The start of a transformation process …

On May 3rd and 4th the we-school team with collaborators went to Patha, a tiny little village in Uttar Pradesh. The area is one of the poorest parts of India and a typical example for what it looks like when rural India is left behind in the race to develop. The poor are the victims. We went there to hold a workshop on how the villagers can cooperate to make their village a better and more prosperous place. I reported on this before.

To do so we used design thinking – a well-proven management method for innovation. It enables people to speak out right from their hearts, it gives free reign to their imagination and enables their creativity to flourish. As a result people easily co-create unusual ideas and solutions, they connect the right dots unexpectedly and – above all – they take ownership of THEIR solutions. And this is what you need when you want to drive REAL change.

The villagers provided a wonderful location. Right in the center of the village. The most perfect spot you can imagine – with an atmosphere almost impossible to improve.

The workshop was separated into 4 parts. The first part was all about identifying the problems of the village. During the second part we invited experts to tell the villagers about their experiences. The third part was up to the villagers themselves again – finding solutions for the problems which have been identified. And last but not least prioritise them and set up an action plan that assigns responsibilities and a binding schedule for when to do what.

Mehmood Khan guided the villagers through the workshop. During his business career at Unilever – where he was head of global innovation at the end – he practiced this concept over and over again. With a huge success. He describes the opening session as follows:

The outcome was pretty impressive. In 11 groups with max. 10 people each, the villagers identified more than 100 issues for their village. We categorised them in 7 main fields of action:

  • water (drinking/irrigation/tank)
  • education
  • health & hygiene (hospital, mosquito repellant)
  • unemployment
  • village market
  • debt of farmers
  • transport in and out of town

All these issues were discussed in the afternoon with experts and local officials. The collector of Mahoba, Anuj Kumar Jha, who is responsible for Patha and his CDO, Mr. Ykupadhyay, were very cooperative – and they still are. We hope it will last 😉

Our experts had a various backgrounds and reached out to the villagers on different levels:

  • we had two young fellows from the INK-Google initiative The Next Billion Online, Durgha Ramji and Ajith Inguva
  • Baboo Sahab, a human rights activist and part of the RTI movement
  • and Prem Singh, an agriculture specialist from the area who started his own Today it includes a wide range of small villagers selling their “green agriculture products” all over India.

The second day was the “solution day”. The villagers worked together in groups again and came up with THEIR solutions for THEIR issues defined the day before – everything precisely documented: solution, who takes ownership of the solution and when to do what. What I actually liked the best was the fact that the village kids themselves took action to improve the education situation and came up with ideas how to proceed. And they didn’t hesitate to present them in front of the audience and the officials! Hands-up for them!

Tonite I’ll take the night train to go to Patha again and discuss with the villagers the progress of our action plan. It’s the second time I go back after the workshop. So far they’ve set up their Patha Development Society and continued their conversation with the officials. The CDO confirmed that the state will give them one computer for their secondary school (we-school will add another three) and they are discussing the check dam and water tanks.

My job in the future will be to guide them through the transformation process, to bring in cooperation partners when needed and look for funding TOGETHER with them for the next projects. To be very honest, I only now realize how much they count on me and how much hope I bring to them. A responsibility I am willing to take but which is also not always easy to carry out. But I know one thing for sure: We (our planet) can’t afford ANY LONGER to leave these 5 billion people behind and we finally need to stop living on their expenses. It’s time to take action and work honestly together with them and build a sustainable future for all of us. A future for which all our kids yearn for to live in!

So I am curious to see what we’ll work on tomorrow …

Keep on pushing ;-)

In my blog post “From Ideas into Action” I wrote about the work I did with the students at the Sharif Education Complex during my stay in Lahore, Pakistan. Today is the teacher’s turn;-)

In various Q&A sessions with the teachers we discussed the following we_school principles:

  • Celebrate Diversity!
  • Learning over education
  • Student-centered learning
  • Solution-based Learning
  • Prototyping and Entrepreneurial thinking within the curriculum
  • The “Art of letting go”
  • Where do the kids learn?
  • Integration of community work within the curriculum

And the big final was a 3 hour open space with the goal to find ideas for implementing “new ways of teaching and learning” tomorrow. I was told that most of the teachers were familiar with the method – however many of them acted very shy. Only 9 of them stepped forward to propose a project.

