Geo-Economics and Politics

When things do go wrong

Renat Heuberger
Co-Founder, South Pole
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What comes to your mind when you hear “Social Entrepreneur”? Vision, passion, entrepreneurial spirit, energy to help addressing the world’s problems? That’s all true, but sometimes things do go wrong. A grossly negligent staff, a failed project, even unintended negative impacts on communities – yes, all that can happen inside a social entreprise. Today at the social entrepreneurs‘ gathering ahead of the Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, we had the rare occasion to reflect and discuss such experience. In a very open and intense atmosphere, the reasons behind such failures were investigated, and recommendations as to how to avoid such incidences were debated.

Should social entreprises limit themselves in growth, so that the social entrepreneur at all times fully keeps oversight on all aspects within his / her company? Are “non for profit” organisations less in danger of experiencing such failures than “for profit” – or is it even the other way round? How must a social entrepreneur structure governance in his / her company; should the entrepreneur remain CEO at all times, or should he eventually become a chairman or board member, and if so, how can she / he make sure that the new CEO carries on with the values and visions of the company?

Ultimately, there is no precise answer to all these questions. Ultimately, I guess the only conclusion is that as social entrepreneurs we should stay firmly connected to reality, and to admit that things can go wrong. If they do, we should be prepared to take action. Using our vision, passion, entrepreneurial spirit, energy to help addressing the world’s problems are all important requirements, but no guarantees, that we will succeed.


Renat Heuberger, Chief Executive Officer, South Pole Carbon, Switzerland; Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2011

South Pole Carbon creates solutions in the fields of climate change and renevable energies. By providing access to finance through international carbon markets, the company has enabled over 250 projects worldwide ranging from renewable energy to waste treatment and forestry, thereby reducing millions of tons of CO2 and creating thousands of jobs worldwide. With “Gold Power”, South Pole Carbon has launched the first global renewable energy label.

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