On March 31st, Impact Hub Amsterdam hosted Unlikely Allies: The Future of Our City, a special celebration of our wonderful Impact Hub community and the impact we are making in our city and beyond.
It was not only a fantastic opportunity for impactmakers to find allies for creating a radically better world, but also a sunny impact festival filled with lots of laughter, serendipitous encounters, cool food trucks and an unforgettable party.
Nearly 400 guests joined animated talks, workshops and labs, basked in the sun with a burger in one hand and a beer in the other, and marvelled at the beauty of our new home, the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). Visitors also curiously browsed our Hub Shop featuring meaningful merchandise such as laptop sleeves made of refugee life vests or jewelry crafted by vulnerable women, and hopped on bikes to explore Amsterdam Oost or to visit new startups across town.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
After a warm welcome from Tatiana Glad, co-founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, our social impact festival kicked off with a motivational short talk by William McDonough, whose ‘cradle to cradle’principles of regenerative design have been inspiring impactmakers and innovators for the past two decades. “If we don’t intend to destroy the planet, who has the plan? I’m here because you have a plan”, McDonough said to a captivated audience of more than 150 Impact Hub members, investors and partners squeezed into our Forum hall. “If you start with numbers you end with goals. If you start with values, you end with values”, he added.
By the same logic, starting with impact in mind will lead to achieving it. And Impact Hub Amsterdam’s community aims to drive systemic change in multiple areas, particularly the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which Carolien de Bruin, founder and CEO of C-Change, delved into next. ‘We need a new normal. But we know the way: the SDGs. And the Dutch are pioneers in this’, de Bruin pointed out, referring to the Dutch SDG Charter signed by 70 Dutch business and civic organisations committed to co-creating innovative and scalable solutions in areas such as health and resilient cities.
C-Change reinforced these pioneering efforts throughout the day with a series of Unlock the SDGs talks, which also featured Maresa Oosterman, Director of the Dutch SDG Charter. Other SDG experts deep diving into the goals were Herman Mulder, Chairman of the True Price Foundation, who spoke about the Dutch SDG investment agenda, Lindy van Vliet, Head Business Unit Health at the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), who demonstrated the power of data in achieving the health SDG, and Saskia Verbunt, Senior Consultant Sustainability at Philips Innovation Services, who showcased her company’s global healthcare initiatives.
One way to take action on the SDGs is by bringing together unlikely allies, whose modes of action may vary while working towards a common goal. And our first Over There Is Over Here provocative conversation blended diverse perspectives on preserving on our natural resources. Prof. Tim Boekhout van Solinge, independent forest criminologist and researcher, spoke about the clash between the SDGs and the Brazilian government’s deforestation practices, which he monitors and gathers data on using the eyes and ears of the local population and grassroots network.
Katinka Abbenbroek, Head One Planet Thinking at WWF Netherlands, shared that, in order to change the system, WWF encourages companies to become agents of change. She also raised an intriguing question: could we limit our ecological footprint if every citizen received an equal ‘budget’ that determines how much use he or she can make of the planet? In a similar vein, Pauline Verheij, Senior Legal Investigator at Wildlife Justice Commission, emphasized that our behaviour as consumers is crucial. Western tourists should be more critical and avoid traveling to destinations that harm the environment or wildlife.
The second Over There is Over Here conversation zoomed into whether sustainable travel is just a pipe dream or a feasible and necessary development.
Frank Reef, Board Member of the Surfrider Foundation Europe, said the goal of this organisation is to allow everyone to become an activist who fights marine litter. “As surfers, we feel like representatives of ocean users”, Reef explained. However, he acknowledged that surfing often harms the environment, as many surfers use equipment that is not very sustainable while driving their cars to the beach and globetrotting to find the best waves. But that’s precisely why surfers should take action.
Mihela Hladin, Environment and Social Initiatives Manager at Patagonia, also emphasized we that we should always question and attempt to reduce excessive consumption. “We believe that creating materials that last long is key for our company to be more sustainable”, she said. But when it comes to reducing your environmental impact, it is not a matter of black and white, as there are different ways of looking at the problem, Hladin added.
And one way to approach the problem, as Wendy van Leeuwen, Program Manager for Booking Booster, Booking.com’s Impact Accelerator, is that tourism and protecting the environment can actually go hand in hand, as safeguarding sites as tourist destinations implies preserving their natural environment. She believes that start-ups can develop innovative solutions to environmental issues, which is why Booking.com launched their sustainable tourism accelerator.
As the audience agreed with the panel on the fact that a successful compromise can be found between travelling and a healthy planet, other social impact festival goers were deep diving into Unpack Impact talks given by Impact Hub members from African Clean Energy, Heroes & Friends, Yoni, Zeewaar and Crosswise Works.
