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Survey: «Responsible entrepreneurship»

Infographic on the results of the survey by Migros Commitment in September 2020.

Results of our survey

Responsible entrepreneurship – totally normal?!

«It's crazy that we still need to ask this in 2020,» comments one Twitterer in response to the Migros Pioneer Fund’s question to its community: How important is it that entrepreneurs consider social responsibility alongside profitability? Unsurprisingly, 95% of respondents answered «very». However, entrepreneurial reality often looks quite different. But why is this the case? We spoke to three entrepreneurs.

For Simone Alabor the economy can only work as part of a functioning society, and society in turn can only work as part of a functioning environment. «We can’t look at these things separately.» 

Alabor is the project leader of #MoveTheDate. The aim of the movement is to move Overshoot Day – the day on which the Swiss population has consumed all of its natural resources for the whole year – from the start of May to 31 December. In addition to stories and a lively community, this practically oriented platform offers specific options for action geared towards ensuring the careful utilisation of resources.

Portrait of entrepreneur Simone Alabor.

For entrepreneur Simone Alabor of #MoveTheDate, social and environmental sustainability are prerequisites of economic sustainability. (Photo: courtesy of: Simone Alabor)

Getting everyone involved

Urban Equipe follows another approach to social responsibility: the association has set itself the goal of creating future-oriented cities based on a participatory process. Urbanist Sabeth Tödtli believes that this form of urban development is the only way to create sustainable places where everyone is involved in the development. 

Her understanding of social responsibility is also shared by her colleagues: «Within our association we think things over a lot, discuss the allocation of wages and hierarchies, and ask ourselves whether everyone is happy in their position.»  

The Urban Equipe team sitting with kit, caboodle and a cargo bike beneath a flyover.

Her entrepreneurial understanding of social responsibility is also shared by her colleagues: Sabeth Tödtli (second from right), Urban Equipe. (Photo: Michael Meili)

«Money is not important to anyone per se. The important thing is what you can do with that money.»   Tödtli believes that people in a fulfilling job are prepared to work for less money. «As a company, you don't have to simultaneously pay high wages and act responsibly and socially, because as a socially responsible employer you offer different benefits.» 

She thinks that the difficulty as an entrepreneur is negotiating this with those involved: «What do they want to get out of their work? This is a discussion that absolutely needs to be had.» 

The three sides of sustainability

For Mirjam Stawicki from carvelo2go it is essential that the three aspects of sustainability are integrated into a business model. «If we show a deficit, we won't be providing our services for long. A company needs to have a strong economic foothold, as well as have environmental and social value. Only then have the values of social entrepreneurship been met for me.» 

This view is also shared by someone from the LinkedIn community: «Sustainability consists of three areas of responsibility: economic responsibility, social responsibility and responsibility towards nature and the environment.»  

The carvelo2go team presenting a cargo bike.

On two wheels towards more sustainability: Mirjam Stawicki (sitting in the box) presents an eCargo bike from carvelo2go with her team. (Photo: Mobilitätsakademie AG, photographer: Emanuel Freudiger)

Boosting professionalism, scaling up and automating

The projects supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund promote innovative ways of changing society for the better. But what happens when the support ends and the projects have to stand on their own two feet? Does the combination of entrepreneurship and social responsibility come undone? 

«We first need to show that we can establish ourselves on the free market in the long term and that we can continue to pursue our objectives without support,» says Tödtli. Urban Equipe still has a good two years' worth of funding in the pipeline. After that, the project will be on its own. That's why the urbanists are applying for additional support and funds, «but you notice how difficult it is. It's even more difficult when you try to be consistent.» 

By «consistent», Tödtli means taking a critical approach to selecting those she collaborates with. Participative urban development is booming. Many large companies nowadays want to include the people involved in the planning process. For Tödtli and her team, however, it's clear that if it's only a question of greenwashing, they are «not interested in collaboration, even if that's where the big money is often to be had.»

Portrait of pioneer Sabeth Tödtli.

Sabeth Tödtli is consistent. When customers are merely intent on greenwashing, she won't work with them. (Photo: Michael Pfister)

Profit is not the goal

carvelo2go was supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund until 2019, since which time it has been self-supporting. «We started out with a very simple approach that we had to scale up and professionalise, as well as automating its processes,» says Mirjam Stawicki. This included introducing an online payment system as well as developing an app. «That is time-intensive and expensive, and difficult to do without support measures.» 

The entrepreneurs rose to this challenge when the support of the Migros Pioneer Fund came to an end by aligning the needs of society to the desires of cities, and in so doing expanded their project. Turning a profit was never the end goal, however – carvelo2go is still primarily designed as a support programme for cargo bikes. The company wants to keep the service affordable for everyone, thus making transport – particularly in cities – more sustainable.

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«You have to create incentives to ensure that sustainable business models pay off for companies.» Mirjam Stawicki, carvelo2go. (Photo: Mobilitätsakademie AG, photographer: Emanuel Freudiger)

Caring is key

A LinkedIn comment on the survey raises the question as to how «ideal profitability» can be defined or measured.  Alabor responds: «We don't know how a sustainable economy looks in practice.» We are always talking about evil corporations, she says. «But corporations, too, consist merely of people who get up every day, go to work and follow the rules.» 

If there were more good examples of how profitability and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive, things would change. Alabor doesn't like the words social entrepreneur, however: «I see myself as an entrepreneur, and so including other dimensions in that concept goes without saying. I don't need the word «social» in front. That is normal entrepreneurship for me.»

Simone Alabor posing in front of the marquees at Oerliker Fest.

Simone Alabor at Oerliker Fest 2019, at which a zero waste event concept was tested. (Photo: Mr. Green)

A question for everyone

And where does that leave us? How can we induce change? A LinkedIn comment calls for everyone to assume their part of the responsibility: Only when companies, politicians and consumers work together to achieve this goal will it be a success. Let's get it sorted!

Text: Rahel Grunder

#MoveTheDate Switzerland is a climate-positive platform for people who want to get started. With cooperation and lots of enthusiasm, Overshoot Day could be moved to the end of the year. As consumers, those involved will use their purchasing power to support sustainable business models and share tips and tricks for doing it yourself.  

Urban Equipe dreams of sustainable cities: accessible, adaptive and supported by many voices. That's why it advocates bold testing, honest exchanges of knowledge and specific involvement in urban development. The «Urban Equipment» helps to intensify the exchanges. It includes a collection of methods, formats and tools such as building plans, games and explanatory videos.  

With over 22,000 registered users and more than 60,000 journeys, carvelo2go is not only the world's first sharing platform for electric cargo bikes, but also the largest. Over 320 eCargo bikes are now available in 75 Swiss cities and communities for the transport of goods and children. They have become a serious environmentally friendly alternative to cars.