Maybe it was because we called them in on a holiday;-)

But the results are very promising and the teachers were very engaged when I walked around in the groups. Together with their principal Zarin Shoaib the teachers will follow up on these outcomes:

  • Additional learning and working material besides the regular textbooks
  • Project Based Learning
  • Create “departments” for the various disciplines >>> English department, art department, math department … >>> this way the students can move on in the disciplines they are good at and “remain” in those in which they are not performing well
  • Kids teaching kids
  • How to motivate students better
  • How to improve working in groups
  • Concept based learning
  • Activity-based curriculum
  • Mydah’s project >>> fostering imagination

The next step will be to write a proposal what exactly is meant by these ideas and how they can  be translated into daily life.


From Ideas into Action

I spent a week at the Sharif Education Complex a bit outside of Lahore. On the campus there is a hospital, a medical college and 5 different schools with 1700 students. One hundred of the boys also live there in a hostel. The schools are led by Zarin Shoaib, who invited me to come.

Our goal was to come up with ideas and design projects to bridge the gap between the communities the students are living in and their daily life at school. We started out to work with students and teachers together, but it turned out – or I may better say it was my feeling from what I saw – that the students work much more “liberate” without the teachers. So we continued separately and worked on different issues.

I worked in 2 groups with them, each group about 20 kids. We’ve had 3 sessions à 90 minutes. It was quite a challenge for me to get them REALLY interested and not only to pretend being interested. And – probably to no ones surprise – the girls performed much better than the boys. They were much more focused and much more down to the point than the boys. Let’s see how their commitment will remain while I am gone. Before I left we agreed upon to continue virtually via their facebook page.

Here are the projects they came up with and which they would like to turn into practice:

  • Clean water
  • Citizen Rights – facebook awareness campaign
  • Educate your maid!
  • Fight illiteracy – Build a library!
  • Plant a tree!
  • Trash into colored dust bins!

By next Wednesday they were asked to send in a one pager where they explain how they plan to kick off their projects and with whom they want to cooperate in the community.

Can’t wait to see the projects going …

Transparency, participation and our citzen’s obligation to make something out of it!

On behalf of the Bundeszetrale für politische Bildung I’ve hosted a livestream with Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of Sunlight Foundation, last thursday. In the up-run of the Bundeskongress Partizipation the Bundeszentrale will have more of such events. Their goal: to get a discussion going on the topics closely related to the event’s theme: participation.

  • What does participation mean?
  • What does it take?
  • Why should citizens participate?
  • What influence should they have?
  • What are existing examples?
  • How can we “learn” participation?

It was a pleasure to start this serie with Ellen Miller. She spans for more than 35 years the worlds of non-profit advocacy, grassroots activism and journalism out of Washington DC. She is a nationally recognized expert on transparency and the influence of money in politics.
Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit – dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.

She gave us a brief introduction on Sunlight’s work and then we really had a lively discussion with the participants. A broad range of questions came up. You can watch the entire live stream here:

Global Citizenship Forum

Today the Global Citizenship Forum, organized and held by the British Council, London, will start in London. 60 participans from all over the world will discuss issues around global citizenship and hopefully we come up with some interesting thoughts and ideas.

I am very pleased to join this event, since it’s closely related tomy work – especially to our THRIVE magazine and the we_the_movie_project.

Here is the idea what global citizenship means to British Council:

Global citizens, in all aspects of their life,

  • take individual responsibility for building a better world, based on shared universal values, and universally acknowledged legal and ethical standards;
  • advocate the principles, benefits and successes of global citizenship, and build alliances that positively influence policy and actions to improve the world;
  • take action, with other individuals, with civil society, with businesses and governments, to contribute to improved global security, greater prosperity, and sustainable development.

Responsibility and taking action are the most important things for me. You can only drive and achieve change when you yourself live this change and when you yourself stand up for it!

