Thilo von Gilsa, Master student Erasmus Mundus Global Studies at University of Leipzig and London School of Economics interviewed by Evelyn Pachta, Manager External Relations and Communication, LEIZ
How did you become head of your Case II group of students within the Transcultural Research Group Rio de Janeiro?
After writing my thesis in the field of transcultural competence, I have always remained connected to the Leadership Excellence Institte Zeppelin | LEIZ. I was particularly pleased when, in 2018, the Transcultural Leadership Summit chose Brazil as its focus. I was able to act as a consultant because I had worked for the German Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro in 2017. One of the speakers was Henrique Drumond, a social entrepreneur whom I knew during my time in Rio and who was to become our local cooperation partner a year later.
What tasks did you set the research group in Brazil, and what was the goal?
The goal was to ‘live’ transcultural research. Each of the students had a different perspective on the social start-up Insolar and its founder Henrique Drumond. We were united by the question of relational leadership. The different perspectives were sustainability, urban development, social entrepreneurship and communication. Transcultural research also involves developing things together on the ground and not just as observers. We noticed this in courses on social entrepreneurship at the University of PUC (Pontifícia Universidade Católica) with Brazilian students and in stakeholder dialogues with Henrique. The interviews with Henrique in particular felt less like interviews and more like reflection and strategy development. There is one thing I would like to add: one goal that I only realised in Brazil is the relevance of the German-Brazilian partnership. Not only have existing friendships developed, but cooperation between PUC and ZU is also in the offing, so that a further exchange could be possible in the future.
What insights did you gain whilst in Brazil?
As a social entrepreneur, Henrique Drumond uses the various patterns of the definition of social entrepreneurship in order to draw on the largest and most productive stakeholder network possible. As a non-profit organisation it collects donations and, as a social enterprise, it invests 100% of its return on investment in the company's purpose. In the meantime he has established cooperation projects with banks whose funds make it possible to build solar plants. The money is jointly paid into over the years as if the user were paying an electricity bill. Since social entrepreneurs do not aim at profit maximisation but impact maximisation, concepts of relational management are very fitting here. These concepts allow the impact of the social enterprise to be maximised by choosing the appropriate organisational form based on the stakeholder relationships. Of course, this is only one of many insights: In our book you can read about the full scope of our experience.
What do you see as the advantage of approaching a project the way you did?
Transculturality can only be understood as a social learning process. The aim of the participants is not to approach situations normatively in order to be able to work out values together. Transculturality is a practical concept that must be ‘lived’ and learned in this practice. What struck me during my time in Brazil was that it was more of an inductive research approach. One does not try to confirm a theory, but rather to look at how cooperation works. One tries to make cooperation ‘describable’. Furthermore, it is very important to promote exchange on an equal footing and to establish both sides as equal partners. That's why I'm very pleased that, in Rio de Janeiro, we were also in the Santa Marta community itself and didn't just learn about the project from the media and discussions. The fact that two students from the community are not only part of our project but have now, in addtion to that, visited us at the Winter School in Germany also promotes this dialogue. Furthermore, it is important to say that the participants are aware of the privilege of being part of the Transcultural Research Group and it is therefore important for all participants to pass on their experiences and findings afterwards.
Is there any particular aspect you would like to highlight?
Each of our programme items was a highlight and a piece of the puzzle. Gradually, a picture of Insolar in the context of stakeholders and a picture of Brazil, or rather Rio de Janeiro, emerged for all participants. At the end we had the opportunity to have a small reception in the residence of the General Consul. This was a brilliant conclusion to thank our partners, and especially Henrique Drumond from Insolar. Since it was mainly an academic trip, I would like to share one more insight at the end: Henrique Drumond ‘lives’ servant leadership. Each of the Insolar ambassadors becomes a protagonist. The ideas are developed together and so the organisation is constantly expanded. Some also use the organization to set up their own companies. At a stakeholder meeting where everyone could come from the community and where residents of the community presented Insolar as a company and represented it, we became particularly aware of this.
LEIZ Communication Management
The Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin (LEIZ) at Zeppelin University conducts transcultural research in so-called “Transcultural Student Research Groups”. These groups are composed of student researchers who tackle one collective overarching research agenda, each of them writing a research paper on one subtopic and thus representing a distinct perspective on the overall research question. Both the participating students and their supervisors represent different departments and disciplines of Zeppelin University. In this manner, a phenomenon can be approached via different ways of thinking and with different methods, ultimately providing a multiple-perspective description of that phenomenon. One important ambition LEIZ pursues with its Transcultural Student Research Groups is bringing together young and established researchers from different cultural backgrounds. It is in this context that the LEIZ cooperates with Brazilian universities to learn from local expertise: it is only by including researchers and students from Brazil that the programme becomes truly transcultural!
The four Transcultural Research cases at a glance:
Case I: The Relations between Future Leaders and Traditional
Communities: Learnings from the Center for Sustainability Studies Programme
Case II: The Relations between Start-ups and their Stakeholders:
Learnings from Insolar
Case III: A Diverse Network of Relations as a Driver of Innovation: Learnings from SAP
Case IV: The Relations between Politics and Civil Society:
Learnings from Operation Car Wash