Toward Better Facilitation of Creativity and Engagement

an article by Nils-Eyk Zimmermann via
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

For the DARE Network – Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe – I am taking part as one of the educational experts in the project Entrepreneurship 360. In an interesting research-practice collaboration with cross-sectoral character we identify good practices around Entrepreneurship Education. Furthermore, we explore how the European educational framework EntreComp might support educators and learners. This article is sharing my reflections in regard to the commonalities and differences between Education for Democratic Citizenship and Entrepreneurship Education.


The human aspiration for change is often narrated as an entrepreneurial or civil “hero journey”: The business success story started in a garage and led to a multinational something. For social change you need a poster and determination, soon inspiring a community of thousands and maybe millions of followers. Despite their different interests and social values, looking on both stories from the perspective of competencies, the economic entrepreneur and the civic activist must have something in common. Some competencies understood as knowledge, attitude or skills seem to be similar helpful, for activism and entrepreneurship. One intersecting aspect might be a goal- and opportunity-centered, proactive mindset. Another the ability to make things grow. Several more might easily be identified, especially when widening the focus from leadership to the social and collective dimension of creation, engagement, or how one is prefering to label social, cultural or economic activity. Therefore, citizenship education and entrepreneurship education seem in some aspects to serve similar things – supporting people in becoming proactive, autonomously acting, opportunity-taking, impact achieving. As a consequence we might ask, if they should not cooperate more in order to promote more education empowering proactive citizen and economic creator personalities?

The rise of the entrepreneur in education

In general, we are facing a paradigm shift. For long times such competencies like creativity and engagement were perceived as parts of art education, reform pedagogy or participatory civic education or youth work. In contrast, eonomic education was mainly explaining micro and macro economics, the math of the stock market or the charts and tables of business plans and reports.

Today this has changed. Entrepreneurial learning became attractive, probably complementary to how entrepreneurs and enterprises became attractive role models for more Europeans. Business is today – innovation, creativity, disruption. In the past people attributed those abilities even more with anticapitalism than imagining to choose a career in hierarchical, traditionally minded, bureaucratic “big corpo”. Approaches close to entrepreneurial learning raise today more attention among policy makers and media than the before mentioned classical fields of education. In the eyes of a lot of groups they seem to be prospective and efficient ways of learning for social impact – and often to be brought into a rhetoric opposition to an ‘old’ understanding of education.

However, the defenders of the ‘old’ seem not to be willing to capitulate. If having a closer look, it’s a heterogeneous alliance. The ones are neglecting any need of usability and applicability of learning for social impact, especially not for economic purposes. They seem to stick to a by their “by heart” habituated canonical knowledge and legitimate their social position through this. Others are even drivers of a modern understanding of learning – unleashing education as an empowerment tool for individuals and groups for social cohesion, deliberation, expression, understanding, or innovation. But still being critical toward an ‘economization’ of ‘free pedagogy’.

When generalized assumptions and ideology are entering the field, it’s starting to become interesting and appropriate to explore, what active approaches from the broad field of active citizenship education/democracy learning do have in common with newer approaches of entrepreneurial learning. And if they would have – what quality is hidden in the difference between both approaches?

Entrepreneurship – more than business learning

The idea of entrepreneurship is strongly related to self-empowerment and to individual initiative. It’s intending a value gain, often by putting a business idea as an active person (entrepreneur) into practice. But in a broader sense entrepreneurship can be perceived as any activity with a clear value – or in the language of the social sphere impact:

“Entrepreneurship is when you act upon opportunities and ideas and transform them into value for others. The value that is created can be financial, cultural, or social.”

EntreComp (2016)/Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship (2012)

With activities encouraging such thinking in value and outcome, learners would be encouraged to become ‘intrapreneurs’ (inside of groups, companies, or organizations) or ‘entrepreneurs’ (in their owned or co-owned businesses). Entrepreneurship education is a roof uniting different approaches like…

  • stock-exchange simulation games,
  • school companies,
  • teaching economical skills,
  • coaching or mentoring
  • or social entrepreneurship.

The last one is a hybrid field within the non-profit sector of the society and maybe the most natural connection of the idea of civil involvement with becoming an economical entrepreneur:

“Social entrepreneurship can take the form of a social enterprise, an entrepreneurial structure which foresees profit making, but unlike a business structure, is not profit maximizing. It spends the profit on statutory purposes.

