“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they join”.
(Commonly attributed to Gandhi, paraphrased by me)
Story by Marianne Steen
written with help, feedback and English corrections by Ele Jansen and Naomi Smith
Why did I intitially decide to join the Collaboration Incubator workshop?
Because I sensed that the vision of the Collaboration Incubator resonated with my vision for a collaborative technology platform.
Looking into the future– with the rise of freelancers worldwide and an ongoing competition for talent and skills—I knew I wanted want to bring a win-win model forward. A model that challenges the “new normal” within the tech-world. Similarly, the incubator workshop invites us to challenge how things are done and points to more sustainable ways of living and working.
However, wanting to change what is considered ‘normal’ is not an easy task. It takes time, endurance and perseverance.
That’s probably the reason why I – both during and after the workshop – have taken a walk down memory lane, remembering the last time I was part of a group trying to figure out how to move forward to an alternative; something more sustainable. Yet at the time I was not precisely sure how to do it and what to do.
The difference between then and now is global connectivity. In the 80s we were inspired globally, but worked locally. Today, technology has enabled us to meet and organise across borders.
How the Collaboration Incubator workshop connected my past and present
The way the Collaboration Incubator is connecting people with shared intentions and paving a path together for the future offers the potential to empower new beginnings in a way that I/we could not even imagine back then.
In the 80s, I was studying at “Landbohøjskolen” (agricultural school), the Royal Veterinary And Agricultural University of Copenhagen. The norm back then was, in Danish terms, “konventionel plantedyrkning” (conventional plant growth) with the use of artificial fertilizer to enhance plant growth, and pesticides to prevent bugs and ‘unkraut’ (weeds).
In those days there was one general course about ‘environmental protection’. It was here that I learned about how estrogen-like residues in the water had turned male tadpoles into hermaphrodites. At this point I started to think critically about the chemistry behind pesticides. If they are designed to disturb living organisms, how far in the food chain will it go and what will they do to our nature in the future?
I also worked in a plant nursery for some time. Once a week the gardener put on a protective suit, closed all windows and doors and put up a “do not enter” note – and then went spraying. It was a surprise to me how often and how much pesticides were used.
So I started wondering, why didn’t we learn about the alternatives or the long term consequences?
We were a group of students who started to ask questions and challenge the usual way of growing vegetables. At first our professors ignored us; or they simply answered our questions with statements like, “because it is not possible to do it commercially”, “see how the vegetables from organic growers look”, and “nobody is going to pay the price”.
When we discussed the risk of pesticides ending up in our ground water, the proud experts agreed amongst themselves that pesticides will never reach the ground water; the molecules will be chopped into smaller, non-toxic compounds by microorganisms and/or will be filtered by inorganic layers in the soil. For sure!
Today we know that they were wrong.
Meanwhile, we kept lobbying. It wasn’t until we as a group of students applied to study at Lund University in Sweden, and were rejected as non-qualified, that the professors finally reacted. How did the Swedes dare to say students from Denmark were not qualified? After that point,our application for a new class about ‘organic growing’ became a reality.
Despite this, it wasn’t a walk in the park. I remember one of the presenters talking about the business models and how to make an income from being an organic farmer. He was certain that the market share would never be larger than 1.7%. So only a few (idealistic idiots) would want to take the trouble of converting from conventional to organic growing.
Considering myself to be one of those 1.7% (idiots), I decided to write my bachelor thesis about organic growth of vegetables followed by my masters degree on how to use microbiology for plant protection. Needless to say, at that time, those were not the best choices in regards of making a career which is how I ended in tech – but that’s another story.
Today, 25-30 years later, being an organic gardener is a very good business. From 2016 to 2017 the revenue grew from 7 billion Danish Kroners to 8 billion and the total market today is 9,6% and still rising. Many of the organic farmers today decided to go from conventional to organic because it is a better business for them. The demand for organically or environmentally sustainable food is in fact higher than the delivery.
So what happened and what made the change? The one thing which has really been convincing in terms of the organic plant movement is the business case.
And that is the reason it was a key point for me to introduce a ‘sustainable business model’ as an indicator of success. In a better world, in paradise and on cloud nine, who cares about money? But in this world when wanting to convince someone that change is doable and valuable; show them the money – and then they will listen. Slowly but surely that was what happened with the organic food market.
In the process, the organic growers and researchers have developed methods which have been adapted by the conventional growers. Pesticides are expensive and once you start using them, you must keep doing so. In controlled environments like greenhouses, the majority of Danish gardeners have exchanges pesticides with biological and microbiological methods.
So why do I share these memories with you?
At the workshop I had (happy) flashbacks to this time of pioneering, being at the front of something new and purposeful. What I learned then is still useful, both to remind and encourage me – which is why I am sharing with you:
7 things I took away from the Collaboration Incubator
- New beginnings take time.
- Changing a model that works for many people will meet resistance.
- People living by the habitual/usual/old ways of doing things will instantly and instinctively try to make you feel uncomfortable – as they don’t want you to rock the boat.
- Experts can be wrong. Somebody with heart and courage has to challenge them.
- The best way of convincing is not necessarily by persuading with words, but by demonstrating with actions.
- The most resistant people are often most convinced by a working business model.
- Even if they only join you for half the journey, being an inspiration to someone is still a victory.
Truthfully, the above advice is not only based on my experiences from my past.
5 years ago I began a start-up journey with Prodii, a tool for collaborative mapping of professional resources in networks. Aiming to create a sustainable business model that is not based on data surveillance, trackers or advertising means challenging the ‘new normal’ for digital business models. I’ve done my share of pitch-competitions and met my share of “venture capitalist says no”. However, thanks to a combination of regulations (GDPR), privacy-by-design and data ethical movements and now to Vanilla Way, I am optimistic about the future.
So, let me share my one final piece of advice which is also my personal encouragement and a major personal reward in my work:
Working with people who share your purpose and your success(es) is the best thing about work– maybe even the best thing in life!
— oOo —
In our different ways, Prodii as a tech platform and the Collaboration Incubator as a people network, both share a common purpose which is to:
”find good ways to use the resources we have wisely.”
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy my pictures from ‘once upon a time’ and from a workshop still fresh in my memory.
With love, respect and best wishes to all and thanks to Ele and Naomi for co-creating this piece!
A picture one from my personal memory lane the 80s when I lived in a Kollektiv — Kollektiv was a sharing economy environment 😉 with other students from Landbohøjskolen – we didn’t take many pictures in those days, however, on this occasion we did – we were just about heading out for a ‘bad taste party’ (very fashionable in those days for people with little money who liked to dress up!)
It is no coincidence that my outfit was inspired by Nina Hagen – sorry for the Leder Hosen being considered bad taste…. have a laugh!
Manuela Bosch (of Vanilla Way) at the workshop; I chose it because it is vibrant and shows the new beginning of the Open Value Network and includes my contribution to the indicators: ‘fuel’ aka a sustainable business model.