Each month, one of our oikos alumni shares their fascinating journey. From the first time they recognized the need for more sustainability in their degree to their motivation to join oikos; from their first career plans to their everyday lives as agents of sustainable business and economics. Read their accounts on this page.
The oikos Alumni Portraits first appear in the oikos Newsletter. Scroll to the bottom of this page to subscribe to our Newsletter or contact us, if you would like your portrait to be shared with the oikos community.
I have come across oikos in 2011, while I was in Dhaka doing research on social business’ best practices. Oikos felt immediately like a cheerful yet commited community I wanted to be part of.
I founded oikos Lille in 2012 at Edhec Business School, and joined some memorable oikos events: Barcelona Spring Meeting and St. Gallen FutureLab in 2012, Maastricht Spring Meeting in 2013 – cheers to those who were there and are reading this!
What made oikos an amazing student organization were its people. Pretty much all the oikees whom I met were engaged in sustainability-related challenges, such as: how can we make our university campus more environmentally friendly? How can we efficiently grow fruits and vegetables in urban areas? How can we make students aware of the fashion industry’s social impact?
I find oikos members to be driven by sustainability ideals, yet reasonable enough to rely on existing structures such as business schools, start-up incubators, government institutions, to make a change.
Oikos has definitely contributed to forge my leadership and project management skills, that I took into my professional life. In the last few years I worked both in the corporate world (Swarovki, Nissan) and in innovation consulting (Innosight). More recently, I founded my own company, Filanda n. 18. Filanda n.18 is a fashion label that aims at preserving traditional textiles from across the world and supporting the artisans behind. For the fashionistas out there, check the Instagram channel.
Having said that, the biggest oikos take-away are the friends that I made. Oikos is an amazing network of thought provoking and open-minded individuals who are always there to support each other. And here comes the time to walk the talk: if you would like to discuss any sustainable fashion projects or any career-related topics, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I am always available for an in-person or virtual coffee. Seriously, don’t be a stranger!
The chapter of my life which was very much defined by oikos opened in 2011, when I was in the first year of my master’s studies in International Economics and I started the local oikos organization at Corvinus University of Budapest with a group of friends.
Later that year, I moved abroad to carry out internships. As I was no longer in Budapest to carry on with the local chapter activities, I applied to join the international oikos Executive Board in December.
Having been part of the EB for two years, I have met some of the most inspiring people in the world! Friendships, great discussions and the strong commitment of the oikos crowd to make change happen – no matter whether we were in Georgia, Prague, Maastricht or St. Gallen – is what I remember most vividly. Together with chapter presidents, we also initiated oikos fashion, an online learning circle and webinar series on sustainability in the textile industry with renowned international speakers. This was a project that made me realize the huge potential that oikos, as an international network connecting highly trained and ambitious young people from all over the world, holds.
My experience in the oikos EB, where I was mainly responsible for keeping in touch with the chapter members and facilitating information exchange in the network, has surely played a part in the fact that fueled by my interest in purpose-driven communication, I started working in the field of PR and Communications as a consultant.
Later, in 2016, I was hired by E.ON in Hungary to help launch the company’s flagship CSR project, an annual sustainability award program and I have been working there as a Communications Specialist ever since.
To this day, oikos remains a source of inspiration to me through my encounters with former members. It is always rewarding to discuss our ongoing plans, so if there are any ideas or projects you would like to talk about, drop me an email, I’d be happy to hear from you!
Nora was a founding member of oikos Budapest in 2010-2011 and a member of the oikos Executive Board between 2011-2013.
I found oikos by a sheer coincidence while searching for a student organization to join as a freshman at the Warsaw School of Economics. The international reach and the focus on sustainability in economics and management, a topic I knew very little of, appealed to me so I showed up to the introductory meeting. I certainly had not expected that it would lead to long and rewarding journey that will last this long.
My first gateway into the oikos international community was the Spring Meeting ‘08 which was also an accelerated course about oikos agenda and sustainability in general. The spirit and engagement encountered in Cologne fueled my involvement in the Warsaw chapter. Some of the most memorable initiatives I was a part of included “Energysavers”, a competition of all of Warsaw’s student dormitories in reduction of energy consumption, and the oikos Autumn Meeting ’10, which was hosted by the oikos Warsaw chapter and which I had a pleasure to coordinate. In the meantime I became the president of the local Warsaw chapter in 2009 and a member of the oikos International Executive Board in 2010. The opportunity to support the overall oikos network while working for oikos International was a particularly rewarding experience.
Upon graduation I threw myself into work and my career path was not exactly aligned with the previous oikos involvement. I started out as an investment banker working on M&A transactions in the City of London. Later I switched to consulting and joined a boutique focused on strategic advisory in the technology, media, and telecoms space. While my professional development kept progressing I started feeling void due lack of connection with my previous experiences. This motivated me to re-connect with oikos and apply for an Auditor position in 2018. Auditing oikos International financials for 2018 allowed me to use by professional background to support oikos activities. Now I am looking for ways to inject more of the oikos thinking and ideas into my professional life, so stay tuned!
“I am not alone!” This is what I felt when I joined oikos and participated in my first FutureLab and Presidents Meeting (2013 – 2014). Right away, I strongly connected with fellow oikees and felt we all gathered around a common vision and a shared determination to make the world a better place. oikos played a decisive role in my personal journey and in becoming who I am now: a committed social entrepreneur and co-founder of Snowball Effect.
At Snowball Effect, our aim is to spread impactful solutions where needed. Why? Because we know solutions exist to tackle the world’s biggest issues. These solutions have a tremendous positive impact, are viable and have developed precious know-how. However, the problem is that they stay at a local scale and do not spread enough to address similar issue elsewhere. Due to the lack of replication of impactful solutions, know-how is lost, people reinvent the wheel, lose time, money & energy. What a waste, right?
As former US President Clinton said: “Nearly every problem has been solved by someone somewhere. The challenge of the 21st century is to find what works and scale it up.”
What if, instead, there was a bridge between established social entrepreneurs who have proven social businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs willing to adopt & implement an existing and proven solution in their home turf? What if there was an effective knowledge transfer, enabling aspring entrepreneurs not to start from scratch? What if, all together, they created collective forces – movements – enabling impact-proven solutions to become the new norm through replication? What if, overall, we could generate a systemic change? A major strength of our century is that we are all interconnected and interdependent. We should take this opportunity to share and build something bigger!
Therefore, we dream of a world…
…Where impactful solutions are popping up like mushrooms, locally, to address our social and environmental issues, everywhere in the world.
… Where these solutions are connected to one another to become part of something bigger.
… Where all these form a powerful network of mindful people striving to do common good.
Life on earth would be much better, wouldn’t it?
My journey towards a more sustainable world started in 1987 on a dark and foggy November evening in St. Gallen. I rushed to my first meeting with a group of students who had just founded oikos, but the first attempt failed. I tried again and finally found the group of enthusiastic young students.
Why did I look for oikos? In 1986, I was shocked by the nuclear accident of the atomic reactor in Chernobyl and by the blast of the chemical facility Schweizerhalle next to Basel. Convinced that the change must start in the economy, I decided to study environmental economics at the University of St. Gallen. As a member of oikos, I had a unique chance to co-organise the first two oikos conferences with a great team.
