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Changing the World One Social Enterprise at a Time

Dr. Carsten Rübsaamen knows one thing for sure: “A truly authentic leader can only make a difference if they wholeheartedly believe in what they are doing.” Together with his co-founders, this enthusiastic boy scout and graduate of WHU’s Doctoral Program started the social enterprise BOOKBRIDGE in 2009. The idea? To provide today’s leaders and talent an education in entrepreneurship that assumes a “learning by doing” approach. The goal? The creation of new social enterprises in areas of the world sorely needing them—and the sustainable improvement of the lives and career prospects of the people residing there.

BOOKBRIDGE and WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management jointly offer General Management Plus (GMP+), an executive education offering that combines the latter’s Management Essentials Program with the former’s Capability Program. In this interview, Dr. Rübsaamen gives insight into the program and the incredible impact it has on participants, their companies, and society as a whole.

Carsten, you co-founded your social enterprise BOOKBRIDGE in 2009. What is the company’s goal?

BOOKBRIDGE combines social entrepreneurship with managerial development. With our curriculum that focuses on experiential learning, managers start their own social enterprises in parts of the world that need them most—for example, a study center in Mongolia or a water start-up in Africa. They learn to assume an entrepreneurial mindset and management style and they get a masterclass in values-based leadership. And while doing so, they help improve the lives and career prospects of thousands of people.

We give managers an opportunity to take on new responsibilities and have a positive impact on the world—and to learn a ton and grow on a personal level. Anyone who participates in our program is not just honing crucial business and leadership skills. They’re joining an interdisciplinary and international team and becoming true social entrepreneurs.

For one of these management programs, you’ve opted to work with WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, where you yourself studied. And together, you have been offering the GMP+ Program to prospective leaders for years now. How does your collaboration differentiate itself from other management education programs?

The GMP+ Program combines theory and practice in a unique way. In the classroom, participants acquire a knowledge of management topics—from strategy to leadership to finance—and then they put that directly into building their social enterprises. They found a company that shouldn’t just operate sustainably and profitably. Rather, the primary focus is on the betterment of the local people’s lives and career prospects. And in doing so, the participant learns how a functional business model develops, how to do business with an entrepreneurial mindset, and how to lead people based on their own vision and values. In assuming this responsibility, they grow as people tenfold and commit, alongside other participants, to a goal that is bigger than themselves.

According to the official website, BOOKBRIDGE and the Capability Program have the goal of educating “purpose-driven leaders,” people who want to make a difference. Why is that so important to the company?

Working for the greater good is necessary for leading a full life. Having the experience of working on something that’s bigger than ourselves can have a monumental effect on us. A truly authentic leader can only make a difference if they wholeheartedly believe in what they are doing. I am convinced that this is the only way for leadership to have a lasting and positive effect. And that’s more important now than ever before, given the challenges our world is currently facing.

Have career expectations changed over the years?

When we started BOOKBRIDGE fourteen years ago, “purpose” wasn’t really a topic of discussion. Today, it’s everywhere. Questions like “who is doing what—and why?” have become essential. For example, people buy certain products (and entirely avoid others) because they want to make a difference. Or perhaps they consider their next employer’s goals when looking for a new job. They want to be able to identify with that company’s goals. And that’s something that is just as relevant for small or mid-sized enterprises as it is for larger corporations.

How does the Capability Program from BOOKBRIDGE help managers grow?

Managers enrolled in the Capability Program learn what it means to build and lead a company centered around a good cause. They have vision and are committed. They take what they’ve experienced in the program and put it back into their companies: They start to lead differently, reevaluate available resources, and act in a more entrepreneurial way.

Is the focus exclusively on personal experience? Or do employers also benefit?

To our participants, the program is always a personal transfer project. In looking closely at the needs of the locals, they start to think about their own values, the purpose of their work, and the purpose of the work their originating companies do. A personal leadership coach accompanies them on this journey. Once they’ve completed the program, they entirely change their working environment, a process for which we get superiors involved. So the program does not only have an impact through the social enterprises it bears; it effects the locals, the individual participants themselves, and the culture at their originating companies.

