Today’s market is flooded with cheap and environmentally harmful products. The figures for the amount of waste we produce as a society are shocking, with the amount estimated to double by 2030. At the same time, the majority of those in the business community are not equipped to make a switch to sustainable operations.
Smetumet design solutions and products that turn waste into high-quality and well-designed usable products. They offer their clients solutions that help them understand how much waste they produce, where the waste comes from and prepare solutions for them to deal with it in a sustainable way.
Below is a very informative interview with founder Maja Rijavec and Alenka Kreč Bricelj, Maja’s founding partner.
What is the social innovation Smetumet about?
We are about using waste materials and designing them in such a way that the products are desirable and raise awareness about garbage, pollution and the impact on the environment.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
When we started there was very little going on around waste; we also felt a more emotional approach was needed rather than talking about statistics and numbers. It’s better when you ask questions and there was nothing going on at that time; because we were already working in the field of design, we realised we could try and increase awareness this way. So, take waste, use creativity, design and ask questions rather than just give statistics. Our organisation started as an NGO and then, in the last few years, we developed it as a social enterprise. So we do more work now also in a business sense.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
Creative and collaborative work is at the core of what we do and how we do it. But it was never intentionally done this way. Basically, it was done in a very playful and unintentional manner. Everything was done in a very creative manner. We always keep in mind that we don’t want to preach to people as we hate it when others do that to us. This is what we try to incorporate into what we do.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
I think there is always a little fear present – the fear of how to survive, how to make the end need. The whole collaboration, the fact that we, from early on, we were the community. There were a few of us combined and we could do things inside this group and we felt better and more understood because we had each other, so it was all about community. We created our own world. We are like a family, like-minded people that feel the same as we do. This is a community of women, NGOs and people who think like us.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).
It was always our enthusiasm that drove us more than anything else. If it wasn’t something that we really believed in and wasn’t something we really felt passionate about, I don’t think it would have lasted more than one year. It’s about fun, meeting people and just being creative and expressing what we believe. It’s also about coffee.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
At the beginning, we didn’t get as much attention as we do now. Quite quickly words like sustainability, circular economy and things like that became popular and since we were one of the beginners at doing this kind of work, making things from waste material, the media caught up. This is not something we have to struggle with as we have quite enough attention. When we are more intentional in our messages then we try to keep it light, not be moralistic, but talk more about what we can do and how we can be creative and how we can really do amazing things from waste. This is what we want to get across. We would rather have a dialogue than give a monologue.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
We did some target group research. The more bags we do, the more bags we sell, the more workshops we have, the more we speak to our end users. We are in constant dialogue with them. We always ask people to give us feedback. We are always in a dialogue. This is how we try to be relevant.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
At the beginning, and even now sometimes, we invest our knowledge, our time, all our capabilities or even materials. We use our personal equipment. This is how we invest. In a financial way, we also try to find some call that we can apply for. We try to sell our products on the market. In the last two years, we have done more B2B business. This shows us that we have better results.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
There was some business knowledge missing from our organisation. So we got ourselves many mentors from social enterprises and some CEOs, some experts in marketing, and this really helped. Having a mentor in marketing is always cool. I think this brought us to another level. We were involved in a programme that was about social educating, people from social enterprises. We had reciprocal relationships with them. We are also a valuable source of information. We are also experienced in how things are done sustainably.
How do you change the whole system?
With a positive attitude. I think it is done daily; continuity is the rule. Surround yourself with people that are like-minded, enlightened, with a sense of humour. It’s important you don’t stop. You should do it every day. Don’t let negative things get you down for too long. Try to involve different sectors of the society if possible, like the public sector, individuals, the economy. Try to find like-minded people in these sectors and try to get them to make a good project.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, who has only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
I would say two things. Ideals are not enough and resilience is everything. If you want to build a sustainable tomorrow, then make sure it is also sustainable for you in the long run. Don’t forget your own sustainability.
Interviewed by Maja Novak
The NGO and social enterprise Smetumet started in 2007 as an informal get-together of a group of friends where they would talk about a joint passion – the issue of waste. Their main advocacy is to start a conversation on the issue of waste; to lead discourses about where products come from, where they end up and what people can do to be better consumers. The entire initiative on conscious consumption was sparked mainly by the political and economic transition the group have seen and experienced. For their social enterprise, the products range from drawstring bags made of used curtains that can replace plastic bags for grocery shopping, to decorative pendants made of egg cartons that have seeds of edible plants.
Author of the photo: Bojan Stepančič
Would you like to learn more from other inspiring social innovators?
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