Really looking forward to some interesting 3 days … stay tuned, I will follow up with some interviews and discussions!

Incredible India 02 – Unbox Festival and Royal Enfield

Unbox India

The unbox conference was outstanding – regarding content, formats and quality of speakers. Great job, thanks for that to all those who were involved in organizing the entire thing. It was worth coming.

Let me start with a few things which I found remarkable …

  • why brought they so many Dutch designers in – especially when they are all somehow cover the same scope ?
  • I was wondering why only so little people attended – was it a question of the price (200 USD)?
  • no wifi, no life stream – actually a shame when you really want to “unbox” to a broader audience outside the walls of British Council
  • hopefully they are NOT heading towards a TED-like event with a very closed circle
  • great name
  • Handmade India – a wonderfully designed book,  a tribute to the Indian craftsperson. It’s organized by the geographical distribution of the crafts across all states and regions of the country. Edited by Aditi Ranjan (PDF download link is here)
  • Indrajit Hazra – Indian novelist and journalist. Sharp, disruptive mind – liked him a lot
  • 3D printing: print your own mobile house. A little house, but a house.


These are the three things struck me the most:

Royal Enfield
… the legendary motorcycle manufacturing company from England, now based entirely out of Chennai, southern India. It’s the oldest one in the world. Founded 1905. But this is very much more on a personal level though – I bought one of these wonderful motorbikes – a bright red one. Hopefully delivered soon to downtown;-)

I did an interview with their CEO Venki Padmanabhan where he talks about the story behind Royal Enfield, its culture and its way of community building. They are aiming to become the VESPA in the motorbike world.

They caught me. I used to have an old red Vespa …

The other two things were Wash United, an NGO which suceessfully generates political will and promotes safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all, and Indy Johar, member of 00:/, a London based strategy & design practice company. Their foundation is delivering outstanding architecture and commissioned research into the built environment.

More on these two soon …

SynBarCamp 2011 – The Day After

Last Friday I moderated together with Dominik Wind the first Synaxon Barcamp. Quite an experience I have to say. The camp was exclusively for Synaxon staff – employees only.

33 topics were proposed and presented in our opening session – they were burnt down in the opening session to 25 – still a lot to work through the day. At the end we had 14 presentations – a few topics were melt together, some other simply didn’t get enough attention. An impressive outcome – especially when you know that each and every topic will be kept on track by its own “Minister of the Future” – the person who is responsible to transform this idea into daily Synaxon practice. Tomorrow Synaxon’s management will decide how much “free” time per week a minister will get to work on his/her topic … a great commitment, I think, since the employees can then work on their ideas during regular working hours and don’t need to spent extra hours on top of their regular daily work – just like at Google.

You could feel the curiosity and excitement when the room get packed for the opening session. After a brief introduction by the internal organization team Dominik and I took over. We explained the basic rules of an open space and challenged the partcipants by showing a video with creative ways to present their ideas at the end of the day.

The intro of the 33 topics took 45 minutes, every employee explained his/her idea and told us about his/her expectations of what to achieve. Then they went off in working groups. The groups weren’t equal in size – some of them had 15+ members, others only 4. Nevertheless in all of them everybody was committed to achieve the best.

As a matter of fact the participation of Synaxon’s management was optional – meaning it was up to the employees to decide wether they participate or not. It turned out that in every group I saw members of the management were happily included in the open and absolutely critical discussions.

I visited 5 working groups during the day – and what I’ve heard was in many ways astonishing, at least for me:

  • trainees fighting for their right to get the best out of their education by proposing a radical new method how to deal with them
  • employees telling their bosses very openly what they are doing wrong (not having time for conversations, not following up on topics which were discussed … )
  •  IT geeks revolutionizing processes set by the management
  • other geeks were demanding open source software strategies for tools Synaxon has heavy invested in – and the CEO announced at the end of the day via twitter and Facebook that their software is going open source!
  • employees demanding and finally deleting a fair amount of the 198 company rules

So I asked myself on my way home if the Synaxon web 2.0 concept  – I only knew so far from conversations and interviews with Frank Roebers, Synaxon’s CEO – has really infiltrated the entire company? At the best I could, I checked it according to the principles I think enterprise 2.0 companies should follow – here in short my one day impressions:


The Synaxon wiki way is transparent. Nevertheless being transparent doesn’t garantee that everybody knows everything which was made transparent. And this became obivious in some sessions. So there is the need to filter in order to reach the full potential of transparency.