Can you give an example of an employer that has benefited from this training of its managers?

A Foundation of a leading reinsurance company has customized & adapted our capability program to support early-stage social entrepreneurs, leveraging skillsets, and expertise of its corporate talent at different locations around the world. This program has now been integrated with the organization's leadership development journey. We are proud that companies like our approach and are adopting it.

Sustainability matters have increased in importance for all companies, something that should not be underestimated. How can the joint programs offered by WHU and BOOKBRIDGE help find that balance between sustainable and profitable business?

The Capability Program is not a sandbox for quick practice projects. They should have a sustainable impact, be self-sustaining in the long run, and, if possible, be profitable. That our projects have had such a high success rate can be attributed to the management and leadership skills we teach as part of our program. In fact, 90% of the social enterprises founded through the program are still up and running today after ten years. Each participant improves the lives and career prospects of 790 people with the social founded founded. They influence an average of 93 other colleagues at their companies with the skills they acquired during the program. And the collaboration with the local teams ensures that those who are in charge and on-site also benefit. The participants learn to operate the enterprise cost-efficiently and for the long haul.

So, managers become active entrepreneurs during their time in the Capability Program. What do participants learn through this unique and practice-oriented experience of founding a new social enterprise?

In the program, managers work together in a high-performance team inside a considerably diverse and intellectual environment. They learn the responsibility that comes along with their actions. They make and stand by their decisions, even in moments of uncertainty. A wise man once said that “in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” Our participants learn to trust and to listen. They don’t merely reflect on where they stand and declare what they think; they get feedback from the other participants and develop their own understanding of what it means to be a leader. But given that they are working hand-in-hand with those on the ground—and therefore have to place aside their own personal ambitions for the greater good—the most crucial thing is those partaking in our program learn humility.

The General Management Plus Program has been around for quite some time now. Can we take a look at the “balance sheet,” as it were?

In ten years, around 1,000 managers from 115 organizations have taken part in our programs. That includes representatives from Hilti, Swisscom, and BSH Hausgeräte GmbH. Participants have developed a new way of looking at resources. They conduct business in a more entrepreneurial way. They lead differently. And in doing so, they’re directly contributing to a more future-ready corporate culture. Our track record of 118 social enterprises built in 15 different countries across the globe speaks for itself. The 90% of them still in operation today are financially self-sufficient and able to pay back their initial interest-free investment loans. And, of course, they’re improving the lives of thousands of people every single day.

That truly is quite impressive. What are your plans for the future? What are you all hoping for?

We want to inspire companies, encourage them to customize our programs and run them internally at their own locations. Instead of flying abroad and working effectively there, corporates could motivate their employees to implement effective social projects closer to home. We have already succeeded in doing this with one of our clients. An executive of a leading reinsurance company participated in the Capability program in 2017 and relaunched the program a year later in their country in APAC in partnership with their corporate foundation. Given the success, the Foundation now established the program at seven locations worldwide.

It’s surely an incredible experience watching all this success in the entrepreneurial scene. How important is it for BOOKBRIDGE to have renowned partners such as WHU officially accrediting the program?

Our cooperation with WHU, as well as the accreditation of our programs, is extremely important to us. WHU is a renowned business school, and it imparts to our participants the knowledge in finance, leadership, and strategy they need. These basics of management, based on the latest research, are taught in a practical way and then directly implemented at our companies. And our Capability Program also has an influence on WHU and the way leadership is taught there. That’s something we’re proud of!

Watch the program video here!


Strategy and Leadership Skills for Foundations: Management Program for Executives in the Non-profit Sector

Fourteen participants, all working in the non-profit sector, spent five days at WHU Campus Düsseldorf where they learned new conceptual insights and discussed a wide range of topics and questions with their peers.

