Five principles for stepping into an exciting venture


Stefan Schöbi



The illustration shows a woman looking at a starry sky through a telescope and picking a star with her hand.

Development institutions looking to play a leading role in innovative solutions are the best placed in identifying their projects to support via scouting. But what does this mean specifically? We share the five principles of the Migros Pioneer Fund for sniffing out and guiding pioneering projects.

1. Attitude trumps criteria

support criteria are developed on the basis of existing criteria and have a long-lasting effect. Those looking for new solutions are led to believe that clarity is the most important thing. When it comes to scouting, it's all about clear-cut attitudes – for example, believing that courageous ideas deserve a chance (because it is much more expensive not to try them out), abiding by the principle that the quality of the implementation team is more important than the project idea being presented, or attaching importance to inclusion and transparency. The best way to keep attitudes and fundamental values at the forefront is by making them a priority internally. Since we started doing this, we have been able to reach our goals more swiftly, and less stressfully.

2. Direction is everything

The ideal project won't fall into your lap. For the ten to 15 new projects in our portfolio every year, we look at around 100 teams and ideas. To ensure we follow the right path, it is important to swiftly decide which direction to take. 

Scouting therefore requires you to be well prepared. How well do we know the drivers transforming our world today, such as digitalisation? Technology is important, but not as important as people: what do people do with technology and what does technology do to people? At the Migros Pioneer Fund we work on the basis of a sustainable development model, which combines social, economic and environmental perspectives. Or we might draw on the doughnut economic theory of Kate Raworth to obtain a holistic view of an issue. Together with scientists, think tanks and pioneers, we analyse the current situation and outline a future vision that we would like to achieve as a society. The problem tree helps to uncover connections; the solution tree shows us where we need to take action. This allows us to create blueprints for potential development projects – our system of coordinates that we adjust continuously.

3. Co-creation and working as equals

When it comes to sponsorship, equality isn't always a given, as sponsorship is in itself asymmetrical (within the meaning of Bruno Latour's actor-network theory): money (and the final say) on the one hand, and the impact (and necessary information) on the other. It is therefore crucial to have a shared view of a project, its driving forces and its success. We fulfil this commitment through systematic co-creation, which starts when the project is being fleshed out. At this time, we describe the vision and objectives of the project and reflect the key steps of the process on a time axis, drawing on know-how from around 100 supported pioneering projects. The result is a target matrix the size of a placemat that everyone involved knows by heart. This enables us to dispense with long project files or reports.

4. Honesty, flexibility – and a first-aid kit

reality. The learning curve in a pioneering project is steep; systematically handling lessons learned is crucial. We make it easy for our partners to admit to themselves (and the sponsor) that something is not working as planned. If, on the other hand, the first review shows that everything is proceeding perfectly, this will make us sceptical. Good projects differ in their experience of success and failure.

The target matrix changes over the course of the project to continuously reflect lessons learned and integrate them into the project's implementation. The vision remains the same, but the path to achieving it changes. Our framework agreement allows these parameters to be adjusted flexibly. 

If the project comes to an impasse, for example, due to a quarrel in the team or a difficulty in the business plan, we are on hand to provide quick, tangible support. Our spin-off, the pioneering lab, is organised as a network of experts. These experts are available to spring into action quickly and support projects with individual coaching. This acts as our first-aid kit, and since we have had it we have been sleeping much more soundly.

5. Post-heroic optimism

What is success? The question is multi-faceted. It has already been the case that we have experienced dazzling success that later turned out to be deceptive, and ended projects that then rose up like a phoenix from the ashes. We have become careful with «success», «solutions», «heroes» and «heroines». Scouting means diving for pearls, but you don't know what exactly constitutes a pearl until after you've found it. 

Our approach is «copyleftۚ», with sharing on the agenda (which is consequently also laid down in our support agreement). The projects supported by us are models that make themselves and their experience available to imitate, to scale, to develop further or simply to use as a reference. The basis for this is derived from the system theory that we are learners, not knowers. Post-heroic optimism forms a large part of scouting.

Note: this article was first published in Jahrbuch Kulturmarken 2020 by Causales, Gesellschaft für Kulturmarketing und Kultursponsoring (organisation for cultural marketing and sponsoring) in Berlin. The text has been revised slightly for this blog article. 

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