The value of a global network – and the people within
Interview with Mathias Haas, Social Entrepreneur & WSA National Expert of Austria
Networks are formed by their members, they live by and for them, and it takes a shared motivation to keep them alive. In case of the WSA, this is particularly true—and particularly worthwhile.
The call for applications is currently open and thus launches the WSA cycle for another year. A good opportunity to talk to a very special member of the WSA network. Mathias Haas, multiple WSA winner, National Expert, mentor, friend and widely connected, talks about networks, storytelling, social impact, responsibility and the desire to always meet each other twice.
Please, introduce yourself shortly.
Mathias Haas: My core belief in everything I do says “Take all available online tools out there to create impact offline.” In all my activities, in my company, my ventures, my events and every other context, I use storytelling and social media to inspire people and make them create change. Doing something small differently can have a big impact. And my name is Mathias. (laughs)
What is the kind of impact you want to create?
Mathias Haas: Everything we do has an impact, positive or negative. And I would like to amplify the positive impact.
People are often enthusiastic after the workshops I do, while they—for example—had a hard time at the same subject in a university course. This made me create my “Train the Trainer”-program to share my knowledge and passion with other educators. I can tell, this has to happen in real life, not as video training. Which is something I experienced in the WSA network, by the way.
Another motto of mine states "Each one teach one". Every single workshop I do is not only to give something to the participants but also to learn something from them. It is important for me to stay in contact with people and learn from their experiences. If we take a look at the WSA network – that I’ve been part of for more than 10 years—coming together doesn’t just mean to enjoy and leave. It is more like tapping into the network for knowledge, but also offering my knowledge in return. Prof. Bruck calls these collaborations “social franchise” as we are not competing but working together for making an impact.
“Social franchise means not competing against each other but working together for making an impact.”
We repeat and redo existing things and formats that already work locally—and we translate it into our environment. Mladiinfo, a European Youth Award winner from North Macedonia, spoke on stage and it was great, so I started it in Austria. Popedu, as we call it, is successfully running for six years already. There is no need for reinventing the wheel, I'm doing the local impact for myself with the same idea—and we all benefit from it.
The unique aspect of the WSA network is not just the networking, but the continuity?
Mathias Haas: Classic networking is a terrible idea as it means having a personal agenda. To want something from someone. But much smarter than talking 3 sentences with 100 people is to talk 100 sentences with 3 people. Go deep into a conversation and get to know the other person, learn about their product, their service, their startup and find out how to help each other—and not immediately explore what your advantages might be.
“Much smarter than talking 3 sentences with 100 people is to talk 100 sentences with 3 people!”
Are you using the power of storytelling to provide that approach to others? To positively change the narrative of the world?
Mathias Haas: Absolutely. Storytelling is such a great thing because it links from knowledge to action. We are the smartest society ever, we have access to all the information, we know about the problems, but to get into action it needs one more puzzle piece which I have defined as caring. I care about something.
If we think about the climate crisis, a new narrative won’t be enough, we have to change our habits—and this can be painful. It needs different factors to really happen: the individuals who recognize and care, the politics that creates infrastructure and attractiveness and a narrative that people want to follow.
Responsibility has to be taken into account…
Mathias Haas: In storytelling, responsibility goes hand in hand with impact. Everyone who tells a story has a responsibility in the impact of the story. For example, if I work for an African beneficiary and uphold the image of hungry, war-torn, HIV-positive, poor people in return, I am achieving a positive impact by raising money, but at the same time I have made a huge mistake by using negative stereotypes, and that responsibility counts just as much. In other words: How can I consider people's dignity in all my activities? Involving all people contributing to on and offline campaigns, giving everyone the opportunity to re-evaluate that campaign after 10 years and ask if they are proud of it—that is the minimum requirement for accountability. It's not just about impact for the one goal I'm pursuing (= fundraising), it's also about questioning the means. The end does not justify the means.
Any ambitious wishes you have for the WSA?
Mathias Haas: I really love to visit the European Youth Award Festival in Graz—and when I received my first award about 10 years ago, I had a really good time. I met my now best friend Cari, who also got awarded. The existing approach of inviting and involving many winners as mentors, speakers, ambassadors, experts is good, but the time span of one year can be too long.
So, if I wished for something, it would be a second meeting of the winners each year. A second meeting keeps the impact curve higher, the community idea and relationship building lasts much longer.
For a total of six years, Cari and I managed through fundings to invite the winners to a hackathon to Münster, Germany. For 10 days, they were provided with accommodation, internet, and food, with the task of developing their winning projects and find out if their solutions could be implemented in another country. That was a very powerful set of tools to give people time, space and fertile ground.
So, you're tied to the WSA forever and ever?
Mathias Haas: 2009 was my first win, meaning I've been involved for 13 years and deal with WSA people in my immediate environment. Friends, cooperation partners, NGOs, customers – I even found serious love here, even when it’s over. So yes, absolutely!
Mathias Haas is Founder and CEO of SuperSocial Marketing New Media Agency. As a social entrepreneur he initiated the Charity Art and Journalism Project Findia and the Digital Participation Camp and Summit.
For his projects, among them Facebook Application Intercultural, Findia, Read My Voice, and the YA!Friends Platform, he has already won many international awards. Mathias Haas lives for his passion: travelling, social media, learning about new cultures, and adventures.