Keeping It Local, Globally – An interview with Impact Hub Berlin
We sat down with Maaike Hoogstede, Head of Community at Impact Hub Berlin, and discussed the benefits of working online, startups and what it means to partner with Zero Waste Berlin Festival.
Her interest in grassroots movements stem from her time at the Rotterdam Business School of Management and her personal lifehacks are reusable cups and glass jars.
- What are the most important things you’ve learnt from your time here at Impact Hub?
The most important thing that comes to mind is our super collaborative and purpose driven community. Often when we face challenges, we can really get stuck in our own bubble but once you’re surrounded with like-minded people who want to collaborate, then great things can happen. When people come together, there’s this energy that’s created, that’s super powerful to me—the power of a community.
- What got you personally interested in sustainability and grassroots movements and activism?
When I studied entrepreneurship at the Rotterdam Business School of Management, we had to do a research project about finding something that can be more sustainable in your city. We were seeing just how much food vendors were throwing away daily. When questioned, they would keep recommending us to go back and back one step down the line until the moment we were literally standing on the vegetable grower’s fields.
It turns out, in the end, it’s the consumer who just wouldn’t buy the vegetables in the supermarket because they look ‘different’. This was the first time that we learnt 30% of food is wasted simply because it doesn’t look ‘good’. That is when I realized about the power of the individual and collective mindset. Which sparked my interest in grassroot movements and the importance of raising awareness.
- What are your sustainability zero waste hacks?
I think right now I’m kinda rocking the tupperware and reusable glass jar trick. As a yoga teacher, glass jars work really well as candleholders, which of course also works well in any home setting.
Normally at Impact Hub we have a coffee and cake event on Mondays with the community, we can’t do it now with Covid, so we decided to do it outside and get some fresh air while socially distancing. We use RECUPs and bring our own cakes and support the local Kiez (neighbourhood). There’s so many life hacks, if you think creatively there are so many options. Just take the label away and look at the product and see how you can make different use of it.
“I believe that we as consumers demand sustainable ways of doing business and it’s more of a logical conclusion that larger corporations will follow suit in order to stay relevant.”
- Do you see local, sustainable startups becoming the norm as people strive to become more eco-conscious and connect with local communities rather than large international corporations?
I would personally like to say that it’s not all about local startups being sustainable as the norm but rather doing business sustainably becoming the norm. I do think we’ll see this trend growing in the near future as it’s generally much easier to innovate as a starting business, versus an established larger corporation. Looking at the numbers, nearly 50% of German startups label themselves as progressive or green.
It’s definitely happening, but maybe at some point, I believe that we as consumers demand sustainable ways of doing business and it’s more of a logical conclusion that larger corporations will follow suit in order to stay relevant. I see the norm as doing business sustainably rather than a case of big against small.
- Given that Impact Hub is a global network and that you were already used to collaboration over video calls prior to the pandemic, how do you think Covid-19 has affected your goals and the way you work with other hubs and local communities around the city?
At Impact Hub we have two groups: makers and members. The makers are the people working at the Impact Hub and the members are those working as part of the community. There was always a lot of online work between the makers, I believe we’re globally connected and locally rooted, and I think we were really nailing the locally rooted part, mainly offline.
There was always this ambition to do more online and maybe it was also that fact that the urgency just wasn’t as present before Covid. So I do feel that we’ve had this massive push to go digital and to really revise our practices and to be able to attract more members that might not normally be so near us locally. To source more events and experts online and to do even more things in a collaborative way even across time zones is a huge advantage.
Now I think it’s something we’re ramping up, growing and trying to make even more perfect. But I do believe that once restrictions lift we will still have this passion for offline and human connection in offline spaces. So we’ll hope to achieve a hybrid—to bring the online offline and the offline online. I do think that our goals have changed a bit in focus but it’s not that we’ll only stay online.
Perhaps finding the best of both worlds?
Absolutely, it’s about finding that middle way. There’s a craving for offline again but there’s so much you can do online that wasn’t previously possible. People can join the conversation that couldn’t before, experts can work together that couldn’t or maybe it just wasn’t as convenient. It’s all about finding that new normal again.
- There are Impact Hubs all across Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. How important was it to get a different entrepreneurial perspective outside of Europe and the Anglosphere in regards to Impact Hub’s emphasis on sustainable, grassroots campaigns?