T. Katsbert; p. 104

Initiative and Creativity as transversal competencies

Like other holistic educational approaches Entrepreneurship Education is addressing transversal competencies. If someone is a community organizer, youth leader, single activist or an entrepreneur, all of these different people require the competency to ideate, to take initiative, to put plans into practice and to choose the methodology how to do this under the concrete circumstances. We might conclude that a lot of the skills, attitudes and knowledge addressed through entrepreneurship education is covered too in other learning fields, in particular active citizenship education in the non-formal learning sector.

EntreComp Framework

One example for a modern perspective on entrepreneurial learning is the EU Science Hub’s Entrepreneurship Education competency framework EntreComp. It defines entrepreneurship competence in a very broad and smart way as:

Transforming ideas and opportunities…
– Spotting opportu­nities
– Creati­vity
– Vision
– Valuing ideas
– Ethical and sustai­nable thinking
by mobilising resources…
– Self-awareness and self-efficacy
– Motivation and perseverance
– Mobilizing resources -Financial and economic literacy
– Mobilizing others
into action.
– Taking the initiative
– Planning and management
– Coping with uncertainty, ambiguity and risk
– Working with others
– Learning through experience

Initiating is not simply “doing” or “making”

The example of EntreComp shows how a more holistic understanding of learning through competence based education would gain relevance and impact by not narrowing its concept too close on the subject entrepreneurship.

This seems as well to be a necessary condition for further individual progress. The more influential an approach is aiming to become the more it must prove its suitability in different contexts. Entrepreneurial education has here a longer way to go and on this way it needs to prove that it is more than just the educational extension of a neoliberal mindset aiming to economize the broad field of active pedagogy.

The European Union illustrates this problem existing in linguistic appropriation. For decades it promotes in its education and training policies an uni-dimensional idea of innovation grounded in work/entrepreneurship and not in engagement/participation. One might even suspect some influential actors in some European countries in promoting Entrepreneurship Education and Social Entrepreneurship as a strategy, for marginalizing explicit democratic citizenship education and critical civil engagement. If such suspicions appear to be true this would be an intellectual shame for the European educational sector and a danger for our democracy.

Learning to “do the right” thing or changing a society from “thinking and complaining” to “just doing” does in entrepreneurial learning too often mean to contribute to economic growth and ignoring impact in the social, cultural or environmental spheres. In favor for more holistic understanding of social challenges and of social impact such uni-dimensional growth models seem luckily to run more and more out of support.

However a lot of advocates and politicians are filing such criticism more or less arbitrary as “leftist” or “conservative” and trying to promote the approach with the intellectual crowbar. They are in so far mislead as they believe that active learning or active life or social activation might happen with the very limited definition of “activity” that entrepreneurial learning is providing. But the idea of “active life” as an attitude was whether invented by capitalism nor is it attached exclusively to the capitalist role of an active citizen (the entrepreneur).

No other than Hannah Arendt put action in the appropriate relation with freedom and plurality. Hereby she was giving it foundational meaning for democracy (and for civic education). In her idea of a vita activa which was described in The Human Condition, entrepreneurship, work or labor are similar aatitudes, but tjey are not as fundamental like action. In her point of view the family of proactivity has three sisters. Labor (the struggle for bread and some butter), Work (the ambition to materializing the world and of making concrete products), and the big sister Action (the compulsion to initiative and to deliberate interaction). From the perspective of the whole society, Action is the most important family member as the existence of the democratic public is depending from her (open-ended, free and public) engagement. So it’s becoming clearer why in EDC and HRE emphasis is not mainly put on toiling nor making but on initiating. Impact in democracy is less about value creation but about (co-)creating lives in dignity, self-responsible, free and peaceful – and in continuation.

For sure, we need not to fall into the opposite dogmatism. In educational approaches aiming to support holistic personalities and wanting to be relevant in different social sectors, all appearances of proactivity need to find their place. ‘Value creation’ is welcomed, ‘targeted action’ is important, in businesses, in parties or in the offices of civil society organizations. However, they are not more fundamental than the ‘democratic action’ which we could sketch as an attitude and a practice characterized by open deliberation, initiative and fair cooperation. Impact is as well not reducible to outcome but the instigated change in the social, cultural, economical and environmental spheres.

Toward a Holistic Understanding of Proactivity in Education

On that conditions it would be fruitful for EDC to include more ‘economical engagement competence’ in its learning. But it would absolutely not make sense of perceiving ‘civic engagement’ as a sub-section in any entrepreneurial education framework. With Hannah Arendt I at least could never accept something like ‘civic entrepreneurship’.