These conferences as well as the long discussions in the oikos team about the right way to go, influenced my professional career a lot. During my studies, I became interested in integrated solutions for sustainable development and started researching on participatory multi-stakeholder processes. The insights were summarised in my thesis “Public-Private Partnerships for Regional Development”. Then I got the opportunity to apply my knowledge in an interdisciplinary team supporting the Mayor of the City of Zurich in implementing a more coherent and sustainable urban development. In 2002, it was time for a new experience, and I started as Executive Director of a small foundation and as an international consultant for development cooperation and humanitarian aid. I worked in many countries and specialized in knowledge management and knowledge sharing networks. This was THE topic at the time, and we believed with better knowledge we could get better solutions.
For the last ten years, I had the chance of leading a great Swiss Foundation working towards better quality education and intercultural understandings in Switzerland and 12 other countries. Providing quality education is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, the education of girls is considered by experts as one of the most effective solutions to fight climate change. Leading an NGO was a completely new experience for me, and I learned a lot about leadership, organizational change, and belief systems.
Throughout my career, I observed that the most elaborate participatory processes, the best knowledge or quality education do not always lead to a better world for all. Even NGOs with ambitions to create a more sustainable world sometimes fail or even draw out dysfunctional systems and poverty despite their best intentions. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I became increasingly interested in self-development and mindfulness. On this journey I got new insights and realized how much we are stuck in our thinking patterns, concepts and behavior, experiences we individually and collectively have been gathering in the past. This limits our search for new solutions.
32 years ago, I started my journey towards a more sustainable world. Although there have been many frustrations, I’m still convinced that another world is possible. However, we must go beyond the limiting concept of sustainability and strive for a positive impact for a thriving world.
Today it is my mission to pass on my long-standing experience as a coach to leaders striving to make a positive difference on this planet and guide them in crystallizing their potentials and in realizing their aspiration to transform the world.
Urs Karl Egger was a member of oikos St. Gallen in 1987-1989.
How did you end up working on edible insects in the West? This is a question that I am asked quite often, as I started with Essento the pioneer in the production of edible insects in Europe. It is a pretty long story, and I do it for the positive impact I seek to create during the few years I get to spend on this planet, rather than for anything else. These values are closely connected to the experiences and people I encountered over the last 10 years. And a good number of those encounters are due to oikos.
I have a background in economics and completed my bachelor and master’s degrees in St. Gallen (with some exchanges to Lausanne and Bogotá). Already during the first semester at the university, I came across oikos and immediately felt that the shared values and the kind of people that were part of oikos, were exactly the type of people, that inspired me and I felt comfortable spending my time with.
Soon, I was asked to take on responsibility. My colleague and I led one of the flagship programs at oikos St. Gallen – the oikos CNC – oikos Carbon Neutral Campus. We assesed the CO2 emission of our campus and then worked to identify different ways for reducing/mitigating those emissions. One of the goals was to make people aware of what CO2 actually is and what harm it actually brings. After handing the project over to the succeeding generation, I was asked to join the oikos International Executive Board to use the gained knowledge in leadership and project management in order to guide others towards successful implementation of projects and allow them to inspire fellow students.
I can truly say that my oikos years had a strong impact on my views on the world. These years showed me how one can grasp opportunities and that a doer-mentality is a great asset in life. Most importantly, I had the possibility to affirm and strengthen the values I have as a human being and as a business person. These values are still guiding me to this day. I am still in touch with a good handful of people that I am very grateful to call my friends, that I have met somewhere through my oikos journey.
I am convinced that it is upon us to take responsibilities and act towards a greater good both in personal and business life. oikos is definitely a place to get inspired, find role models and like-minded people, we all need to tackle the challenges that are awaiting us.
Find some more information on what we are up to at Essento in the following clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rktK6lhdycM. And if you feel like it, please get in touch with me – I am always happy to exchange thoughts with like-minded people.
My oikos’ experience
I joined oikos Brussels at ICHEC Business school in 2002-2003 upon the recommendation of a fellow student. We were a small group of motivated students trying to change the mentalities in our “classic” Business school. Passionate about sustainable development and environment, I found in oikos a great platform to exchange ideas and organize events for our student community. I am thankful to Anne, Aude, and Sébastien for the great moments we spent together.
My best memory is the organization of a conference about ethical banking and microfinance including a fierce debate between academics, bankers and NGO members. My role was to contact the speakers and moderate the debate.
Today oikos Brussels counts many members and is more active than ever at ICHEC and beyond.
Connecting the past and the present
Over the last 8 years, I have been working at Triodos Bank as a Senior Relationship Manager and team leader. My job consists of structuring and managing sustainable loans for Healthcare and SME clients.
Triodos Bank only finances sustainable projects with a positive impact on society. I have the chance to work for a sustainable bank which is transparency and fully corresponds to my values. This is the job I was dreaming about when I was a student 15 years ago. And guess what… several colleagues are former oikos Brussels members.
My clients are active in the organic food industry, circular economy (including start-ups), hospital and elderly care sectors (Real Estate projects). Helping them to realize their projects is a great source of motivation.
Today there is much more consciousness about sustainable development and about the need for a transition. A lot of students and professionals have a personal interest and wish to contribute to SDGs.
I was invited by oikos members and ICHEC to testify in front of students and to represent Triodos Bank in several public and academic events. At the office, we also welcomed students for their thesis and training periods. These were enriching experiences.
A tribute to Muhammad Yunus
Peace Noble prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, father of Microcredit, is my source of inspiration.
I have admiration for his determination to transform finance in order to improve the lives of millions of people. Starting from zero with a simple idea: trust between people is the most important thing.
So my final words would be: trust yourself and others, follow your dreams and never give up.
One Needs to follow, to lead!
Just another engineering graduate among the huge number of engineers in India. I completed my degree in Civil Engineering at JNTU-Kakinada after which I was placed in Tata Consultancy Services. I also studied in the Indian Institute of Management – Calcutta for a 2 year MBA equivalent degree. I developed a keen interest in marketing, strategy and product development. I had the opportunity to work with e-commerce giant Jumia in Kenya, Africa for 2 months in customer experience. As of now. I am working as Group Young Leader Associate with Bajaj Finserv, a financial conglomerate in India. I work with multiple financial products including retail banking, investments, insurance, payments, digital wallet, secured&unsecured loans, and mutual funds.
Interest in Not for Profit Organisations
The foundation that kindled my passion to work for the society began when I was in high school. I was a registered young National Cadet Corp and Rotarian. Under the leadership of eminent Rotarians, I learned the joy of giving and service. When I was pursuing my undergrad, I was absorbed by the community services of Lions Club. With an interest in community service and experience in leading a team towards the cause, I was entrusted with a responsibility of the oikos Chapter President of Kolkata in 2017.
What oikos taught me
oikos Kolkata posed a unique challenge to me. With the support of the previous President Bhavana Surapaneni (who instilled a lot of confidence and was very supportive), we wanted to reshape the outlook of oikos in Kolkata. For many years community services, sustainability awareness, responsible behavior- all sounded very serious tasks. Tasks that were meant for serious people, so our goal was to make it more fun.
oikos Kolkata always kickstarted the year with a quiz. For a change, we brought in a nature treasure hunt event. The event witnessed a huge crowd and we got wonderful feedback. Next came the pizza talks. Who wouldn’t come around for some free pizza? We also conducted a nature trip to Mousini Islands to raise awareness of global warming and bad agricultural practices. Then, came the 5 day sustainability week which was also attended and supported by Clementine Robert, current oikos President. oikos Kolkata welcomed 106 participants during these 5 days. It was a great success for us.
Bhavana always talked to us about the importance of the FutureLab and we made a promise to prepare especially well for the conference. To make oikos Kolkata more attractive within the oikos community and our campus, we took FutureLab’17 as a new challenge. Our core members worked meticulously, thanks to Levan Pangani and Adriana who supported us heavily, in putting this dream together. We successfully held a workshop on Artificial Intelligence and its Implications with Prof. Runa Sarkar, Dean Academics- IIM Calcutta, as the guest speaker. With a chemical engineering degree from BITS Pilani and a Masters in Environmental Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA and 5 years experience as an environmental consultant, she is now an academic in economics.
oikos instilled a lot of confidence in me and helped me develop a sense of ownership. With a great network of wonderful people, oikos is a library of endless learning.
The oikos journey
My oikos journey began in 2013 with a conversation with Dr. Rose Karimi who explained to me what oikos’ mission stood for and asked to support the cause at Anu and in Kenya. Back then, I was a 4th-year student pursuing my degree in Dryland Natural Resource Management. During my studies, I was engaged in several campus inanities on wildlife protection, farming, forestry, and environmental cleanups. This experience matched with the requirements of the oikos chapter president, so soon after this conversation, I decided to take up the responsibility and become a president of oikos ANU. I starting working on recruiting like-minded people and expanding the network.
The most important event hosted by our chapter was a Kenya Intervarsity Dialogue on Climate Change in November of 2015, as the world prepared for the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21). It was then that I realized the power of our network in bringing sustainability-minded people together. The event welcomed over 500 participants of diverse ages and walks of life. We have organized it annually. One thing I want to mention is that we are running a small farm on campus, where we have rabbits, grow vegetables, and even have a plant nursery.
Key lessons learned
We have had a number of team building activities both on and off campus. These activities were crucial for me as they enabled to discover my true potential; I learned how to relate to people of different ages, gender, and social standing. oikos helped me understand the structure and processes behind student activities and tackle challenges at campuses. I appreciate the network as it expands one’s knowledge and meets with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
Shedding light on environmental issues
Currently, I am a staff member at Africa Nazarene University at the environmental department. I expose students to environmental issues such as food security, forestry, environmental impact assessment, natural resource management and many more. I believe in mentoring hence I also try to provide guidance to young people both on and off campus. Recently, also started using an online platform to have a bigger impact.
Encounter with oikos
When I joined oikos London as a first year student at the London School of Economics, I was astounded by the incredible diversity of opinions and individuals who were never scared to share their ideas and perceptions of sustainability. Whether it was a Film&Pizza night watching “Gasland” that lead to night-long discussions about energy and fracking in London pubs or occasional trips to showcases of 21st century sustainability such as waste-treatment facilities in the outskirts of London, my early experiences of oikos were very much confined to finding a number of like-minded people who tried to make sense of the world and were determined to be a part of shaping it. But finding out that oikos is much more than just one group of people at a single university only became apparent to me when I attended the Spring Meeting in Copenhagen in 2014, which allowed me to meet all the incredibly bright and motivated students that the oikos network has to offer.
In 2015, my brilliant chapter President Oliver Lysaght, a great oikos London team and myself learnt how difficult organising the Spring Meeting really was the hard way. A full year of preparations, sweat, stress, and far too many rejected sponsorship requests later, we were finally able to welcome 120 fellow oikees to London to discuss the sustainable finance and celebrate everything I had learned to love oikos for.
Career in Sustainability
After finishing my degree and dipping my toes into climate econometric research during my masters at Oxford, I now work at the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism and focus on international negotiations in the context of climate change, biodiversity, UNEP, and, funnily enough for a landlocked country, whaling. I coordinate some of the additional responsibilities Austria has the honour of taking up in the context of our Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2018 where it is our job to work closely with EU member states and the EU institutions to find common ground within the EU. This unity then allows us to jointly push for stronger climate action and biodiversity protection in international for as such as the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement or the Convention on Biological Diversity and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Whilst I have never come close to achieving some of the incredible direct impacts my fellow oikees have had over the years, oikos has connected me to a group of young, dynamic people who never get tired to challenge the status quo. They look beyond the immediate future to think about what can really shape society in the next decades to create a more sustainable world. And I’m looking forward to meeting one or the other former oikees along that way.
A Curious Child
Sustainable development has been part of what I am since I was a child. When I was walking in the forest with my brother, grabbing a plastic bag thrown on the ground in order to properly dispose of it, was more than natural for me. We were also fascinated with insects: we could watch ants, beetles, and bees for hours. Little did I know how insects would transform my life. But I’ll come back to this later!
An Advocate for Change
In 2004, I joined ESSEC – a business school close to Paris and subsequently oikos. From the very first day, I fell in love with the organization. Along with a few classmates, we tried and convinced the school to take a few steps towards a more sustainable campus for everyone: students, teachers, and administration. I have warm memories of events we held, and projects we organized: I remember the fair-trade fashion week, the conferences on socially responsible investments or on the carbon market, the organic food breakfasts…
But more than anything, I keep a deep and joyful memory of all the oikees I met, not only in France but also all over the world thanks to the annual meetings. All of them were, as students, and are still, as parents and workers, making a difference in the world for a better place.
A Busy Professional
Humbly yet ambitiously, I try to do my part. After I left ESSEC in 2008, I worked for 5 years in a microfinance institution, mostly in France, but also a few months in Senegal and in Panama. It was a great experience and I had the opportunity to meet people I’ll never forget. While being dedicated to helping poor people in gaining autonomy and empowering themselves both socially and economically through microcredit and microinsurance, I kept a strong interest in environmental issues. That is why I joined Worgamic in early 2009. With Worgamic, a small yet very active Parisian NGO, I settled a few vegetable gardens but also apiary on some of the roofs of what is known as one of the densest cities in the world. We also raised awareness of thousands of children through conferences at schools all over the country. Last but not least, we were fond of vermicomposting: a very entertaining way to explain both children and adults that organic waste is everything but a waste.
A co-Author of a Crazy Idea
The NGO grew a lot and one day, an idea – crazier than vermicomposting – came to Antoine, the founder of Worgamic, and me: Insects are part of the natural diet of most birds, fish, reptiles and even some mammals. For instance, up to 40% of wild trout diet are insects. Yet, the farmed trouts are not given insects to eat. Then, why not farm insects to give farmed animals what they would eat in their natural habitat? Along with Fabrice and Jean-Gabriel, two very good high school friends, Antoine and I founded Ynsect, a company dedicated to farming insects and transforming them into compounds for animal feed. As the idea of insects for animal feed or even human food has been gaining more and more publicity in media for a couple of years, this idea may seem obvious now. Yet, when it struck us in 2010, it sounded very surprising, not to say awkward. Very enthusiastic and confident that our idea made sense, we convinced research centres, authorities, and investors to gather around that project. Today, Ynsect is a company with nearly 100 employees, and a first-of-its-kind insect farm running in eastern France.
