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Interview with Dr. Beate Grotehans - IRENE|SEE, Siemens Stiftung

December 01, 2015

Questions to Dr. Beate Grotehans, Siemens Stiftung

After five years of work, the Siemens Stiftung and Zeppelin University have completed their research project on social entrepreneurship in Ethiopia, South Africa, Mexico and Colombia, and have published the results in a book:

Entrepreneurial Solutions for Social Challenges
Lessons from the International Research Network on Social Economic Empowerment (IRENE|SEE)

The articles in the book are all based on dissertations of the PhD students supported by the network from Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The publication brings the work of the International Research Network on Social Economic Empowerment (IRENE | SEE) to its conclusion. The book can be downloaded here.

We spoke to Dr.  Beate Grotehans, Senior Project Manager at the Siemens Stiftung, who was in charge of the project.

1.    Why did the Siemens Stiftung embark on a practice-based project of this kind?

To maintain the profile of the foundation’s work in the area of “Basic Needs & Social Entrepreneurship”, we needed a theoretical and empirical contextualisation, in an academic framework. That was the objective of the project, which ran from 2011 until 2016. Our expectation was that the results would make it possible to formulate recommendations for the various practical options open to the Siemens Stiftung.

That was what led us to cooperate with Zeppelin University in establishing the IRENE | SEE network. The participants studied the feasibility, utility, limitations and long-term effects of social economic empowerment in selected Latin American and African countries.

The research comprises theoretical studies, together with the collection and evaluation of primary empirical data in Colombia, Mexico, South Africa and Ethiopia – as the Siemens Stiftung either intends to implement projects in these countries or is already doing so.

2.    Who is the research directed at? Governments and policymakers? Entrepreneurs? Students?

The research is targeted at a wide audience, including students and the scientific community as a whole, well as policymakers, NGOs and foundations, and other businesses with an emphasis on social empowerment. 

3.    Why were these particular countries selected for the study?

Rather than picking countries, we looked at universities. The choice fell on EGADE, the graduate  business school of Tecnológico de Monterrey, in México; the University of Stellenbosch Business School, in South Africa (USB); the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, and the Zeppelin University in Germany. These are highly ranked universities, with a reputation for quality and innovative approaches in research, which was the criterion for inviting them to be a member of our research network. The fifth university, Adama University, in Ethiopia, was invited to join the network with a specific social aim. It was important to us that a university in a less privileged situation should have a chance to take part in the project.

4.    What is the long-term goal of the IRENE I SEE project? Will the work continue?

Yes, definitely. The PhD advisors, the university professors, have an academic focus on social entrepreneurship anyway and will continue to pursue that approach in their teaching and research activities.

And the former doctoral students have found suitable employment, in an environment where they can carry on developing their ideas about different aspects of social entrepreneurship. For example, one former student is now working for Good Governance Africa in Johannesburg; one is coordinating the Social Entrepreneurship Program of a large Mexican business school; another is in the process of publishing a book on digital entrepreneurial business in Kenya.

5.    What were the most interesting findings for you personally? Were there any surprises?

At a personal level, the most interesting result for me was the realization that we Europeans still see the world very much from our own, northern hemisphere perspective, in our concepts and categories, our ways of thinking and planning. We fail to recognize that people in the southern hemisphere – whether they are researchers or social entrepreneurs – also have their own methods and ways of doing things, their own criteria and standards of judgment. And that they're not automatically interested in what northern hemisphere people would do or appreciate.

So our "south-south" exchanges were an exciting exercise for me in challenging my own perceptions.

Beate Grotehans
Beate Grotehans

Beate studied history and philosophy in Hamburg and Bielefeld. After receiving her doctorate in philosophy in 1987 with subsequent work as a research assistant at the University of Bielefeld, she was a lecturer at the Universities of Bielefeld, Hamburg, Hagen, Augsburg and Munich. She worked at the Siemens Art Program, from 1991 until late 1993 as a Project Manager for Music, and between 1994 and October 2009, as a Curator and Project Manager for Contemporary Culture. Since October 2009 she is a Senior Project Manager at the Siemens Foundation and responsible for the International Research Network on Social Economic Empowerment – IRENE I SEE project.


Senior Project Manager