Saturday, 6 December 2014

The End

My Green Sense Tour is over. 11 months of learning, meeting inspiring people and finding my own path. The end; a moment to look back. The end: a new start. 

The Journey passed by in Darmstadt, Kassel,
Zurich (picture) and Wageningen
The final part of my Green Sense Tour was a Summer School on climate change and entrepreneurship. Five weeks. Lectures, site visits and workshops on climate change and entrepreneurship. 43 talented young people. The mission: develop an idea for a climate-related start-up and write a business plan. I had high expectations of the Climate-KIC Summer School. Even tough, things were different than I had expected, it was a wonderful period. It felt great to follow a set programme and to, for once, go with the flow. I was amazed by the close group of friends all 43 people became in the end. I learned a lot. About my group dynamics. About changing behavior of people. About myself. About start-ups.

The End

And so the end has come of a very intense period of travelling, meeting amazing people and learning. I’m grateful for all the good, helpful and inspiring people which I’ve met on the road. I’m grateful for the interesting projects I could do at Yesilist, Enactus, Canari Frigo and Confitures Re-Belles. I’m grateful to have been emerged in the world of MakeSense, with its gangsters and hold-ups. I’m grateful for the opportunities I got to inspire other people, to steer positive action and to unite people around a common cause. Lastly, I’m very happy that I realized the goal of my Green Sense Tour: find a need and opportunity to start my own sustainable business. 

The four projects of my Green Sense Tour:
Yesilist, Enactus Morocco, Canari Frigo and Confitures Re-Belles.

A New Start: Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network

In the final months of my journey, the idea of my own start-up was born. When meeting entrepreneurs who tackle food waste across Europe, I saw a need and opportunity to connect these pioneers in a network. Shortly after coming back, Alice and I  (on the picture) decided to join forces to make to start the Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network. We have been working on it for three months now. It has been a rollercoaster of making a strategy, trying things, changing our plan and meeting many enthusiast entrepreneurs and changemakers. Check out our website or like us on Facebook

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Last Journey

It was cold and it started raining a bit. I put on my big-thumb white glove. After a few minutes a big car with a nice American driver stopped. He was going to Luxembourg. That was October 2013. Nine months of hitchhiking, meeting sustainable entrepreneurs, experiencing kindness and learning by doing. I’m keeping the best for last. Sunday 3 August I’m hitchhiking to Darmstadt (Germany) for theJourney – the last journey of my Green Sense Tour.

TheJourney is a five-week summer school on climate change and entrepreneurship organized by Climate-KIC. For five weeks I’ll live and learn together with an international crowd of young people passionate about climate change. The goal: get to know environmental problems more in-depth and find solutions through entrepreneurship.

We aren’t staying at one place! TheJourney  takes place in 3 countries. The programme: Darmstadt (Germany, 1 week), Kassel (Germany, 1week), Zürich (Switzerland, 2 weeks) and Wageningen (the Netherlands, 1 week). TheJourney is fully funded by the organization. My tight travelling budget is very grateful for that fact.

Even though it already has been a heavy and exciting year, I’m really looking forward to these five weeks. On the one hand I believe I will meet and work with amazing people. As I experience each time when I meet people of MakeSense and talk with them about social entrepreneurship, having a shared passion creates mutual understanding and results in friendships.

On the other hand, I hope to develop the idea I want to pursue for the coming months and years. I want to start a network for Food Waste Entrepreneurs – read more about it in my previous post here. This network will facilitate collaboration and exchange between those entrepreneurs and support them to develop faster. The mission: reducing food waste one venture at a time. TheJourney comes at exactly the right moment. It will give me the tools, input and inspiration to develop the idea, sharpen its value and make it ready to start.

Questions about theJourney? Want to participate in 2015? Read more about it here

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Green Sense Tour goes Food Waste

Ertvelde, May 2013. I’m climbing over the fence of a supermarket in my village. Two black containers in front of me. Amazed I look at their content. Both of them are full of fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, bread, dairy products and even chocolate. Some of the fruits are a bit too ripe, the bread is one day old, the chocolate passed its due date. The bigger part of this food is still perfect for human consumption. I wish I had taken a bigger bag to save more of this food, which will be wasted the next day.

The next weeks and months my indignation about food waste grows. I keep thinking about a structural solution for all this food getting wasted every day. I bump into Rubies in the Rubble, a social enterprise in London making jam from would-be wasted fruits while employing long-term unemployed people. ‘Brilliant! Someone is doing this already, so it is possible!’ I consider starting a similar business right away in Belgium. In the end I decide to start my Green Sense Tour to gain experience and ideas.

