"To create systems change and achieve impact, no one can do it on its own. Only together with a variety of partners and organizations with diverse backgrounds and versatile competencies we can succeed."

What brought you to being interested in social change?

My first contact with social change and Ashoka was during the Global Impact Challenge (organized by Google). Here, I had the opportunity to participate in two workshops that Odin Mühlenbein conducted.

Here, I learned systems change perspective and, as we are now developed further with Junge Tüftler*innen, we do feel the need that when we want to empower young people on a larger scale we really need to drive change within the German education system - and thus, we can’t do alone. Therefore, it is necessary to work on a systemic level. Thus, I was very happy to receive the invitation by Hristina Bojkova from Steelcase to participate in the Systems Change Course.

What does a world where Everyone is a Changemaker mean for you? [Do you see yourself as a changemaker?]

For me, a world in which everyone is a changemaker is a world in which we value all life and treat all beings and things with respect. A world where we respect different views and perspectives, listen to each other and accept each other as we are and can be. A livable world for all. A good world.

I see myself as a person who is always working on myself and doing my part to live in a good world. In this sense, I see myself as a learner on the way to become a changemaker.

What social problem or injustice motivates you to take action?

Working at Junge Tüftler*innen, we realize that within the formal education system, young people do not learn the tools and methods which are necessary to proactively co-create the digital future.

Because of that, only a small group of people leads technological progress and decides  which kind of world we are all living in. This causes a lack of diversity.  It also widens the social gap. Ideally, it is mainly parents with the financial means who can enable their children to take advantage of extracurricular activities to learn these skills and competencies. Because of this there is a lack of social self-understanding that each individual is part of the solution.

What do you focus on Junge Tüftler? What social problem or injustice motivates you and your team to take action in the first place? What is the vision/mission of JT?

Our vision at Junge Tüftler*innen  is a world, where all people have the required skills and competencies to co-create our society.

Therefore, together with my business partner Franziska Schmid and a highly motivated team, we create playful learning experiences to empower young people to change the world for a better and of course, to enjoy lifelong learning. We do this by running makerspaces where we co-create living prototypes with all involved partners (young people, teachers, politicians, companies, citizens but also other educational initiatives and organizations) to develop a shared vision of learning - and to create a path how to get there.

What are some insights on social change and the role of business leaders in social impact that have played an important role in your work experience so far? 

I started my business career working at the research department of Volkswagen and I realized very quickly that the thinking always revolves around being the biggest in the market.

When it comes to rethinking education, we realized if we really want to make a difference, so to speak to achieve social impact, it will only work when we all work together. You need different stakeholders to solve such a complex problem and it will only work, when we get all on the table and start to create a shared agenda towards which we are all working equally.

Participating at the Ashoka’s Systems Change course has made this clear to me once again and has shown me the methods we can use to go down this path.

What role do businesses have in social change and changemaking? And flipping the question: is there a business case for social innovation?

For sure, there is. All businesses have a social responsibility. For me, the purpose of a business is not only running a sustainable business on its own, but is also responsible for the people, who are working within it as well as for the whole society and the whole planet.Companies whose business model only considers their own well-being thinking long-term, are not sustainable and have not done their homework properly. So yes, there exist manyfold business cases for social innovation. We are a member of the SEND e.V. in Germany (Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany) where we are in exchange with many likeminded people who create and realize social business models.

What motivated you to participate in the Systems Change course of the Ashoka Europe Fellowship Program?

When Hristina Bojkova from Steelcase offered me the opportunity to take part in the Systems Change Course I was more than happy.

At Junge Tüftler*innen we have reached a point in our work where we feel the need of joint forces. While working at Junge Tüftler*innen we already work with several individuals and organizations in a variety of programs (e.g., we play an active role at the Code Week in Germany, a European wide movement to bring coding to everyone; we are part of the Social Entrepreneur Network Germany; and during the pandemic together with other organizations we were involved in a nationwide Hackathon to innovate the education system). However, we feel the need of a more structured and more orchestrated way to unfold collective impact. Thus, I wanted to participate in the course to learn a suitable approach for systems change. 

What are your key learnings on systems change and scaling indirect impact to achieve larger and longer lasting change?

I learned a bouquet of new topics but if I would have to name the three most important ones they would be:

a)     The question is not about how many people we reach with our work, but rather what we sustainably change for them in their educational journey. It is important to take the time to step back and build a profound understanding about the root causes of the problem and not only work on the symptoms. Taking the time and reflecting is the prerequisite for working on the right issues.

b)     To create systems change and achieve impact, no one can do it on its own. Only together with a variety of partners and organizations with diverse backgrounds and versatile competences we can succeed. But how to get there? It is important to bring them all on the table, share the same agenda and create a shared vision of everybody's role within this process. Only when there is transparency about the goals, roles and responsibilities for everyone we will make a difference. 

c)     To empower Systems Change it needs people who are committed to the cause and who care less about one’s own reputation. It needs a new kind of leadership where it is important to actively listen to others and hold back with one’s own assumptions as well as letting things happen and accepting not being in control of everything. Rather more important it is to provide people with freedom and the necessary means and setups to actively participate and contribute and to set the stage for others.  

Are you looking at collaboration, leadership, wellbeing, and social impact differently as a result of these learnings? What are your main takeaways from the course?

For me, how to unfold social impact is not so hazy anymore but became much clearer and more actionable.

When it comes to collaboration, I sharpened my understanding about the importance to involve diverse partners while not everyone plays the same role. It is crucial to understand the strengths of each other and develop a shared picture of who contributes what to achieve the goal.

I also found it remarkable that wellbeing played such a significant during the course. And it also has for me personally the meaning of pause and reload.

Besides the things I have already mentioned, one important takeaway for me was the importance of the learning community. Being a social learner having a network to exchange opinions and a working group I could trust in was such a wonderful experience. Although we all come from different regions of the world and work on different subjects, for me it was so valuable to hear the stories from each other and to receive thoughtful feedback.

In addition, I realized once again what a gift it is to have a like-minded partner at your side you can completely rely on. While I was the one attending the course, I talked through reflected and worked on the single exercises always together with my business partner Franzi Schmid - such a valuable source of inspiration and a supporter in seeing the world with new eyes.

Julia Kleeberger is the co-founder and the managing director of Junge Tüftler*innen, an educational startup, offering workshops that combine making and coding with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) #2030. Julia participated the Systems Change Online Module in 2021. 

Special thanks to Steelcase for collaborating with the Ashoka Europe Fellowship Program. Find out more about the partnership here

Find out more about Steelcase Social Innovation Lab here.