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Mara Del Baldo, Italy, IT

Small Business Management and Financial Accounting, University of Urbino

What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

My personal opinion, which is reflected also on the professional level in the studies and research that I’m developing on this topic, is that sustainable entrepreneurship is developed by men/women who are strongly inspired by ethical principles concerning the profound respect for people and the specific and general environment in which they live and to which they belong. At the base of sustainable entrepreneurship lies the orientation toward the common good. This strong and authentic spirit (that in some cases takes the form of “charisma” possessed by the founders of the so-called “ideal motive” businesses) is reflected in the company’s “way of doing and of being” and inspires every choice, behaviour and all relations (that are first of all personal relations), be it (the company) a social enterprise, a small business, a large enterprise, taking form and content from time to time different and appropriate to the social, cultural, economic and historical context in which the companies are inserted.

How firmly rooted do you think Sustainable Entrepreneurship already is in people’s thinking and, above all, in the actions of entrepreneurs?

I think that more and more people belonging to the different categories of stakeholders of a company are gradually becoming aware of the importance of this corporate philosophy and orientation. Clients/customers, suppliers, employees are able to grasp the importance of the benefits of working for (and working with) entrepreneurs and managers with this orientation, as they are increasingly aware of the relevance of buying products and services obtained from such enterprises, as well as of becoming an active part in building the sustainable value that these companies are carrying out.

In your opinion, to what extent is it possible to reconcile being economically successful with creating added value for society?

Personally I think and I feel (I experience this every day in my profession as a teacher and a scholar) that it is always possible to reconcile being economically successful with creating added value for society. The “secret” is to want this goal and to personally commit to constantly pursuing it by acting in every job and work, regardless of its type (manual, executive or directive) with an intrinsic “vocation” and with a great sense of responsibility, that means to put passion, energy, dedication and enthusiasm in your own activity. This also means being aware that all activities and choices (inside and outside the company) help to build something that has a value that goes beyond the activity itself and its immediate beneficiary, as it is a fundamental element within a broader human, social, economic and environmental context. Each person is (and should feel him-/herself) the “builder” of his/her present and future and that of the world in which he/she lives, in a particular and general sense.

To conclude, in behaving and acting in this way, the added value for society is possible since it is a kind of “natural” outcome of a “good” way of acting and doing things both in economic and social life.

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

The non-profit sector (the so-called third or fourth sector) is now certainly a leader in this path, because “institutionally” it has within it the “seeds” of an orientation that aims to address socio-economic and environmental needs. So often companies and organisations in this sector (i.e. social enterprises) play an activating role for sustainability and responsible paths involving other public and private (i.e. for profit) companies through a networking approach. However, the non-profit sector is not the only one and I think that sustainable entrepreneurship can be considered a transversal process that touches and affects businesses, institutions and organisations of all sectors (industrial, commercial, agriculture and services). Undoubtedly, some sectors are more involved (since they include companies whose activity is characterised by a more critical impact on society, environment, etc.), but many relevant and authentic experiences of sustainable entrepreneurship come unexpectedly from traditional and innovative sectors with a low environmental, economic and social impact and are promoted by small companies and not by large ones (multinational and globalised companies).

Sustainable Entrepreneurship is the “next stage of responsible business”, as you called it. Which steps have to be taken to reach the next level and to gain more awareness in society and economy?

The steps and measures are different and should be developed at different levels and in different areas of scientific, managerial, political and civic life. A crucial first step consists of fuelling and enriching the academic debate that has to touch across the different disciplines (economics, management, sociology, law, etc.) in an interdisciplinary perspective. Secondly, it must then disclose the studies; the awareness in the scientific community around these issues must grow, particularly among young scholars and, through specific strands of research (such as action research, engagement research), directly involve entrepreneurs, institutions and civil society in disseminating the principles of sustainable entrepreneurship. Thirdly, it should also raise awareness among students, because in the near future they will be managers and entrepreneurs and it will be fundamental that their choices are effectively oriented to develop sustainable business initiatives aimed at building a real civil society.

Politics, industry, society – who should be the driving force for the development of sustainable entrepreneurship?

None of these actors individually could be the driving force for the development of sustainable entrepreneurship, but these actors must work together in following an integrated approach. In my opinion, only a multi-stakeholder approach or, in other terms, a mainstreaming and a bottom-up approach, can bear effective results. Politics, industry, society are contexts in which live actors have to listen to one another, meet and converge on these issues. Surely, according to the different contexts (intended as specific countries and territories), one of these driving forces could play the role of protagonist, but it is only through the convergence, as expressed in my previous answer, that it will possible to reach a next level (next stage of responsible business) and to gain more awareness in society and economy.

How would you judge Austria’s position in the development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?