May 2014. After 8 months of travelling, the idea of Rubies in the Rubble is still on my mind. I get in contact with the ladies of Confitures Re-Belles from Paris. Inspired by their involvement in Disco Soupe, they too are starting a social business to make jam from would-be wasted fruits. We decide that I will help them out with their challenges. While working with them I notice that they can advance hugely by gaining inspiration from existing Food Waste Entrepreneurs.

Food Waste Entrepreneurs? Yes, all around Europe more and more social entrepreneurs see food waste as an opportunity - check out the map hereunder to see who and where they are. Some examples. Snact uses surplus fruits to make healthy snacks. STAM, the first outlet grocery of the Netherlands, resells all kinds of products which other shops cannot sell anymore at lower prices. The Real Junk Food Project, has a restaurant running 100% on food waste and volunteers; people pay as they can. And there are many more in Europe and abroad – check out the map for an overview.

While talking to these food waste entrepreneurs, I notice that these people are pioneering. They are experimenting with business models, recipes and ways to convey their message. Some of them struggle with one aspect of their business whereas others already found a solution to those challenges. There’s a lot of room to learn from one another.

That’s how the idea came to unite food waste entrepreneurs in a learning network. This network will be a platform for food waste entrepreneurs to exchange best practices, collaborate and increase their pace of development. There could be many other potential functions and benefits of such a network like a food waste label, lobbying, common sourcing of food waste, a European accelerator to support food waste entrepreneurs etc.

Check out the map of Food Waste Entrepreneurs in Europe. Legenda. Green=movements; red=entrepreneurs.

Thus I’m starting the next adventure: setting up a network of Food Waste Entrepreneurs. The first step: travelling through Europe to meet all these amazing food waste heroes. Green Sense Tour goes Food Waste. On my itinerary: UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Swiss and France. It’s amazing to see the idealism, motivation and genuine concern of the entrepreneurs. It’s inspiring to see how they turn waste into an opportunity.

Stay tuned on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to check out the Food Waste Entrepreneurs I meet on my travels.


Note December 2014: In the meanwhile, I have in effect started the Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network which aims to connect food surplus entrepreneurs, charities and changemakers in order to facilitate exchange and collaboration. Read more on our website, Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Canari Frigo: learning by doing

In April 2014 I worked at Canari Frigo, a small social enterprise selling clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. I worked with the team on marketing, sales, finance and strategy. The story of four intense weeks.

Ever heard of a clay pot cooler? It is a natural fridge which doesn't use electricity. For people who live in a hot climate in developing countries, it can make a huge difference by conserving fruits and vegetables, medicines or cooling water. Read more about the product here

In April 2014 I worked for one month with a young team of four Burkinese entrepreneurs who sell Canari Frigos, the local name for the clay pot cooler. The Canari Frigo team consists of Faiçal (22), Hamed (22), Yacouba (25) and Oumarou (26); the team operates in Ouahigouya, a small town in the North of Burkina Faso. A few months earlier, Movement e.V., the German NGO who developed the technology of the clay pot cooler at Burkina Faso, had launched Canari Frigo as a social enterprise.

The Canari Frigo team. From right to left:
Oumarou, Faiçal, Yacouba, Hamed and Joris

I came there with a mission to help out on marketing and sales to boost the number of sold Canari Frigos. Upon arrival we set out a vision and mission (a why and a how) with the Canari Frigo team. The why: ‘Let’s improve our living circumstances!’ The how: ‘Canari Frigo, our new way of saving’. From the first days, it became clear that the lack of sales of the last months wasn’t just due to a lack of efforts or knowledge on marketing and sales. The team simply didn’t have enough incentive to invest a lot of time into promoting their product. After all, they felt the profit margin per sold Canari Frigo was not high enough to live from.

It made me realize how different life in Burkina Faso is. Faiçal, Hamed, Yacouba and Oumarou are very motivated to help the population of Burkina Faso to go forward, but they all have their own heavy responsibilities. The story of Hamed is telling. A few years ago he had to quit school because, being the oldest son, he became responsible for his family. Each day he has to think how he will get the money to feed his family, allow his siblings to go to school and be prepared when his grandmother falls ill. In other words, if the team could hardly earn enough for themselves and their families, how would they be able to invest time in their social enterprise?

