Experience: I created a sustainable development organization in college and it's one of the most valuable experiences I've ever had
For many years, I have been interested in the relationship between Earth and humans, and how we could live without jeopardizing our environment. To me, Earth is a gift and I am willing to do my best to protect it, so when I interned at the Sustainable Department of Botanic (a chain of stores offering gardening supplies) and at Pousses D’Avenir (an association where people in the process of reintegration grow organic vegetables), I hoped that I might be able to take those experiences and help the earth in my own way. It did not take long for my passion and knowledge to combine — I created Home Sweep Home, an association that raises awareness about sustainable development among pupils in Lille, France. But this did not happen overnight.
In 2015, I joined Enactus IÉSEG, an organization in my Business School that regroups economically viable social and environmental projects. To qualify, the projects must contribute positively to a social or environmental cause while being financially independent and self-sufficient. I applied to the Innovation Department, where socially and environmentally friendly projects are created to ensure continuous adaptation to the needs of the people and the environment. I believed that my creativity and passion for the environment would benefit the organization and help me thrive too.
With the help of my team (hired by the board), I started working on an idea that evolved into Home Sweep Home. We inherited the idea from the previous innovation team, who wanted to launch a project about sustainable cleaning products. It gave us a clear direction, but we soon realized that the project was not sustainable. After countless brainstorming sessions, we adapted the project to our goals.
Months passed by and the project took all the possible colors of the rainbow, but we finally came up with a concrete idea — retired people would produce sustainable cleaning products, sensitizing them to sustainability and giving them a sense of belonging to a group. Then the products would be sold to supermarkets and in street markets to raise awareness among a broader audience. We had finally had a breakthrough, but it was already the end of the first semester. Two of my team members were leaving the association to study abroad, and the third (and last) member was not motivated by the project. I was the only one who believed in it, and pulling the others on board was exhausting and I was worn out.
Still, I planned to create a business model and present it to my to-be-hired crew: having a concrete project would make it easier to motivate the members. But the process to commercialize products was extremely complicated, and it would have taken years to be able to sell them. I had put so much effort into this project, but it was not enough. Even though I was discouraged, I believed that I could create something meaningful that would have an impact on society. This gave me the strength to start working on a brand new project.
During winter break, I brainstormed with my family and we finally found a project: raising awareness about ecology and sustainable development among children at school. Ecology was already a part of the curriculum for children from seven to 12 years old, so Home Sweep Home’s workshops would supplement their classes. Each workshop would last two hours and would tackle one of four issues: recycling, water consumption, food waste, and labels on products. First, we would discuss these themes with the kids (give them some information as well as grasp their understanding of it) and then they would use our recipes to produce their sustainable cleaning products.
Because our workshops were educational and echoed the school’s program, we had a convincing argument to get schools and the city council on board with us. Enactus would likely be on board too, as the project would be economically viable — the products would be sold to the parents to raise awareness about our cause and to pay back our expenses.
The second semester was like a new beginning: once the project was concrete, I gathered a new innovation team with the business model in mind. I looked for members who were motivated by the project and willing to work with children, and thanks to our dedication, the project finally took off. We canvassed schools and city councils, prepared the theoretical parts of the workshops and tested all kinds of recipes to find the easiest and most efficient ones. The team was at its best.
After so much turnover within my team, I learned a lot about management. Our group of eight people ranged from freshmen to master’s students, with a mix of local and international students. I had to adapt my management style to each person, but the overall culture of the team was consistent: we were piloted by the values of benevolence, honesty, integrity and respect. These values guided us all along the way, and helped us remain strong and united.
We participated in several competitions, such as the Soirée Révéler organized by Enactus France, the Fondation Deloitte and Fondation Auchan, which allowed us to pitch our project professionally and network with key contacts. We also presented Home Sweep Home to professionals from IÉSEG, such as the Director of the School Incubator and a former marketing manager at Delta Airlines. We got valuable feedback and discussed possible improvements.
We also had a stand at Enactus’ French competition, where teams all around France compete and only one is selected to participate in the worldwide competition. We could not participate this year because we had not started the workshops yet, but we were able to talk to professionals, make contacts, and perform demonstrations on how to make cleaning products. With all that I went through to get this project started, it was incredibly rewarding to get positive feedback and encouragement from professionals. This year, in June, Home Sweep Home will be able to compete. I truly hope it will win.
The end of the semester arrived lightning-fast. It was with a bit of sorrow that I let the new team take over the project. I knew they would take care of it as much as they could – I had conducted interviews to recruit the new members, ensuring they demonstrated the values that were important to me – but it was still tough. I had given so much energy and passion for this project that I knew I would feel attached to it for a long time, if not forever.
I continue to follow the team and receive news from the members. I am proud of what we created and I gained a lot of self-confidence. I was able to lead an international team with all different backgrounds and personalities. I also learned about my strength and my perseverance. If I were to do it all over again, I would not hesitate a second. Becoming an actor of a cause I value is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV