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10 November 2021

10 years, 10 moments with Gabriela Gandel

After 10 years of leading the Impact Hub Network, Gabriela Gandel will move into a new role on our global board of the Impact Hub Association in 2022. She’ll hand over to Tatiana Glad, who steps into the Executive Director role as of January 2022.

We asked Gabriela to share her most memorable 10 moments of the past decade. Here’s her story.

When I joined the ‘Hub Network’ back in January 2011, I had no idea I’d still be here 10 years later, but I knew it was the right place for me to be!”

When I joined the ‘Hub Network’ back in January 2011, I had no idea I’d still be here 10 years later, but I knew it was the right place for me to be! It all started with an SMS – yes, those were still the days for that.

Through 2010, the then ‘The Hub’ had gone through a management buy-out process of the original franchisor. Post this, it had decided to shift to a network design, co-owned by its subsidiaries and appointed a small global secretariat to steward its development.

The original members of the global secretariat – Hinnerk Hansen, Simon Ulvund and Michel Bachmann – were looking for another director to join them with experience in building and leading networks. That’s where I came in – and yes that was the SMS that started it all! The rest is now history.

Here are 10 impactful moments that led us to become the largest global network that supports social entrepreneurs and innovators. An achievement I am deeply proud of as I hand over the reins of leadership to the amazing leader Tatiana Glad and shift to the Board of the organisation to help with larger-scale partnerships and influence through social entrepreneurship policy.

Gabriela Gandel at Impact Hub's first Global Gathering at Impact Hub Madrid
Gabriela Gandel at Impact Hub's first Global Gathering, Madrid 2010

1. Our first global gathering in Madrid

In a group of just under 30 leaders from the initial pioneering Impact Hubs, we got together to define our core identity. Intense debates on our vision, purpose and values ensued. There was laughter, there were tears, there was conflict and reconciliation. And, in the end, we gave birth to the new ‘HUB Network Identity’, approved in one of our first General Assemblies.

Our movement stood for building a better world through the power of entrepreneurial solutions, supported by a powerful magic mix of inspiring spaces, vibrant communities and meaningful content. It’s amazing to me how those words we then put on paper became a reality and remain a strong part of our current DNA even after many improvements, iterations and changes. And even though some of the original 30 people are not in our network anymore, there is power and legacy from this meeting that continues through the hundreds of new leaders we brought together in the network ever since.

2. HUB Practice Academy

From the early days of the network, we have always held a belief that we must focus on codifying and sharing our practices to enable replication and improvement beyond existing approaches. And, looking now at 102 Impact Hubs across 60 countries and 24.000 entrepreneurs and innovators supported, it looks like we were right to believe so.

Impact Hub_Practice Academy_Women entrepreneurs meeting
Practice Academy definition meeting, Milan 2011

The practice of codification, sharing and learning together got established by a group of 6 founding leaders who engaged over 100 others in the network around our first How-to-Guides and Building Communities of On-Going Practice. The latter covered topics such as community building, space development and operations. We called this the HUB Practice Academy and, whilst its format and name is maybe long forgotten, the core practice stayed and has now led to us becoming one of the most prominent capacity-building organisations in entrepreneurial support & community building within our sector.

3. Global leadership pioneering meetings

Impact Hub_Leadership meetings_Gabriela Gandel
Initial global Impact Hub leadership team: Simon Ulvund, Hinnerk Hansen, Gabriela Gandel and Michel Bachmann, March 2011

In the early years, there were only four people in the global team and most of us worked part-time. Across London, Vienna, Zurich and Brussels. We used to meet to discuss our strategy, plans, take stock of new teams coming in and build the basic processes of the network. I will never forget the strong support we gave each other through those years, learning how to be better leaders and how to build something none of us exactly knew how to describe.

The long working through nights, the infinite calls, the fun dinners, the walks & talks by lakes, mountains and forests and, most importantly, the deep camaraderie in building something unknown, challenging but fantastic together. A big thank you to Hinnerk, Simon and Michelle for these times and the value they brought!

4. Becoming Impact Hub

A few years after establishing the ‘HUB Network’ we went through a process of repositioning and rebranding that led to us becoming the Impact Hub Network. Whilst this is one of our best decisions to date – putting Impact at our core and then following through to live up to this impact through our entrepreneurial support offering – it was also one of the most difficult and spirited decisions we had to make.

All these emotions came out in one of our global gatherings at the time, a real watershed moment where we tested our courage, vulnerability, commitment and alignment and, with lots of love and care, succeeded! Then, we had the most amazing party 😉 to celebrate belonging and community, restored.

Impact Hub meeting, design thinking dynamic
Impact Hub Global Gathering, Oaxaca 2013

5. Stretching beyond the known

In 2015 we had already become more than 60 Impact Hubs. Whilst we had a strong presence in Europe and North America, we had little presence in Latin America, Africa and the Asia Pacific. That’s not quite the global footprint we have today or wanted to have. So, we set out to learn why. And realised that our organic growth approach was replicating the model in similar geographies, so, to break that bias, we needed a more intentional adaptation.