So we started working simultaneously on marketing, sales and finance. We surveyed different target groups, tried out different ways of promoting our product and searched for a feasible promotion in the long term. Eventually, we came to a baseline strategy with regard to promotion:
  • Selling and promoting our Canari Frigos on the busy vegetable market on Sunday morning.
  • Demonstration sessions in the neighbourhood, each time an installation of a Canari Frigo takes place.

Demonstration session in the neighbourhood: how to install a Canari Frigo?
The children were delighted to to help adding the sand in between the two clay pots. 

On the financial plan, we tried to increase the profit margin (=price-costs) for the team mainly by lowering the costs. When talking to people in Ouahigouya, we noticed that raising the price was out of the question. So we mainly focused on lowering the costs. This was a great source of motivation for the team.

Unfortunately, during my stay, sales stayed low. Many people saw the benefits of the product, appreciated the vision and mission of the team, but just would not take the risk of buying a product of 9000F CFA (14 euro) which they don’t know. The lack in sales, the intensity of the work and personal matters led to tensions in the team. A few times I had to solve conflicts within the team. Sometimes there were conflicts between myself and other team members. Indeed, I had tough moments in Burkina Faso.

Luckily, I had an amazing group of supporters behind me. As explained in this post, I was in close communication with a group of people who know the region, know the Canari Frigo team, have experience as an entrepreneur or simply wanted to contribute. They backed me with advice, ideas and moral support. A big thank you to Sandrine, Jan, Jan, Ilyas, Vera, Jasmien, Ruben, Peter, Michael, Sam, Rose and Karolien!

The project with Canari Frigo was definitely the biggest challenge of my Green Sense Tour and perhaps of my life. The cultural difference, the lack of sales, the intensity of the work combined with living together with the team members made it a tough experience. However, looking back I can only be happy I went through this experience. I learned a lot about development through social business, about human relationships, about group dynamics, about cultural differences and about myself. Seeing the world from a broader perspective, I feel ready for the next steps of my journey. 

A Canari Frigo cooling water.
A valid alternative for the zillion of plastic bags
 people buy to drink chilled water.
Note: Movement e.V., the NGO who started the Canari Frigo project, works hard to transfer the knowled in order to enable the dissemination of this appropriate technology. For more information, contact Peter Rinker or read the Canari Frigo manual in English, French or German

Friday, 7 March 2014

Canari Frigo wants YOU

7 March - Slowly I’m approaching the country where I will do my next project. I’m travelling by bus and by hitchhiking. 5500 km. I am on my way to Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso I will help Canari Frigo. Canari Frigo is a small social enterprise selling clay pot coolers (called Canari Frigos) in Ouahigouya, a small town in the North of Burkina Faso. Such a Canari Frigo allows preserving fruits, vegetables and medicines. Fruits and vegetables in Burkina Faso decay fast because of the heat – temperatures vary between 30 and 45 °C. A Canari

Canari Frigo

The development of the product Canari Frigo in Burkina Faso was steered by a German NGO, Movement e.V. Inspired by the success of the concept in Nigeria they have been developing the clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso since 2009. In October 2013, Peter Rinker, a member of Movement formed a social enterprise around the Canari Frigo. He set up the production and formed a team of four young Burkinese guys who all work part time for Canari Frigo.

My mission will be to increase the sales of the Canari Frigo. Because of the novelty of the product in Burkina Faso, it is not well-known yet. People know clay pots as a container for filling water, not as a way to cool food. People need to see the Canari Frigo to be convinced. I will be collaborating with the team and with the local NGO ‘Movement Burkina Faso’. We will be working on this challenge during April. I’m really looking forward to it, as it will be the first time I will be co-running a social business.

The Canari Frigo consists of two clay pots of different sizes which fit in each other. Earth and water is added in the space between the two clay pots. In the inner clay pot, fruits and vegetables can be added. Because of the evaporation of the water in between the two clay pots, warmth is withdrawn from the inner clay pot, which results in a cooler temperature (between 13-22°C).


I need your help! I am very motivated to help this amazing social business to the fullest. Furthermore I want to learn as much as possible. Therefore I am looking for a group of bright minds who want to help me with this challenge from a distance. I will ask this group for coaching, suggestions and input with regard to:
- Marketing and sales (strategies and practical tips)
- The culture of Burkina Faso (or West-Africa in general)
- Creative ideas to overcome constraints
- Personal feedback

I want to communicate closely with this group by means of email. I will send at least one email per week to get inputs. To be clear: participants should not feel obliged to answer each mail. Together we will tackle the challenge of Canari Frigo. 

