Behind the name “startsocial” is the idea of allowing social projects to profit from the great wealth of experience possessed by companies. In addition to providing financial support, Audi also encourages its employees to use their specific know-how to help social projects.
Every two weeks, Marlene Kaufmann (Product Marketing) and Dr. Henning Jander (Ingolstadt Plant Strategy) drive from Ingolstadt to Augsburg after they finish work – over a four-month time period. During the drive the two discuss their course of action, define the next steps and structure upcoming tasks.
The project that the two Audi employees work at in their free time is multifaceted and has absolutely nothing to do with building cars: It involves a social enterprise that is being established in the middle of Augsburg’s city center. The "Grandhotel Cosmopolis" is an exemplary new type of housing for asylum seekers combined with a sociocultural center with studios for artists and a restaurant, cafe and hotel. Kaufmann and Jander actively assisted with the professionally organized business plan that is behind the initiative.
How does one become involved in a social project in Augsburg?
“We heard about the "startsocial" initiative on the Audi Intranet and applied independently of each other online as coaches for one of the projects listed there,” Kaufmann recalled. That was the summer of 2012. When the two Audi employees were assigned the "Grandhotel Cosmopolis" project a short time later, they entered a completely new world. Instead of vertical hierarchies, basic democratic elements defined the decision-making process; the typical language of business is intentionally avoided in Augsburg.
Kaufmann quickly recalled two examples: “What we at Audi call a decision-making body is known here as a plenum. When multiple people work on a task it’s not call a team, but rather a container." A closer examination has shown, however, that the differences behind the terminology are not so big and communication between the Audi coaches and the "Grandhotel" initiators got flowing with impressive speed. Audi has been involved with "startsocial" since 2011.
In keeping with the “Help for Helpers” slogan, a three-month consulting award is issued each year, for which social projects from all over Germany may apply. The idea behind this is that even social projects need to observe entrepreneurial aspects and can therefore profit from experience from the business world.
Employees of Audi, in turn, are called upon to work as jurors or coaches during the time period. An alert eye can be particularly helpful to social projects in their initial phase. This almost always involves issues around financing, communication and public relations as well as organization and personnel management.
“During our first visit to Augsburg I noticed a certain need for structuring the fields of responsibility,” Jander recalled. “For this reason, we first of all used standard methods, created a project plan and defined milestones.” Employing everyday methods in a completely new environment – that was an especially interesting challenge.
Kaufmann agreed with Jander: “The work climate in the project in Augsburg differs completely from that in a global corporation like Audi. We also had to adjust to that in the beginning. But we have worked together intensively and the cooperation has been excellent.”
For Jander, the voluntary work with "startsocial" has been anything but a one-way street: “I have recognized how important it can be to give things a little time – you also achieve a high level of quality this way.” Kaufmann’s experience has been similar. Her work in Augsburg has served as an example of how differing work methods can lead to a satisfying result. Both coaches will naturally be attending the upcoming opening of "Grandhotel Cosmopolis".