Viola took part in our 3rd WHU General Management Plus Program from January to June 2016. As part of a multi-cultural and diverse team, she was challenged to setup a social enterprise in Sri Lanka to improve the job and life chances of the community members in Bandarawela. Viola co-founded a learning center for children and young adults in the tea country. Today, the center offers personal development, English and IT courses for 600 students and has been financially self-sustained since 2018. In this interview, Viola reflects about her experience and the learnings she took away for her private and professional life.
Viola (center) at the investor's pitch accompanied by social entrepreneur Sujitha Miranda via web call (in the back right).
Viola, share with us 3 important facts that people should know about you. One of them should be a fun fact if you like.
I´m German with a Swiss passport living now for 19 years in Switzerland. I´m married to a French speaking Swiss and we have two boys, age 11 and 13.
I have 20 years of experience in banking in various roles, f.e. investment banking, wealth management, investment products.
In my free time I enjoy skiing and horse riding.
Why did you participate in the Capability Program? What was your motivation?
In 2015, my employer did a cost cutting exercise and laid off a few hundred senior managers. I was one of them. The exit package included a budget for personal development courses. During a discussion with my HR department, I got to know BOOKBRIDGE’s program to Sri Lanka and immediately knew that it was the exact type of training I would like to do.
In banking, I had already come across various types of social engagement: serving clients who are social entrepreneurs or sourcing and distributing impact investments to clients. With the BOOKRIDGE program, I had the chance to get a hands-on experience of what it means to be a social entrepreneur.
Which highlight or moment in the program do you remember?
The highlight of the program was my speech at the opening ceremony of our social enterprise in front of our guest, journalists and many microphones of TV and radio stations. I felt so lucky, thankful and proud of what we had achieved. This memorised feeling still provides me with a lot of strength.
When I entered the university campus after such a long time I remember how nervous I was. The group dynamics in our team were very interesting and I had to learn to say ’NO’ at a certain point. In the end, we all grew together as a team and made our social enterprise thrive.
Viola (second from right) with their team colleagues during one of the program modules.
I also experienced that a pre-announced ‘friendly’ partner could suddenly transform into a road block and major threat to our project. This is something that can always happen to your plans so this experience was helpful for my later projects.
The biggest challenge for me was the presence of various types of insects in all kind of places. I definitely left my comfort zone in this respect.
Which impact did BOOKBRIDGE have on your professional life?
Seen from a professional side, participating in the program allowed me to progress in my career towards sustainable and impact-driven investments. Although I was already familiar with the topic, the program added a new dimension to it as I have made the experience of being an entrepreneur myself.
Having setup a social enterprise myself has strongly increased my credibility as a banker. Today, I can talk to social entrepreneurs at eye-level and I can show investors that it is possible to align investments with non-economic values. Working with a mission gives a lot of satisfaction. I am very grateful for this path.
Generally, I learnt that having a higher goal is one of the biggest motivations you can have. We faced many challenges during our program but it was always clear to us that we must not fail in our goal to establish a social enterprise. If you have committed to a cause you have to follow it against all obstacles is an important learning I had during the program.
... and on your private life?
After attending the program, I wanted to continue my commitment so I started to support organizations such as Giving Women (supporting women and girls in need) and HEMLATA (a mentoring program for Indian female students).
I feel very privileged to have a very close relationship to Sujitha Miranda, co-founder of our social enterprise and today’s BOOKBRIDGE Country Manager for Sri Lanka. She has already stayed with me twice at my house in Switzerland. She does not stop to inspire me with her energy and positive attitude. In difficult situations, she serves as a role model for me as she has managed to cope with so many difficulties. Supporting her feels very natural to me.
Became friends for life: Viola and social entrepreneur Sujitha.
I took my husband and children to the last BOOKBRIDGE Summit. They are following what I´m doing and are very interested in it. At the end of the school year, my younger son came to me with his English textbook and said he wanted to give to Sujitha.
My husband recently participated as learning partner for a start-up course held at our social business. The fact, that I still speak of it as “our social enterprise” expresses quite nicely how strongly involved I still feel, even 3,5 years later...
Thank you Viola for sharing your experience and your learnings with us. We are proud that you are part of our BOOKBRIDGE Family!