An oikos Alumnus
Of course, entrepreneurship is highly time-consuming. But I have always cherished and maintained relations with oikos alumni. Every couple of months, French alumni gather in Paris. These gatherings are to me more than mere dinners. They keep the oikos spirit running through my veins and give me the strength to continue my journey on the path of sustainability.
oikos changed everything!
A small and humble start, oikos Edmonton made a big splash at MacEwan University and changed the course of my career path.
Environmental sustainability was infused in every part of my life–all except my career. Near the end of my 12-month maternity leave, I had to face yet another recession and low oil prices. Living in a part of the world where a good majority of the available work is in the Oil and Gas industry I needed to make a change. My goal was to complete my Bachelor of Commerce degree and get a job with Sustainable Economic Development section at the City of Edmonton.
I love my city and want to be a part of the progressive changes made there. With the development of the world’s largest sustainable community, our state-of-the-art waste management facility and our commitment to doubling our light rail transit system, this northern city was making some incredible changes, and I had to be a part of them.
As I returned to school as a mature student and mother to a young child, my studies were my only focus. But there were bigger plans for me, and after meeting the co-presidents of oikos Edmonton, I could not stop the momentum! Fearing that I would overcommit myself, I started volunteering at some of the on-campus events. From there I began working as more of a consultant to help drive our events to the next level. I talked to anyone that would listen and before long, the president at that time, Erikk Opinio, created a role for me that reflected my efforts. My feedback and strategy for Fresh Perspectives, our speaker series events, was so positively received, that I was asked to lead the next project. This was, and still is, the best-attended event held by oikos Edmonton.
Where this brought me…
As an alumna of oikos Edmonton, I still hold a seat at the Board of Advisors table and have a vested interest in the continued success of the chapter. I am working for the City of Edmonton, but not in the section that I thought I would be in. Being somewhat of a renegade, I have found myself working in The Partnership Centre of Excellence–one of three in Canada and one of five in North America. In a pilot project, we work as internal consultants for the Citizen Services Department. Organizations are choosing to become more specialized to reach their outcome and goals, they seek out partnerships to accomplish them. Seeing the world through a partnership lens helps one to see that without partnership, much of what we rely on, would not be available. Working for a team that understands my love for the planet and people, I soon hope to broker a partnership between government and our indigenous peoples–assisting these communities with waste management, sustainable development, and transition to renewable energy.
Edmonton was the host of the inaugural “Cities and Climate Change Science Conference: Fostering new scientific knowledge for cities based on science, practice and policy.” An international conference that will help support the Paris Agreement, the new Urban Agenda, and the Sustainable Development Goals. This event is co-sponsored by the Cities IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Had it not been for some visionary oikos Edmonton pioneers, I would not be where I am today. MacEwan University continues to support all of the events and projects held by oikos Edmonton. As a proud alumna of oikos, I will always continue to coach, mentor, and support all the initiatives put forward by this incredible group.
oikos Rookie: Bewildered but Passionate for Change
I still remember my first oikos international meeting really well. It was the Spring Meeting in Copenhagen in March 2014. I was a complete oikos rookie – I had only joined the local chapter at my University a few months before – and was ready to soak it all up. By ‘it’ I mean, being surrounded by people, who – like me – care about sustainability and feel their universities could care more and who – unlike me – had lots of ideas how it could be improved.
When I first joined oikos, I had a lot of passionate anger about the state of the environment and a vague feeling that something was missing from my studies in management. I spent much of my time watching every documentary about climate change I could find and telling my friends about the benefits of my newly found veganism. As I said, I was a rookie and didn’t really know what to do with all this bewilderment about how we ended up with such a harmful economic system and with all this passion for trying to make things better. oikos became an outlet for that energy: a place where I could learn from and with other people and engage in meaningful projects.
Shift in Perspective: From Angry Confusion to Working on Solutions
Over the last few years, oikos has allowed me to meet incredibly capable, inquisitive and kind people, who have become dear friends, to learn about inspiring ways of rethinking the current systems and to try out some approaches myself. Somewhere between organizing events with expert speakers and having deep conversations with other oikees, my perspective shifted from one of angry confusion to one of constructively working on solutions.
I consider oikos the first step I took towards a career, which I hope will be dedicated to contributing to a more sustainable, just and empathetic world. Whether it was being introduced to social entrepreneurship during an oikos Summer School in Georgia, learning about the art of organising a conference as part of the international FutureLab team or reflecting on my personal development at the annual presidents meeting in St. Gallen – many of the experiences I had through oikos, have helped me along the way and continue to do so. I often feel that might be the biggest strength of oikos: It invites young people in, helps them to deepen their interests and allows them to experience that – with a strong community to support you – there are ways to make a difference.
Since my time as an active oikee, I have followed my interest in social entrepreneurship and spent a year working with the German team of Ashoka, one of the biggest networks of social entrepreneurs. Today, I jump at any opportunity to connect with the oikos community!
Serendipitous Introduction to the oikos Family:
I had completed my undergraduate studies in the field of Electrical Engineering and was working as a Financial Analyst with UBS Investment Bank, prior to my MBA. While creating pitch books for clients I had come across several reports elucidating sustainable practices by corporates. Though these reports intrigued me, I never had the opportunity to explore the domain in depth. My involvement with the oikos community was fueled by this interest in the field of sustainability.
My introduction to oikos happened while pursuing my MBA, as a participant at the oikos Asia Meet 2014 in Pune, India. At that time, I was the President of Sigma, XLRI Jamshedpur, a student body which went on to become the oikos Jamshedpur Chapter with me as the President. As a participant at the oikos Meet, I got to realize that oikos is much more than just about advocacy of sustainability. It is a community of passionate individuals who are indeed making a tangible impact by making sustainability a part of our everyday lives. Even though I was hardly acquainted with any of them, the oikees I met made me feel part of one big family and I developed an instant connection with them. The sessions were exceptionally stimulating and left an indelible mark on me, a mark that led me to rejuvenate the dormant oikos Jamshedpur Chapter.
Rejuvenation of oikos Jamshedpur Chapter and Projects Undertaken:
Inspired by the impactful presentations at the Asia Meet, upon my return to my campus the oikos Jamshedpur team went full throttle to initiate and drive a wide spectrum of projects in the Jamshedpur community. One such initiative was the Happy School Project in association with Rotary International Clubs to create sustainable literacy practices at schools under the TEACH (T- Teacher Support, E – e learning, A – Adult Literacy, C – Child Development, H – Happy Schools) model. Under the Sustainable Waste-reduction Advocacy Program (SWAP) oikees had open-house discussions with students and the college management to reduce the number of printed case studies and course materials by switching to e-materials. This move towards paperless case studies and course materials led to more than 80% reduction in paper wastage and also created a sustainable platform for subsequent batches of students to follow. At the oikos Idea Summit at Jamshedpur I had the privilege of interacting with Dr. Devi Shetty, one of the foremost cardiac surgeons in the South-East Asia region, who delivered an inspirational leadership talk on the emerging need of inclusive and sustainable healthcare in the modern Indian context.