My view is certainly positive. Austria is a country that, thanks to its historical, civil, social and political traditions, has within it the seeds of the orientation towards sustainable entrepreneurship.

In Austria, like in Italy, a good level of social cohesion has been preserved and a rich fabric of small towns and of micro-enterprises characterises the socio-economic environment. It is a country where positive roots to the territory and the environment and proximity among stakeholders exist and represent a driving force towards responsibility and sustainability-oriented strategies. In this context, the religious tradition has also contributed to retaining core values that have helped to build and strengthen the orientation toward a responsible and sustainable development.

Thus, the different actions and initiatives that have been introduced (for example, hosting important international events, or developing educative initiatives for CSR and social entrepreneurship at the private, public, NGO and academic level – i.e. CSR Manager course (FH BFI Wien); Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (University of Economics, Vienna); RCE Graz-Styria (University of Graz), and the strengthening of cooperation between research institutions and the corporate community have addressed important changes resulting from the move to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and cohesive economy.

The Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award honours projects that are outstanding examples of sustainable entrepreneurship. What persuaded you to personally support this idea?

I believe in the entrepreneurs and in the core values that are at the foundation of their work, in their creativity and innovativeness.

In my previous career, prior to the academic choice, during more than twelve years of experience in a bank, I was a branch director and I had the opportunity to know and meet many entrepreneurs. I evaluated and financed their companies, contributed to the development and selection of their business ideas, and I became convinced of the importance of taking their values, attitudes, behaviours and goals into consideration and of the importance of their role and function in the socio-economic context.

Even if there were (and still are) a lot of “bad examples”, in most cases I can claim to have met outstanding entrepreneurs, able to make choices geared to a development based on and social, economic and environmental objectives and I have a profound respect for their activity. More and more entrepreneurs conceive their companies as a tool (and not as an end) aimed at satisfying not only economic needs, but also needs belonging to a higher order, even of a transcendental nature (like solidarity, gratuitousness, hope and fraternity). They own and manage “companies with a soul”, as they put the person (customer, employee, supplier, community, etc.) at the centre of each choice. So, I gladly supported this idea and this project, which reflect my personal convictions and the knowledge that I am developing through the empirical study as part of my research strands on these topics.

You are also one of the highly distinguished guest authors of a new business book called “Sustainable Entrepreneurship. Business Success through Sustainability”. Do you think that this book has the potential to become a reference book for entrepreneurs all over the world? And why?

Yes, certainly, since it speaks to (and speaks about) entrepreneurs and thus it speaks about fundamental human needs, expectations and prospects. Entrepreneurship – first of all – is an “actus personae”. Entrepreneurs are men, and businesses are communities of persons aimed at producing economic, social, and environmental richness for all stakeholders, to increase the wellbeing and quality of life through the production of goods and services, not merely machines to make money. Thus this book, contributing to sharing and spreading sustainable entrepreneurship experiences, contributes to encouraging others to imitate their “virtues”, to provide excellent examples and give concrete signs of hope, which we all need and of which the world has more need than ever.

In what way can each and every one of us contribute towards increasing the relevance of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?

By talking about sustainable entrepreneurship, of its different and multiple forms, means, and expressions, and testifying to it consistently and rigorously in any scientific, political, managerial and entrepreneurial field and context. Many of the companies that are examples of sustainable entrepreneurship have a clear desire to share their experience, to be known, to “infect” others. Just yesterday, on the occasion of the presentation of the “global report” (an integrated report that contains the social report, the sustainability report, as well as the financial statements and the intangibles and intellectual capital report), an entrepreneur told me: “We cannot do without sharing our experience, getting into relation with people, without sharing with all our stakeholders our economic, financial, social and environmental goals, as well as our hopes and dreams.” We love to contribute to create a better world, and we want firstly to talk about our sustainable choices, because this is the first way to share. And people in the world need to share, not only goods, but even before prospects and hopes.

And lastly, a personal question: Which is the most memorable SE project you’ve ever heard of – and why?

There are many projects and initiatives that would deserve mention and it is difficult for me to choose just one. I could name many SE projects. With specific regard to my country (Italy), many are rewarded by Sodalitas and contained in the annual Sodalitas book. Having to choose, however, I would have to mention the businesses of the Economy of Communion project (www.edc-online.org), born in Brazil over 20 years ago, thanks to Chiara Lubich’s charisma. Today this project counts more than a thousand companies worldwide, including real industrial centres (such as Loppiano in Italy, or Brazil). The special thing about this project is that it aims to globalise solidarity, to combat poverty and to diffuse the principle of universal fraternity through the economic activity of “Economy of Communion” companies that include both for-profit and social enterprises, characterised by a special mission, governance and accountability sustainability-oriented systems.