Andreas Heinecke

Dialogue Social Enterprise
Year founded: 

The mission of DSE is to facilitate social inclusion of marginalized people on a global basis, to redefine “disability” as “ability” and “otherness” as “likeness”. This happens foremost through exhibitions, corporate workshops and events.

Focus: Disabilities, Communication, Education
Geographic Area of Impact: Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 6,140
Annual Budget: US$ 5.5 million (2010)
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

Society’s perception of handicapped people is very different from their self-perception. Only half of the population perceived as disabled would also describe themselves as such. This discrepancy reveals that most people primarily focus on the deficits of the handicapped instead of their abilities. A shift in perception on both sides is an important step towards accepting the important contributions handicapped people can offer society.

Innovation and Activities
The main business branches of DSE are the Dialogue in the Dark and Dialogue in Silence exhibitions. In the first exhibition, blind guides lead visitors through a completely dark environment where one learns to interact by relying on other senses. The blind and partially-sighted guides open the visitors' eyes in the dark to show them that their world is not poorer but simply different. Since 1988 Dialogue in the Dark has been presented in more than 31 countries and 127 cities throughout Europe, Asia and America. More than six million visitors worldwide have experienced the exhibition so far, while it has employed thousands of blind individuals.

Dialogue in Silence is an exhibition that invites the visitor into a world of silence. Here, deaf guides lead small groups of visitors, creating a reversal of roles: hearing people discover their repertoire of non-verbal expressions used to communicate creatively via mime, gesture and body language. Deaf people, already competent in these skills, support the process and become ambassadors of a fascinating universe without sound. First presented in Paris in 2003, Dialogue in Silence has since opened in 10 countries, with more than 210,000 people having visited the exhibition.

In addition to these two exhibitions, DSE also creates business workshops to improve the quality of human interactions. The underlying paradigm is derived from the German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber's work, The Principles of Dialogue, which states that the only way to learn is through encounter. The workshops provide an innovative and powerful tool for human resource development, leadership training and team building.

The Entrepreneur
Andreas Heinecke, Founder and CEO of Dialogue Social Enterprise, developed the Dialogue in the Dark concept and put it into action almost 20 years ago. He has won several awards, and been named the first Ashoka Fellow in Western Europe. He was nominated as Outstanding Social Entrepreneur by the Schwab Foundation in 2007, and in 2008, appointed a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Entrepreneurship. In 2009, Dialogue in the Dark and Dialogue in Silence business workshops were judged by the Young Presidents' Organization to be the Global Award Winner for the best innovative and out-of-comfort zone event.