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«ISSUE Vol. VIII No. 1 March 2013 ERENET PROFILE CONTENT SPRING MESSAGE PUBLISHER Dr. Péter Szirmai – Editor PAPERS Dr. Antal Szabó – ...»

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This image is not only prevalent in economic life, but also in other spheres of our society: in social life, in care and education, and even in personal relationships. It sounds like a huge generalization, a cliché even. But clichés often show strong social convictions. They are an ‘implicit understanding’, says Charles Taylor. A social imaginary, in his words, contains concepts that enable us to develop images on “the way people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and notions that underlie these expectations”.3 Another social imaginary of entrepreneurship seems to be emerging in the past decade. This image is rooted in much older examples in history, but in a new way. Social entrepreneurship is about recognizing a social problem and using entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to make a social change. A social entrepreneur aims to create social capital, generating value in meaningful social relationships on all levels of society. The social entrepreneur acknowledges his or her dependence on others. The starting point is interdependence instead of independence of the actors. A social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital, on creating a team of individuals and organizations that share the same goal: further social and environmental goals. This form of entrepreneurship aims at the creation of added value in society by building meaningful social relationships, both on an individual and an organizational level.4 The social entrepreneur usually seeks to make a profit that can be used to improve the venture and underpin the social and entrepreneurial goals.

Gerard is a social entrepreneur. He is a director of an organization that provides housing facilities for the elderly. He initiated the production of a book for children-caretakers of their elderly parents by building a team of sponsors and a team of researchers and writers. 5 His story shows that the social entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a business person.

I started about two and a half years ago when my organization did an assessment of our relationship with “clients” (elderly people living in our homes getting care from us while living at home). Our consultant advised us to have interviews with those clients. We observed that the children of those clients were playing a surprisingly important role for them. I felt that I had to take some action based on this observation: it is important to focus also on the system around the client: how about the children?

A year ago this observation touched me again in a more personal way, when my mother (recently being widowed) said to me: “Now you must be thinking ‘what will we do with mother for Christmas?’” It made me more aware of my personal drives and the role my organization plays in a societal, public issue.

This social entrepreneur is an autonomous person, but he is showing a deepened autonomy, an autonomy that constantly is recognizing the fact that he is living in a dynamic of interdependence, both on a professional and a personal, existential level. 6


The development of new social imaginaries of social entrepreneurship requires the development of new business models, emerging from a practice of entrepreneurship based on deepened autonomy. There is a need for experimenting, to develop new thinking.

In the Netherlands, several universities are doing research in this field. One of them is the University of Nijmegen, where Jan Jonker, wrote an exploration paper on examples of new models, based upon qualitative interviews and research in the field.

His paper shows that all practices mention the importance of cooperation as a central principle; it is about the art of creating new forms of cooperation. This is important because social entrepreneurship requires ERENET Profile Vol. VIII. No. 1. www.erenet.org the ability to create crossovers between different worlds: profit, non-profit, education, voluntary work etc. The new business models show forms of community building around a product or service. The enterprise addresses multiple balanced values: nature, care, attention, money. Money isn’t only means of exchange; it can also be time, energy, care. Sometimes, there are alternatives for money like points, LET’s, local coins. Often, the added value is shared with participants. This is consistent with a philosophy that means of production are not owned, but shared, where use is being paid, not property. It is economic practice that is based on needs and utilization.

Reliability in the relationship between business partners is more important, there is a focus towards commitment for the long run.



SPES forum defines spirituality as the multiform search for a transcendent or deep meaning of life that connects people to each other and brings them in touch with God or ‘Ultimate Reality’. Within this definition there is room for differing views, for spiritualities with and without God and for an ethics of dialogue or ‘active pluralism’ (www.eurospes.be). This definition resonates with the description of secularity in the third sense as Charles Taylor describes this in a Secular Age. He expands the understanding of secularity in the first or second sense, the disappearance of God from public space or personal life. We live in a secular age where “Faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others”.8 In line with Taylors own work, one might say that he is describing an emerging new social imaginary: a secularity in which there exist different approaches from man what it is to believe and to investigate the fullness of life through meaningful experiences.

This approach starts from the perspective of the inner world of human beings and opens up to a rich, but complex approach of spiritual life today. For every human being, spiritual life is complex and diverse. It is only partly visible from the outside and more often it is not, not even for the person itself. This secularity is not about the question: are you a believer and what do you believe? As if these are established, well-defined labels to begin with. People often explore during their lives (even at one and the same time) a wide range of beliefs in the quest for the fullness of life. Life may become richer this way, allowing personal freedom, but it also becomes more confusing. One constantly needs to position oneself in the complexity of spiritual and moral space in order to discern what is best to do.

In this condition, people need to belong to groups with shared views on spiritual life and to develop new horizons of value. Often, the belonging to a group with a shared view or doctrine, practice, rules and community, a group with a social imaginary is missing. The less shared experience there is, the harder.