The agenda of the theory-based yet practice-oriented curriculum included the following topics: the effects of climate change on the foundation's work, changes in the structures of volunteer work in the civil society, and the digitalization of non-profit organizations. Furthermore, the topics of "Managing employees in VUCA environments" and the use of storytelling in management and everyday work were discussed. The speaker range included representatives of WHU, foundation managers, and other experts on focus topics.

At the end of the week, Dr. Gereon Schuch, Managing Director of the Deutsche Stiftungsakademie, concluded: "The positive feedback from the participants confirms our decision to host the program on-site in Düsseldorf. Similar to other certificate courses of DSA, the exchange in a protected environment is a significant added value for the participants, especially with regards to networking aspects.

Dr. Peter Kreutter, Director of the WHU Foundation and Faculty Director for the program added: "We are very pleased that the joint Executive Education program of DSA and WHU has taken place for the third time already and that we were able to execute it on-campus under these special circumstances. Furthermore, I would like to especially thank the Stiftung Mercator, which made it possible for representatives of small foundations and small organizations to participate in the program.”

The next program run of the "Management-Führungskräfteprogramm für Non-Profits" will take place on September 6-10, 2021 at WHU Campus Düsseldorf. You can find more information here.


A story of success

10 years of social entrepreneurship, 7 years of successful partnership with over 46,000 purpose-driven responsible leaders: BOOKBRIDGE and WHU enable participants to start their own social enterprise.

Hands-on, practice orientated knowledge is always important in management education, but crucial for starting one’s own company: The General Management Plus Program of WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management offers participants the opportunity to co-create social enterprises in emerging markets like Sri Lanka, Cambodia or Mongolia. Since 2013, WHU has been cooperating with the social enterprise BOOKBRIDGE giving its executive education to participants. "Over the years, we have developed more than 600 leaders in GMP+ each of whom has impacted 77 colleagues on average. This means that we have already turned over 46,000 people into purpose-driven responsible leaders worldwide," says BOOKBRIDGE co-founder and WHU alumnus Carsten Rübsaamen and smiles. "We are thus changing entire organizations towards more innovation and value-based leadership.”

Read the full article here.


General Management Programm for CIOs successfully started

The scope of duties of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) has expanded considerably in recent years. CIOs take on a broad range of responsibilities, and their leadership extends far beyond information and communications management in a company.

In light of these wide-reaching changes in the role of the CIO, the Executive Education branch of WHU, together with the specialized business magazine CIO, has developed a furthering education program that specifically develops the leadership competence and general management skills of IT managers. Supported by HP and the CIO Foundation, the "CIO Leadership Excellence Program" has successfully started as the first program of its kind in Germany. The participants comprise a total of 19 topnotch IT managers from different companies, including Henkel, Hilti and SMA Solar Technology.

The program is explicitly designed to allow the participants to analyze, structure, and address the strategic challenges of companies from the perspective of management and the business division, using a targeted set of approaches. Class content and teaching methods are specifically designed for the target group of executives: senior managers who already possess many years of professional and leadership experience and who can actively contribute their experience in class. The furthering education program places particular emphasis on a dynamic and competitive environment as well as on the opportunities and risk profiles of emerging economies.

The "CIO Leadership Excellence Program" consists of a total of three modules: a basis module with an emphasis on general management at the WHU campus in Vallendar as well as two international modules in India (Mumbai and Bangalore) and in China. Emerging markets form the special focus of the two international modules.

The innovative IT business magazine CIO brings together two things that belong together in the closely networked economy of the 21st century: IT and business. IT is increasingly coming into focus as companies set goals for the future. The reason: reducing costs, optimizing customer relationships, and increasing productivity are only possible with strategic, expedient use of new technologies. “CIO – IT Strategy for Managers” has been a member of IDG Business Media GmbH since October 2001. Since 1974 they have been the specialist for B2B communication in the German-speaking field of IT and technical communications.