Impact Hub meeting, impact entrepreneurs
LatAm SEED Program meeting, São Paulo 2017

That’s how the Africa SEED and LatAm SEED efforts were set up, led by local and contextual leadership to figure out how to expand in these regions. Workshops, gatherings, challenges and successes – the Addis Ababa regional gathering and the regional meeting in Accra being two I value deeply – these brought strong, inspiring and fresh new leadership that changed our lives!

6. Unlikely Allies

Unlikely allies, Impact Hub network
First Unlikely Allies Event, Cluj-Napoca 2015

It’s not easy for a tightly knit community to open up. But, we’re not a community that doesn’t dare. Through 2017-2018, we started opening up our global events to engage with likely and unlikely allies (activists, artists, movement builders) from around the world – learning from and with others, turning a mirror onto our work and inviting new creative ways of collaboration.

It was a pleasure curating these amazing new engagements with dear friend and leader, Lauren Higgins. Her magic and maverick attitude made it all worth it and opened up the doors to build alliances with great organisations around the world towards scaling impact on key issues.

7. Leadership team

No day passed through these years where I have not been grateful for the leadership team I am part of at Impact Hub. People like Petr Skvaril, Maria Trindade, Petruta Stoica, Sarah Stamatiou and Alberto Masetti, whom I deeply love, respect and am inspired by. They are, have been and will be my rock – an absolute dream team! And it soothes my heart to know that alongside them, there is such great new leadership growing in our team – strong, humane and ambitious leaders from such diverse backgrounds – that I am so excited to see what they can achieve next. What more can a leader desire!

Impact Hub global leadership team, social entrepreneurs meeting, Zurich
Impact Hub global team days, Zürich 2021

8. Co-responsibility at scale

In 2017, after an intense growth journey, we had to re-commit and put our money where our commitment is. In Canada, we made probably our most important decision for our future: to upgrade our collective business model, take stronger financial co-responsibility for each other and build a coherent strategic agenda with each other.

And this time, whilst the decision was way more difficult than past ones, we did this with significant engagement, mature critical debate, support and appreciation of each other, and stepped up together for our locally rooted, globally connected ambition. And this decision served us well for the future, unblocking a pathway to resilience just before one of our most testing times through COVID19.

Co-responsibility, Impact Hub network global meeting, social entrepreneurs working together_Gabriela Gandel speaking at a public event
Gabriela Gandel at an Impact Hub Global Gathering celebrated in Ottawa and Montreal in 2017

9. Makers Manifesto

Networks like ours are deeply relational constructs. And with so many Impact Hubs by 2019 and so much more diversity, it was sometimes hard to know if the deep value of connection between us was still aligned. In Florianopolis, bathed and blessed by the beautiful sun and sea, we took this question and through an Appreciative Inquiry process articulated our Makers Manifesto. This manifesto speaks to our everyday actions, to how we live our connection and culture in every interaction we have within our communities, and brings a needed third culture ground that we can all rely on to bring us together.

Makers manifesto, Impact Hub network, social entrepreneurs meeting
Global Gathering Social Impact Summit, Floripa 2019

10. Gratitude & Resilience

Two years into the global pandemic, after watching it ravage societies and highlight even more our inequality and unsustainable development, we decided to meet again. This was a unique opportunity to share the pain as well as the love and support we experienced and deeply reconnect with our sense of purpose, the urgency of bold collective action and celebrate our resilience.

What stays with me to this day is deep gratitude for the fighter spirit in all of us and the love and care for each other. Our deep commitment to staying engaged in our communities of changemakers and expanding our support when it is most needed is inspiring. For being part of building this powerful community of change, I am forever grateful – even more so as we boldly act together into this key decade of action.

Impact Hub network Global Gathering, 2021, Zurich
Impact Hub Network members at the 2021 Global Retreat in Zürich

Many other moments and many other people come to mind as I think of the past years. I often say that the story of the Impact Hub is that of the “Hero with 1,000 faces” – each one of those being built by the incredible entrepreneurs and innovators in our community. And there’s no bigger comfort in my leadership transition to the organisation’s Board than knowing that amongst these 24.000+ people strong community across 60 countries, there is always a solution, there is always a connection, there is always an open heart and an ambition that the next decade of action will make the difference needed to push our societies to be more just and sustainable!

Thank you for staying strong, staying together and enabling me to lead with my full self. Now on to an even better next 10 years!

Tatiana Glad, current Co-Founder and Director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, now takes over from Gabriela Gandel to join the Impact Hub global team as our new Executive Director. Learn more about her in this interview in which she talked to us about her ambitions for the network – and her own entrepreneurial action.