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.
Gregor Schäpers is an expert in solar energy. For his solar reflectors that follow the sun, he and his company TrinySol were honored with the Siemens Stiftung empowering people. Award “Community Prize.”
At the international workshop of the empowering people. Network in 2014, Schäpers met Dutch national Auke Idzenga, who works in the water supply sector in the Philippines. Together with Schäpers’ best technician, Ivan Gomez Romero, they helped initiate an exceptional technology transfer that stands to benefit a large number of people.
Through his organization AIDFI, Auke Idzenga has revived the nearly-forgotten technology of the hydraulic water pump in the Philippines, providing people in developing regions with a stable water supply. Gregor Schäpers is thrilled about the so-called Ram Pump and convinced that it can be used to improve access to water in remote areas of Mexico. With support from Siemens Stiftung, he sent one of his best technicians, Ivan Gomez Romero, to a several-week training session in the Philippines where he learned how to use the Ram Pump. We spoke with Ivan Gomez Romero about the project.
Mr. Romero, what went through your mind the first time you heard about the Ram Pump?
I thought it was great! I had already heard of the technology, but I didn’t know exactly how the Ram Pump worked. The idea of pressing large volumes of water upwards through a narrow pipe using only the power of the flowing water itself is as easy as it is brilliant. The pump is especially relevant for Mexico, since many of our villages are on the edge of a canyon. Until now, water had to be tediously pumped up to the necessary heights with an electric power generator.
What did you think of your boss's idea of sending you to the other side of the world to learn how to build and use that kind of water pump?
Pretty exciting! At first, it was merely hinted at. But when the preparations were finally finished, I could hardly believe I was going to be the one to go on the trip, especially since I had never left my country before.
What were your first impressions of the Philippines when you arrived?
I felt at ease right away. The Filipinos were incredibly kind, and I was received very warmly. We were mainly on the go in remote regions to look at places that already had Ram Pumps installed. When we were out there, we saw kids pulling carts loaded with water several kilometers. That makes you understand why water availability is so important in the Philippines. Many things are different in Mexico, but the basic problems are the same.
TrinySol actually focuses on solar energy. Was it difficult for you to familiarize yourself with another branch such as water?
Not necessarily. The shop had similar machines and workflows. The main difference was the overall approach to the installation of the final product, but even that was easy to pick up. In that part of the Philippines, people speak Ilonggo, which borrows some words from Spanish. Some of the workers spoke English as well.
Do you think the Ram Pump will be as well-received in Mexico as it is in the Philippines?
We’re convinced of it. We see the need and solid potential uses for the technology. People always need water close to home, so we’re anticipating high demand as soon as the first pumps are running. At the moment, we are looking into possible project locations and are planning the first pilot installations in Mexico together with AIDFI.
The Biogas Backpack as a business model is offering opportunities to earn an income and to be independent from development aid programs
A year ago, I built my own biogas plant at my house in Addis Ababa. In the beginning, it was for testing purposes as we had just bought a goat for milking. Now I have three goats in my garden whose dung I collect to feed the biogas plant. The (B)pack is a type of plastic sack with an inlet for organic waste and an outlet for organic fertilizers and gas. With the help of the mother goat, “Goatie,” and kitchen waste, I can produce between 200 and 500 liters of biogas per day. That is enough for cooking.
I first became aware of biogas during my agricultural engineering studies in Hohenheim and developed the BioGas Backpack during that time. It is a huge backpack designed to transport and store biogas securely. The system can replace firewood with biogas in rural households with no need to connect to a biogas plant. My backpack was among the winners of the Siemens Stiftung empowering people. Award. I have since established a social enterprise focused on biogas technology. The company, (B)energy, currently offers three products: the (B)pack, the mobile (B)plant and the (B)flame range of biogas cookers. The customers live in poor countries, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and want to sell the excess gas in their backpacks. To quickly reach as many potential customers as possible, I collaborate with local franchises. My first franchise in Ethiopia, for instance, is setting up the whole sales and service network as well as a local production. I also have another partner in Chile representing (B)energy in Latin America.
I was surprised that developing countries didn’t pick up on biogas as a business model sooner. Of course, a plant only becomes viable when the biogas is not just used for an individual household, but also sold as energy that is urgently needed for cooking. I am convinced that the (B)pack and our social enterprise concept can achieve that. In western countries, no one builds biogas plants to produce gas for cooking dinner. They are built to make money. The same is true in developing countries. If you give people the opportunity to earn their own money, they won’t need development aid programs, and you solve a social problem at the same time. Siemens Stiftung is helping me achieve this goal. Their strategy is in line with mine, and while their support is not financial – which I wouldn’t want because a social enterprise needs to be self-sustaining – they provide workshops, training programs, and international conferences where I can learn more and network with people from the target countries. That is a huge help.
According to statistics provided by the World Health Organisation, around 150 million people in the world suffer from defective eyesight. Thanks to glasses and contact lenses people are able to lead normal lives successfully – but what if you don't have the possibility to acquire glasses? Most people in developing countries such as Uganda are very poor and cannot afford the corrective eyesight devices. The result: They cannot pursue their work and have trouble providing for themselves and their families.
A teacher from Germany has found a way to change this. Martin Aufmuth from Erlangen invented a flexible milling machine for lightweight glasses with flexible frames that can be operated without power supply. OneDollarGlasses had their first field test in April 2012 in Uganda, where the first team of local workers was trained in fabricating the glasses. In the meantime several thousand people in different African countries could be supplied with the OneDollarGlasses.
Martin Aufmuth was one of the 23 winners of the “empowering people. Award”, who were announced in mid-September. When he learned that the independent expert jury had chosen him as the winner of the first prize, he was overjoyed: “To win the “empowering people. Award” is very important for the scaling of OneDollarGlasses. We will use the prize money to help as many people as possible.”
A few weeks before the Award Ceremony, a film team visited a community in Rwanda to document the project’s impact on the daily lives of people who are able to take part in life again thanks to OneDollarGlasses.