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Karen A. M. Wendt, DE

Responsible Investment Banking

What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

We live in a period of profound global change which affects us all and which we can no longer ignore. The more we know, the greater our responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Against this background, we have to rethink our concept of sustainability and what Sustainable Entrepreneurship means. For me today, SE means achieving a positive effect for the environment and for society through economic activities.

In your view, how firmly rooted has this way of thinking become in society, and in particular in the minds of entrepreneurs?

I believe that this way of thinking is already much more firmly rooted in people’s minds and in the minds of entrepreneurs than we might suppose. We know about the state of our world, and each one of us can more or less picture what it means for the population of the world to almost quadruple in the course of just one century (from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 9.5 billion in 2050). Unfortunately, however, many people still believe that any sustainable form of economic activity has to be unprofitable. It is this attitude that I believe we have to get to grips with and demonstrate that economic activity and sustainability are not opposites, but can be thought of as going hand in hand.

Which sectors do you think are doing the most in terms of putting Sustainable Entrepreneurship into practice, and which still have a lot of catching up to do?

Comparisons are always very difficult in this area, because there are huge differences within the individual sectors. For example, in the finance sector, which I personally know best, there are players whose business model is entirely based on sustainability and responsibility, demonstrating that our investments can have a positive impact on society and the environment. On the other hand there are those who only address this question on a peripheral basis. What is certain is that in view of the immensity of the challenges we face and the serious nature of social discussion concerning sustainability, entrepreneurs can no longer ignore the subject.

How important is it to you to set an example of “sustainable thinking”, and how far do you do this?

I try to live in a sustainable way and with an awareness of my responsibilities. I am a vegan, I fly as little as possible, and I see my task primarily as bringing science, finance and Sustainable Entrepreneurs together in order to bring about an interflow of ideas between Sustainable Entrepreneurs, investors and scientists. In this way I would like to direct the focus of the finance and investment sector towards the intentional and proactive creation of positive social effects, also referred to as “Positive Impact Investing”. We have to build bridges between science, finance and Sustainable Entrepreneurs, so that a wide variety of new products and market possibilities can be created based on the Triple Bottom Line Investing approach. In addition, I try to promote the subject through scientific and public relations activities.

How do you assess the role and position of Germany in the further development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?

Let us take the Impact G8 as an example. Many large and economically strong countries are now taking up the idea of Positive Impact Investing. In Germany, Impact Investing is focused on the subjects of education, demographic change and the integration of people with special characteristics. The aim is to generate a strength out of a presumed weakness, and on that basis to set up successful market production and meaningful investment, also referred to by Eberhard von Kuenheim. On an international level, for example, attempts are being made to use venture capital and private equity funds as a means of combating poverty, providing better medical care, and counteracting climate change – often in cooperation with public development aid. For all these concepts, we need Sustainable Entrepreneurs. Without them there will be no positive impacts to be financed, and also no investment possibilities with positive social effects such as I have been talking about. Sustainable Entrepreneurs therefore operate at the same interface as the investment and finance sector. In addition, there are Social Impact Bonds, and hopefully Impact Investing, Green Bonds and Social Impact Bonds will become separate asset classes. As I see it Germany is involved in this development and could even play a key role.

Every year the SEA presents awards to entrepreneurs for extraordinary projects which put Sustainable Entrepreneurship into practice. What persuaded you to support this idea?

I believe that it is very important not just to “punish the bad guys” by naming and shaming them, but also to reward the “good guys” and turn the spotlight on them. These positive examples are an incentive, providing motivation and showing new ways of doing things.

In what way can each and every one of us contribute to increasing the importance and value of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?

I believe we are all entrepreneurs, even if we are just shopping for our families or investing our money. We can all make the decision as to whether or not to be Sustainable Entrepreneurs.

And one last question: What is the most impressive example of Sustainable Entrepreneurship that has particularly remained in your memory?

Discovering Hands® is the name of a concept developed by the Duisburg gynaecologist Dr. Frank Hoffmann, whereby visually impaired women diagnose breast cancer by touch. The Siemens company health insurance fund SBK is one of the first statutory health insurance funds in Germany to support and pay for this extremely promising method of early detection. In a special training course which has been evaluated together with the University Clinic Essen and certified by the Medical Chamber, visually impaired women are trained as Medical Tactile Examiners (MTEs). This innovative method for early diagnosis of cancer is a huge benefit to preventive diagnosis. Discovering Hands® is also included in the first German Social Venture Capital Fund Bonventure. This concept proves that industry and society are not opposites, and given the right idea can provide mutual support on a lasting basis.