- 7 min read
Sustainable Startup 101: How Impact-Driven Culture Builds Resilience
In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, where challenges and uncertainties seem to be the norm rather than the exception, organizations are compelled to redefine their purpose. Beginning of June, Beetroot hosted a lively online event that focused on impact culture and how it helps businesses tackle obstacles with grace, all while driving positive changes in the world.
We’ve curated the most insightful highlights of that panel discussion and brought them to you in today’s article — bits of practical knowledge to fuel your own impact-driven journey.
Case Beetroot: How crisis can trigger change
The backstory of Beetroot is quite an adventure. Little did the two young Swedes — Andreas Flodström and Gustav Henman — know, packing into an old Soviet Lada, that over a decade later, their spontaneous idea of starting a social enterprise in Ukraine would transform into a multinational tech ecosystem with its own educational unit, Beetroot Academy, and partner R&D network.
The idea of expanding a small tech consultancy to education and giving people a chance to start a successful tech career sparked in 2014 following the Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. When the full-scale invasion began in February 2022, the company launched the Beetroot Aid fund, a purely humanitarian initiative supporting tangible grassroots projects.
When running a business during crises, war being the worst case, one of the first questions that come to mind is how can you even be prepared for the unexpected? Although it was hard for anyone to fathom the possibility of a full-blown war in Ukraine, a country that would inevitably defend itself, we’ve had this experience and reality since 2014 while expanding our ecosystem and living our normal lives. We developed a contingency plan. We ensured our offices were properly equipped to handle the situation. We drafted evacuation and relocation plans for teams and set up communication with clients. Above all, we prioritized our people’s safety and let them improvise. This flexibility became a lifeline that helped Beetroot withstand the first wave of chaos.
“We have a decentralized organization with people who are used to taking lots of responsibility. And what happened in these initial horrible days is quite remarkable because people came up with so many life-changing initiatives. We used to be a team of 500 in Ukraine — luckily, everyone’s alive. Just three-four days after the war started and people had found safety, they began to check in on Slack, asking if they could work. Even during March, the first month of the full-scale invasion, we had around 80% capacity. Since April, we’ve been working without any capacity challenges and even managed to grow as a company last year.”
— Andreas Flodström, Founder and CEO of Beetroot
Long story short, we believe that any crisis has the potential to create a lot of focus and trigger change. The events of 2014 prompted us to set up the academy. COVID taught us to work remotely, and now, the war forced us to relocate our teams to safety, ultimately helping the company grow across borders.
“Having a solid pre-crisis culture is key. I firmly believe that our impact mission and that we’ve always attracted people motivated to make a difference helped us become resilient. As well as our culture of self-management and decentralization because there are so many initiatives that are impossible to control in a top-down way. The ability to take autonomous action when needed is crucial for resilience, especially in chaotic moments.”
— Andreas Flodström, Founder and CEO of Beetroot
And all this time, sustainability and aligning our efforts with the United Nations Sustainability Goals have been the guiding principle in our activities.
Impact culture drives responsible leadership
It’s becoming clear that the traditional “business is to make business” model is no longer effective in today’s world. As business leaders, we must decide how to use our resources wisely to ensure a better future for the next generations and pinpoint areas where we can make a difference. The new model of responsible business leadership involves preventing harm and taking responsibility for any adverse outcomes. If damage occurs, fixing or minimizing it as much as possible is critical. Everything starts with our daily routines and business operations — only then can we focus on doing more.
Impact culture is a pivotal aspect of organizations: it encourages people to realize their potential and strive for impact and growth in various spheres, starting with their closer circles, surroundings, and teams and extending to the broader world.
“Picture a heavily polluted factory in a village that emits excessive CO2. If the factory invests in repairing broken windows in a local school, it doesn’t address sustainability. We need to embrace a profound shift within ourselves and our business models. It’s about recognizing that our actions hold the power to shape a better future for people, the planet, and prosperity.”
— Alina Konovalchenko, Director of Operations at UN Global Compact Ukraine
Technology empowers resilience
The impact is a powerful driving force in the tech industry because technology can improve lives, enhance connectivity, and solve some of the most pressing challenges in our society. However, we must remember that every advance is a double-edged sword that can be used for good and evil, depending on who controls it. An illustrative example is Ukraine, which is emerging as a leader in drone technology, utilizing it for constructive military and civilian purposes.
