Climathon Khartoum 2019

Spreading Impact: How We Work To Change The Future

Leon Reiner is the co-founder and Managing Director of Impact Hub Berlin. During the concluding plenary session of the political symposium at the European Forum Alpbach, Leon spoke to a distinguished international audience, which included the former President of Austria Heinz Fischer, about the collaboration and cooperation that occurs daily in Impact Hubs all over the world and why this is necessary to bring about positive change in the future.

“In a city like Berlin, the opportunity to work with different organizations is huge.”

Leon Reiner at EFAUsing Berlin as an example of an Impact Hub, Leon spoke about how before the founding of Impact Hub Berlin, the city’s start-up scene was in its nascent stages. Leon and his colleagues noticed how there wasn’t a space that would bring together the entrepreneurs who think about things differently and do things differently. While co-working spaces already existed, the concept of collective innovation, of working together to create new solutions to the problems that plague the city of Berlin, had yet to be fully harnessed and exploited. Fast-forward three years, Impact Hub Berlin is now thriving with over 200 members with a variety of different backgrounds. From employees at global companies to entrepreneurs who are in the start-up scene, to the next generation of students, everyone at Impact Hub Berlin is driven to make the world a better place through their belief and commitment to the ideals and values of social entrepreneurship.

In order to further deepen the bonds between organizations, Impact Hubs across the world forge partnerships with large corporations and educational institutions to build acceleration programs that foster the innovation and collaboration that is increasingly necessary to solve problems. Through these programs and partnerships, Impact Hub creates the opportunity for different organizations who wouldn’t normally work with one another, to come together and tackle all kinds of issues such as equal rights and climate change. The success of these initiatives is visible and undeniable.

Everyone can see how proximity, the chance to work eye-to-eye, and the bringing together of people works. The European Forum Alpbach is a perfect example. But the constraint of time is ever present and there’s never enough time in this kind of environment to make measurable progress. It’s a small intervention at best. To solve this issue, Impact Hub creates the opportunity for organizations of all sizes to take the necessary time to really go deep on problems and continually iterate until a solution is found.

The vision for the future is to create something on the size and scale that is capable of tackling the increasingly complex problems that face the world. As these problems grow larger, Impact Hub will grow accordingly. Picture a local campus of innovation in every city, where organizations of all sizes can stay, and work on problems. They will be connected to a supportive global network that facilitates the exchange of knowledge, whose mission is to bring forth a brighter future for everyone.


Image source: European Forum Alpbach Flickr

Using the power of the sun to save lives

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 2 billion people use a contaminated source of drinking water. Waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid affect around 700 million people. Billions of euros are spent each and every year to treat sufferers of these illnesses. To combat this problem, Helioz’s mission is simple: to provide clean drinking water to those who need it.

“We use the power of the sun to disinfect water.”

Martin Wesian is the Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Helioz, a social enterprise and certified B Corporation, whose purpose is to develop innovative solutions to the direst issues facing society today.

Helioz has developed a solar powered UV measurement device called WADI, which stands for water disinfection. It visualizes the process of solar water disinfection in PET bottles. The process is simple. Fill the PET bottles with water. Put the bottles and WADI out in the sun. Wait a few hours. When a smiley face appears on WADI’s display, the water is safe to drink.

Martin Wesian.png

Helioz has projects all over the world and the results are undeniable. In areas where WADIs are being used, there has been an 80% reduction in waterborne diseases. And the observable benefits are not only health related–there has also been an increase in children’s school attendance of 40% in project areas.

Helioz’s WADI doesn’t only save lives–it revolutionizes the way clean drinking water can be delivered in a sustainable and cost-effective way. Currently, the most common method of disinfecting water continues to be boiling it using either wood or gas. By harnessing the natural power of the sun and reducing the need to boil water for disinfection purposes, the use of a WADI results in an emission reduction of 1-3 tons of carbon a year.

Helioz is based in Impact Hub Vienna and currently has 15 projects, in 14 countries, affecting 8,000 households and 56,000 people. The current use of WADIs has contributed to a reduction of 9,600 tons of carbon emissions. The science is sound and the positive effects are beyond doubt; Helioz is a company on the forefront–they are the new vanguard of business using technology to reinvent how we work, why we work, and what we can achieve if we have commitment, ideals, and values.


