“You can always learn – even if you are more than 60 years old!”

Updated: Jul 27

At the age of 62, Rainer decided to participate in our Capability Program GSE2 to Sri Lanka. Setting up a learning center in the rural community of Kekirawa, he found out that you are never too old to open your mind and learn something new. Rainer has remained committed to “his project” and returned to Sri Lanka in 2019 to support it in overcoming new challenges. He has continued to be involved with BOOKBRIDGE initiatives such as the Startup Camps.

Rainer talks about the impact the Capability Program has had on him.

What do you do when you retire at the age of 60? You begin a new life and learn things you never expected to learn! Having retired at an early age, I was open for new experiences and friendships. My goal was to give something back to society. In 2016, Carsten from BOOKBRIDGE invited me to attend the CAS Global Social Entrepreneurship Program, which he had been organizing together with the University of Basel. I was enthusiastic, as the program fit quite well with my retirement plans. What have I learnt during the program? That it is never too late to learn new things – and to become a social entrepreneur! Since then, I have invested a lot of my time, energy and job experience in BOOKBRIDGE, which I have found very fulfilling. I hesitated to register for the program, worrying that I could be too old for the program and for the team. Today, I believe that the good mix of gender, nationality and age led my team to its success in setting up a learning center for English and IT classes in Kekirawa, Sri Lanka.

After setting up the learning center in Kekirawa, Rainer returned to Sri Lanka to support local entrepreneurs in setting up their business. Why did you decide to participate in the Capability Program? What was your motivation? I have 4 grandchildren and enjoy playing with them a lot. However, I knew that this wouldn´t be enough to fill the last period of my life. In my professional life, I have been involved with recruiting, talent and executive development for many years. But I had never come across leadership development programs in which candidates would act as real entrepreneurs and create their own business from scratch. So the Capability Program looked like a great project for my retirement years. What attracted me was the fact that I would work together for several months with a local team in Sri Lanka to create a social value proposition and a social business model based on a real-life project. I hadn´t seen this combination before. “Leading an agile, diverse team, developing an idea and turning it into a business plan and implementing it”: reading this quote in the program brochure reminded me that I had experienced this with various teams at my last employer. But successfully setting up a social business in a foreign country was completely new to me – an exceptional approach and a courageous goal – so I decided to participate in the program.

During the BOOKBRIDGE Masterclass, Rainer (3rd from left) helped to train local entrepreneurs in management and leadership skills. What do you remember as a highlight of the program? I remember how confused I was seeing all the web-based tools we needed to attend the program. To work together with our local team members in Sri Lanka, we would have to use Zoom, Strategyzer, Teamwork and other software. I wondered if I was too old to meet this technical challenge. Today, it makes me smile to look back to this moment. I have learnt that the only way to deal with a new situation is – to deal with a new situation! Dive in, try hard and you will be successful. Small successes like managing to start a Zoom call, sending a message via Teamwork or shifting a note between two fields in the Business Canvas motivated me and over time I felt confident with these tools. Today, I appreciate these solutions as they enable me to work together with others virtually. I had to learn how to be present in the calls, how to stay concentrated and how to make an input that everyone notices. I learnt that there is no leaning back, otherwise you will lose contact and are out of the discussion. Virtual sessions need a lot of self-discipline and energy from every participant. Another key moment was when I realized that the learning was not only on my side. My teammates benefited equally from my professional background and my multicultural and leadership skills. And combining our skills, we managed to face the challenges in a smart way. The excellent team spirit during the stay in Sri Lanka was very joyful and enriching to me. Which impact did BOOKBRIDGE have on your life? The program gave me new insights, new experiences and friendships around the globe. These new learnings are the key for other initiatives that may occur in my life. Also, the program opened my heart to new cultures, languages, behaviors and people. I am much more patient now and can better listen to and learn from others. The biggest reward I personally took out of the experience was at the interpersonal level. The constant exchange with my teammates kept me mentally stimulated and provided a sense of purpose. I learned to listen to them, to change my perspective, to open up to new ideas and to join my team in its pace and passion. This renewed my creativity, motivation and vision and brought fun and fulfillment to my life.

What do you do with your experience and knowledge when you retire? You share it with people that benefit from it! Rainer (right) with shopkeepers from Kekirawa, Sri Lanka. The decision-making process in virtual teams, especially when working with culturally different teams, is the biggest challenge. Oftentimes, we made a decision only to later find out that our partner went a different direction. Understanding the reasons for these situations was sometimes painful. To overcome them I had to neglect and outfox my European, HSG university-trained brain. I needed a lot of patience and tolerance working with the Sri Lankans. But with lots of smiles you can start again, and finally get where you want to be, knowing that if you reach 80% of your goals you will be fine. This was an important learning for me. After the program, it turned out that I wanted to extend my learning experience. So I decided to return to Sri Lanka two years later to participate in BOOKBRIDGE’s Masterclass. I was very happy to see that the social enterprise I had helped to set up had become a well-run learning center. Thanks to my previous experiences in Sri Lanka, I found it much easier this time to interact with the local people. I already knew the local situation, could accept the language problems, understand the cultural differences around hierarchy and gender and stay relaxed when challenges occurred. Looking back at my trips to Sri Lanka, I have learnt more through them than in the last 15 years of my work life. And yes, I am already involved in a new BOOKBRIDGE project, helping young start-ups in Asia to become successful. A new learning journey has just started again!

Thank you Rainer for sharing your experience and your learnings with us. We are proud that you are part of our BOOKBRIDGE Family!

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