Marie Ringler, Schottenring 25, Vienna

CSR Office Trends

Work and lifestyle on the cutting edge: In our conversations with leading contemporary thinkers, we examine the claims, clichés and ideals surrounding our workplaces. This time we spoke with Marie Ringler, who worked in politics for a long time and now heads the Austrian branch of Ashoka. Talking with Angelika Molk and Désirée Schellerer, she speaks about social engagement, the entrepreneurial mindset and yoga at the office.

Marie Ringler spent ten years working for the Green Party as a member of a state parliament and a local councillor. Since January 2011, she has headed the Austrian branch of Ashoka, the leading global organisation for promoting social entrepreneurs who want to find sustainable, large-scale solutions to social problems with innovative concepts, creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset. Ashoka’s goal is to turn social entrepreneurs’ local projects into international models for success, mobilise social resources and thereby initiate change. In addition to providing financial support, Ashoka offers its fellows mentoring and advice, visibility and a global network. In Vienna, Ashoka’s core team consists of five staff members and three regional employees.

Do you think it will become more important for companies to become socially engaged in the future?
I think that it is indispensable for companies to assume social responsibility, not only to feel better about themselves but also because consumers are becoming more demanding and tend to scrutinise more. After all, the trend towards regional and organic foods hasn’t appeared just by chance — it’s a prominent sign of a much more comprehensive social development. It will be increasingly difficult for companies to retain employees if they don’t embody social responsibility. Many people would like more meaningful jobs, want to contribute to society and promote social innovation. This can be seen not only in younger people but also in those at a more advanced stage in their careers who, at a certain point, find themselves asking, what was I actually pursuing this career for?

You worked in politics for a long time and now you’re the head of Ashoka’s Austrian branch. How does political work distinguish itself from working in the area of social entrepreneurship?
It’s difficult to compare politics and social entrepreneurship. On the one hand, you have quite a bit of autonomy in politics: I can choose what issues I want to engage with, which events I will attend and which I won’t. At the same time, however, politics is also strongly determined by others and by external factors — there is a constant demand for a reaction to something. At Ashoka we are able to engage in more long-term planning, to really invest in partnerships and develop projects, and this is important and central. Social collaborations can’t be planned and executed overnight; they are based on a lot of hard work and numerous conversations with investors and collaborators. And that’s only after you’ve found them to begin with! One thing both areas have in common is getting people excited by an idea, a vision.

Would you say that your personal management style has changed?
Ashoka is a pretty unusual organisation - we consider ourselves to be an organisation of, for and with social entrepreneurs. A social entrepreneur has to have an entrepreneurial character, which doesn’t necessarily mean they can read a financial statement. Instead, we mean an entrepreneur in Schumpeter’s sense, a person who gets engaged in something, shows passion, takes risks, but also recognises opportunities and can overcome obstacles to implement a project. Because our employees are all entrepreneurs as well, I constantly have to ask myself as a manager how I can support these entrepreneurial people around me so that they can continue developing their ideas in line with the strategic guidelines, which of course exist as well.

"Ashoka" is looking for innovative solutions to social problems. Do you think that creative solutions also require creative work or office layouts? Or does the "classic" office still function best?
I think that a modern office building also contributes to a modern work style. As romantic as they are, many of these classic, historical buildings, of which we have quite a few in Vienna, are rather inconvenient. Good design helps people work better. This doesn’t just mean light, but also the arrangement of rooms, the spatial concept.

Modern technologies make it possible for us to work wherever and whenever we want. Do you take advantage of this or do you also have something like a "primary workplace", and – if so – where is it?
In principle I would like to work on a laptop while lying on a sofa, but at the end of the day, that isn’t such a great idea when you have a team. We all travel a great deal and our office is a place that we always like to return to. I also like being in the middle of it all, which is why I have a desk in the centre of the office. Our workplace was designed to allow for many shared spaces, but we also have places we can retreat to, where we can shut the door behind us if we need some quiet.

Where do you like to work? And where not so much?
I like working on the train. I don’t think working on the beach is a good idea - then I would rather take time off.

What would your dream office look like?
My dream office has a view of the city and is right in the city centre - short distances and being in the middle of a team are important to me. But I’m also very happy in our current office, although a few sofas for relaxed creative thinking wouldn’t be bad.

Your office is rather unusual for a social organisation - very large, spacious, bright, right in the centre of Vienna.
Yes, we are really lucky to have this office. Baker & McKenzie is letting us use it without charge. If we had to pay for it, we wouldn’t be able to afford these wonderful rooms.

What does your workspace look like? Are there many personal, private objects or is your office purely functional?
I don’t really need personal items. I battle daily with the archive, a stack of papers on my desk, and I’m very happy not to have anything else laying there.

Do you think of the office as a place for inspiration, for creativity?
Ideally the office is a place that inspires, of course. We do yoga together in our office space. We have table football too, but we don’t use it very often. I do think that motivation in the workplace also has something to do with creating a bit of free space while achieving something together at the same time. We take turns cooking lunch for each other - a nice dynamic is created through the act of cooking and eating together that connects people and promotes exchange. All of that is important and helps us work together well and to enjoy working together.

What is the most important tool for your work?
My laptop. In politics I would also have mentioned my phone. Since I now work more internationally, the computer has taken on even more significance.

Thank you for the interview!


Angelika Molk

Corporate Marketing Manager