By +SocialGood Connector Federico Restrepo Sierra
There’s been a new trend gaining momentum around the world: Impact entrepreneurship. So, you might ask, is that a thing? Well, I would like to think so, since I believe I am one of those pretentious pricks claiming to be changing the world… If it is not a thing, I have been wasting my ego trying to make myself feel better.
For the last few years, somehow I became an entrepreneur, just because I felt like I would not fit with the organizational or public world. First, I started a brewery… sadly it failed, as I drank most of its product and shared the rest with friends and family. However, those friends and family are now investors in my other ventures, so bear with me. Soon we will get to the successful part of the story and I can offer some advice.
Back in 2015, two things happened that changed me and my path:
1. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared: “we are the first generation that can end extreme poverty, and the last one that can reverse climate change”. Those words hit me. I am part of “that” generation and I was not doing much…
2. My niece was born. Milagros (Miracles in English) may be a bit of a corny name, I know, but well, my sister is somewhat corny.
Man, I thought, I gotta do something, I can’t let my niece grow up in a world with gender inequality, massive air pollution, a long list of other problems….
During that time, I was part of AIESEC International; the largest youth led organization (blah blah blah, you can google it), so I thought, there must be something I can do from this privileged position. Then, it hit me: with the help of my good friend Victoria de Mello, we created Youth for Global Goals, a movement to activate every young person for the Sustainable Development Goals. If you are a young person looking for a way to contribute, check the website and check the different opportunities to contribute. In a couple of years we reached 100+ countries, 10,000+ projects were created and led by youth, and thousands of more young people mobilized to act on the issues that matter to them.
I saw the power of enabling people to take action; not to tell them what to do, but to allow them to generate their own solutions and to empower them to take action. I decided to go back to Colombia and do something to make things better. Yes, Colombia, not necessarily out of patriotism, but mainly because of pragmatism. Here is where I have a local network and “I know how things are done around here.”
I came back, joined forces with a friend, and started Impact Hub Medellin, now the home of 50+ impact startups and around 260 entrepreneurs, most of whom work on at least one SDG. This year alone, we have incubated 18 organizations and accelerated another 18, all focused on the SDGs. Here some cool examples that I encourage you to check out if you are looking for some inspiration and good stories of impact:
- Fokus Green — Sustainable Fashion
- Cultivando Futuro — AgroTech
- Urbania — Coffee
- Stepping Stone — Food and Decent Work
- Ciclo — Circular Economy
When I came back to Colombia the first thing that struck me was the air pollution. Medellin used to be the city of eternal spring: 24°C every day, all day… Paradise! Now, sadly, it is way warmer and with worse air quality: there is a real air crisis. I decided to study the topic so I could take action. Here is some data I got on Medellin’s air quality(probably similar in other developing countries big cities like Mexico DF, Sao Paulo, Quito, Bangkok, Accra…):
- The four most populated cities in Colombia, including Medellin, had annual means of PM2.5 levels that were above the WHO guideline value of 10 µg/m3
- 5% of GDP is spent on reactive measures to air pollution and climate change (Imagine what we could with that money if we take a proactive approach)
- 12 out of 100 people die in hospitals due to respiratory related problems
Outrageous, I know! However during my studies I also got to know this: 90% of intercity transport can be electric today. Now this was interesting.
I called a cousin (remember what I said before about the beer? Here you go!) who is an electric engineer and we started to look for solutions and after pivoting a couple of solutions, we decided to start converting oil-powered combustion cars into electric vehicles (EVs). We did not invented anything, we just checked what technology was around and tried to bring something to our city that could work.
Here some data on EVs in Colombia:
- Renault Twizy (don’t know why we call that a car…) — $13,000 USD
- Renault Zoe — $35,000 USD
- BYD Yuan — $30,000 USD
- Hyunday iMiev: $22,000 USD
- BMW i3: $50,000 USD
The GDP per capita of Colombia is $6,651 USD . You do the math. From my perspective, this type of prices make electric mobility non-accessible at all for countries like mine. So, instead of new cars we decided to look at conversions: the cost is $9,000 USD when we use the current car of the person and factor in what they save from oil, which actually pays for the conversion in the mid-run.
I continue to believe it is a solution worth exploring, so we we participated in Google LaunchPad: a great experience, very challenging as it made us thought of new ways to scale our impact. Then, recently C40 selected us as one of 15 startups around the world for Carbon Free Streets. We are attending C40 Mayors Summit next week in Copenhagen, Denmark. Let’s see if we get to pitch it in front of the mayors, maybe the one from my city actually listens… Will try to keep you posted on that.
Every day, I get to interact with amazing people, study them, understand their struggles, and enjoy their success… It is an amazing experience to be part of this community. That is my story, now we can finally get to the point where I share some advice:
- Start your days by getting something done
I start my days with an easy task to gain sense of achievement from the beginning and get myself in the game. A couple of emails that require information from me: sent; make your bed: done. I personally ride my bike to work… It really helps me as I play Pokemon Go along the way doing some strategic stops. Successful Pokemon Master.
If you want to be organized, you will know what you need to do every day of the week. My suggestion is to start with something simple to get in the mood; but if you are more of a free style player, just do something that will take you five to 10 minutes. If you can’t do little things, you will never be able to do big things.
2. Discipline is a choice: it can help you go through low moments
You can decide if you want to be on time, what time to wake up (certainly you can always snooze), and even to carry on with those tedious tasks of your daily life. In my sales and partnership roles, I wasn’t always on track with my goals, but a few years ago I discovered that my discipline to everyday call some prospect and build that proposal I was lazy to do, made me achieve my goals every year.
Habits can get you out of the moments when you lack motivation. If I would have decided that some proposals weren’t worth it, or if some emails to those wild card prospects hadn’t gotten sent: I wouldn’t have signed on as many partnerships as I did.
3. Failure is part of success, maybe the most important one
I have always laughed at those motivational quotes and articles of and about the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders; yet now I find myself saying that same point they all try to make (now, I know it sounds like I do read them, trust me I prefer to read comics, I learn more there): do things and learn from your experience to make it better the next time.
The brewery, remember? Failed. Not committed, team was not feeling it, maybe more of a hobby. It went down, but I learned and I keep learning every day. That failure helped me invest myself every day in my two startups to change the world.
4. Science can take you from A to B, imagination can take you anywhere
You can always follow the textbook on how to do whatever your job needs, do what others do, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, science is a totally viable option (I used it multiple times); but imagination will bring a lot of fun to your day-to-day.
Thinking about ways to do something a little better is how we go from 100 to 105. Yet planning how we do something 10 times better, or how we reverse climate change, is what brings the best ideas. Imagine all the possibilities and crazy ideas that will come. There is a lot of fun in the ‘what ifs.’
Medellin is no Amsterdam. We do not have the same amount of money, not the same culture… but, we have got some great ideas and new approaches. For example, my work with car conversions. I wanted to make a cheaper option for our markets. Then I imagined: What if we aim for a thousand cars converted each year? Each quarter? Why not?
5. Believe in those around you. African proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
I have been part of some great things in my life. Met great people that I will join forces with again if the opportunity shows.
At Impact Hub, I have truly let myself embody what a team stands for. Those around me challenge me to be better for me, for them, for the world. I support them to be great, because I have seen their best.
6. Be yourself and no one can say you are doing it wrong
Society has many expectations towards each one of us, but when you break down society, what is it? The sum of each one of us.
What I found to have been the most important lesson of all is to always remain true to who you are. You will always have something to come back to, you know why you are doing what you are doing and who you like to spend time with.
Being yourself is the greatest asset you have. And, save earth, it is the only planet with beer. Thanks!