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Key take aways from activist

and innovator Dhruv Boruah

Dhruv Boruah is an activist and an impact investor. He reached over 300 million people with his Thames Project to raise awareness for plastic pollution. He now runs an impact start-up school, design thinking hackathons to bring together the Elon Musk’s from all over the world and currently runs an incubator for impact startups. Made asked Dhruv to share some of his lessons on how to accelerate innovation and maximize impact.

Classic Innovation There will always be people in the room telling you why something can’t be done

Dhruv is convinced classic innovation doesn’t work. You need to bring different mindsets around the table. I’ve had 14 years old giving keynotes to executives in big corporates: ‘Hi, I’m your future consumer.’

I launched our plastic hackathon on the big Nasdaq screen on Times Square, the busiest place in New York to inspire the world to innovate and find solutions to the plastic pollution crisis rather than raising more awareness. We also ran a Global Impact Startup School to democratize impact entrepreneurship and we had startups ranging from photosynthetic coatings, re-use/re-fill models all the way to carbon negative space rockets from 25 countries. Classic innovation would have immediately killed a lot of those ideas.

Bring all Elon Musk’s together We need to set up a community of innovators

The challenges we are facing are too big to solve within one country or one industry. “We need to bring all Musk’s together”, Dhruv says. “We need to set up a community of innovators across borders, industries, age, gender, colour, religion, function titles,… When we organized an ethical fashion hackathon, we had the CEO of a luxury fashion brand in the same Zoom breakout room as a factory worker calling in from Burkina Faso. If you really want to have impact, if you really want to bring about change, you need 3 core values: diversity, open innovation and cross pollination.”

Generate Impact Take the quantum leap

Dhruv emphasizes he’s not just looking for new and innovative ideas. “I’m looking for impact. Raising awareness, building a community, and gathering ideas are just a starting point. We need to take the quantum leap and move from ideas to tangible and profitable solutions to solve the plastic crisis. After the plastic hackathon, we managed to raise funding for 2 start-ups. The next step is converting these 2 start-ups into 300 start-ups.”

Co-create and help corporates meet their goals

In his talk, Dhruv showed a few corporates setting ambitious green goals. Tommy Hilfiger wants to be fully circular by 2030, Unilever wants to eliminate all fossil fuels in its cleaning products by 2030. “These goals offer opportunities for start-ups, scale-ups and SME’s all over the globe. The big corporates realize the momentum is there, but they can’t meet those ambitions on their own. It’s not their core business. They need the expertise, the speed and the agility of smaller companies.”

Spread the conversation from the boardroom to the dining room

Storytelling is a powerful instrument to change the narrative. Dhruv shared an example from one of the hackathons he organized. “In the UK we set up a plastic hackathon for children and their grandparents. One of the parents turned out to be a board member at a big multinational. He told the other participants that both his daughter and his 90-year-old mother pressured him into doing more for the planet. They influenced him into taking their concerns back to the boardroom.”

The Covid-crisis is the perfect moment to channel extra budget towards innovation

Companies are very cautious to spend money these days. The timing doesn’t seem right, but Dhruv is convinced that it might just be the perfect moment to ask for more budget for innovation. “Travel costs are close to zero, as offices are closed the electricity bill drops, events and fairs are being cancelled,…: companies are sitting on a pile of cash. The money is there, you just need a strong business case to channel extra budget towards innovation and impact projects.”

Accept the challenge Move out of your comfort zone

‘Ocean Racer, Rally Driver, Biker, Maker & Trainee Arctic Explorer’, it says on Dhruv’s website. He’s the living example of the great things that can happen when you step out of your comfort zone. “I participated in the Clipper Race, one of the world’s most challenging sailing races. It was during that race, at the most remote places on this earth, the plastic crisis caught my attention. The race was pretty far out of my comfort zone. I had never sailed before. Even worse, I couldn’t even swim when I registered for the race.”

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