In 2021, Ripess Europe celebrates its 10th anniversary!

As part of this celebration, and in order to honour the network and its members in particular, Ripess Europe will be conducting interviews, throughout the year, with the people who have brought it to life since its creation. Follow us on this European tour of the network’s members!

This time, we have an appointment with Karl Birkhölzer from Technet (Berlin, Germany), member of Ripess Europe since the very beginning…


Hello Karl, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your organisation?

My name is Karl Birkhölzer, I am one of the founders of TechNet when it all started in 1987 and still – although retired from active participation – a member of the board of directors of TechNet, a social enterprise for research, promotion, education and practical support in the field of local social economy issues. In the last years I was mainly active in studying the history and diversity of social enterprises in Germany, Europe and beyond, latest publications can be found on

What does it mean for you to be a member of Ripess Eu?

I have been a member of RIPESS Europe from the beginning, but was beforehand also active in the preparation process of cooperation with other members of the intercontinental RIPESS group (such as  Yvon Poirier and others) since their big international conference in Quebec, Canada. As a chair of the former European Network for Economic Self-Help and Local Development (1992 – 2006) , I was convinced of the need for International cooperation and exchange of experiences, to learn from each other and promote the necessity of economic transformation to a more social and ecological future. International networking was also very helpful to develop and foster our local networks and to establish sustainable social enterprises. Therefore, networks of such kind, are one of the most successful development tools.

What does Social and Solidarity Economy mean to you? 

I prefer to call it a Social Solidarity Economy as it highlights the main characteristics of an economy for social aims and cooperation in solidarity. Social enterprises are understood as its basic units, defined and limited by four criteria: economic activity for social and/or community-oriented aims, set up and run by and for people’s needs, working for social instead of private profit, and with a democratic constitution.
In this context I have always been convinced that there should be no division or contradiction between a social and a solidarity economy, because they are, to my understanding, two sides of the same coin.  Unfortunately it was not possible to form a joint European representation which I would have preferred.  We became finally members of RIPESS, but have always been working on both sides.

If you had to choose one memory since your integration, what would it be?

There have been quite a number of memorable moments between Quebec, Athens, and the last meeting in Bergamo, a few months before the outbreak of the pandemic. I remember for instance a night with music and dance somewhere in the North of France. It was at the same meeting that the idea of ‘Rethinking the Economy’ came up, a project which is for me still one of the most important tasks for the future of SSE. Unfortunately I was for age and health reasons not able to carry it through, and it is now for the same reasons time to say goodbye to all of you!