Sweden is a hive of activity when it comes to social impact and environmental sustainability. I asked a local about the recycling situation in Sweden and he responded ‘We take recycling so seriously that it is almost an Olympic sport.’ The pride and passion of social impact and environmental sustainability seem to be ingrained in the DNA of Swedish people.
However, the only thing more powerful than a city poised for change is a global network of cities all aligned to tackle the world’s biggest issues. This is the vision of Impact Hub, a co working space for impact entrepreneurs. Their mission is to enable entrepreneurial action for positive impact and they do this by creating connections, programs and spaces for people to thrive.
They are the largest social entrepreneur network globally with over 16 000 members from more than 6 400 start ups. Globally, they currently have over 100 Impact Hubs in over 50 countries from 5 continents. With their footprint far reaching, the entrepreneurs in the network have helped over 40 million people!
I recently met up with Cathy Xiao Chen who is the Head of Operations at Impact Hub in Stockholm. Originally from Australia, Cathy has lived in Sweden for 6 years and previously worked in social impact startups solving food waste for a number of years.
Like a Family
The first thing I noticed was the strong community vibe in the co-working space. They don’t have an accelerator or intensive programs, but rather they focus on creating a dynamic space that builds relationships.
‘It’s all about family here. It is like a home away from home.’ Cathy spoke proudly of the community that has been built up in Stockholm’s Impact Hub.
Every week the team runs a ‘sexy salad Wednesday.’ Each entrepreneur brings a salad ingredient and together they create a new recipe from the ingredients provided. The reason Cathy runs it is to be a weekly reminder that people are more powerful together. These lunches also create opportunities for entrepreneurs to meet others in the network to help each other grow.
Aligning to a Common Vision
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a prominent feature of their space. All 17 goals are printed on a seated stair area where events are held. The Impact Hub’s 2018 Impact Report refers to the SDGs as a common language across the network to act on solving the world’s greatest issues.
Cathy spoke about how their members map their progress to the SDGs as well as use it as a framework for ethical procurement at the Impact Hub. Also, within the application, startups must define which SDGs they are planning to solve through their work.
By taking the SDGs lens to the practices of the coworking space, it creates a new avenue for impact. It is not always easy though. Cathy spoke about the challenge of balancing the cost and impact when making sourcing choices.
She said that sometimes you need to look beyond numbers and look for potential. ‘We have been known to choose companies that may be earlier stage with a product that is not perfect and is a bit cheaper because we can see the potential impact they can make. By choosing these high potential impact startups, they also create opportunities to bring them into the Impact Hub network.
Cathy walked me over to the impact wall she recently created to showcase some of the powerful stories from the team.
Here are some of my favourite stories!
Plant Based Meat With Oumph!
While we were chatting in the kitchen area, I met Victoria, who is the Brand and Product Manager at Food for Progress. Cathy had just finished showing me their product, Oumph! on the impact wall and how they are scaling across all of Europe, the US and the UK.
Oumph is a plant based meat that has an incredibly low impact on the environment and tastes amazing. It is made with soybeans which contains a lot of protein, fibre, folic acid and other vitamins and minerals.
Their parent company, Food For Progress started in Sweden and are now in nearly 400 Tesco stores, all Whole Foods Markets in UK and all over the Nordic region in thousands of stores and a variety of restaurants.
Food For Progress has also shifted the production of its food factory to being fully plant based, with an annual production of over 2000 + tonnes. The success has been phenomental with the launch of Oumph! increasing the sales in the total meat-free section by 24 % in Sweden and 22 % in Norway. Their passion is to not compare their impact to meat, but rather focus on having the lowest impact on the environment as possible. This influences their decisions, their processes and has created a continuous drive in their culture to be the best to look after the environment.
After hearing their story, I was intrigued so I went to Wayne’s Coffee, one of their retailers to try it out. I literally almost sent it back because I thought I had been given the actual pulled pork wrap. It was juicy, tasty and filling!
Impactually are a management consultancy applying behavioral insights to create business and societal impact. They use their expertise in behavioral economics and social psychology to design evidence-based solutions to critical challenges. The team at Impactually believe that behavioural science can be used to create lasting change. They bridge the gap between science and practical applications by removing the barriers for implementing it to address real world problems.
You can download their free guide to learn more about nudges and how to embed them into your work here.
Imad Elabdala, Founder of Kidnovation came to Sweden as a refugee from Syria. He found work as an engineer but gave it up to travel and work at refugee camps. Imad spent 2 years researching and working through his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and wanted to find a way to help children in refugee camps to do the same. The best solution was to send a psychologist to every child but that wasn’t possible so he collected their stories and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his book “Sarah’s Journey” which he worked on together with the help of academics and experts.
The book was launched on International Women’s Day after 2 years of hard work. He is now building a media lab and developing a game for school children to use that will alert supervisors if anyone needs psychosocial support. Last year he was granted 30,000 euros in funding from Social Challenges Innovation Platform (a collaboration between Impact Hub, META and EBN) to bring the project to life with Futurskolan in Stockholm. If you would like to check out their amazing work, the website is here.
Checheza is an amalgamation of the words spark and game in swahili. Formerly known as Learn with Lara, this startup co-founded by Katarina Stensson began at a hackathon led by an NGO. They realised that what was being asked of them was not actually needed so they left and created something different.
They have launched their pilot project in Uganda with the support of the local government. Their aim is to make learning basic math and English more fun and accessible for children. They send donated tablets to schools so children can play the learning games. You can reach out to Katarina here.
Keep in Touch
Check out the Impact Hub Global site here to see where the closest Impact Hub is as they often have regular events about social impact that are great!
At Impact Hub Stockholm, they are now making event recordings available for all members around the world to watch on demand via their Community App so people everywhere can share the knowledge and expertise that we provide. You can register to support the organisation and be connected to thousands of social entrepreneurs and changemakers around the world.
To overcome the huge issues we face today, it requires action at all levels. Join Impact Hub to learn, create and connect and create your own impact.