Vibrant Experiences as an oikos Member:
When oikos provided me with an opportunity to author a case study as part of the oikos case challenge, I grabbed it with both hands! I authored a case on Neev Herbal soaps, a sustainable organic herbal care manufacturing firm in Jamshedpur. In my quest to make the case a worthwhile endeavor, I delved deep into the sustainable manufacturing practices at the Neev Herbal factory in the outskirts of Jamshedpur. I’m thankful to the oikos community for appreciating the case and making the final publication titled “Building a Sustainable Enterprise with the Power of Local Communities – The Journey of Neev Herbal Handmade Soaps” a part of the oikos International Case Journal. Subsequently, I also had the opportunity to be the co-editor of the oikos Newsletter in 2014-15. Being a part of the editorial team was a truly enriching experience and led me to keep a tab on all the latest happenings in the world of sustainability, covering oikos meets & events across the globe and most of all getting to interact with and understand like-minded oikees with a passion for sustainability.
My participation in the oikos President’s Meet and Future Lab 2014 at St. Gallen further cemented my bond with the larger oikos community of vibrant students, industry experts and patrons. The meeting made me appreciate the diverse spectrum of thoughts that were put forth and made the discussions ever richer. The meet gave me a host of lifelong friends whom I shall cherish forever as part of the oikos family.
The bond with oikos gets stronger as an Alumnus:
Today I work as an organizational development specialist at the Center of Innovation and Technology of Hero MotoCorp, one of the largest 2-wheeler manufacturers in the world. One of the biggest success drivers in a high performing organization like ours is our ability to build robustness in processes and long term organizational sustainability and maturity and building a diverse skill base.
In essence, the experience that I’ve gained through the oikos community over the years is a part of my core identity as an organizational development professional. Even at my workplace, I am a strong advocate of sustainable processes often citing oikos cases during training sessions on sustainability. We have also developed a comprehensive e-module on sustainability focus for implementing lean and green business strategies. As an oikos Alumni ambassador to India, my current responsibilities involve broadening the reach of the oikos network pan-India. The oikos Alumni team is also focused to develop more meaningful partnerships with industry bodies and premier educational institutions in India to co-create projects that would draw in passionate young minds into the domain of sustainability research.
The thread of oikos binds all of us oikees together. oikos has over the years developed into an influential and impactful organization at the forefront of charting new grounds in the sustainability domain and I’m proud to be a part of this community. The way forward is to get more passionate oikees into the fold of our community and keep the flame burning for the generations to come. My journey with oikos has been a momentous one and has helped me become a better individual in both personal and professional domains. I would urge oikees to make the most of the opportunities that oikos has to offer. The sky is the limit!
PS: The seed of oikos Jamshedpur that was planted by us has grown into a full blown tree spreading its canopy ever wider. I would like to take this opportunity to invite not only members of oikos Asia Chapters but oikees across the globe to be a part of the oikos Asia Meet 2018 being hosted at oikos Jamshedpur from 09th – 11th February, 2018. The three-day event will be geared towards ensuring that every stakeholder involved assimilates and carries forward true belief in Empowering Our Roots” for a sustainable future.
Let us be the change we want to see!
oikos – an impactful organization! I joined oikos back in 2009 when I was studying at Reims Management School (now called “Neoma”). I promptly noticed that oikos was the right student’s organization for me as I was missing the topic of sustainability in the traditional way of management education at our business school. At this time, the chapter was young and the greatest challenge for us was to organize the Spring Meeting 2010 about sustainable marketing. Being part of the board of the chapter of Reims was a tremendous experience that enabled me to co-create meaningful projects, interesting activities – something that no university or management school can offer. With the ‘sustainable certification’, we for example aimed at making activities from numerous students’ organizations at our school more sustainable. We also organized a sustainable fashion show, which offered a different view on sustainability for students who were not necessarily aware of the topic. As head of finance, I was in charge of the fundraising of our ongoing projects: a valuable experience for my future career! Our chapter celebrated its tenth anniversary during the francophone meeting last month: it is very rewarding to see that a new generation of motivated students is taking up the torch with impactful projects.
oikos – more than a community: a family! The community of fellow oikees has provided me infinite amounts of inspiration and energy since I joined oikos. Indeed, as we are an international organization, we get to meet and work with diverse, talented, intelligent people from all over the world. International meetings are to me the best moments of the oikos experience: we exchange ideas, we debate, we dream together! I have so beautiful memories of Spring, Autumn, regional meetings and Future Lab so that I am still so excited to join the next one! Cross-cultural working groups are the best way to prepare ourselves for a career in an international working environment: this is something that I notice everyday as I work in several countries with different cultures. More than the topic of the meeting, it is primarily the people you meet that you will remember. During the past eight years, I made so many new friends and I am so glad to be in touch with them in so many different places, Toronto, Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Berlin to name but a few.
oikos – the inspiration for your future career! During the enriching conferences at oikos, we get to discover several aspects of sustainability. Mobility has always been an issue that is near and dear to my heart. Besides, I have always been passionate about railways! Hence, I wanted to combine all these aspects. Shaping the transportation of tomorrow cities is an incredible challenge! About one third of global CO2 emissions come from people and goods transportation. Around 55% of the world’s population is currently living in urban areas and it will be more and more. Offering sustainable mobility solutions, mostly based on public transport, is a key for a better quality of life in cities. But it also requires a mind shift and people should be educated towards environmental-friendly transportation when they are young: oikos has also a role to play in this field. Indeed, student’s transportation account for a big part of universities’ carbon emissions. There are finally a lot of opportunities for oikees from different backgrounds to work in the field of sustainable mobility: from the start-up developing softwares to improve cars’ utilization to the market leader in light rail solutions!
oikos – for life! I am still so excited to be involved in the organization as an Alumni and I always look forward to the next steps. The values that drive us at oikos should definitely not be forgotten once we embrace a career. That is why I think it is very important to strengthen our network, both on regional and international basis, both for the benefit of other alumni and active oikees with whom we can establish a mentoring relationship. As oikos is turning 30 this year, the potential of our network with so many kindred spirits is incredibly huge! I am glad to organize Alumni meetings in Berlin, a ‘hotspot’ for sustainability-minded people and the right place for many oikos alumni to develop their projects! I am also glad to share expertise with fellow oikos Alumni working in the field of transportation during trade fairs and conferences.
After gaining more working experience, I am personally thinking of writing a thesis in the topic of sustainable transportation. Sharing the knowledge and the passion is so important to me and I would be very happy to mentor generations of oikees!
Looking forward to the next challenging experiences at oikos! Axel, oikos Reims Alumnus
“At the Winter School, I experienced the spirit of oikos”
I first came across oikos while studying at university. A friend of mine who was active in oikos London told me about the organisation, and a couple of weeks later, I joined the oikos London team at the London School of Economics. I really enjoyed this experience and, a couple of months later, I subsequently participated in the oikos Winter School at the University of St. Gallen. There I experienced the spirit of oikos and was impressed by the outreach of the organisation and what it was trying to achieve at leading schools around the world. With this in mind, I subsequently joined the oikos International Executive Board and experienced the same oikos spirit internationally, discovering what all can be achieved when a group of like-minded individuals come together to drive change collectively within their sphere of influence.
