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From 100 to 200: aiming for broader horizons

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Rahel Grunder and Lea Müller

Published

17.03.2022

Stefan Schöbi und Britta Friedrich

Having supported more than 100 projects, the Migros Pioneer Fund is poised to pen a new chapter. With a clearer definition of topics, the goals remain as ambitious as ever: small beginnings are no obstacle to pioneer projects achieving great things. Britta Friedrich, who has headed the Pioneer Fund since March 2022, and Stefan Schöbi, who developed it during the first stage, review past events and look to the future in an interview.

Britta and Stefan, along with your team, the two of you have launched more than 100 pioneer projects. What emotions do you feel as you look forward to the next stage?

Stefan: For my part, a keen sense of curiosity. After all, constant development towards new horizons goes without saying for a pioneer fund. The next 100 projects will therefore call for different approaches to those of the previous 100. But what will they be? This is what we are finding out at the moment.

Britta: Even after 100 projects, the urgency of the topics and challenges we engage with is as acute as ever. So we bring the same passion and energy as before to the next stage. And a lot of hope and gratitude – because we appreciate the privilege we enjoy in doing our job, namely that of having the chance to inspire and promote societal change.

But exploring unknown territory is all part of the job; I guess you could say that it’s familiar ground for us.

Britta Friedrich

How do things currently stand with the Migros Pioneer Fund?

Stefan: Like every pioneer project, since its launch at the beginning of 2013, the Pioneer Fund has also developed on a daily basis. Today, we have a much clearer idea of how to set up new projects, of what matters and of how to support projects, and of what success means generally in this context and what not. Another thing we know today is that you’re not going to change the world with one pioneer project alone. You need a lot more than that.

Britta: We’re caught between a paradoxical set of poles. On the one hand, we aim to achieve an impact on society and thus reach wide circles. And on the other, we work with pioneer projects that are often modest and niche-based. Our task is twofold: we have to provide our projects with the safe space required to nurture and promote innovation. And we have to focus on seizing the opportunity to prise innovation from its niche and give it a wider audience. That means being prepared to leave your comfort zone. This is a new experience for us as well. But exploring unknown territory is all part of the job; I guess you could say that it’s familiar ground for us.

Britta Friedrich und Stefan Schöb stehen an einem Tisch und sprechen miteinander

Interview with Britta Friedrich, Head of the Migros Pioneer Fund, and Stefan Schöbi, Head of the Social Affairs Unit in the Social Affairs and Culture Department at the Federation of Migros Cooperatives. Photo: ©Jasmin Frei

What singles out pioneers from the crowd?

Britta: Their courage. Pioneers have the courage to bring uncomfortable truths into the open, to question things. They touch on sore points. But courage alone is not enough. Pioneer projects are not a question of morals, but action. If you really want to turn an idea into reality, you need a fighting spirit and tenacity.

Stefan: Tenacity has to be tempered with an ability to learn and an open mind. You have to be willing to drop an approach and try something else if things are not having the desired effect. Paradoxically, tenacity and the ability to learn are almost opposite qualities that pioneers need to have. They must be good at going it alone for long periods, and at the same time, they have to be team players. Pioneers need to be able to cope with this inner conflict. It is by no means an easy task.

Have either of you turned a pioneering idea into reality?

Britta: I started out with the book fair at a time when digitalisation was disrupting the publishing business. And no one really knew where it would end. Back then, I was part of an innovation task force, which developed new cross-sectoral formats. Not everyone welcomed them with open arms. To begin with, we came up against a brick wall and were met with a lot of scepticism. A few years later, the mood changed and it was a matter of «This is the way we have to go».

Stefan: 10 years ago, I founded a cultural journalism pioneer project with the website kulturkritik.ch. After five years, we shut down the platform despite having had significant success. We were strong on editorial skills, but weak on leadership. Today, I would say to my old self, «Hey, why do you want to give up now just as things are really taking off?» But sure, pioneer projects demand a lot of perseverance from their initiators. And even if they are successful, the wave of success is usually too small to ride indefinitely. With the Migros Pioneer Fund, we give projects like this a realistic chance of success.

Portrait Britta Friedrich

Britta Friedrich

Britta Friedrich (born 1978) studied literature, media and economic sciences. She worked as a consultant in a strategy and communication agency and later went on to head a new business and innovation department at Frankfurter Buchmesse. She worked as a scout with the Migros Pioneer Fund from 2018 and in mid-2020 became Head of Project Operations. At the beginning of March 2022, she took over at the Pioneer Fund’s helm. Britta Friedrich has two sons and lives with her family in Zurich.

  • Britta’s motto: Get going, seek your own ending, and make sure it’s good. Make absolutely sure. (freely based on «The Good Person of Szechwan» by Bertolt Brecht)
  • On Britta’s bedside table, you will find this book: «The Night Watchman» by Louise Erdrich – a novel about the protest against the dispossession of America’s indigenous peoples that poses the question of whether an individual can change history.
  • Britta’s latest discovery: A vacuum robot that also mops the floor.
Portrait Stefan Schöbi

Stefan Schöbi

Stefan Schöbi (born 1977) studied literature in Zurich, Berlin and Vienna. He was head of university marketing at the Zurich University of the Arts before taking over the development and management of the Migros Commitment development fund (renamed Migros Pioneer Fund in 2021) in 2013. In 2022, he became Head of the Social Affairs Unit in the Social Affairs and Culture Department at the Federation of Migros Cooperatives. In this capacity, in addition to the Migros Pioneer Fund, he is also responsible for the social projects of the national Migros Culture Percentage. Stefan Schöbi has two sons and lives with his family in Zurich.

