Lessons Learned: From Growing An Idea To Impact At Scale
06/08/2018 - Impact Hub

Fresh from this year’s #ImpactReport, Impact Hub Executive Director Gabriela Gandel shares the company’s top lessons learned over the past decade, as the Impact Hub network grew from idea to impact at scale.

With some exclusive insights also added to the mix, Gabriela offers some great tips and tricks that will help you to create your own entrepreneurial impact, wherever you are in the world…

What are the most important considerations for intentionally building impactful communities?

“It may be hard to grasp when you’re only just starting to build a community, but trust is truly a cornerstone of this process. From our 10+ years of experience, we identified three main challenges that exist…

1. Size.

Community building is one thing, but you need to think differently about how you can do this at scale.

To keep a qualitative community at scale (measured, in our case, through the collaboration, trust and ease of finding members while getting the support one needs), in co-hosting the community you need a mix of:

– Great hosts

– Deep hosting practice

– Robust membership management systems

– Lots of peer leadership

You can even push this further by complementing general hosting with expert hosting on specific themes, which makes a significant difference at scale.

2. Virtual / Physical.

It’s great to create a physical community, but if you’re looking at creating communities at scale across places, you need a strong virtual component whilst not losing the feeling of connection and intention.

3. Diversity.

It’s a challenge to curate an actually diverse community because when communities grow, they tend to get homogenous and less inclusive.

It’s many people’s concern because out of a desire to be open and inclusive grows the same segregation you wanted to avoid. One way to combat this is through partnerships that sponsor community access for less affluent actors in society.

These are the cornerstones of collaboration and support.” 

How is it possible to build powerful ecosystems that are organized bottom-up?

“We prototyped a model of ownership that emphasizes better stakeholder (not shareholder) responsibility, so perhaps this can serve as a role model for healthy, bottom-up globalization.

The Impact Hub network operates on a decentralized structure, where each Impact Hub gets one vote, and with those votes we jointly decide the direction of our network. This model truly reflects what Impact Hub is all about: innovation and collaboration.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t come with plenty of lessons:

– Firstly, don’t just give a person a vote — you have to help them with the resources, capacity, and stability they need to engage in global conversation.

– Secondly, this process works both ways:  You have to empower people in all contexts by listening to regional thoughts and directions.

This helps to understand what’s out there, and recognizing this need for stronger inclusion also led to the addition of specific regional and external voices to our Board.”

How do you manage to attract the right talent to scale your impact?

“We learned that top talent is attracted by entrepreneurial opportunity and community. Access to top talent is a major roadblock to scaling impact ventures as it’s expensive and experienced professionals require stability many impact startups can’t offer.

We solved this with a model that shares the pie with our founders, who all own their own Impact Hubs.”

What has Impact Hub learned about the process of creating impact at scale?

“When creating an impact ecosystem, it is essential to start working on collective outcomes while ensuring that you leave space for others to lead.

In less mature entrepreneurial contexts it can be helpful to directly embrace these social and economic issues and be more outspoken about your impact intentionality, rigor, and focus to drive impactful solutions.

Phnom Penh, Accra and Caracas for example are places where the social and economic challenges are more evident; all of these Impact Hubs created verticals in line with what they see as most pressing in their markets – Accra, for example, has a focus on health innovation.

As a network, we believe that the local community best knows the market needs and in these cases, they’re way more outspoken about our intentions than in more developed environments.

When creating your impact at scale remember to take care of these local nuances — this approach requires more accountability, so make sure to clearly measure your impact and have a logic behind it.”

Why has the network found it important to contextualize its impact locally?

“This comes down to a deceptively simple lesson we have learned: You have to really understand what your market needs. This might mean you have to create topical focuses and stand up for these issues — especially in less developed environments. Only then you will be in a position to build ecosystems that can drive the change you envision.

But don’t forget: one size doesn’t fit all. While our network had a lot of proactive growth through founders of Impact Hubs across the world, we are now shifting our focus to more strategic, paced growth.

This is because we established a critical mass of 100+ Impact Hubs on five continents, and while this demand certainly inspires us, we learned over the years that we weren’t able to penetrate certain markets just through proactivity.

Our approach would pick up organically in similar markets – and it still does – but as we saw the need to diversify our community and ecosystem in order to create a global democracy, we had to adapt our approach.

Take for examples the French speaking region in Africa and the very localized market in Indonesia. Here, while our global network brings a lot of added value, the Jakarta community was first sceptical. But when they saw that Impact Hubs are in fact strongly locally driven initiatives and that the global community comes as a cherry on top, they were much more invested in it.

For anyone embarking on a similar journey, my advice is to realize that while it’s important to curate diverse sub-communities on specific issues to maintain inclusion and diversity, make sure also to offer the comfort of topical connection, which is needed to tackle the complex issues our world is facing today.”

Want to know more? Curious about how you can join us?

Check out our latest Impact Report.


The work that Impact Hub has done so far contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goals: