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Understanding Social Enterprise in the Dark

Andreas Heinecke is CEO of Dialogue in the Dark, an awareness-raising social franchising company that offer exhibitions and business-training in total darkness.
by Stephanie Valera
9 January 2009

HONG KONG, January 9, 2009 – In a unique discussion, where audience members sat and listened in total darkness, social entrepreneur Andreas Heinecke, founder and CEO of Dialogue in the Dark (DiD), stressed the importance of social enterprise as a viable and significant means of social change in the world.

DiD, an awareness-raising social franchising company that offer business-training in total darkness, hosts small exhibitions that effectively create a platform to immerse people in a world very different from their own. DiD believes this breaks down prejudices, increase tolerance and empathy, and helps empower marginalized people.

At a DiD exhibition, visitors are led on a one-to-two hour tour in the dark by blind guides, who in the absence of sight, have developed unique perceptive abilities. “If you bring people from different backgrounds together, something happens,” said Heinecke.

Heinecke noted that social entrepreneurship has become an increasingly viable and significant means of social change in the world. DiD began by hosting a small exhibition in Hamburg, Germany in 1988 and has since expanded operations to over 150 cities throughout Europe, Asia and America, with 5,500 blind employees and 6,000,000 visitors worldwide.

Heinecke argued that DiD’s ability to transform peoples’ habits are entirely relevant to business. He articulated the need for the business world to rebuild trust, adding that the process of entrusting oneself to another person in the darkness allowed one to regain humility and compassion. “When you appreciate what the other can do, you can think about human values again,” he said.

In the subsequent discussion moderated by K.K. Tse of the Hong Kong Social Entrepreneurship Forum, participants explored the question, “What is social entrepreneurship?” They concluded that there was no distinct definition and that social entrepreneurship allowed for different structures and hybrid models. Heinecke was quick to point out that DiD was not a charity organization.

Patrick Cheung, responsible for bringing DiD to Hong Kong, said “Social enterprise gives us the opportunity to use our business experience for a social purpose” and added that he hoped to see social enterprises transform moral and business practices in China.

Reported by Julianne Chou

Audio Excerpt: Andreas Heinecke on how regaining trust and becoming humble are even more important for businesses in this time of crisis. (2 min., 21 sec.)