What do we need in 2021? Social Innovation

The year 2020 was marked by the word “reinvention.” Everyone needed to reinvent their daily lives. Every business had to reinvent itself. All social organizations had to reinvent their social responses. It was a difficult year for almost everyone in various dimensions, but challenge was especially abundant in regards to social innovation and transformation under adverse conditions.

In our case, we started the year with great expectations. The previous year had been our best year in terms of clients and impact. We were growing our team, improving quality of service, and were preparing to launch even more new projects. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Right at the beginning of March, everything changed and our plans did not stand up to these initial 3 months. Working in the tourism sector, the limitations to international circulation were very hard for us and we lost, within a week, almost all the reservations we had already made. At this point and with the team already all at home for their protection, our only choice was to reinvent ourselves at all levels.


Our team was tireless and, at a time when we had no customers at all under any of our brands, we used the time during lockdown to rethink internal processes,  improve our impact communication, highlight the good work of our partners, raise awareness around various social and environmental issues, and reinvent our services.


It was a year that we were able to focus on internal processes, namely the creation our Code of Ethics, human rights policy, responsible purchasing, non-discrimination, among many others that we have long wanted to put in writing and never had time for. We also focused on improving our onboarding process, which has always been one of the most important processes for welcoming new team members. From interns to consultants, Impact Moms who clean the Impact House to local coordinators who welcome volunteers, everyone goes through an initial process to learn about the purpose behind our social enterprise, and what our mission and values are. We also worked on the materialization of our values–Honesty, Creativity, Initiative, Resilience, and Purpose–so that they are more present in the team’s day-to-day tasks. Additionally, we invested our time in creating our Net Zero 2030 strategy, in which we commit to being carbon neutral by the year 2023. It has been a long process, but 2020 has allowed us to go a long way in measuring our emissions accurately. All of this allowed us to launch our first impact report, of which we are very proud. 


However, during this time, we did not just navel-gaze. Instead, we responded to the request for support that our neighbors, the health professionals at St. Francis Xavier Hospital, made and began supporting them during the most critical moments of their initial confinement with 20 healthy meals a day to prevent them from having to stop service.


The team followed the same line of rethinking to see where they could add value in the current context and put all their creativity into practice. The result was the creation of a lot of impactful content, from videos to showcase the work of our social and environmental partners, to articles on the SDGs, on the circular economy, on Responsible Tourism, among others.


Our adaptation was not only limited to raising the awareness of our target audience, but also around the services we provide. ImpacTeam adapted its proposals for corporate social responsibility and challenged its customers to continue involving their employees in actions with positive impact, albeit virtually. We challenged dozens of companies to take action during such a critical moment for Portuguese society. ImpacTrip created remote programs where international volunteers continued to aid local social organizations that needed support more than ever. One of the highlights of this shift was that we were able to support organizations in Italy in times of great need. The programs created went far beyond the online programs and we also created two new programs linked to environmental conservation and animal protection in Lisbon and Porto respectively. The Forest Conservation Program and the Horse Patrols and Environmental Protection program are now available for all volunteers who want to safely support local communities in the environmental and animal area. ImpacTrip Rome, which was supposed to open in March, postponed its opening to the end of the year. Yet, even with all the adversities typical of the destination during a pandemic, it still  managed to open with 4 fantastic programs.


Impact House also adapted itself and, while only being able to open its restaurant and cafe during the summer, offered a very successful take-away service and had regular customers. We have restructured our value chain to better reflect our policy of responsible purchasing from local producers and preferably from social and environmental organizations. As part of our concerns to reduce food waste, partnerships with Refood, Too Good to Go, and Phenix have enabled us to reduce this waste to a minimum. 75% of our waste was recycled, a percentage we aim to increase even more by finding creative ways to avoid wasting the remaining 25%. There was also time to start preparing a very special project, ImpActive, a club that promotes healthy living where social organizations are called to create and lead activities that promote physical activity, health, and well-being. We will certainly give more news about this project, to be launched this year, soon. The summer was also the stage for our Impact Summer Camps, where children from 6 to 10 could learn more about how their actions can have a positive impact on others and the environment. The garden was large enough to host the summer programs of a partner organization for children with autism where they had the opportunity to develop skills with individualized and personalized guidance. It was certainly a fun couple of weeks! Many of the hundreds of people who came to take a dip in our pool were able to experience it first hand. 


The House itself was reinvented with changes in the typology of the rooms, the use of the garage, the creation of the physical and online social store, among many other adaptations and renovations of the space. To connect with the local community, we also managed, in a networking strategy in partnership with GRAAL, to launch the Belém Time Bank, which allows anyone in our community the opportunity to exchange their time with other members. All these creation processes were guided by the SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, which serve as a guide to the priority actions we must take to build the better world we have proposed for ourselves.


I don’t want these examples to deceive you into believing that this was a fantastic year for us–it was terrible. In a year where our turnover fell dramatically, where we were forced to deeply restructure the team and put several projects on “pause,” we cannot say that this year went as we would have liked. We have had many surprises and many unforeseen events, but this was, in fact, the most complex and challenging year (in all meanings of the word) in all of the years of Impact+’s short life thus far. 


Despite all of this, we started this new year with a team motivated to continue this process of innovation that has always defined us. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And this is a motto that we take quite literally in an effort to seize every opportunity, every creative moment of the team, every project we had in the drawer, to create more and more impact. In the current environment where the only constant is change, the ability to reinvent ourselves, so often mentioned in 2020, continues to be extremely important in 2021. In this context, it has also been shown in several studies that organizations that are motivated by impact and not just profit above all, are better prepared to deal with the pace of change we are experiencing.


We, Impact+, want to be part of the change, a positive change that leads us to transform our future to contribute to the protection of people and the planet in all its dimensions. That is what we work for every day, and that is why we will continue to reinvent ourselves in order to do whatever it takes to play our part on that path.