When we work with partners, we always try to tap into that local network. Personally speaking, it’s about this acknowledgement of diversity, the importance of grassroots campaigns. We know it’s not one-size-fits-all and to keep trying to widen perspectives and one’s learnings as well as constantly challenging one’s own mindset. Even at Impact(Hub) or with Zero Waste (Berlin Festival), there may be drastically different challenges faced in Berlin than across the ocean. It’s healthy to keep learning, to stay challenged and to keep getting new and refreshing perspectives on things. This is something that we acknowledge and appreciate at Impact Hub, we don’t say “this is how we do it” but we recognise the importance of local voices—that locals know best and you can always share and learn from others.
- On your global website you state that, of your community, 60% value social and environmental return over financial return. Do you see Impact Hub aiming for a higher percentage in the coming years or is this at the discretion of the community?
I know for us locally in Berlin, we have 83-85% from our last survey.
That’s an interesting question, it’s a tricky one, because this could result directly from our current community ‘make-up’. 80% of people are working on impact like social entrepreneurs for example. The other 20% of people work with impact, this includes designers, photographers, coders, legal experts etc. This provides a vibrant ecosystem of people supporting each other, though some of them do not necessarily have environmental return as their main focus.
Also, I could imagine that in some communities, that even having a financial focus or having some financial return could be a social or positive impact in that specific sphere on its own, it’s also how you define it. It’s not necessarily bad in the world we live in—especially when you’re a startup focused on surviving sustainably—that finance is the most important return, at least at the beginning. So overall, I believe we can be very proud of an 83% score!
- Do you think that companies and consumers will be more environmentally and ethically conscious in a post-pandemic world? Do you already see a change in this direction in regards to companies that started working with Impact Hub in the last 9 months?
I have a two part answer to this. I think on one side, there’s a substantial change in awareness but also a lower threshold of participation. To give you an example, when Covid happened, we launched a digital hackathon against Covid and it was one of the largest hackathons in the world with nearly 30,000 people coming together from all walks of life. There was this sense of awareness, an urgency where people felt the need to participate and contribute. There were so many brilliant exchanges taking place, 1500 solutions were gathered and I think it led towards some huge momentum in that direction.
I honestly believe it’ll have some ripple effects, we’re already seeing it with some companies approaching us, people who want to continue doing this. I see other countries following that model because we’re all affected by this at the end of the day. So I do believe there’s an opportunity for accelerated change. At the same time, a huge deal of our ‘old habits and behaviours’ have been suppressed since covid hit our planet, and I think that whatever you suppress at some point is looking to be released. Like a rebound. I was actually talking to a colleague of mine about this, after the Spanish flu we had the roaring 20’s for example. I think it is very likely that we will face something similar.
Then it is more that we ask ourselves how we can do the things we used to do. This requires systematic change, it’s not that we shouldn’t travel, but how can we do it again? Can we do it sustainably? For example, a member company at Impact Hub (Fairaway) is offering alternative ways of travelling and plastic-free safari tours and things like that. I believe that in a post-pandemic world we can do these things again, but maybe we need to do them differently. Which requires innovation and creativity.
- How big a role does Impact Hub play in the development of a business whilst connecting and working with entrepreneurs all across the globe? Is it a case of offering support when needed or do you actively participate in its direction?
I would say it’s a hybrid, we have these local communities that have support on demand. We offer—where there’s community managers—our network, we have peer-to-peer help, we offer events that are there to connect, enable and inspire. Participation is entirely voluntary. Then we have acceleration programs where we have a set timeline and curriculum for people to go through. In these scenarios they are supported and guided through so I guess they’re taken a little bit more by the hand.
We offer both, it depends on what the entrepreneur is looking for. Additionally, this also differs across the globe with various Impact Hubs. Having a set curriculum can be of great help when starting off. Though even just being part of a community is already of great value. The value of working alongside like-minded entrepreneurs and feeling a sense of connection is not something to underestimate.
What do you expect from being part of the Zero Waste Berlin Festival this summer and how do you see ZWBF goals tie into Impact Hub’s?
I think we’re firstly, very aligned on topics like green tech and circularity, a topic that we at Impact Hub are focusing even more on this year. In general this notion of being better together is something that we expect; bringing our networks together allowing conversations and ideas to spark, collaborations to form and just being that digital-space holder and facilitator for people to meet and to bring their work to new heights. I think that would be fantastic if we could facilitate that together, especially in these digital times—it’s not always easy to go to an event and meet. But this is often where the magic happens, so if we can be the catalyst that accelerates it and make some magic happen, that would be fantastic!