Sustainability Skills - A qualification programme for founders of new businesses
Neither in Austria nor internationally foundations have yet been much concerned with sustainability. This sustainability skills program is one of the very few projects combining entrepreneurship and sustainability within the German-speaking area.
Yet it is important to deal with sustainability especially throughout the whole process of setting up a business - developing of the idea, planning and wording of the business-concept - in order for a future development. Such influences at an early stage of the founding process may become the base for the future businesses.
On one hand this concerns the development of the ideas itselves: especially in the field of sustainable technological research and development there exist a plenitude of innovative concepts that are waiting to be put into practice.
On the other hand it concerns the configuration of any future business whose capabilities for survival has yet to be proven.
The main concern of this project was firstly to introduce and give an understanding of the subject of sustainability to commencing founders in an effective and profitable way, and secondly to approach other founding initiatives and make them curious about the project and ist contents.
Sustainability was to be shown to founders and founding organizations as a means to additional qualification and better competitiveness and as a generator of innovation, thus triggering imitation.
Tasks and Goals
The main task of this project was to develop a qualification program in "sustainable economy" for business founders. The usual business skills (finance, marketing, law) and the related soft skills were supplemented by sustainability skills.
The business founders are trained to think, plan and act on principles of sustainable development and on how to successfully integrate sustainable development in business. The additional qualifications are: to act proactively, to recognize the complexity of economy and to benefit from potential innovation. These qualifications lead to an advantage for the new entrepreneurs. They lead to short-, medium- and long-term benefits in competition.
The main goals were:
- to improve and to strengthen innovative sustainable enterprises.
- to explain the importance of sustainability skills to entrepreneurs and help them act in a sustainable way.
- to show that sustainability leads to economical benefit and that it's meaning surpasses the term ‘ecology'.
- to initiate new and sustainable-oriented enterprises.
- to improve the know-how of institutions dealing with business founders.
- to support business founders in order for them to integrate sustainability into their future enterprises
The main question for the project was: How can sustainability be presented to founders in a way that is
- applicable and
And how such a model can be diffused?
To achieve this we developed a qualification program on "Sustainability Skills". Within the framework of the UNIUN program for founders, which has already been implemented successfully several times, the additional skills were evaluated and elaborated. The focus is put on how to think, plan, and act based on the principles of sustainability. Special attention is paid to the transferability of the "Sustainability Skills Modules" into other qualification programs for entrepreneurs as well as meeting the founders' requirements in usability.
The project can be roughly divided into the following five components which build on each other yet partly overlap chronologically.
- Sustainability Skills "Premiere":
The first course on "Sustainability Skills" was imbedded in the UNIUN 2002/03 qualification program for entrepreneurs. Following the three-step structure of UNIUN, the contents were presented through seminars and other accompanying tools (counselling, coaching sessions, training material, tips, links, etc.). The founders were supported from the business-idea to an appropriate business-concept.
- Evaluation and revision:
A comprehensive evaluation was the basis for the improved second course for which selected contents of the Sustainability Skills series were edited into an online version and supplemented by lacking information, developing a funded and user-friendly web-based distance learning program.
- Sustainability Skills ebase:
The web-based distance learning version was tested within Uniun 2003/04: each single module of the Sustainability Skills online-course was presented in special events held parallel to the founders training, gradually activated throughout the course and the contents were integrated into the development of the business-plans. This ensured the acquisition of sustainability skills being an integral part of the qualification of business founders.
- Diffusion strategy:
Again other initiatives for entrepreneurship were actively included and motivated to further diffiusion. The final step was to develop a transferable version of the course in order to make it available for a broader circle of interested persons. This has already been achieved: the Sustainability Skills online-course will in future be available to nearly all academic founder initiatives in Austria.
The result of this project is the Sustainability Skills online-course available as a modular internet-based sustainability qualification program
- which shows to business founders to,
- deal with sustainability and to face the related complexity
- face the differences between traditional economy and a sustainable approach, and that sustainability means more than a mainstream economy
- discover the advantages and demands that arise from a sustainability based approach
- benefit from it with regard to their own businesses .
- which, through establishing such kind of emphasis, appeals especially to scientists from the field of sustainability, therefore not only motivating them to found businesses but also giving them sufficient tools for their ideas to persist in an economical context. (For the course is not only about putting across founding-knowledge, but also showing the founders possibilities of how to profitably market the sustainability of their ideas.)
- which can be transferred into and applied to other founding organizations and has already been made available for a broader circle through co-operation with other initiatives relating to founding.
- which promisingly places sustainability into an economical context as a prospective additional qualification.
The course is available at: www.sustainability-skills.at
Conveying sustainability competence stays an exciting and challenging task: In content it is a complex matter, especially when it comes to new methods and tools which have to be altered for founders to be able to use them. At the same time, when it comes to founder-trainings, there is a lack in business-concept reviewers, economy-experts, and trainers with experience in the field of sustainability as well as a lack in sustainability-experts with founder-knowledge. Developments in this area will be something to hope for in the future. Yet all in all the whole venture has proven to be a rewarding one: founders are very enthusiastic about the new possibilities and founding-experts have been interested to an extent that had been unexpected.
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