30 SES 12 A JS, Learning through Community Involvement and Place-based Education in ESD
Joint Paper Session NW 14 and NW 30
The international discourse about new types of economic activity increasingly acknowledges sustainability-driven entrepreneurs as change agents towards a post-growth society (Kyrö, 2015; Ploum et al., 2017). This paper argues that competencies, but also deeper levels of knowledge (values and worldviews) are key dimensions constituting sustainability-driven entrepreneurship (SDE). The key competencies of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs are seen as crucial to initiating and sustaining an innovative business venture (Lans et al., 2014). The paper analyses these key competencies as comprehensive constructs to understand important components of everyday working routines of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs. Values and beliefs as constructs driving motivation (Fayolle et al., 2014), and as initiators of action, are crucial dispositions in the context of competencies as knowledge and skills do not automatically lead to sustainable action (Rieckmann, 2012). Thus, for the implementation of sustainable action strategies, strong motivational drivers – values and worldviews – are needed but also opportunities which enable work performance (Hansen et al. 2016). Research into key competencies is essential to design educational processes of future change agents (Barth et al. 2007; Blok et al. 2016).
The main purpose of this paper is to understand better the key competencies for SDE, underlying values and worldviews as well as opportunity structures enabling effective work in order to provide better learning settings in higher education for SDE. From this perspective, three research questions are formulated:
RQ1: What are the key competencies for sustainability-driven entrepreneurship?
RQ2: Which values and worldviews drive sustainability-driven entrepreneurship and enable work performance?
RQ3: What role do opportunities play in enabling effective work performance of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs?
A systematic literature review has revealed a gap regarding research papers addressing teaching and learning for SDE (Mindt and Rieckmann, 2017). Although there is some research on teaching-learning approaches in entrepreneurship education, “very little research on teaching and learning is linked to learning outcomes and the debate of competencies” in SDE (Mindt and Rieckmann 2017: 154). Furthermore, none of the studies on competencies in SDE (e.g. Lans et al. 2014; Ploum et al. 2017) takes into consideration the direct experiences of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs. Whereas Lans et al. (2014) and Ploum et al. (2017) focus on change agents for sustainability and so called would-be sustainable entrepreneurs, Hesselbarth and Schaltegger (2014), Osagie et al. (2016) and Wesselink et al. (2015) focus more on the role of competencies in the work context of CSR managers.
This empirical study aims at filling this research gap by describing key competencies, values, worldviews as well as opportunities and by identifying implications for teaching and learning processes for SDE – based on the direct experiences of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs. Furthermore, it takes into account the opportunity structures which influence the performance of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs.
The research was carried out in the first phase of the project CASE – Competencies for a Sustainable Socio-Economic Development developed in the frame of the Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance program. Between 2015 and 2017, ten partners of five European regions (Austria: Vienna, Sweden: Gothenburg, Czech Republic: Brno, Italy: Bolzano, Germany: Vechta) were working together as a consortium between universities, sustainability-oriented businesses and educational non-profit organisations (Cincera et al., 2016). The main aim of the project was to develop a joint Master’s programme on ‘Sustainability-driven Entrepreneurship’, enabling students to act as change agents for sustainable development in different disciplinary and sectorial contexts.
Data was obtained with an explorative research approach, consisting of 48 semi-structured interviews conducted with entrepreneurs. To explore which specific competencies and underlying deeper levels of knowing – values and worldviews – are required, and thus should be integrated in the pedagogical framework conception of the Master’s programme, entrepreneurs and managers from regional enterprises and non-profit organizations in the five geographical regions were asked to reflect upon their experiences in acting more sustainably and responsibly, related opportunities/challenges, their motivation, values and worldviews, and needed competencies. Interview partner selection was based on a purposeful sampling strategy (Patton, 2002), considering three main criteria: (1) practical experience which partners have gained through implementing sustainability strategies in their businesses; (2) diversity (interview partners from different economic sectors and with different sizes); (3) partners’ experience in transdisciplinary collaboration and interest in future cooperation with universities. Following these selection criteria, each partner of the project consortium created a regional sample. From February to May 2015, the interviews were conducted in the five project regions. Interviews were arranged as semi-structured dialogues, mostly in face-to-face settings. In six cases, skype interviews were conducted. Interviews lasted from one to two hours on average and were conducted in the national languages German, Swedish and Czech to avoid potential language barriers. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and translated to English where necessary. In a next step, the data provided by the partners was screened and summarised, following criteria of thematic comparison and similarity. For deeper analysis of the entire data, an analysis frame was developed. The structure of the analysis frame was based on the thematic clusters and pre-defined categories of the interview guide. Considering vital results of the interviews, but theoretical considerations mainly based on the sustainability competencies approach (Wiek et al. 2011) and the SDE competencies approach developed by Lans et al. (2014) as well, some categories had to be adopted and re-defined. The so obtained key categories served as a methodological frame for the data analysis.
This study contributes to a more detailed understanding of key competencies in SDE, underlying values and worldviews, and discusses opportunity structures for effective entrepreneurial work performance. It is crucial for sustainability-driven entrepreneurs to be able to cope with the complexity of actual transformation processes (systemic competency). They also need skills for reflecting on their own work performance, their values and worldviews, goals and impacts (normative competency). They also should take responsibility for the future of society and the environment (anticipatory competency). Furthermore, strategic competency is important for all entrepreneurs. Performance management is particularly important, as are instruments to measure an entrepreneur’s impact on society, the environment and the economy. Finally, being able to lead dialogues or discourses on different levels is also regarded as crucial for SDE, which goes far beyond applying narrow communication techniques (interpersonal competency). This includes the ability to work in and sustain multi-stakeholder networks. However, since competencies as such do not automatically lead to concrete action, the paper underlines the relevance of strong values and worldviews motivating and enabling entrepreneurs to initiate change. SDE is strongly motivated by transformation paths towards a sustainable economy putting the principle of intra- and intergenerational equity at the centre. Further, SDE is characterised by a strong ambition of living a good life and a deep sense of the ecological future of our planet. Particular opportunity structures have been identified which enable effective work performance of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs. The field of sustainability opens up new market opportunities – successful niches for innovative entrepreneurs and start-ups. Nevertheless, sustainability-driven entrepreneurs constantly have to prove themselves. To anchor new opportunity niches, the interviewees highlighted some possible strategies. For example, specific apprenticeship programmes, vocational trainings or seminars on sustainability tools can be crucial in strengthening the viability of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs.
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