28 March 2022

Impact Hub Co-founder Recounts "How It All Started"

Felix Stähli earned his Master in International Affairs in 2009. He is the Co-founder of Impact Hub Geneva-Lausanne, a co-working space and innovation lab that "brings engaged people together to enable the transition into a more inclusive and respectful future". 

A colleague of mine recently asked me “how it had all started”. She was referring to the organisation I co-founded 10 years ago. And when I shared the story with her, I couldn't help but notice how it gave me energy. The sources for this I believe were twofold: one was that I still connect to the initial inspiration that got me onto the path leading to what I’m doing today. The second one was realising that the “career” intention of where I wished to put my energy, which had started to grow in me thereafter, is still alive.

It all started in 1998 during a family trip to East Africa, when I got the opportunity to visit an environmental regeneration project. In the late 1970s two ecologists had been given the task of bringing life back into a deserted area with salinised soil – the result of mining activities in the decades before. By the time of our visit, 30 years later, they had succeeded in turning the place into a biodiverse landscape, full of both natural and human activity. 

This “triple impact” project of creating something from scratch while also simultaneously benefitting both nature and people inspired me deeply. Having come across such an example naturally made me look out for further ones, even if rather unconsciously for several years, and with questions as to how I might ever be able to work in this field.

A few years later, the interdisciplinary studies programme at the Institute gave me the opportunity to better understand how different human-made systems and concepts interacted. The more I got to know them, the more I became interested in their underlying economic incentive structures. 

Towards the end of my time at the Institute, and in the context a student association, I organised a small conference on social entrepreneurship, during which I came across an international network of enabling spaces for people and organisations to launch new initiatives in the field. Temptation quickly turned into a decision to try bringing the idea to Geneva, as it seemed interesting with regards not only to learning more about the world of future-fit business models, but to supporting their initiation and growth and connecting them to the UN ecosystem.

It then took three more years, two trials and changing jobs until I went “all in”, just in case it didn’t work out. Luckily it did. Today it still feels like the beginning of the journey, and while I don’t see myself in a position to give advice, what worked for me so far and helped me persevere through the difficult times – when I felt what entrepreneurial risk meant – is observing what gives me energy and trying to do more of that. I think that if more of us are able to do what we truly believe in, the more impactful and meaningful the work becomes.

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This article was published in Globe #29, the Graduate Institute Review.