And transparency is not only a top-down but also a bottom-up issue. If management is transparent things won’t work the 2.0 way if employees aren’t transparent as well. So it’s a requirement for everybody in the company … everybody is challenged. And this is something which employees need to understand: 2.0 is a 2-way street.


No lack of openness.


I’ve got the feeling that collaboration can be improved – especially across department boundaries and across brand boundaries.

No idea about collaboration with “external” partners.


It wasn’t optional to attend the BarCamp. It was a must for all employees – at least it was communicated as a must in the beginning. Except for a few which kept the daily business running.

The 35 topics were proposed from 15 people … so more than 10 % of the staff was actively involved. The management excluded themselves in proposing topics.

All the attendees seemed to be heavily involved in their discussions!

Failure, creativity and innovation

I’ve got the feeling, that failure is allowed.

Employees poofed their creativity in leaving their comfort zone for their presentations.

The topics discussed were closely related to Synaxon’s daily business … So it’s hard to tell about innovation. But since failure and creativity are vibrant parts of Synaxon’s culture – innovation shouldn’t be an issue.

My conclusion: In Germany definitely one of the most advanced 2.0 enterprises! And with this BarCamp they’ve installed their next tool to drive progress within their company.


And at the very end let me point out some details which made the BarCamp – among all the other things mentioned above – to a huge success:

  • the right food at the right moment is as important as a dose of fresh air once in a while
  • if you feel limits aren’t reached yet, push them a bit further
  • challenge the participants to step out of their comfort zone
  • include fun – e.g. something as the first SynEi Award
  • have always some music ready
  • never take things for granted

The day ended with finger food and drinks.

The biggest challenge for me at this time: to find a corkscrew for a great Italian red which we discovered among all the beer …


Synaxon is one of the most interesting companies in Germany’s 2.0 landscape – at least in my eyes. I’ve been following them for years now – for various reasons:

  • they started a very tool-driven 2.0-approach years ago (while Coremedia these days started out with a value-driven one – and they didn’t succeed in transforming their company into a modern, 2.0 embracing entity, I guess many people would say an enterprise 2.0)
  • I like their CEO Frank Roebers with whom I’ve done a couple of interviews – all in  German though. He is a very analytic, focussed guy – absolutely willing to give up power for the best of the company – if he is convinced. 😉
  • They follow John Hagel‘s “Power of Pull”-advice and make “small steps wisely without loosing the big vision” – a big vision they truly have. I’ve ever seen a company with such a detailed and specific mission statement. Just recently the entire staff has re-written the old statement … the new one is just about being launched with the Synaxon Culture Book.
  •  The structure of the company itsself is somehow unique. Synaxon is Europe’s biggest IT-reseller (franchise-system) – on one hand. With its brands AKCENT, iTeam, MICROTREND and PC-SPEZIALIST it reaches 3 billion Euros total revenue/year. On the other hand Synaxon provides a huge range of special services for its partners and collaborates with them on different layers.

Next week they’ll have their first internal SynaxonBarcamp. And together with my dear colleague Dominik Wind I will moderate it. I am pretty curious to learn more about Synaxon and its staff – especially to experience and feel what I’ve only heard so far from Frank, Synaxon CEO.

Really looking forward to share this experience with all of them.

The range of topics is broad:

  • from HR development to customer care
  • what does it mean to be a SYNAXON partner?
  • Homeoffice – why is it a problem?
  • Quality in software design
  • Wikis vs. GoogleDocs
  • Standardization of services
  • Salaries
  • ….

And I am sure Dominik and I we’ll challenge their creativity in presenting their ideas and results at the end of the day – and even further important we’ll make sure that there is room and space to follow up and transfer these ideas into their future daily business.

And by the way I don’t think it’s normal that a CEO makes all these things public available, transparent …