It’s not only rhetorical hairsplitting. In the words we express our values and attitude toward democracy. Just imagine yourself offering an educational program in a prospering but authoritarian society like in China – what would you try to achieve by promoting a creative entrepreneurial pedagogy? Would entrepreneurship contribute to the public good when not linked to social/democratic (working) principles and to labor rights? EDC educators and facilitators should have a clear position in here – it would be even counterproductive.

Unfortunately the explicit link of value creation to democratic values and contributing to a democratic culture is even not part of the EntreComp framework. Although ethical behavior seems to be important in it, it’s not the same like democratic behavior. For citizenship this would be a fatal reduction. For instance, because educators and organizations would be strengthened which are taking democratic values, diversity and critical thinking not for very important but are emphasizing on their “ethical” competence.

Beyond all criticism we should not ignore the strong reasons for including more entrepreneurial thinking in democracy learning. For instance entrepreneurship might be a way to have social impact when non-entrepreneurial democratic engagement is not possible anymore (in example if spaces for independent civil engagement are shrunk by governments). Instead of building social capital through civic engagement social entrepreneurs would accelerate economical capital and invest the profit in social purposes (and maybe in democratic change).

Second, shouldn’t all be happy, that entrepreneurship education in 2019 is going further than being a counter program to (post-68) democracy learning? Nowadays social impact and socially oriented forms of entrepreneurship (cooperatives, networks, share economy) are widely acknowledged among entrepreneurship educators which was not the case for decades.

The broader the concept of entrepreneurship education will become, the more it would even need to include alternative entrepreneurial approaches and promote a diversity of entrepreneurial role models (beyond the single fighting competitive entrepreneur) – for instance referring to the entrepreneurial spirit in cooperatives and collectives, learning about sharing economy or gaining experience from post-growth economical experiments.

Third, a competence framework like EntreComp is awakening civic education in the EDC sector, because the here used competence frameworks tend to ignore the active component. A lot of them were focusing on schools and the formal system, while most activities in learning participation, creativity or transforming social or political ideas into reality are organized in fact outside the formal system. It’s not, that there would not exist a rich landscape of active citizenship education. But for policy makers and curricula designers it’s still not much present. Even the EU Key Competences for Lifelong Learning under-appreciate the active components of citizenship education. The responsible General Directorate would know better, if they would check the aims and methodology of the Erasmus+ funded projects – active and creative pedagogy is today in the center of civic education.

A simple battle between entrepreneurs and citizens in democracy education would not lead to new insights. Actors from both fields might be inspired by the qualities of the others in order to deliver quality education. At least they need to position to the others and therefore become clearer in their idea of their educational mission.

The intersection between both is that they intend to strengthen and empower individuals and groups for actively contributing to social change. This awareness for proactivity as a field and goal of learning – if for initiative, work or creation – seems to be part of a global trend. Active pedagogy around the terms of engagement, action or entrepreneurship is coming more and more into the focus. For instance, UNESCO is discussing the term “transformative engagement” [UNESCO 2019] under the roof of its Global Citizenship Education [UNESCO 2015]. OESCE define something very similar in their Global Competences as “Taking action for collective well-being and sustainable development”. Youth workers and civil society activists are focusing on active participation or self-empowerment.

Terminology around active pedagogy
transformative engagement – active citizenship – entrepreneurship – action for collective wellbeing – participation – self-empowerment

What is Specific about Entrepreneurship Education?

  • Entrepreneurial learning is accepting money as a medium for social interaction. Some educators emphasize on solid business plans, some are taking as well collective economical forms into consideration, like cooperatives or commons. Entrepreneurial education would not in general criticize the existence of capital or resources as one influential medium of social life.
  • Entrepreneurial education is focusing on services or products. Some activities within citizenship education are as well clearly centered around a project or a concrete activity. However, other social activities are ongoing, steady and following a fundamental different logic of participation.
  • Entrepreneurship education prepares people for specific challenges of being an entrepreneur. In fact running businesses is exposing people to monetary risks and requires specific skills, such as responsibility for assets, accepting responsibility for liabilities, ability to deal with the opportunity costs.
  • The idea of entrepreneurship is putting emphasis on individual competency building and gives the personality of the entrepreneur specific attention. Usually Entrepreneurship Education is less supporting the idea of collective action.
  • Therefore, the idea of competitiveness and of competition is strengthened. Collaboration with others is often understood as outcome-related, intentional activity. In contrast, education emphasizing on community development or on collective impact seeks to emphasize on the quality of collaboration.
  • The organization of activities is goal-related and related to the intention of the owner(s). In contrast, other approaches emphasize on the ethical aspects of social organization – building fair, democratic, inclusive, transparent and participatory institutions. Ownership is here a fluid category.
  • The social goal of entrepreneurship is the entrepreneurial activity, not necessarily in its social impact or its social business model. Therefore, social entrepreneurship takes care to integrate a social reinvestment and/or a socially relevant product/service into business models.

