Social entrepreneurship in Austria: many awards for just a few winners?
There seems to be a certain tendencyto look at the Austrian and CEE startup scene through the lens of technology and web advancements. Yet, social entrepreneurs are taking up an ever-growing chunk of the ecosystem. And so are the organisations and companies interested in supporting them through a variety of social entrepreneurship (SE) awards – often as part of their CSR.
Our research shows that in Austria alone, there are at least eight awards designed for startups and projects focused on social challenges. From the initiatives we found out to be presently active in the field (you can find an extensive list below), a few appear to have quite a broad range, while others have managed to set themselves a more specific goal. Of those, one is focused on entrepreneurial projects that promote social integration of minorities, another encourages the prevention of poverty, and a third aims to find potential solutions to climate change, to name but a few.
A list of Austrian (and partly CEE) awards for social entrepreneurs
The Social Impact Award was first launched in 2009 with the goal to encourage students to look for creative and entrepreneurial solutions to the existing problems in society. The programme also accepts submissions from Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The current window for applications will be open until April 4 at18:00.
Organiser(s): HUB Vienna Incubation on behalf of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Vienna University of Business and Economics; in cooperation with HUB Prague, roPot, and Erste Foundation
Award: offers expertise, feedback, know-how, and a wide network of contacts
SozialMarie, founded in 2005, is an award focused on social innovation and interested in submissions from three main categories: public administration, the private sector, and social economy – as in civil society projects, and initiatives by NGOs, NPOs, and similar associations. The programme, whose deadline was earlier this month, also accepted applications from Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Organiser: Unruhe Private Foundation
Award: cash prizes of 15.000 euros (1st place), 10.000 euros (2nd place), 5.000 euros (3rd place); 1.000 euros for 12 further awarded projects
Ideen gegen Armut, on the other hand, is an initiative that emphasises the need for social entrepreneurs to steer their projects in the direction of poverty prevention and minimisation in Austria. Project submissions will be accepted until June 19.
Organiser(s): Coca-Cola Austria, Der Standard, and the NPO-Competence Center at the Vienna University of Business and Economics
Award: 42.000 euros for the top two projects (2013)
The Raiffeisen Klimaschutz Award focuses on climate protection and sustainability in four different areas: business operations, everyday activities, in agriculture, and through innovation. It has also designed a “Junior” format where school children can submit their ideas and projects.
Organiser: Raiffeisen Klimaschutz Initiative in cooperation with klimaaktiv, among others
Award: 5.000 euros worth of prizes for the top projects
The Social Integration award is designed to promote the role of startups in creating equal opportunity conditions in the region they are active. The initiative has a strong focus on a number of CEE countries, among which Austria, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. This year, entrepreneurs from 13 countries are expected to submit project concepts and participate.
Organiser: Erste Foundation
Award: more than 1 million euros were awarded over three editions of the format
Since 2012, the Trigos awardsaccept projects in the category of Social Entrepreneurship. The goal of the event is to discover new and innovative concepts within the fields of education, environmental protection, poverty prevention, integration, and human rights.
Organiser: Trigos, with the support of the European Commission and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKO)
The Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award (sea) goes by the motto “One award for one world” and promotes awareness and sustainability, in which sustainability stands for ‘more’: more economy, ecology, and social responsibility. It is divided into three categories: Best Project, Most Innovative Idea, and sea Excellence. A list of the cooperating companies can be found here
Organiser: Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award (sea)
Award: 10.000 euros for the winning project; more information here
Ben&Jerry’s initiative Join Our Core has so far been active in the U.K., Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and is expected to come to Vienna this year, too, according to information by the HUB Vienna. Join Our Core is focused on finding new sustainable business models.
Award: 10.000 euros for the winner
Too many awards, too little impact?
Interestingly, although there are at least eight awards in Austria aimed at supporting initiatives with a positive social impact, which claim to receive hundreds of applications every time, a few players tend to dominate – but, of course, not entirely own – the awards.
Whatchado, a Vienna-based startup aimed at helping young people with their career choices, has won the Social Impact Award 2011, was a finalist at Ideen gegen Armut in 2011, and among the top 3 at the Trigos awards in 2012. The Connection is an initiative – a coffeehouse, actually – that uses its own profit to contribute to the integration of young people with a migration background. It has won the Social Impact Award 2011, Ideen gegen Armut 2012 as well as the Simacek Diversity Day (which last took place in 2011). Another startup, out of box, whose project is aimed at providing juvenile delinquents with a more economically viable alternative to detention, has bagged the Social Impact Award 2012 and Ideen gegen Armut 2012.
While this is a widespread phenomenon in sectors such as the film industry, where a select few win several of the most prestigious accolades, it can be viewed from a critical perspective in the context of social entrepreneurship. Since the awards have the objective to support social enterprises and initiatives, it could be argued that it would be better to help as many of them as possible and not just give preference to a few, who might already have benefited from winning their first award – through cash prizes as well as by gaining publicity.
Gaining publicity is, in fact, a main motivational factor for many of the projects submitted. With the plethora of awards existing in Austria alone, it has however become difficult to keep an overview. Thus, the publicity generated by the individual awards is questionable. The fact that awards are a popular instrument for CSR for private corporations and banks, such as Raiffeisen, Coca-Cola and Ben&Jerry’s, among others who sponsor them, seems to play some part in that.
In order for such initiatives to be considered more than mere CSR tools, they need to be designed with a long-term perspective. “It’s important for the awards for innovation and idea generation to ensure that the concepts are taken forward and developed, one way or another,” Michael Meyer, deputy director of Vienna’s University of Business and Economics and non-profit management professor, and Reinhard Millner, who works for the NGO department of the same institution, wrote in the article “Awards: Der Celebrity-Faktor und die Inflation” for derStandard in May 2011. These formats should therefore emphasise sustainability and go beyond the need for publicity.