Judith Walker, Director of Operations at African Clean Energy (ACE)explored the tension between prosperity and poverty and shared her pledge to see poor people as real customers, with certain desires, who want a good quality product and proper training on how to use it. “This gives them power. We should not give away cheap products as these would inevitably get broken and leave people empty handed”, Walker said, whose ultimate goal is to fundamentally improve people’s lives in areas beyond health and clean energy, including children’s education. ACE produces solar biomass stove that give people with no electricity the possibility to cook indoors and avoid deadly smoke inhalation.
Mariah Mansvelt Beck, co-founder of Yoni showed how marketing and design can increase impact. As a social enterprise aiming to revolutionise the feminine care industry by increasing awareness of tampon, pad and pantyliner options, Yoni is the first company in Europe to bring organic cotton fem care to mainstream shelves, complete with a minimalistic packaging design that stands out from its competitors. “We relied on storytelling – making women aware they have a choice. We don’t say we are the only option, which makes us more sympathetic”, Mansvelt Beck explained.
Tim Manschot, founder of Heroes & Friends and his team focused on social crowdsourcing and how we can harness the power of our friends to serve purposeful projects. With their belief that ‘technology scales impact’ and that a collaborative economy is rising, Heroes & Friends showed impactmakers how to leverage online engagement to reach campaigners that help their causes, as well as in kind and cash donations. And you may have also spotted them cheerfully rallying the troops between big talks and asking the audience to contribute to projects being crowdsourced on their platform as we speak.
Rebecca Wiering & Jennifer Breaton, founders of Zeewaar, talked about the future of food, where they see a shift towards crops as nutritious and clean as theirs. As the creators of the first sustainable seaweed farm in the Netherlands, they believe in the scale-up potential of the 5 zeroes of their seaweed cultivation: no fresh water, no arable land, no pesticides, no fertilisers and no waste. And given that their products are now available in stories – in addition to being a key ingredient in the delicious and vegan Dutch Weed Burgers – it looks like positive impact in the food system is already happening.
In parallel to these Unpack Impact talks, our community joined a series of skills workshops, including mini-trainings of Impact Hub programmes such as the Business Model Challenge and Investment Ready, and speed dates with legal experts. As every impactful business starts with a memorable pitch, Ijsbrekers, who used theatre techniques to teach the art of pitching and public speaking. Those ready to take their business to the next took notes as Ashoka Nederland shared the scaling strategies of leading entrepreneurs changing the way healthcare is delivered. And entrepreneurs who want to grow up and become a B Corp met with the eponymous organisation and chatted with B certified businesses such as Better Future, Farm Brothers, SnappCar and Generous Minds.
For those keen to experiment, the Impact Hub turned into a collection of labs, starting with Amsterdam Smart City, which invited stakeholders to a Mobility Lab focused on the fast-growing Zuidas neighbourhood and its congestion challenges. This also saw the kick-off of the TransportLAB logistics challenge supported by partners such as the Port of Amsterdam.
Meanwhile, ULab explored the full gamut of personal and societal transitions, while our members Starters4Communities hosted a pro-action cafe focused on the social initiatives of Amsterdam Oost, our new neighbourhood.
Crosswise Works co-founder Eva Rootmensen dove into the dilemma of many social enterprises: having great ambitions when it comes to impact and doing wonderful things to achieve these, but finding it hard to explain how their actual activities lead to their desired impact. To solve this problem, Crosswise Works proposed a logical impact story format: the ‘why line’. “By explaining why your most concrete activity is important, and then explaining why that is important and so on, you’ll get a clear idea of your social impact and what you add to it”, Rootmensen concluded.
And our leafy surroundings weren’t the only things we enjoyed during Impact Startup Tours or an Oosterpark tour enabled by the municipality and Starters4Communities. Our impact festival also marked the grand opening of our beautiful new location inside the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)’s historical building. Here, we went on a KIT tour and explored the work of neighbours and allies through talks and workshops on topics like degraded land restoration (Land Life Company), a zero-waste city (De Gezonde Stad) and crowdfunding for impact (Oneplanetcrowd).
As one of our team members cleverly noted, we opened and closed our celebration with architects, going full circle from William McDonough’s vision of regenerative design to AKKA’s vision of architecting interaction. Stephanie A. Hughes, AKKA’s founder and lead architect, explored her firm’s remarkable transformation of a werkplaats into the new home of Impact Hub Amsterdam. “When designing a space, the users are the experts”, Hughes said as she introduced her philosophy of designing incomplete, impermanent and and imperfect contexts that foster interaction and, ultimately, innovation.
It’s safe to say this wasn’t your average conference but a festival by impactmakers for impactmakers. To toast to our community’s future, we raised a glass of Carmen, our own impact beer, which we’ve been secretly developing for the past few months together with craft brewery and social enterprise De Prael, and whose name honours our first member, Carmen van der Vecht, founder of street teens creative platform Rambler.
Before putting on our party shoes, we sang along to the Impact Hub Song cheekily improvised by Freek Zwanenberg and Reinier Demeijer from Improv XL. “Impact Hub, Impact Hub, positive vibes, join the club!” went one lyric. Truer words were never spoken.