Ecological and sustainable practices in the economy: An interview with FAU alumna and innovator Maike Kauffmann

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Maike Kauffman is FAU Innovator 2022 in the category "Alumni". (Image: private)

Ecological and sustainable practice in business

Sustainability in the economy. This is what FAU alumna Maike Kauffmann hopes to achieve. She is an active member of “Stiftung Verantwortungseigentum” and supports companies that aim to encourage a transformation towards more sustainability and a more ecological mindset in society and the economy. She received the FAU Innovator award 2022 in the alumni category in recognition of her work. In an interview with FAU Alumni Management, Maike Kauffmann shares what is special about her work, what motivates her and how her time studying at FAU influenced her, among other things.

Ms. Kauffmann, you received the FAU Innovator award in 2022 from your alma mater in recognition of your work for Stiftung Verantwortungseigentum. Congratulations from us again! What does this award mean to you?

Thank you! I am especially pleased about the recognition this gives to the topic of steward ownership and alternative types of entrepreneurship and corporate ownership in general. People often tend to be unaware of just how much potential there is for social innovation in this area.

I came back from a year abroad and I knew that I wanted to go to university, and preferably to study a combination of economics and something with an international aspect. As I grew up near Erlangen, FAU was always going to be an option, especially as my father was a professor there for a while.

Could you briefly explain what steward ownership actually is?

Steward ownership is an ownership model for companies that many organizations have followed for several decades if not centuries. Companies make legal provisions to ensure that the company serves the “purpose” of the company over the long term and that the voting rights of the company are held by people who have a special connection to the company. In order to ensure that this is the case, companies legally tie up their assets. That means that owners have no right to the company’s capital or profit. Profit is not an end in itself, but rather a means towards achieving the actual purpose of the company.

And what is the objective of Stiftung Verantwortungseigentum?

Stiftung Verantwortungseigentum aims to make this ownership model more well-known and easier to implement. One of the things we are striving to achieve is the introduction of a new legal form for steward ownership. We believe that entrepreneurs who wish to implement steward ownership should have the same possibilities to do so as other entrepreneurs, in other words that it should become just one of many models to choose from.

You studied International Business Studies at FAU. What role has your degree played in your career to date?

Many of the topics that form the foundation of what I deal with today come originally from my degree, for instance an understanding for the different perspectives prevalent in different countries concerning entrepreneurship, the economy and collaboration. At the same time, during my degree program I also noticed that many of the alternative models that we see in practice in today’s world are not covered sufficiently at university. This is what inspired me to boost awareness of this particular model in the economy and among the general public.

Why did you decide to study at FAU?

I came back from a year abroad and I knew that I wanted to go to university, and preferably to study a combination of economics and something with an international aspect. As I grew up near Erlangen, FAU was always going to be an option, especially as my father was a professor there for a while. International Business Studies sounded exciting, especially as it was taught in English and languages formed a major part of the degree program.

You are involved in “Research and Think Tank” at Stiftung Verantwortungseigentum. What exactly do you do?

Everything and nothing – we are a very small team, and are very flexible when it comes to assigning tasks. Basically, I have a lot to do with universities, I give talks at universities, and speak with students and researchers about the topic of steward ownership. “Practice in theory,” if you like. At the same time, I try to bring theory back into practice and write a lot of our background papers and open source materials on the basis of academic findings.

I am sure that you sometimes run into difficulties when implementing your objectives, and that not everyone agrees with you. How do you cope with that, what keeps you going?

We try, although not always successfully, to remain open and understanding towards critics and those who speak out against us. We make no secret of the fact that there are those who do not agree with us, we have nothing to hide. The topic and the need for it speak for themselves and I have the impression that most of those who speak out against us are either ill-informed or have concerns that we can discuss together and find solutions for. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: Entrepreneurial requirements ought to be met and the potential of steward ownership ought to be boosted without damaging other companies, the economy or society in any way. And we can only achieve our goal if we work together.

Are you still in touch with any of your former fellow students and professors?

I am still in touch with some of my fellow students, and recently my work has brought me back in touch with former professors, but now on a quite different level. I enjoy being able to make a contribution myself with the topic of steward ownership.

One last thing: where did you spend most of your time at university and why?

Probably in the train – I had a lot of courses in Erlangen. Other potential candidates would be my old student apartment, the Wöhrder Wiese, the Beck café and the Asian restaurant at the entrance to the School of Business, Economics and Society – places where you can spend a lot of time with friends.

What advice would you give current students who would like to get into charity work?

Ask questions and take a constructive and critical approach. Don’t always just accept the assumptions and “facts” you are told. It’s better to keep asking why something is the way it is. Don’t block contrary opinions, accept them, embrace them and let them go if they cannot offer you anything of value.

Thank you for taking part in the interview, Ms. Kauffmann!

(Interview: Sebastian Schroth, December 2022)

Portrait of Maike Kauffmann

At the Dies academicus 2022, Maike Kauffmann was honored as Innovator 2022 in the Alumni category at the Dies academicus 2022 of FAU. Ms. Kauffmann’s tribute can be found from hour 2:50:00. (in German)

Dies Academicus 2022

About Purpose Economy

Maike Kaufmann is active in the “Stiftung Verantwortungseigentum” in the “Research & Think Tank” area.

You will find more information on the goals of the foundation online. (in German)