  • Stefan’s motto: What you want to ignite in others must first burn in yourself. (Augustine)
  • On Stefan’s bedside table, you will find this book: A whole stack of them. At the very top is «The Anomaly» by Hervé Le Tellier – absolutely riveting. Right underneath is «1977» by Philipp Sarasin, which is the year in which I was born.
  • Stefan’s latest discovery: A kaleidoscope through which you can look into a bright future for a change.

The Pioneer Fund team supports the funded projects closely and shares in their successes and setbacks. What stories do you remember that touched you personally?

Britta: The moments when the essence of the project or core of the vision are at stake leave a special mark. When pioneers with a strong belief in their plan realise that they may have strayed from their path and set the wrong priorities. And when we help our partners to get things back on track and they once more gather up all their strength to explore a new avenue. Those are the moments that stay with you. Partly because you are happy for your project partners, but also because it shows the importance of our support.

Stefan: That’s a fair description of the roller coaster your feelings embark on daily when you support pioneers. Looking back on 100 projects, we know that success has many faces. All our attempts to predict success have failed miserably. Not knowing in advance what a pioneer project holds in store lies in the nature of things. The diversity of challenges is only rivalled by that of the emotions you experience in the process. And it’s undeniable that we get very involved at a personal level.

Britta: Our aim is to ensure that projects stand on their own two feet once we have supported them. It’s a bit like with your own children. On the one hand, you always want to protect them, and on the other, you know that they have to make their own way in life. And you are proud of them when they do.

Looking back on 100 projects, we know that success has many faces.

Stefan Schöbi

The «From 0 to 100» handbook combines the know-how and experience gathered by the Pioneer Fund and the project teams in the course of the 100 projects the Pioneer Fund has supported. What’s the most important piece of advice that you would like to pass on to future pioneers?

Stefan: What we see time and again: if the team doesn’t work, a pioneer project tends to stall. As the saying goes: «If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.» It means that pioneers have to be able to shoulder the project together at a personal level.

Britta: What helps is sharing a common standpoint that’s based on a shared vision. What’s the project going to change in society? This is our starting point with each new project as we assess a project’s resilience of vision and cause-and-effect chain. It’s what bonds the team together.

Stefan Schöbi und Britta Friedrich stehen in einem Flur und sind im Gespräch miteinander

Photo: ©Jasmin Frei

And how does the team behind the Pioneer Fund work?

Britta: We’re also united by our vision that, as a society, we can do more and have a lot of untapped potential. Our common vision aside, we all come from different backgrounds and bring together different skills and perspectives. We discuss a lot and in doing so are very honest with one another, open and considerate. On a personal level, returning to work after my parental leave felt a bit like coming home.

Stefan: The trust and feeling of security that you describe have an important function. They ensure that we can devote all our attention to supporting the projects because we know we can rely on each other as a team. In our work, no one is successful on their own. We always celebrate success as a team.

Britta is now taking the helm of the Migros Pioneer Fund. What are the next steps?

Stefan: Einstein once said that you never solve problems with the same mindset that created them. The same could be said of the Pioneer Fund. We need a new approach. I’m delighted to give up the helm to Britta and I’m confident that it could not come at a better time. The Pioneer Fund will be all the stronger for it and will be able to explore new avenues. At Migros, we are also grouping all national programmes with a social focus into a new Social Affairs Unit. By doing this, we aim to further strengthen the broad impact of our social commitment. As Head of the Social Affairs Unit, I’m looking forward to establishing this new area while remaining in close contact with the Pioneer Fund.

Britta: The foundation of the Pioneer Fund has been laid: the team, methods, approaches and tools. I’m not starting at 0, but really at 100. But 100 is not the end. All of us in the team have high expectations of the next stage. Working with these expectations and fulfilling them together with our project partners is something I greatly look forward to.

Our projects spark new impetus – first of all, on a small scale, followed by ever-widening circles until the whole of society is affected.

Britta Friedrich

What topics will you focus on?

Stefan: We have just narrowed them down to three: climate-neutral society, humankind and digitalisation, and collaborative innovation. These are topics that generate a growing number of major questions, but not necessarily more answers. Pioneer projects are therefore needed more than ever before. And they should do one thing above all else: make a difference.

Britta: Our experience of 100 projects has shown us that you can’t do it without a market. So we have to focus more consistently than ever on the needs of our target audience. Our projects spark new impetus – first of all, on a small scale, followed by ever-widening circles until the whole of society is affected. To ensure that this snowball effect works, the projects have to broaden their horizons sooner or later. We aim to better support them in the future. So we want to continue to offer pioneer projects a springboard and to help turn lots of bold ideas into reality. Our aim is to also awaken dormant pioneering spirits and to thus create the basis for a movement of pioneers who will pool their forces to shape our future.

Photo/stage: Stefan Schöbi and Britta Friedrich ©Jasmin Frei

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