“I’ve made some great friends from my involvement with oikos”
As time would tell, this was the beginning of a life-long friendship with oikos and its alumni. I think it would be fair to say that my experience with oikos while at university played a role in helping me to develop an interest in sustainable finance. Importantly, I’ve made some great friends from my involvement with oikos and continue to want to remain involved with oikos London. I’ve also learnt that you’re never far away from an oikos Alumnus in the professional sphere, so it’s always great to be able to meet fellow alumni in meetings, share experiences and learn about how oikos has played a role in their own careers!
“After four years of consulting, I wanted to gain experience on the client side”
During my studies, I completed various internships – for a development non-governmental organisation, for a mining company in their health, safety and environment department, and at Innovest (since absorbed into MSCI ESG Research). This gave me a pretty good idea that I was interested in the area of sustainable finance. So after completing my Masters, I went to work for EIRIS (now VigeoEIRIS) as an analyst of the Resources and Pharma sectors.
After 18 months, I took up a deferred place at PWC in London and joined their Sustainability & Climate Change consulting practice where I focussed on financial services. Here I worked with different banks, private equity firms and asset managers helping them to evolve their sustainability approach and develop policies and procedures in this space. The whole area was very new for many of them and so there were lots of opportunities to help them define their strategy, approach and implementation as well as capacity-building.
After four and a half years, I decided that it would be good to gain some experience on the client side. So, I jumped ship and joined the Environmental, Social & Ethical Risk (ESE) Advisory Team at The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). This involved identifying and assessing the ESE and reputational risks presented by customer activities in different sectors (for example, Oil & Gas, Power, Mining & Metals, Agribusiness, Defence, etc) and advising senior approval committees. This was a great introduction into the world of how sustainable finance really works.
“Today, I am a senior ‘Sustainability Ambassador’ for RBS and handle socially responsible investors”
After two and a half years, I was looking to pursue a role that would allow me to both leverage on my skills and experience in sustainability and reputational risk management, but also allow me to work on (corporate) sustainability strategy and investor engagement. With this in mind, I moved into RBS’ Sustainability / Sustainable Banking function. I’ve now been in the team for two and a half years. I lead RBS’s engagement with socially responsible investors (SRI) on sustainability-related topics and the bank’s approach to sustainability reporting. I am also responsible for leading the review of RBS’s environmental, social and ethical (ESE) risk appetite positions, identifying emerging sustainability and reputational risks and engage with relationship and risk management teams. Other responsibilities include strategy work, engaging with external stakeholders and representing RBS at industry fora. For example, I am a senior ‘Sustainability Ambassador’ for the bank at the Banking Environment Initiative, which is run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. As part of this I get involved in their work on the Soft Commodities Compact with various banks.
What would your perfect weekend involve?
My wife and I have a toddler who is an absolute bundle of joy! So, he has our full attention on the weekends. Beyond that, it’s often about trying to find some time to do the things that I enjoy doing beyond the usual weekend chores: for example, socialising with friends and family, going for a long run in the park or exploring the outdoors. I love trekking but this has taken a bit of a back-seat in recent months.
Varun Sarda, oikos Executive Board Member and Member, oikos London.
“Serving as the Human Resource Officer, and later President of oikos Johannesburg, remains one of the most challenging tasks I have faced. Our projects were ambitious; we were working with little support infrastructure on our university campus; and we were learning by doing.
Prioritizing Sustainability among Pressing Development Challenges in South Africa
Sustainability was a new and fairly unexplored concept in the region. Our job was not only to contextualise sustainable development and make it relevant, but also to motivate for its priority among the pressing development challenges South Africa and the region faces. Our youth, passion and drive charted the path to the successful implementation of our projects. Our proudest moments include carrying out a simulation of the WTO Doha development round; supporting a perma-culture garden in inner-city Johannesburg; and developing a seminar series tackling a broad range of social, economic and environmental challenges on the continent, with recommendations from students in partnership with industry leaders in the field. This was made better when we received the attention of South Africa’s Presidency for our work. It is unfortunate that the oikos Johannesburg chapter is no longer active, however, the legacy remains in the network of young professionals who have passed through the organisation.
Helping in Diversifying South Africa’s Electricity Mix
The oikos Presidency taught me about myself as a leader, and thus, prepared me for my career path. Following my time at oikos, I worked as an intern on UNCTAD’s 2010 World Investment Report, “Investing in a Low-Carbon Economy”. The report looked at country-specific incentives to encourage renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. My contribution was a high-level analysis of programmes in South Africa, which at the time, had introduced a renewable energy feed-in tariff, that later evolved into the successful large-scale renewable energy procurement programme that runs today. I would later review the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement programme (REIPPP) as a free-lance consultant, and its success in creating an industry that has diversified the country’s electricity mix.
In South Africa and Developing Regions, Sustainability Must Serve a Dual Purpose
The programme has opened up the country’s electricity generation for private independent power producers, who have been able to supply less costly electricity to which they sell to the electricity utility, Eskom. In addition to lowering emissions in the energy sector, the programme attempts to tackle the country’s high unemployment and inequality by requiring IPPs to employ residents living in the areas surrounding the power project; to use local manufacturing inputs; and to invest in community-driven development projects. The programme is indicative of South Africa’s approach to sustainable development: sustainability must serve the dual purpose environmental mainstreaming and socio-economic development, which in this case, is improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of electricity generation. South Africa is not alone in its commitment to environmental mainstreaming: as a consultant to the OECD, we showcased policy frameworks and programmes in Mauritius, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia in seminal workshop entitled “Green Growth in Africa”.
Improve Measuring Environmental Costs to Promote Low-Carbon Alternatives
I currently serve as an Analyst at the National Treasury of South Africa, appraising feasibility studies for mega infrastructure projects, primarily in transport and energy sectors. My role is to weigh the costs and benefits of a project requesting National Treasury funding, and thus, assess the value for money the project offers to the country’s welfare. My experience is teaching me that there is much room for improvement in quantifying the environmental costs of mega projects, which can subsequently support investments in low-carbon technology alternatives.”
Katlego Moilwa, Co-Founder and former President, oikos Johannesburg
“On September 20th 2016 I defended my PhD dissertation at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), a milestone I could not have achieved without the support of the oikos PhD Fellowship.
Five years and three days before this date, I had landed in St Gallen with just enough savings to survive for a few months in expensive Switzerland. My luggage was filled with tons of determination to get myself through a demanding PhD. I had been a teaching assistant for business and sustainability courses at Esade Business School for two years. I enjoyed researching on the moral responsibilities of corporations, specifically those connected to human rights issues. I knew a PhD was the right path forward for me. Though, honestly, I didn’t know where to start, or whether I would ever finish.
The first months passed quickly and my savings evaporated equally fast. I had heard, through a friend of mine, about the oikos PhD fellowship. oikos, a student based organization with the mission to introduce a sustainability perspective into the curriculum of management and economics education? I didn’t think twice, that was for me. I applied.