We mentioned before the diversity of economic and entrepreneurial models. It would be misleading to reduce the entrepreneurship education on the business plan development for small enterprises. In fact there much more, in example cooperatives, experiments with non-monetary value and good exchange, commoners, or social entrepreneurship. Some entrepreneurship courses have even more the character of social work as they empower minorities or are opening specific groups in the society new opportunities.

The big gap in the current world of key competence models is that they tend to ignore the broad field experience in non-formal civic education. In entrepreneurship education this was never the case. A lot of education was offered here in a non-formal way and addressed lifelong learners (like business courses for migrants, empowerment for women…). We might add critically that EntreComp is closing a gap at least in the EU context.

Five Conclusions

1. Call Engagement better ‘Engagement’ and not ‘Entrepreneurship’

The essential form of active involvement for democratic citizenship education is the involvement in the public, as individuals, in civil society organizations, or in initiatives. The establishment of cooperatives or social entrepreneurship enterprises or of economical actors trying to incorporate democratic values and procedures is a valuable extension of the scope of EDC. Nice, that entrepreneurship education is broadening itself toward such social impact. But we should be aware about the fundamental difference illustrated in the language game with the ‘economical value’ on the one and the ‘democratic values’ on the other side. Action, Work and Labor are sisters and therefore connected. But we cannot replace one by another without losing our impact and understanding.

2. Explore the Broadness of Entrepreneurial Models

Looking from a citizenship education perspective on entrepreneurial education it should highlight and use the whole range of economic models for offering solutions best fitting to the context, needs, and skills of the learners – “small business creation is only one possible way of addressing the problem of youth unemployment. Other ways include assisting striving enterprises, supporting them to employ young people, encouraging young people’s participation in alternative business models such as cooperatives, mutual associations, or ensuring their voices are heard in trade unions, etc.” [M. Pantea; p. 46]

3. Promote Entrepreneurial Spirit in a Democracy

Third, inline with a trans-sectoral understanding, entrepreneurship pedagogy could consider that entrepreneurs are part of a democratic ecosystem – as employers, as corporate citizens, or in their free time as citizens. Under this perspective a democratic or civic perspective on entrepreneurship enriches the courses or trainings.

But as well the other way round: entrepreneurship might be an interesting form of social engagement for learners and help citizens to improve their civil engagement. Therefore, EDC and HRE educators could consider it as an adequate space for engagement complementary to the self-organization in initiatives or non-profit organizations. Under this new perspective as well VET and learning in the workplace could get fresh impulses.

4. Cooperation across the Boundaries of the Different Pedagogical Approaches

This leads to the fourth point. Entrepreneurial thinking and individual pro-activity is one way to teach learners how the world might be changed. Activism rooted in altruism, willingness to give, wishing to be part of a community, or by anti-materialist attitudes is following each a different logic and not necessarily a pro-active one. However, civic educators need to accept that entrepreneurship for some people or groups might be a very interesting way of instigating social change. In order to support learners to find the form of activity fitting best to their personal and social needs, pedagogy from both directions would better promote a diversity of ideas how to involve in the public – and seek methodological exchange.

5. Exploring the Meanings behind the Terminology

Innovation, creativity and activism are not necessarily connected. One might be a successful activist without much creativity. Another might be a less innovative but successful small business owner. A group might be innovative although they are not aware of their innovation. Let’s critical assess the key words of entrepreneurship education as well as the buzzwords of civic education – like participation, empowerment or empathy. If we practice this dialogue across the boundaries of our groups and experiences, this would be the foundation for democratic innovation of active learning.

  • I used in this text the acronyms EDC (Education for Democratic Citizenship) and HRE (Human Rights Education). More info regarding why I use them and what they do actually mean is to be found at the Council of Europe’s page.
  • This text is an extended and reviewed version of the article on Entrepreneurship Education published on COMPETENDO – Tools for Facilitators by the author.