June 18, 2015

Thank you, Goodbye & Hello

In his final blog, parting executive director Guido Braam takes us back to the early days of Circle Economy. By looking back at his previous blogs he also shares some of his most important insights gathered over the years.

Thank you, goodbye and hello!A blog by Guido Braam

This is my last blog as the Executive Director of Circle Economy. It is strange to realize how my three years at Circle Economy went by in a blink, as I still vividly remember the first time I met our founder Robert-Jan van Ogtrop.

We shaked hands for the first time on June 21 2012. Passionately he explained his ideas around establishing a multi-stakeholder platform and the necessity to create a neutral playground to bring the circular economy into practice. He envisioned a non-profit cooperative owned by members, based on his conviction that a system change can only be achieved when all stakeholders are involved.At that time, it seemed a ridiculously overambitious idea to me. In hindsight it took me almost a year to really start to see the potential role of Circle Economy in the transition towards the circular economy.

The next day after my visit to Robert-Jan’s place, I went on holiday and I remembered telling my wife that I needed to be part of this audacious endeavor. I didn’t really know why I wanted that. It was purely intuitive. Rationally as a board member of the flourishing Kirkman Company, it was not the most logical thing to do. I never regretted that intuitive decision though.

Prequel: Co-creating social enterprises

Back in 2010 my colleague entrepreneurs of Kirkman Company and I decided that our lives should no longer be focused on profit maximization. After years of growth we felt the necessity to do meaningful work. Not as a side project or after you’re ‘financially independent’. But a positive impact for all stakeholders by changing the core of the organization and setting up new businesses with like minded people. The mission of Kirkman Company is since then ‘co-creating social enterprises’ and I am proud to say that our new mission led to 7 meaningful enterprises in the Powered by Meaning collective.

Personal insights from building a social enterprise

I got the chance to co-create a social enterprise by setting up Circle Economy over the last three years. And I can honestly say I learned a lot! Thanks to the projects we did with our members, thanks to the Circle of Action team I was lucky enough to work with on a daily basis, and in the last month I even learned a lot from my successor Andy. I understood the true value of the Circle of Consciousness during a 24h session a year ago and felt was touched by ancient wisdom from people like Herman Wijffels, Derk Egeler and Karin Jironet.

I’ve been struggling for a while with how to best share my insights from my three years with Circle Economy. Luckily I think I found the key by reading my previous blogs as I realized that those form a sort logbook of my personal endeavor.

In my first blog and my 2014 Christmas blog it became clear that I had to learn to be patient. It took ‘Limits to growth’ 42 years before the authors’ urgent signal was put into action and an industrial revolution was not established overnight. I guess what the transition towards a circular economy takes is hard work and perseverance and it will eventually be the new reality.

And in that change you need to address all these different target groups with their own language and own entry points as described in my blog of March 2014. It also shows that the Netherlands as a circular hotspot has been a thread through all my blogs, already back in September 2013.

In the summer of 2014 I learned the power of how to create system change rather than doing a thousand random projects with any potential chain reactions. Moreover I became more nuanced about the value of deep thinking versus the value of impactful action, and realized that you need to balance both.

Over time Circle Economy became more and more a thought leader on the nuances of the circular economy, I almost forgot how I excited I initially was by the concept when I heard about it for the first time. I know now I have to realize that there are still millions of people that need to hear it for the first time and they deserve to experience the same excitement. Therefore I wish I am able to stay curious as a kid and teach like a father.

Another thing I want to admit here is that being trained as a businessman, I believed that I was on top of it. I knew the ways of the world, that is what I thought. A whole new world opened for my thanks to my colleagues of Circle Economy. It is the Ecology, stupid!

Although my blog ‘How governments are key for a circular economy’ didn’t contain personal lessons it was the blog that was read and shared the most times (I still wonder what can I learn from that :) )

In order to reach the mass with this great perspective of a circular economy, we probably need a way to get the message across much easier. I have great trust in my successor Andy Ridley in being able to enthuse millions of people across the globe as he did with Earth Hour. But still a part of my wishes that the complexity of it doesn’t get lost in sending out the message to the mainstream audience and that Circle stays radically nuanced.

The most important lesson for me at the moment is that time is the only scarcity we really have in live. The choices we make on how we use our talents in the 60 productive years we can spent on earth is what really is matters. Thank to my fellow Powered by Meaning entrepreneurs Han, Cas, Ivar and Erik I was granted to make the choice to spent 5% of my productive years in setting up Circle Economy. And I enjoyed every moment of it, and know that this organization will always be a part of my life. But now it is time to decide where to focus my next 5% on.

So goodbye to you all, I am looking forward to collaborate with you on the transforming the Netherlands as a circular hotspot in 2016. As Ivy Baker Priest said in 1958 ‘The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning’.

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