I was lucky enough to be awarded with the fellowship. The moment I was notified I knew I would get my PhD. What I was not aware of at that point was that the oikos Fellowship was way more than just an economic stipend. At oikos, I was in charge of the oikos Case Writing Competition, a pioneering and prestigious competition on cases connecting management and sustainability issues to be used in the classroom. My involvement in oikos projects provided me with an impressive network of scholarly contacts, as well as exposure to innovative topics and teaching methodologies. And more importantly, I was part of an organization with a meaningful mission; one I believed was just and more urgent than ever.
A few weeks ago then, I defended my dissertation. I had a feeling of accomplishment after a long and not always easy road. Above all, though, a feeling of gratefulness took me over instantly: the support, the opportunities granted, and specially the accompaniment of many oikos members from whom I learned so much. Now it is time to think about next steps. I am not certain of what the future holds for me, but I am convinced that what I took with me from my time at oikos will, for a long time, nurture my enthusiasm to keep building a better and more sustainable world.”
Jordi Vives Gabriel was PhD Fellow of oikos at the University of St. Gallen from 2013 to 2015
“Serving as the oikos International President in reality meant participation in a year long, advanced, action-based leadership learning platform. Cooperation with a student Executive Board consisting of talented individuals, nurturing Local Chapters, presenting oikos story and values at international conferences equipped me with unique experiences. What was I up to afterwards and what lessons did I learn?
Money is available for those who dare
Biotrem – http://biotrem.pl/en/ – a start-up that invented the technology of processing wheat bran (by-product of flour production in milling industry) into biodegradable tableware. Being involved in the fundraising processes I learned that a disruptive business model, with innovative and ecological attributes, attracts a variety of financing options incl. the EU donations covering R&D expenditures or direct investments. In 2013 there were only 5 of us and a concept of technology secured with 2 patents. When I was leaving the team in 2016 the company was employing 20 people and had a production plant with capacity approaching 15 million pieces a year.
Failed initiatives receive support
DSS – a public company that I joined in the middle of restructuring procedures. I learned the insolvency law there. Realizing that there are institutions helping to harmlessly shut down unsuccessful companies made me even more eager and confident to open my own start-up one day.
High-tech can change the way we live, all we need is an effort to implement it
NaviParking – http://naviparking.com/index.en.html – a start-up I joined thanks to a girl I met during the oikos Winter School, which an oikos St. Gallen Alumnus may help me fundraise for. We developed a mobile app that maps car parks and parking meters, informs users about availability of parking spots and navigates towards them. It can end aimless driving in search for a parking spot, decrease road traffic and reduce air pollution. We are currently testing our solutions in Poland and are looking into entering Netherlands, Czech Republic and Switzerland. You can download the NaviParking app at Google Play or App Store (at this point you can get a glimpse of its functionality checking the city of Amsterdam). If you would like to support us, please feel free to contact me at
All in all, after getting a powerful push from oikos, all of the above were aimed at honing my entrepreneurial skills to one day emerge as a fulfilled change-maker.”
Dawid Wroblenski was oikos International President 2012
“It is 2016. I started being involved in oikos Reims in 2010, and to this day, I keep being involved in sustainability-oriented activities through my job. I work with institutions, associations and companies in order to implement projects in schools, promoting sustainable development models, heightening the awareness of children and helping teachers to integrate environmental issues into their lessons.
In 2010, the situation was a bit different. I was a master student in business management at Reims Management School, looking for opportunities to get engaged in environmental sustainability initiatives. I found exactly what I was looking for at oikos Reims. At that time, there were many projects in oikos Reims, from recycling processes on the campus to actions promoting bio-agriculture, to organizing an ethical fashion show. Without forgetting the trip of Benjamin Stoll and Anne Salaün (now Anne Stoll) from Reims to Beijing, who wanted to make a documentary of how kids imagine the world of tomorrow (just as reminder, it was 5 years before the documentary Tomorrow by Cyril Dion).
When I joined oikos Reims, the president at that time, Chloé Laurent, commissioned me to help the organic farmers of the region sell their products on the campus and to create a recycling structure on site. It is very rewarding to now see that a large part of the projects that had been implemented at that time, around 2010, are still existent.
Yet during my studies, I wasn’t only interested in sustainability. Education issues were just as well part of my preoccupations. I was involved in another association at that time: Prépar’Rémois. The mission was clear: tutoring school children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Reims. I was asked by Bénédicte Paille, social projects leader at Reims Management School, to create a new framework for an age group we started to tutor: kids between 13 and 15 years old.
Now, I write all that, because there is a link between my engagement as a student and my career, especially with my job 6 years later.
Today I work for LeWebPédagogique, a French speaking community of teachers (150 000 if I look at the screen behind me). I have been hired to implement sustainability projects with the assistance of professional organizations in schools on topics such as biodiversity, recycling, consumption, local economy, ecological footprint, global warming…
I believe that sustainability can be integrated in every aspect of education.
To give one more example: défi papier. We worked with the paper recycling institution in France to help children implement their own recycling-oriented projects: The kids launched their own awareness campaigns, collecting paper, dealing with recycling professionals and, above all, understanding every part of the process. Learning by doing, basically. That reminds me of what I used to do as a student.”
Cyril Quillien was a Member of oikos Reims
“In retrospect, one of the greatest things of my oikos days (2007-2011 St. Gallen) was the community of fellow oikees with similar values and dreams for changing society. I am sure that without this peer support, I would not have gone the journey to become (social) entrepreneur and co-found Impact Hub Zürich (with 2 fellow oikees ;)). Impact Hub is a global community of 80+ local incubators for social change.
I am still regularly in touch with oikos alumni and so many do not find a meaningful career and miss the community support to make such a path happen. Since I am convinced there are many people out there who are looking for a meaningful career but lack the means to get there, I am currently starting a new venture in the area of executive/post-graduate education (think MBA alternative).
With STRIDE – unSchool for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which I am starting with another oikos alumnus (Björn Müller), we have created a one year part-time learning program that enables people to reinvent their career. Instead of doing case studies, the class actually founds a real entrepreneurial venture that tackles a large societal challenge. The learning happens around the experience of actually creating something new, in a community of changemakers. In this short video (see below) I share our learning philosophy and tell my story, including a very prominent role for oikos :). In short, I sometimes feel I have come full circle. Taking the best I got from oikos and proving this path to others well.
Niels Rot was President of oikos St. Gallen
“Do you sometimes have itchy feet and wish you could explore, learn and share about environmental and sustainable energy projects on the ground? This happened to us. We had both worked several years (and are now again), me as a sustainable energy consultant for E4tech, developing for example strategic bioenergy plans and evaluating its sustainability impacts. Sara as environmental economist for the Environment Department in London, analysing the costs and benefits of different policy options. Exciting projects that often looked at the big picture. But we didn’t know many of the on the ground realities, difficulties and solutions of sustainable energy or environmental projects in a development context. We were curious to discover what makes them successful in the long-term. On a bicycle. A one-year trip along the Andes of South America. I got inspired for such a trip many years before, when I met former oikos PhD fellow Tim Lehmann back at the oikos spring meeting in Reims in 2009. He told me about their trip “Expedition Welt” meeting numerous social entrepreneurs around the world, I read their book and it stayed with me for a while. oikos inspired me and motivated me to contribute actively. I was a member of oikos Reims in 2007, then co-founded oikos Budapest and was part of the Executive Board in 2010.
