From scouting to social entrepreneurship
In 2005, Carsten traveled to Mongolia with a group of European Scouts for the first time. With a Mongolian scout troop as their guide, they got to know the country and its people. During a visit to a rural elementary school, Carsten noticed that children tried to ask many questions in English and were very eager to learn. Upon visiting the school‘s library however, he noted, “I was shocked when I saw the empty book shelves. Children really strive for education but they don’t have the chances we have to learn.”
Remembering that a scout’s most important duty is to serve the community, he started to collect English books upon his return home. In 2009, they returned to the village and set up a learning center with the books they had collected. The learning center had a dramatic impact on the local community as 25,000 people in the region immediately gained access to quality education. Many people began visiting the learning center and attending English courses and activities. Within one year after the opening, the center became financially self-sustained and is now a local employer, offering salaried positions to three staff members.
Back home in Europe, Carsten and his scouting friends began to think about how they could help more people with their idea and how to apply a business model approach to improving global access to education. With the World Scout Movement as strategic partner, they founded BOOKBRIDGE FOUNDATION to promote cooperative work and transnational understanding. An initial grant of EUR 250,000 was fundraised to kick start the operations. Local partners like the government or an NGO provided the facilities. BOOKBRIDGE focused on the business model how to run the learning centers as a social enterprise. During the same time, Carsten traveled to the Asia-Pacific Regional Scout Conference to present the results of his work in Mongolia. Scouts from 16 countries showed interest in implementing learning centers in their countries. Seeing the demand, BOOKBRIDGE decided to collaborate with Cambodia Scouts. Since 2011, five learning centers had been setup in Cambodia, including a mobile learning center. In 2015, BOOKBRIDGE made its first step into Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Scout Association as their key partner.
At the same time, Carsten thought on how he could leverage the learning centers as a learning environment for talents of companies in Europe. As he noted, “There is so much I learnt by collaborating with people from another culture in a real entrepreneurial project. I wonder whether these skills would benefit companies in Europe seeking to do business in these countries.” Jointly with professional coaches, Carsten established a sophisticated leadership development program for leading professionals in the Global North. The Capability Program offers candidates the opportunity to engage strategically and operatively in the set-up and development of the learning centers for 6 months and to work in tandem with people from different sectors and cultures. As a legal platform, BOOKBRIDGE GmbH was setup as a 100% subsidiary of the foundation. A loan of EUR 430,000 helped to get the idea of developing leaders off the ground.