Do you want to be part of this exciting journey? Send me an email on this address and join this mailing list.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sustainable innovation with Enactus Morocco

The second project on my Green Sense Tour was with Enactus Morocco. Enactus is an international student organization which empowers students to take entrepreneurial action in order to bring positive social and environmental change. Adnane and Touria, two of the driving forces behind Enactus Morocco, asked me to develop a workshop which would tackle the following needs of these amazing student entrepreneurs:
  • Teach students to start from an existing need rather than from an existing innovation
  • Give them a true understanding of sustainability
  • Provide them with an easy step-by-step tool to go through the innovation process

In a week of intensive work I developed the workshop. Correction. I co-developed the workshop with the help of several friends around the world. Especially my two friends called Jan and Jan, Benoit and a bunch of other MakeSense Gangsters gave me valuable inputs. What came out was an open-source workshop. You can read its description hereunder: 

Sustainable innovations in ABCD

The workshop will be a practical and interactive journey to learn how to create an innovative solution starting from an existing need, keeping sustainability criteria on the forefront. Some things in life can be almost as easy as ABC and so is the tool presented: it is called ABCD.

ABCD stands for the four phases of the tool. In the (A) ‘Awareness phase’, we understand the need, the context, the current solution and its dynamics. In the (B) ‘Baseline assessment phase’, we look at today’s reality by analyzing where violations of the principles for sustainability occur by the current solution. On the basis of this, we get to work in the (C) ‘Create solutions phase’. By digging into the problem, we identify potential solutions. In the (D) ‘Decide on priorities phase’ we evaluate the ideas developed in (C), prioritize them and think of how our solution looks like in the most basic form (minimal viable product).

Together we will tackle a real-life challenge of housing in a village in Burkina Faso. Because of deforestation and climate change, there is no wood available anymore for traditional housing. People are forced to live in low-quality, badly insulated and unsafe houses for which the materials deprive them from much-needed money for schooling, health and food. During the workshop we will apply the ABCD-tool together on this challenge. Also, there will be time to apply the tool in each team on the team’s challenge.

A few of the participants
of the first workshop in Casablanca
Throughout January I travelled around Morocco with this workshop. I gave it in 5 cities: Casablanca, Rabat, Settat, Fes and Tanger. Each time I gave the workshop I asked for feedback of the participants, asked for input from my co-creators and integrated the improvements for the next workshop. The final workshop in Tanger clearly was the best one. Not only there was a great atmosphere with a lot of participants, also the process and the content of the workshop was the most streamlined and fun. 

Watch the final presentation here: 

In each of the cities I took the time to meet the project teams and to help them with more personal advice on their environmentally related project. This advice was about the general concept of specific project, project management and community building. What I experienced was a variety of inventive projects, of amazingly driven student teams and the incredible Moroccan hospitality in many different ways. 

The Enactus team of FST Settat
treated me on an amazing couscous

Enactus Morocco has 62 student teams around the country. Each of those teams has one to six projects. The total number of Moroccan students involved exceeds 2000. Enactus is an engine of development for Morocco. I believe that in three to five years this will result in an amazing new generation of social entrepreneurs who will be working to make Morocco a better place. 

  • Co-creation is more fun, effective and efficient.
  • Enactus is a perfect way to create change and to ‘create’ social entrepreneurs.
  • In order to empower students in an entrepreneurial process it is best to start from an existing need and to search a solution for that need. 
  • Moroccan hospitality is unbeatable. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sustainable entrepreneurship in Turkey

Turkey is well-known for its many small family-owned businesses. Unfortunately, “Turkey and sustainable entrepreneurship” still sounds like a contradiction. However, while Turkey’s economy is expanding, the ecological challenges are growing as well. What follows is a brief outlook on ecological awareness, entrepreneurship in general as well as opportunities and challenges regarding sustainable entrepreneurship.

Muzaffer Ekin Sisli, an environmental activist in Istanbul, divides Turkish society in three distinct categories: “First there are the village people, who live in close connection to nature, leaving only a small footprint. Second there are people living in the cities, who generally don’t care about sustainability. The third group is actively aware of sustainability. They represent only a small minority of people, mostly living in urban areas.” The latter group is slowly growing but has not yet reached a critical mass. 

Sustainable awareness

Nature conservation and organic food are the two main fields of sustainable awareness in Turkey. Jeremy Pingul, a sustainable entrepreneur in Istanbul, explains: “Most Turks have a family in the countryside, in the mountains or by the sea. This makes them connected to nature and makes them aware of the importance of fresh and good food.” 