In the context of a greater good, technology in itself empowers resilience. As we continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible as tech leaders, we should prioritize ethical considerations and make choices that align with our values.
“Our choices shape our path, influenced by our experiences. This challenging time has made us rethink our values and consider the impact of current situations on our lives, colleagues, and society as a whole. Our mission has been updated quite unexpectedly, highlighting the crucial role of values and culture in shaping our goals. It is a significant realization.”
— Konstantin Vasyuk, Executive Director at IT Ukraine Association
Sustainable mindset is a long-term investment in prosperity
Cultivating a mindset of positive change involves integrating values into the organization’s core, aligning mission and vision, and staying true to them. While some may view this idea as yet another “Silicon Valley platitude,” we believe that companies must have a clear sense of their purpose and values and genuinely embrace them in everything they do to be impactful. One of the key components of Beetroot’s value code is wholeness, which means being authentic and remaining committed to all aspects of our work, ensuring that our actions align with our beliefs.
“The day you lose sight of true values, you stop being an impactful company — you just become a for-profit that is just doing what it does because of shareholders that, at the end of the day, are measuring the impact you have by the impact you have on their bottom line.”
— Dominique Piotet, U.S. representative at Beetroot and Co-Founder & CEO of Team4Humanity.org
Improving your company’s culture can have a significant impact on your success. By implementing strategies that prioritize impact, you can attract motivated employees, build customer loyalty, and even catch the attention of investors. These efforts can pay off in the long run, fostering innovation, sustainability, and positive change for your company and beyond. Here are some action points to consider:
- Clearly communicate your company’s values, purpose, and goals both internally and externally. Lead by example and set the tone from the top.
- Empower and involve your employees by encouraging participation and providing opportunities for them to contribute their ideas and insights.
- Develop partnerships and engage stakeholders who share your company’s values and goals.
- Recognize and celebrate the positive impact your company is making.
- Provide resources and support to enable your employees to fulfill their roles effectively.
- Foster a culture of continuous learning and growth.
- Build a supportive and inclusive community where employees feel valued and connected.
Real impact tears the fig leaf of greenwashing
To determine if a company is genuinely impact-oriented, one needs to look beyond surface-level claims and consider the actual results they’ve achieved. That means examining the changes they’ve made and the effects those changes have had on people and the environment. In other words, it’s about more than just talking the talk — it’s about walking the walk and demonstrating an honest commitment to sustainability.
Companies prioritizing employee support and investing resources in maintaining team stability and safety are more likely to have a genuine impact-driven mission, especially during challenging times. Additionally, the actions and authenticity of the company’s leaders play a significant role in assessing their commitment to high-purpose goals beyond personal gain. Transparency and accountability are also critical factors to consider, especially regarding their performance in areas such as anti-corruption, labor, human rights, and the environment.
Lastly, it’s noteworthy to consider the screening process companies undergo before joining impactful organizations or initiatives. Screening from reputable sources like Bloomberg and Sustainalytics can help identify companies with a fair and responsible performance track record.
How to build and measure your sustainable impact
Consider following these steps to establish a systematic framework for measuring and tracking the impact of your sustainability initiatives.
- Develop a sustainability strategy: This could be an ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) or sustainability strategy that serves as a foundation for your efforts.
- Set clear metrics and KPIs: Define specific metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that align with your strategy. These will help you track progress and identify areas for improvement.
- Start with clear goals: Begin by setting clear goals related to the sustainability issues you aim to address. For example, companies joining the UN Global Compact start by selecting goals from the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Create awareness within your organization: Communicate the impact of your actions to your teams. Show how certain practices result in positive outcomes, such as reducing CO2 emissions or improving sustainability.
- Implement systematic changes: Encourage everyone in the organization to adopt sustainable practices consistently. Make incremental improvements year by year to achieve exponential progress.
- Report regularly: Reporting is essential for transparency and accountability. Systematically communicate your progress towards your goals, both internally and externally.
When fostering an impact-driven culture, it’s important to approach it as an ongoing journey rather than a one-time goal. Merely having a sustainability agenda in place is not enough. We have to keep improving and adapting as technology and knowledge evolve to make a real difference. In closing remark, the best advice is to fully embrace this journey and enjoy the process of working towards a better future.