Helioz’s work to revolutionize access to clean drinking water in a cost-effective way contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):


Think beyond (un)employment

Beyond …

… un(employment)

… convening

… bottom-up change

… learning

… collaboration

… solutions.

It began by asking how we, the Impact Hub Global team could design a program that aims to tackle unemployment, not with the typical top-down approach but instead by encouraging solutions led by citizens themselves.

We envisioned it with very simple ingredients:

Take 20 participants, two phases, twelve 3-hour sessions, facilitators and one local theme for each city. Add five Impact Hubs (BirminghamFlorenceMoscowYerevan, and Zagreb) that deeply care about their communities and gather the participants of this year-long journey. Run the program simultaneously in five locations, giving the Impact Hubs not only regular opportunities to compare approaches, learnings, and challenges, but also allowing all participants to gain a better understanding of unemployment across borders.

Beyond (un)employment is the largest convening program that the Impact Hub global team has ever developed, and is based on a process of collectively learning and working towards system-wide solutions. Here, convening refers to bringing a group of diverse individuals together to learn, discuss, and define solutions. It creates the space for deep bonding between group members, leads to open and intimate conversation, thoughtful questioning of assumptions, out-of-the-box thinking and connections with unlikely allies.


Local Themes

A local theme to attract individuals interested in this specific challenge was vital, giving each group direction and providing an anchor for the conversation. Each Impact Hub was asked what local unemployment challenge is the most pressing and holds the most opportunities for creating collaborative impact. Impact Hubs chose the following themes:

  • Understanding persistent & increasing youth unemployment (Florence & Zagreb)
  • The future of employment in a regional UK city post-Brexit (Birmingham)
  • The exclusion of over-50s from employment options (Moscow)
  • The creation of alternative models of employment and business (Yerevan).

We use the term (un)employment because the conversation was just as much about employment as it was about unemployment — one can’t be discussed without the other.


The participants

Some participants were invited by their local Impact Hubs, while others were attracted by an open invitation put out on social media to attract unexpected participation. The Impact Hubs’ challenge was to create a diverse group which goes beyond the usual suspects and represents a combination of  social entrepreneurs, students, corporate/HR executives, academics, foundations, intermediaries, government and civil service workers, and citizens simply interested in their local theme.


The background of participants interested in joining the program were quite diverse, for example, in Moscow, where students joined to tackle the social exclusion experienced by their parents’ generation. Others wanted to network and meet people with similar interests; some simply wanted to be part of something bigger. New members joined at all stages — and in many cases, external experts asked to join beyond (un)employment after being invited to speak at a session.


The discovery phase

From April-July 2017, the groups were given time to explore the intricacies and interconnections of the local system surrounding their (un)employment issue.

Reflect on three experiences or people who have shaped your outlook on work.pngThe first phase used stories and statistics to take them on a journey through the history and root causes of unemployment, then moved into the present by inviting people to share their (un)employment experiences, and, finally, considered the future by discussing possible trends and predictions. Through this process, the group challenged their assumptions and perspectives about the reality of unemployment by discussing, listening and giving a voice to those who are too often talked about and not included in the conversation.

Many answers to the question of unemployment have already been found, so one focus was to learn from these successes and failures — close and far — and to explore the crucial elements, turning points and outcomes of these. Lastly, the spotlight fell on the responsibility of individuals, institutions, policymakers and other stakeholders within our systems — questioning what roles they now hold and what roles they could or should play.

The solutions development phase

We hoped that this initially broad but increasingly focussed process would light a fire within each participant for a specific aspect of (un)employment. These are the topics the groups are now focussing on in the solution development phase, which started in September and runs until December. Since we believe that bottom-up change is the only long-term approach for solving challenges, we ensured that the participants have room to include their passion, their story and their dreams for a future without unemployment.

This sense of ownership is key to creating solutions that will be taken forward by the group members. Building on their individual strengths, they will jointly design solutions and create practical action plans. These teams will be incubated in 2018 to pilot their ideas and — if proven impactful — to then implement them for the long term.


Sharing the learnings

You can read about each group’s journey and insights into their local (un)employment challenges and findings — as well as Impact Hubs learnings on convening as an approach — by downloading our white paper:  ‘Convening & Collaborating With and for Cities’.

Stay tuned for our next blog post, which will share a glimpse into the groups’ discoveries.