Energy Well Spent
Illustration by Kamen Kamenov
Impact Hub Berlin is part of a global network of places where people not simply work together, but towards a common goal — creating change that would make life better for all of us. Nele Kapretz, as a managing director, knows a lot about social entrepreneurship and combining business and sustainability in a meaningful way. Here is what she shares with us.
Tell us a little about yourself: your childhood, your education, etc.
I grew up in West Berlin and went to an international French school. I did a BA in international events management at London Metropolitan University.
My first job was in marketing, but
After some consideration, I quit my job and went to work on organic farms in Japan where I soon found out I wanted to do something more purposeful with my life.
When I came back to Germany, I went on to study sustainable resource management in Munich, after which I decided I wanted to combine business and sustainability in a meaningful way.
I believe that if we really want to change anything in the world we need to combine business with sustainability. I first came across the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR), but I found it too limiting. Then I met one of the co-founders of Impact Hub Zurich, and I realized that
Can you tell us a little more about Impact Hub, how did this idea start and where was the first location?
Impact Hub is the world’s largest network of social innovation spaces. It started in London in 2005 and since then has grown to 80+ locations across 5 continents organized in a democratic structure. Today we have over 15,000 members that work on solving societal problems through entrepreneurial means.
In a nutshell —
Is there something that sets Impact Hub Berlin apart from the other locations?
Impact Hub Berlin is at the heart of Europe, in the thriving startup capital where everyone is working towards the big exit making lots of money. But we are always thinking about the purpose behind each business.
Impact Hub Berlin is rooted in design thinking, and we have no fear of failure. We have a user-centered approach to every aspect of our work, whether it’s building an Impact Hub, designing a program, or bringing different stakeholders together.
We are a curious Impact Hub, and we are always pushing the edges of the global network.
What are some of the recent Impact Hub Berlin initiatives?
Recently we’ve been working a lot with the German development agency GIZ to disrupt development cooperation by bringing businesses and local needs to the table in order to generate new business models. We’ve tackled global challenges like access to medicine and reducing food waste in Kenya, and increasing tax revenues in Zambia.
Locally, we also engage in leadership training with corporates like the BMW Group where we enable top leaders to act more creatively and innovatively while considering the wider social implications of their work.
The underlying question we are trying to address is: what can innovation do for society?
What are the conditions to become a member of the Impact Hub?
We always check for 3 criteria: community fit, project fit, and personal fit.
Community fit is how we curate our community, so we have a diversity of entrepreneurs and cross-sector approaches to solving societal issues.
Project fit is if the individual is working in a sustainable or social field.
Personal fit is if the individual is looking to collaborate and engage with the community, or if they’re just looking for a desk to work on.
Given your background in sustainable resource management, would you define co-working spaces as more sustainable than regular offices? What are the other positive sides of them and are they any negative ones?
The advantages of a co-working space are the collective resources.
What sets us apart from other co-working spaces is our approach to sustainability. Our furniture is cradle-to-cradle, upcycled, and we use local wood wherever possible for any new build. Our suppliers are in line with our sustainability criteria.
The biggest benefit of being in a co-working space is the community. You can get mental and professional support from the people around you, and it’s a more human place to work. Social entrepreneurs often face the same challenges, and this is the community for peer-to-peer support.
Why do you think co-working spaces are getting bigger and bigger as a concept? Is it the need to belong to a community of like-minded people?
We see a decline in traditional, 9 to 5 employment. The trends of individualization of the workforce and the rise of startup culture have created a need for different types of infrastructure — social and physical.
A co-working space provides the flexible work environment which enables a diversity of people to come together and the safe space to connect.
You must be quite busy, but what do you like to do in your free time, what are your hobbies?
I like to travel, to experience new cultures, tastes and see the world from a different angle. My favorite thing to do is to go hiking in the mountains or cycle around Berlin.
I feel that the political climate in the world is changing, and I wonder what we can do about it. How can we influence the current developments in a positive way? How can we, as Impact Hubs, become platforms for our local communities to gather and address these questions together? How can we create solutions with unlikely allies, and truly reach across the table?