Andreas Heinecke

Ashoka Fellow
Hamburg, Germany
Fellow Since 2005


This profile was prepared when Andreas Heinecke was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Andreas is concerned with people who are marginalized regardless of whether they come from a different ethnicity, are disabled, or are elderly. Rather than trying to focus on and serve that marginalized group, however, he focuses on the interaction between “them” and “us.” By building platforms where the disabled guide the non-disabled, he is bringing understanding, fascination and even delight across the groups by forcing interaction that go beyond stereotypes, prejudices and fears.

His first platform, “Dialogue in the Dark,” has empowered more than 4,000 blind people in 19 countries and more than 130 cities from disadvantaged backgrounds by giving them for the first time in their life the opportunity to showcase their talents and skills. They manage the platform and teach visitors (including senior executives from companies) how to see without eyes, thereby acquiring leadership, communication, and management skills (in traditional rehab programs, disabled people seldom have direct interaction with the public and rarely exercise leadership with the public). The vast majority of the “Dialogue in the Dark” employees have never held a formal job before, and 40 percent of them successfully gain a job placement with a “normal” company in the private or public sector between a week and a year and a half with Dialogue.

“Dialogue in the Dark” has allowed over 4 million people in 19 countries the experience of being out of sight for an hour, several hours, or longer. Participants enter into a state of de-equilibrium as they lose normal points of reference, and they are forced to accept their own limitations and allow themselves to be helped along by their blind guide. Andreas builds in workshops around the experience that train people in companies and schools how to deal with people with different abilities—whether those abilities derive from disabilities or otherwise. The emphasis is not on the difficulty and the problem, but on the new, often quite superior skills that blind people must develop to function in the sighted world—and how we can learn from them. For example, human resources managers find it helpful to learn “in the dark” how to hold telephone interviews with prospective employees. Andreas has also developed another platform, called “Scenes of Silence”—to bring people into the world of silence—where deaf and mute people teach us a great deal about communication. Further plans include creating the experience of old age, migration, exile, and crime and punishment.

Andreas aims to create a Social Science “Center” that allows people to explore the social side of the human experience; where they learn about the world from other people’s perspectives. For example, his blind and disabled employees from all over the world form a global network—they train each other, exchange experience and knowledge, and recognize that many of their needs are global in nature.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person


Featured in Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World, by Bev Schwartz (2012)

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