the enemy

To many social entrepreneurs that I talked to, initially the word “lobbying” had very bad connotations. But the recent Thomson Reuters Foundation study of ‘the best places to be a social entrepreneur’ has once again shown just how bad Germany is at supporting its social entrepreneurs. Improving framework conditions for social entrepreneurship in Germany is key to enabling success and actual systemic impact. To do that, SEND has to find the most effective ways to make our case within the mindset of social entrepreneurs and using the tools of lobbyists. SEND needs to keep growing its membership base to become more and more relevant and to stay loud. 

Change needs time

Building up an association is not like building a startup. Influencing existing structures and processes on various levels needs time, effort and repetition – making our case again and again and again – to politicians, administrators, policymakers and most importantly to society as a whole. We cannot expect change to happen quickly. It will still be a long road for social entrepreneurship to establish its place as a broadly accepted and applied method to tackle societal challenges. SEND can be pivotal in facilitating this development.

These challenges are in the best hands and it feels great to be able to step down and be sure that SEND will continue to grow stronger with an amazing new board under the leadership of Markus Sauerhammer and its great Managing Director, Katrin Elsemann.

My decision to step down is based on the three values that the global Impact Hub network is built on and that I got really attached to when building Impact Hub Berlin: Trust, Collaboration and Courage. For me this decision ultimately feels like stepping up to live these same values. The trust that the new board will do an even better job, knowing that I and Impact Hub Berlin will continue to closely collaborate with SEND, and finally the courage to let go.