Sustainable Organisational Development – an Intercultural Exchange

Marlene Haas (Lust auf besser leben, Germany) visits Ildikó Simon (Cromo Foundation, Hungary) in June 2017 in Budapest.

When I arrived in Hungary, I already had the feeling that the two workshops Ildikó and I had planned would be an interesting experience for me as a German so called sustainability expert.

But let’s get a bit more background information: our initiative ‘Lust auf besser leben’ – based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, is a seldom mixture between for-profit and non-profit organisation, a fact that drives the German financial department crazy.

"Lust auf besser leben" workshop in SziomplaKert
"Lust auf besser leben" workshop in SziomplaKert

Our goal is clear: we want to foster the SDG* (global Sustainable Development Goals) on the local level. For that we work on one hand with district programmes. For example, we realise projects with local retailers, associations and citizens to reduce the use of plastic bags or implement urban gardening projects. All the topics which bring SDG into the daily lives of people who aren’t from the typical LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability) section. We intend to reach the ‘normal’ people.

On the other hand we developed a so called ‘ambassador programme’. It is a circular toolbox to foster local economy and customers to become more sustainable. The local companies and organisations sign the ‘Charta of sustainability’ which says that they commit to sustainable development. Then they work with our self-check. These are more or less guiding questions about waste, energy, resources, inclusion, employees, process management, transparency, logistics, supply chain and regional activities.

All that is not a ranking but a portrait of what is the status quo. Moreover, in our web guide where customers find information about the ambassadors and local events, ideas how to live more sustainably in a way which is fun. Additionally, the ambassadors meet every second month to exchange and help each other.

So, to fulfil my mission in frames of the CitizensLab mobility exchange, I prepared a typical German workshop as we do it with local urban companies.

Some workshop team members
Some workshop team members

What I didn’t know was that the two workshops we planned took place in a programme called SUSY. SUSY is a cute animated something. And it stands for ‘Sustainable and solidarity economy’. It is a great EU programme to foster a new economy and enable those who are on their way to run a company in a sustainable, solidarity way, e.g. a farmer cooperative.

The first of two workshops took place in the region of Baranya. There the new economy mostly formed by really impressive solidarity enterprises. For instance, our venue was a local brewery. The catering came from a company which hires Roma women to help them succeed in the first job market. And to make it completely circular, they buy their products from an organic farm nearby that also works with Roma people.

SUSY programme in local brewery in Baranya
SUSY programme in local brewery in Baranya

We very soon realised that our approach wasn’t made for this type of solidarity economy and switched the programmes. So Ildikó continued with an organisational development part which Cromo Foundation originally does as daily work.

She talks about organisations and companies as ‘human beings’ to make concepts, structures and processes understandable.
The neck e.g. as potential ‘bottle neck’: if you focus on too many things your organisation becomes too ineffective and the impact decreases.
Furthermore, the heart represents ‘human resources’; the stomach ‘culture’ and the legs ‘management’. Of course the beloved administration is the backbone. The head is the vision, the mission and the strategy, the hands are the tools and methods of an organisation and the mouth stands for inner communication and so on.

Ildikó continued with a very good metaphor about organisations in crisis: ’The bigger the ship the earlier you have to react before the iceberg comes.’

The organisational body explained ny Ildiko
The organisational body explained ny Ildiko

After that we improvised a networking part by setting it up on the agenda. That was very important because, as I told before from my experiences in Frankfurt, the exchange is really kind of a basis to everything, like in CitizensLab the mobility grants.

The next day I joined Demnet, one of Cromo’s partner organisation at a local fair trade market where we did some SDG games. What is really important to me is the insight that we ask almost the same questions everywhere, e. g. we played a game with apples. Would you choose the unpacked one, the one in paper or in a plastic bag?

The second workshop took place in Budapest – what a wonderful city!
We were 25 participants compared to the 15 in Baranya and it was a completely different setting.
From time to time I get the feeling that it doesn’t matter in which country you are, the differences (also in a cultural way) are between urban and rural areas and that is a challenge we didn’t address enough yet.
So, there were people from a bakery, a meat producer, a social café, a film production company, people from the government of Budapest, farmers and so on. They all had the aim to implement SUSY and to learn more about sustainable development.

Szimpla Kert, the place of the 2nd workshop
Szimpla Kert, the place of the 2nd workshop

It was a really productive workshop. What I learned is that there are some parts of sustainability which are difficult for Hungarian companies to realise. In Germany, we have a lot of sustainable banks and it is common sense that if you as a company, an organisation or a citizen choose to become more sustainable you switch your bank account to such a bank. Because it is important to be aware of what others do with your money: financing the next crisis and wars or organic farms and solidarity projects.

What I feel now, sitting at the airport writing this: the purpose of ’Lust auf besser leben’. I didn’t know that before but almost everybody understood our claim (because learning German is really common). What I mean writing this: It is really a pleasant feeling fostering this new civilian economy and learning from each other. And this not only in Germany, but all over Europe.

* The SDG were ratified by all UN member states in 2015. There are 17 main goals with sub goals. There are two innovative characteristics about it. Firstly, they really see sustainable development as a holistic way to develop until 2030. They do not distinguish between ecological, social and economic clusters; they link them wherever it is necessary.

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