In general though, Turkish people lack holistic understanding of sustainability. People who care about the environment may still throw their cigarette away in nature. The majority of society doesn’t understand that whatever you buy, consume or throw away has an impact on the planet. Joachim Behrendt, professor of entrepreneurship and business angel in Turkey, believes this attitude even persists on the macro level: “Turkey is a developing country. Turks don’t believe they can afford sustainability. So they buy a big nuclear power plant.”


Nesen and Patrick of Stage-Co.
Are Turkish people good at starting businesses? Absolutely. Behrendt illustrates: “Turks have a genuine ability to take the risk to start a small business; they are good at trade, negotiation and making money.” 

Are Turkish people entrepreneurs? Here the answer is no. An entrepreneur is an innovator, whereas Turkish people who start a business mostly copy rather than innovate. Neşen Yucel, co-founder of the Turkish startup platform Stage-Co, says that when starting a business, “Turks copy what is good hoping they will have the same success. They don’t really add something new to the idea.” The explanation for this lack of innovation is threefold. 

Firstly, tradition and habits are very important in the life of the average Turk. Aysu Erdoğdu, a young Turkish social entrepreneur, adds: “We are crowded and connected. When you change someone, you need to change a whole community.” People are taught to do what has been done before. Society doesn’t appreciate deviant behaviour. Secondly and more in specific there is a risk-averseness from new ideas and business concepts. Jeremy Pingul explains: “People need a proof of concept before they start their own business, because they are afraid of failure.” 

Thirdly, the educational system does not encourage creativity. Students are forced to memorize large amounts of information in order to pass the final exam for university. Once they are allowed to go to a good university, they generally don’t pursue their passion, but start the most prestigious education their score allows them to do. This is what both their family and society expect from them. 


Aysu Erdoğdu of Eşya Kütüphanesi
Where do opportunities lie for green entrepreneurs? Earlier, we identified that organic food and nature conservation are the two themes which enjoy the most awareness. However, both of them are challenging sectors for entrepreneurs. To start with, the topic of nature conservation is covered mostly by NGOs in Turkey. Next, there are companies who produce organic food, though the really big ones mostly focus on Europe. The small ones struggle to survive because of the unaware market and skepticism about organic labeling. For both sectors, the challenge is to find profitable business models.

Yet there is hope. The government recently acknowledged the importance of renewable energy and has raised support as a response to the rising demand for energy. Because of Turkey’s vast size and its favorable geographic location, both wind energy and solar energy have the potential to become an important contributor towards energy security. 


Furthermore, unlike in Europe or the US, not everything has been tried yet in Turkey. Most green sectors are still underdeveloped. So there is an opportunity to implement sustainable business models which have demonstrated their success in Europe or the US. One can easily imagine the potential of waste management and energy efficiency in Turkey. Eco-tourism could be profitable as well, as there is a steady flow of European (environmentally-aware) tourists visiting Turkey. 

Of course, there are barriers which entrepreneurs should keep in mind. As mentioned earlier, there is a general lack of environmental awareness. Furthermore, people don’t understand the concept of social business. In their mind, you are either an NGO, fighting for a better world or you are a company whose sole goal is to make money. As people consider sustainable businesses as NGOs, they generally are not prepared to pay for their services.

As a matter of fact, one of the biggest barriers is that there is no specific legal structure for social enterprises. Anja Koenig, a researcher at Sabancı University, further mentions the need for tax exemptions, subsidies and the possibility of donations. Aysu Erdoğdu adds that support specific to social entrepreneurs could make a big difference: “The government has funds to establish businesses, but they are mostly geared towards high-tech companies and small family businesses.” 


With the goal of the Turkish government to be a top-10 economy in 2023, growth is the key word. It leaves the country with a number of growing ecological challenges. If innovation is rather rare in Turkish society, who can overcome the barriers and pioneer the much needed green innovation in Turkey? 

James Halliday, initiator of the HUB Istanbul, sees an essential role for foreigners and Turkish people who have lived abroad. “Repatriates and expatriates are able to think out of the Turkish box. They can be a major force for true innovation by bringing ideas to Turkey.” And what about the people living in the Turkish countryside? Can they give inspiration to the urban part of society to take up ventures in harmony with the environment? One thing is encouraging: once there are a few examples of successful sustainable entrepreneurs, a successful business model can spread through Turkey like wildfire. Bright minds, where are you?


Big thanks to Yannick, Sven, Pauline, Karolien, Pieter, Jonathan, Joseph and Vera for the feedback. Big thanks to the people who I could interview. 

This article was published earlier in Dutch on