Social entrepreneurship flourishes in Amsterdam
Situated in the heart of Europe, just a quick flight or train ride away from capitals such as London or Paris, Amsterdam prides itself on its global village-like charm, vibrant cultural scene and multilingual population (of which 90 percent is fluent in English.) Thanks to an entrepreneurial spirit that spans generations, a thriving business ecosystem that ranges from exciting startups to established corporates, and strong support from the local government, it’s no surprise that more and more social enterprises – which put social impact at the core of their business – are choosing the Dutch capital as the launch pad for achieving their goals.
Social impact in Amsterdam
“The municipality and the local community really embraced us. Doing good business and improving society is in Amsterdam’s DNA”, says Tatiana Glad, co-founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, a mature entrepreneurial ecosystem that is also an incubator, accelerator and co-working space for innovative startups tackling society’s biggest challenges. Willemijn Verloop, co-founder and director of Social Enterprise NL, the Dutch national platform for social entrepreneurs, echoes Glad’s sentiment: “this city has a liberal, creative spirit, that gives social entrepreneurs much-needed community support and space for experimentation”. Social Enterprise NL boasts nearly 300 members operating in impact areas such as inclusive employment and environmental sustainability.
Made by locals
There’s no better place to experiment with change than in our shopping habits. With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s time to put your money where the impact is, and surprise loved ones with purposeful, locally crafted products. That’s why the Holland Herald created the ultimate gift guide, featuring remarkable stories of some of Amsterdam’s most stylish social enterprises.
House of Eléonore
For sparkling, sustainable jewellery, look no further than the one-of-a-kind items from Amsterdam-based House of Eléonore. This sustainable luxury brand aims to build a transparent and ethical supply chain by using only laboratory-created diamonds, conflict-free natural diamonds and fair-trade gold in ready-to-wear, customisable or bespoke pieces. Its debut collection, Paradise, is inspired by the tropical wonders of Papua New Guinea, and the bridal collection – aptly titled Dutch Light – is bursting with white-gold rings set with delicate diamonds.
Marie-Stella-Maris has got you covered when it comes to pure, guilt-free pampering, thanks to its wide range of paraben-free natural cosmetics for face, body and hair. The company’s mission, in founder and CEO Carel Neuberg’s words, is “to provide clean drinking water to as many people as possible”. For each sold beauty product, Marie-Stella-Maris donates one euro to its eponymous foundation. The scheme has already helped 17,000 people in countries such as Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda get access to safe drinking water.
Design-loving families should snap up a few items crafted by social venture CRE8, which also trains Amsterdam’s disadvantaged youngsters in digital fabrication techniques such as 3D printing and laser cutting. Make your partner reminisce about your romantic city break with jewellery, such as an Amsterdam canal-belt pendant (also available in the I amsterdam store at Central Station), help your kids learn their ABCs with a personalised puzzle and transform your workspace with colourful hanging light bulbs.
Stuff those stockings with fair-trade chocolate from Tony’s Chocolonely, founded by Dutch journalist Teun (or ‘Tony’) van de Keuken. Tony uncovered the harsh reality of child slavery on many West African cocoa plantations in 2002, so he decided to start a business that only uses fair-trade cocoa sourced from responsible farmers. Through its Bean-to-Bar programme, Tony’s Chocolonely nurtures long-term relationships with Fairtrade-certified cocoa cooperatives in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Looking for the perfect bicycle? Just go back to your Roetz. This local bike designer and manufacturer has a dual mission: to employ those previously excluded from the labour market, such as disabled people, and to end unnecessary waste by reusing steel frames and making accessories from discarded materials (think mud guards made from old conveyor belts). You can fully customise your bike to suit your needs and order it online.
For a flicker of light during those dark winter nights, gift your friends with exquisitely scented candles from WOO (short for Worlds of Opportunities), a lifestyle brand that works to reduce poverty in a scalable, sustainable way. The company works directly with associations of local farmers in Vietnam to source beeswax for its candles, and it helps Vietnamese workers in need of a safe community and a stable income.
To learn more about Amsterdam’s unique and fast-growing impact ecosystem, including accelerators, incubators, events, hubs, universities, investors and much more, visit iamsterdam.com/impact.
For even more fabulous gifts handpicked from Amsterdam’s finest brands, visit the sprawling, 300 square metre I amsterdam Store located inside Amsterdam Central Station’s IJ hall. Find more information at iamsterdam.com/store.
Originally published in the Holland Herald, December 2016 edition.