Norbert Kunz is working to make self-employment a viable career option for disadvantaged populations in Germany. Through a holistic, low-threshold support system with certified trainers, coaches, qualifications, and micro-credits, he brings together all institutional stakeholders to empower and enable youth to take charge of their lives and help improve their communities.
In areas of Germany that are structurally weak and wage-employment is hardly available, people are often forced to relocate, which can be detrimental to communities. To combat this growing trend, Norbert is encouraging self-employment and developing the necessary infrastructure to create new opportunities among unemployed youth.
As an alternative to inefficient government employment training and welfare programs, Norbert has created a tailor-made, low threshold start-up support system, which extensively backs founders of new businesses through a collaborative network. By bringing together relevant stakeholders, including employment agencies, lawyers, banks, politicians, and business entrepreneurs, he is developing procedures and creating the tools necessary to help new small businesses succeed. These partnerships serve to strengthen young entrepreneurs as agents of change in their personal lives while also promoting regional development.
Realizing that unemployment and lack of entrepreneurial awareness are commonplace in many European countries, Norbert has anticipated the growing need to encourage self-employment, particularly in the East. As a result, the structures and policies he has implemented are all entrepreneur-friendly and cross-cultural—best exemplified by the profession of enterprise consultant—to ensure quality start-up support throughout the European Union (EU). Norbert has expanded his program throughout East Germany, reaching more than 1,000 young entrepreneurs and he hopes to do the same throughout Europe in the future.
Born to a family of simple means, Norbert was expected to leave school at sixteen and work. When he voiced his desire to attend high school, his parents were shocked. It was the encouragement of one insightful teacher that gave him the confidence he needed to proceed with entry exams. Having felt the effect of positive reinforcement from a mentor, Norbert was driven to give others the same opportunity. He began coaching football teams, and reaching out to marginalized youth. He later studied business education to help young people realize their professional aspirations.
As a member of the Green Party, Norbert travelled to El Salvador to conduct a feasibility study of development projects the party had supported. He was sobered by what he saw and realized how little top-down initiatives impacted society where civil structures were weak. When he returned to Germany, he decided to encourage a self-help mentality instead of waiting for top-down developments to bring about change.
Norbert started implementing his vision in 1992 when he created Germany’s first customized qualification program. He designed a modular vocational training for disadvantaged youngsters that focused on developing the skills and talents necessary for success. He was able to persuade trade unions and official agencies to formally recognize the youth’s skills despite their lack of experience, and allowed them to enter the official vocational schooling, choosing only those curricular modules that were new to them. Among his target group were dramatically increased graduation and employment rates, and now all public services offer modular vocational training.
In the mid 1990s, Norbert moved to East Germany, where he created and delivered qualification programs to youth. He saw that the government’s vocational and employment support was focused on wage-employment while in real life, such opportunities hardly existed. He visited mentoring programs for youngsters abroad, and ultimately launched his initiative to build an infrastructure that enables youth in structurally weak regions to sustain their own livelihood.