We set off to the largest city on earth with no road access, Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon, to support Peruvian-British charity Plant your Future to implement a smartphone-based monitoring system to improve and inform expansion in their agroforestry schemes. With temperatures above 30C, high humidity and no roads, it was not the obvious place to start a one-year bike trip. But it was an ideal place to get properly involved in on-the-ground project work. Six weeks later we had set up the monitoring system, trained local staff to use it, learned about the importance of farmers’ monetary involvement for well managed agroforestry schemes, had all the Spanish agroforestry vocab ready to use and were motivated to get pedalling. After a boat on the Amazon for three days, we arrived at the first road where we could get our wheels on the ground. Roads, gravel paths and dirt tracks would lead us slowly south towards Patagonia before heading back up north to Ecuador and Colombia. On route, often with large diversions, we visited around twenty environmental and sustainable energy projects. We tended to organise project visits a few weeks before passing through an area by either reaching out to people in my network (international Mespom MSc, the IIIEE, oikos etc.), directly contacting NGOs or development organisation, or through chance encounters with interesting people on the way.
So, what did we learn about what makes a project or programme successful in the long-term? Our trip was far from academic research, rather an ad hoc collection of views of those who have initiated, or managed, or benefitted from certain schemes. Our blog will soon include our extended version, but for now, three examples to share:
- How to increase incomes (and reduce deforestation)? Think about the market before you start: We were faced with a number of farmers in Peru who, based on advice and specific credit from a Government scheme, dedicated their land to growing a the latest ‘trendy’, higher value crop, such as Sacha Inchi, or Palm Oil. They realised a few years later, with the mature crop loaded up, that there were no local buyers and that three day shipping along the Amazon to the closest processing facility was too expensive. Rather than improved livelihoods, these farmers were often left with monoculture, less food for their own families and debt to be repaid. In contrast, Amazónicos por la Amazonia (AMPA) in Peru had already sourced their high value market before they started encouraging farmers to designate a proportion of their rice paddies to growing shrimps. Chefs in Lima were clambering after these sustainable fresh-water shrimps, ensuring the farmers had ready buyers as soon as the first shrimps were ready.
- How to develop and maintain knowledge in a community? Stand-back: Mauricio, an inspiring Colombian renewable energy engineer who introduced us to a number of his successful community projects, told us he never ‘acts the engineer’. In the plains of Colombia, Los Llanos, he stood casually at the base of the wind turbine in construction, now and then providing assurance to the enthusiastic William, strapped to the turbine as he adjusted the blades. Mauricio never carries out any of the work himself. Turbines or irrigation technologies are constructed on site, by locals. Locals spend days slowly learning how to construct each part, understanding by trial and error why a screw shouldn’t go in a certain place.
- How to ensure a community´s involvement? Endev and Stichting Samay provided “no gifts” – families always had to contribute a proportion themselves – to ensure that there was a viable local market for potential businesses. Plus, the contribution – in money or time – would ensure that the services or products provided were actually something which the community wanted or needed. And, as a result, had the motivation to maintain – and make the service last for longer.
At the end of the trip, we were guest speakers for Project Colombia, a social enterprise
with three arms: working with larger businesses to improve their social impact; teaching English to increase the opportunities of rural Colombians; training current and future entrepreneurs, through 4 week courses, sponsored by local mayors and the CSR budget of larger companies. They are always looking for people like oikees, be it via skype or in person, do get in touch with Nelson here if you would be interested in collaborating.
These are, of course, only what we have learnt on this specific route in a specific context, along the tarmac roads and gravel paths where our mountain-bike tyres have taken us. I am very happy to hear from you if you had similar experiences, planning to go on a learning journey or just would like to get in touch. If you happen to know anyone working for a cable car company (e.g. Doppelmayr), or a perfume/essential oil/bath products company, we are looking for financing to repair a cable car in a cut-off village in the Colombian Andes and for markets for lemongrass essential oil from a post-conflict area in Colombia. Do contact me through the “Submit” feature of our blog and I will email back.”
Ralph Ripken was oikos Member in Reims, oikos EB, and co-founded oikos Budapest
“There are moments in life in which, after some years, you look back and wonder how life would have run if you would have acted differently. What were good and bad decisions? Well, to engage with oikos was surely a good one. During a disco party in Austria a friend who was active in oikos London told me about oikos, and half a year later, in autumn 2001 together with a colleague, we took part in an international oikos meeting in Bled (Slovenia), organised by oikos Ljubljana. There we experienced this oikos spirit that convinced us to found a new chapter at the University of Graz. Soon we were a team of five to start first projects, and I think oikos was most fruitful for us to learn about what sustainability really means and how the understanding of sustainability can move people to engage personally for a better future for society. At the University of Graz we were very lucky with the university management and got support from the vice president for research and knowledge transfer. This partnership leveraged our activities from single workshops to university wide initiatives like a sustainability library, or developing the first university sustainability report in 2005.
I graduated in 2004 in human geography and wrote my diploma thesis on the integration of sustainability into universities and their role in different regions. So for sure oikos has had an impact on that. Fin 2004/2005 I was elected president of oikos International and moved to St.Gallen where I experienced pleasures of international cooperation more directly. I supported chapters in their foundation process, organised international meetings, travelled to London for sponsors meetings, and exchanged with friends from across Europe and abroad to talk about strategies to integrate sustainability into their curricula or university operations. I learnt a lot about how universities work, cultural differences and impact opportunities. Friendships from that time still last and it’s wonderful to still be in touch today and meet when travelling on different occasions with oikos Alumni who are very often sustainability professionals. We still learn a lot from each other by exchanging and following up on each others’ careers and professional experiences in industry, NGOs, start ups, consulting, public policy, working at local, national or international scale.
After my „oikos career“ I continued to work in the field of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In 2006 I came back to Graz to work on my PhD focusing on main principles of Sustainability Processes, and established so called Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development in Graz and Cairo. In 2012 I became a Visiting Professor for Environment and Sustainability in the Region at Leuphana University of Lüneburg and since 2014 I am working at the Sustainability Team of University of Zurich where I established a professional training programme for university educators on ESD. Last year I also was elected president of the COPERNICUS Alliance, the European Network on Higher Education for Sustainable Development.
So looking back, I think it’s quite obvious how oikos actually shaped my career and personal development. oikos has become one of the biggest student organisations that integrates sustainability into universities. In the course of the UNESCO Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development, as well as the Agenda 2030 by UN promoting the Sustainable Development Goals, oikos can make essential contributions by scaling down global ambitions of sustainable development to the local level, as well as bringing the experience and practice of local initiatives to global relevance. oikos students as well as Alumni together make a group of not only informed and involved people but active change agents making a difference.
PS: I haven’t personally named any of the many colleagues and friends who are essential part of this story. But I like to thank all and look further to future common engagements.”