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The CHEER project
The CHEER project focuses on providing prospective founders of social businesses in the area of cultural heritage with appropriate training. Cultural heritage is to be understood in a broad sense: It encompasses the protection and preservation of physical cultural objects as well as the preservation of non-tangible cultural assets, traditions and customs. The focus is on the long-term unemployed, who are to be guided towards starting a social business in the area of cultural heritage.
Specifically, the first step involves assessing the competencies of the long-term unemployed so as to identify people who possess the motivation and skills to found a company. A training programme and online learning platform are then developed in the project. These materials and workshops are intended to help prepare the participants for their role as entrepreneurs and to equip them with the means to properly formulate and implement their business idea. A guideline for adult educators is also created which assists them as they accompany the unemployed participants along the path towards founding a social business in the area of cultural heritage. The CHEER project was launched in September 2018 and will run until August 2020.
In this blog we would like to present the first step in our project: the methodical approach used to identify suitable candidates for founding a social business. It involves a complex and highly individual competence assessment model which is intended to establish whether the candidate has a strong chance of succeeding with their company.
More than just a bright idea: Requirements for successful social entrepreneurs
Commitment and a good idea are, of course, important requirements for founding a social business. It is not enough for a founder to have the motivation to start a company that primarily pursues social aims rather than focusing on profit. They also need to have a passion for preserving cultural heritage.
However, these basic requirements are only the beginning. The business idea needs to be innovative and viable (quality of the business idea), there needs to be a market for it, and the candidate needs to be physically, mentally and intellectually capable of implementing the idea. Not everyone is suited to being self-employed, no matter how great their ideas.
In other words, anyone who aims to be a successful entrepreneur and in so doing be of benefit to both culture and society needs more than just good intentions. For this reason CHEER has developed a competence assessment model that aims to determine whether a person who has been unemployed for a long time
(a) possesses the necessary personal and social competencies for self-employment
(b) has the motivation to set up a social business in the area of cultural heritage, from the initial idea through to the day-to-day reality of running the company
(c) has a basic understanding of business management
(d) possesses relevant competencies in the intended area of cultural heritage
(e) either has or is able to develop a viable business idea (quality of the idea and market potential).
Obviously, an individual does need to perfectly fulfil all these criteria from the word go in order to be a potentially successful entrepreneur. However, the experience of many start-up consultants shows that there are basic indicators of success, as well as specific factors that may prevent success. A person who realises in advance that they are not suited to self-employment saves themselves not only the disappointment of failure but also, quite possibly, financial losses.
A reliable competence assessment model is therefore necessary in order to provide the best possible support when it comes to starting a business in this field. Only by means of such quality assurance can the potential for success be assessed and validated and the idea of social entrepreneurship be fully effective in assisting social disadvantaged people.
The CHEERLEADER method
Competence assessment in our project—we call it the CHEERLEADER method—helps, on the one hand, to identify and assess the competencies of unemployed people who are interested in starting a social business. At the same time, the method also allows unemployed people to become more self-aware and motivates them to make use of their strengths.
We use a detailed, partly standardised interview in the CHEER project as the basis for validating competencies. The interviewer uses a form to examine the knowledge, skills, interests and experience of potential entrepreneurs. The interview is based on an interview grid with open questions which allows interviewees to tell their stories and reveal their competencies in an informal environment.
In addition to the identification and recording of specific competencies and experiences, the affinity and motivation for entrepreneurship in a specific area of cultural heritage should also be assessed.
This type of information-gathering demands great sensitivity on the part of the interviewer. On the one hand, the interviewer must not limit the interviewee, for example by implicitly evaluating answers or anticipating conclusions. At the same time, the interviewer has to guide the interviewee through the interview so as to ensure that no important questions remain unanswered. For this reason, part of the questionnaire provides the interviewer with instructions on how to lead and make use of the interview.
At the end of the competence assessment each participant has an individual competence profile which is visualised in the form of a spider graph. The profile shows the respective participant’s strengths as well as potential areas for improvement.
Admittedly, assessing whether the affinity for entrepreneurship and the relevant competencies in an area of cultural heritage are sufficient to successfully start a business is always a matter of opinion. However, in the project we assume that there are certain essential elements when it comes to successful entrepreneurship, such as a good head for figures, experience in the specific area in which the business intends to operate, or mental robustness. We believe that it is in a participant’s own interests if they realise, at the end of the competence assessment, that their strengths lie elsewhere. This can prevent the experience of failure and leads to new start-ups that are higher in quality and possess greater potential for success.
Meanwhile, candidates who are interested in founding a social business and possess the basic competencies, subsequently participate in the CHEER project’s training programme. This training serves, among other things, to improve areas of individual weakness and the participants’ overall readiness to become entrepreneurs.
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About the author: Dr. Ann-Kristin Iwersen studied philosophy, ethnology and German philology, and works as a freelance copywriter and author. She is a founding member of ZiB e.V., the organisation behind the CHEER project, and is responsible in the CHEER project for editorial tasks and social media as well as developing learning resources and training programmes.
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