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SIE Interviews Steffen Thybo Møller and Lasse Zobel of DANSIC

DANSIC (The Danish Social Innovation Club) is a non-profit, volunteer organization driven entirely by students. Behind DANSIC is a team of ambitious students, who believe that it pays off to make a difference in society.

Along with the rest of the world, Denmark is faced with considerable economic and societal challenges. It is necessary to produce more, with fewer resources, for a grow¬ing number of people. There is thus a need for all levels of society - public, private and civil - separately or in unison, to begin developing new, sustainable solutions to these challenges. On this foundation lies the motivation behind the growing international movement of social entrepreneurs, social enterprises and socially innovative partnerships, as well as DANSIC’s formation.

Defined as ‘new solutions to societal challenges’, the mission of DANSIC is to inspire social innovation both local and global.

DANSIC’s efforts focus on producing a yearly conference. The first conference - DANSIC12 - takes place in March 2012 in Copenhagen. The conference is arranged by around 60 volunteers and includes two keynotes and more than 40 speakers. DANSIC12 will host panel discussions to inspire and motivate the students to engage in social innovation. Additionally, the conference is built around workshops, where over 300 students are invited to cooperate and network around relevant social innovation challenges.

DANSIC12 will focus on 3 key issues:

  1. Solutions for the welfare state of the futures
  2. B-BoP or Businesses at the Base of the Pyramid
  3. Sustainable Innovation

Connor Friesen interviews DANSIC co-founders Steffen Thybo Møller (president) and (vice president) Lasse Zobel

Where did you first come into contact with the term Social Innovation? What do you understand by this term?

The first time we both really explored social innovation was during our studies in the United States. Steffen studied social innovation focusing on developing countries and education at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Together with other volunteers, he co-organized several conferences focusing on the challenges of society. One of them, the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, reached the top list on Forbes Magazine. Lasse studied Law at New York University, where he met inspirational social entrepreneurs at conferences like the NYU Social Innovation Symposium.

There are many differences in how people talk and work with social innovation, especially in Europe. We follow those who define the end goal of social innovation as improving people’s lives by meeting unmet social and environmental needs. However, we do not limit the means to one sector or one specific model. In order to foster lasting social change, we believe that engaging leaders, academics and entrepreneurs from all sectors is crucial. Therefore we define social innovations as new ideas (products, services, design, business models, partnerships) that meet social needs more effectively than alternatives.

Where did you first hear about the Social Innovation Europe (SIE) initiative?

We quickly found the SIE when we initially searched for existing social innovation initiatives in Europe. We later found that one of our Advisory Board members, Jeremy Millard from Danish Technological Institute is involved as partner.

DANSIC will be hosting its first annual conference on March 8th featuring 2 keynotes, over 40 speakers, and a range of workshops. All of this is being organized by students and for students. What do you hope to achieve by putting social innovation on the student agenda in this way?

We hope to inspire more students, academics, leaders to explore the potential of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. As a cross-educational and cross-sectorial platform, we also hope to contribute to the breakdown of the widespread silo mentality within educational institutions and society at large. Looking ahead a few years, we hope that our yearly conferences and idea pitch competitions will contribute significantly to an increase the number of social entrepreneurs, social enterprises and other social innovations coming from Denmark.

Over 60 student volunteers have coordinated themselves to deliver DANSIC12. Clearly there is a lot of interest and motivation among students to engage with social innovation. Where do you think this motivation comes from? What have been the challenges and successes, for you, in channelling this energy?

Deep down everybody wants to make a dent in the world and enjoy a purposeful life. But the feeling of urgency for students to step up and do something has become much more tangible after the global financial crisis, growing pressure on public expenditure, the rise in unemployment, and increasing awareness about climate changes and lack of scarce nature resources. We are proud and grateful for the support we get from the Danish Minister of Science & Innovation, our Advisory Board, our main sponsor Boston Consulting Group, and the media. In fact our biggest challenge has not been raising awareness, but to quickly learn and adapt our organizational structure as we grew from 3 to 60 volunteers. Here, it means the world to us that our volunteers have organically developed a culture of mutual learning and doing better as a team.

Several DANSIC12 workshops will address B-BoP (Businesses at the Base of the Pyramid). What do these businesses look like? What can we learn from them?   

B-BoP is about social enterprises working to sustain social impact and increase access to critical goods and services needed in developing countries. The movement has grown thanks to a mix of committed social entrepreneurs, social venture funds, and academic publications by academics such as C.K. Prahalad, Ted London, Stuart Hart among many others. Some of the social businesses focus on a particular service such access to finance, such as Grameen Bank, Brac, Kiva, and MyC4. Others focus on increasing access to renewable energy in rural areas, such as award-winning E+Co, or on general consultancy services such as Dalberg Global Development Advisors. Many of the local social entrepreneurs can reach increasingly get access to capital through social venture funds such as Acumen Fund and Root Capital.

We can learn a lot about development and aid by exploring how these social entrepreneurs explore alternative solutions in countries where governmental institutions are weak and access to basic goods and services are extremely limited.

All of the participants at DANSIC12 will be asked to build their own sustainable, social business. Will the organizers be giving them any guidance in this process? What do you hope that participants will learn during this session? What do you hope to learn?

To guide the workshops, we have partnered up with professional facilitators who can help guide, inspire and challenge the ideas and mind sets of the participants. We hope that participants will learn that it is possible to apply business models that target social and economic value at the same time to solve an unmet social need. Hopefully the workshops will encourage more students to build new social businesses, like the few Danish, e.g. Specialisterne, Vestergaard Frandsen, MyC4, Dalberg, Allehånde, working locally as well as globally to improve people’s lives.

The event will include an idea competition called Pitch@DANSIC. Across Europe, social innovators are taking a serious interest in competitions as a way to source and promote new ideas. How has the Pitch@DANSIC competition been run, and what do you hope its impact will be?

The purpose of the Pitch@DANSIC idea competition is to foster more social innovative ideas and help aspiring social entrepreneurs implement them. Here, new ideas can be submitted online in a 2-minute long video by anybody with a social innovative idea. The three best ideas is selected by an independent body of five judges, including the CEO of the first Danish Social Capital Fund, Lars Jannick Johansen. Then the three best will be ‘pitched’ at the conference and the winners will be awarded consultancy services by pro bono consultants from the Harvard alumne organisation, Society Network, as well as office space among other social innovators and entrepreneurs, who will help implement the idea in society. In this way, we hope that the Pitch@DANSIC competition will lead to real social change and improve the lives of people through social innovation.