The confrontation with the complexity of this situation urges to slow down. This is in itself an ethical move, as complexity thinker Paul Cilliers so eloquently shows in his article “On the importance of a certain slowness”9. Acknowledging the fact that “I am in trouble”, as he puts it, is an ethical choice, to begin with. Or, to put it differently in the words of the definition of SPES forum: slowing down when in trouble of a complex situation is a practice of active pluralism. Making this movement enables participants in a conversation to see each human being in its own right, to read the ‘subtle languages’ of each ones identity.


The context of training in a group may create an opportunity to build new horizons of spirituality and ethics for business and professional life. Starting with an active, involved attitude, participants create a common space (whitespace). Based on a growing awareness of the inner world, there is room to postpone judgment and confront issues, which creates room that can lead to social innovation.

The European project Belieforama is an example of ‘active pluralism’ in the sense of the SPESdefinition. CEJI, a Brussels based NGO (A Jewish organization working towards an inclusive Europe) initiated this project, a network of European partners. (www.ceji.org) It started as an EU Gruntvig program (funding for life-long-learning programs), and there were several consecutive projects since 2006.

Belieforama’s core philosophy: non-formal education for adults can make a significant contribution to societal change. If human beings are more aware of their personal beliefs and convictions, more able to resolve possible conflict with others, they can make a more meaningful contribution on this issue in their personal sphere of life and work. This is the basis of the pedagogical and didactic flow of the course, which is built upon five developmental stages. It builds an environment for experiental learning, building a safe foundation ERENET Profile Vol. VIII. No. 1. www.erenet.org to explore one’s own identity, for examining and confronting issues. The goal: education leading to higher self-awareness will lead to a bigger ability to deal with conflicts on issues of religious diversity, in a non-violent way.

I will explore this a bit further making reflections on a 5-day training “Religious Diversity and antidiscrimination”, in December 2011. My German colleague Nina Mühe and I facilitated a 5-day training course with a group of mixed nationalities, (Spanish, German, Belgian, Dutch, English, Danish) beliefs, (Christian, agnostic, Muslim, Humanist, Buddhist, atheist) professions (education, training, consultancy, academic world) and ages (20 to 60). We were kindly hosted by the Spanish partner of the project, ICA, in Madrid. Given the amount of diversity and professional experience within the group, Nina and I decided that we would act as facilitators of peers, which means: taking seriously what participants bring to the floor, giving them the opportunity to steer their own learning process, empowering them to develop themselves in their role as social agents in their own personal and professional life. Our main focus was to build a clear structure for the process, allowing space for exploration by the participants.

First stage: Building the foundations. It is only in a psychological safe environment that participants can share thoughts and feelings on existential and spiritual issues that are very intimate to them and (even more important) confront each other in a constructive way. Facilitation of a space to talk about your hopes and fears when starting a course like this enables people to voice their personal needs. Especially the movement of slowing down, switching to another rhythm of action and conversation, is essential In this group, one of the participants suggested to start each day with a moment of silence. Question was: does the silence feel comfortable to both religious and non-religious? We agreed to explore it by doing it, leaving it open whether we should continue to do it. As it turned out, everyone felt very comfortable with those few minutes of silence each morning.

The second phase, Identity, enables participants to reflect upon their own identity: where do I come from, what makes me tick? One of the activities in this stage was a simple questionnaire on Head, hands and heart: which qualities and questions do I bring to this training, what do I want to learn? It was fascinating to

listen in to the conversations on this subject, because they show what is often not taken into account:

reflection upon personal beliefs (religious or non-religious) reveals a complex and rich inner panorama although it is sometimes a quest to find words for it. We took our time, which turned out to be worthwhile, because this created an atmosphere of respectful dialogue, which enabled us to enter a next stage of raising cultural awareness; exploring and sharing about daily life practices on religion and belief.

Then we entered the phase were we started challenging politically correct behavior: Examining issues.

Being respectful and willing to start a dialogue is one thing, but what to do when things get really difficult? For instance: where do I stand, taking position on a contentious statement? What do you do when you literally have to take position on issues that touch your deepest convictions? Because of the foundation that was built by the group, participants were able to reflect on a meta-level upon their personal choices, doubts and emotions after the activity.

This reflection was even more important in the next stage of Confronting the issues, were we did a roleplay of a little community that had to deal with the issue of a new school, initiated by an external funder. This role-play, a living enactment of the complexity of the issues, “hit participants in the face”. They truly experienced the ‘trouble’ of the complexity of the subject. They were forced to make difficult choices, experienced mixed emotions in action. And of course, afterwards, they had the burning need for analyzing and solving the problems.

Listening to the group after the role play, we as facilitators didn’t want to leave the anxiety of the moment too quickly. This would miss the point and an important opportunity to learn, when we would switch to analyzing and problem solving too quickly. To us, this also was a professional challenge. We decided to improvise in the last phase: Social action.

We addressed the fact that everyone brought their own talents, experience and emotional involvement to the floor in the exercise. We invited the participants to look at the situation of the role-play, visualized on

the sticky wall on little pieces of paper, each describing elements of the situation. We asked them to consider:

How would I be an effective and efficient social agent in this situation, accepting what I can and can not do? We invited them to go back to what they had written in the exercise on Head, hands, heart exercise, earlier in the week. This led to an insightful conversation which didn’t reduce the complexity of the situation, but addressed the question: what would I do in this situation? There lies the best starting point for social action.

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