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ImpactDinners: Supporting local sustainable transitions

Updated: Mar 18, 2022


Imagine a world that addresses local issues collaboratively instead of competing to the top and leaving others behind. Imagine a world in which conversations around issues are not only open and constructive but are also followed by action. We are talking about people that get up and walk their talk. People that serve as good examples inspire other individuals and organizations to follow. Imagine a world, that holds together in the face of challenges. While there is a long way ahead, this world could slowly start to be shaped by taking the first steps. Taking the first steps by bringing people together on one table and creating a local action plan. How? In form of ImpactDinners. Imagine all this started in Zwolle and was replicated all over the world.


Driven by that vision, we tried to take as many steps as possible to turn this into reality. But let us first start with the beginning of the semester. So, what lead us there? Once the team was formed, we were thinking about issues we would like to address. Each of us shared the same frustration: the global situation continuously worsens despite all the knowledge that is out there. Knowledge about the consequences of our daily behaviour, knowledge about climate change, knowledge about how urgent we as a global community need to rethink. Additionally, there is a lot of knowledge and tools available that facilitate a transition towards sustainability, there is support in form of funds and counselling, there are alternative economic models and so much more. And yet, despite all this, there is still not enough action. Why not? What can we do about it? After discussions within the team, we agreed to focus on small-/ and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the question of how to move them towards sustainability.

The exploring and engaging phase involved many e-mails and online interviews, helping us to understand different perspectives and narrow down the scope. So that, at the end, we decided to focus on how to close the communication gap between SMEs and the available resources that are needed for the transition. A huge challenge, right? After talking to different networks, we first concluded that an online platform would bridge the gap: a platform that collects all the knowledge available such as books, models, contacts of consultancy agencies, funds, and other resources. We wanted to do that in such a way that makes finding needed information easy. But how could we ensure that action is taken after sharing the information? Additionally, we found other platforms that are already doing a great job compiling these types of information. So, why doubling it?

Instead, based on the conversations with our stakeholders, we decided that it would be highly effective to bring people on one table - people from different sectors and backgrounds, people that are either looking for resources or can offer support. Based on our research, we believe that organizing an informal gathering where the participants can get to know each other and exchange their knowledge will be the most effective way to close the communication gap. The international network WEAll loved the idea and would be more than interested to see an example of this happening in Zwolle, replicable anywhere. Together, we agreed that it would be a great idea to create a guide that explains step by step how to bring people together to tackle an issue and close the communication gap.

Then, we had a talk with the municipality of Zwolle that initiated a great connection. They told us that there is a company in Zwolle called ImpactMakers that is working on a similar initiative, trying to bring people from different sectors together to address SDG-related issues. Slowly, different puzzle pieces started to come together and created a picture. ImpactMakers already had an idea written down with the title ImpactDinner. We met and joined our forces to work together towards our common goal of connecting people and addressing sustainability-related challenges. Our process of co-creation led to the first ImpactDinner that took place on February 10th as well as a guiding handbook that will be shared with WEAll at the end of 2022.

Now you might wonder, what are ImpactDinners exactly? ImpactDinners are a series of dinners that use a methodology inspired by world café and liberating structures that focus on helping people share their tools, knowledge, needs and resources as well as focus on action-taking. Each event has a specific topic that is SDG-related and highlights a local issue. Furthermore, one event consists of 2 dinners. The first dinner focuses on knowledge sharing and putting down actions to help solve the issue. Six months later, the second dinner takes places which focuses on celebrating and measuring the impact created. The distinct aspect about it is that ImpactDinners are action-oriented and the whole methodology is focused on impact-making and knowledge-sharing. Furthermore, it has a ‘glocal’ nature as the first set of ImpactDinners are organised in Zwolle, while the guide is shared as an open-source document through WEAll globally.

Now, how does the guide help SMEs move towards more sustainability? SMEs play an integral role during the dinners, especially, as they represent a sector with innovative input in solving local issues. However, as we found out during our research, many SMEs don’t know how to act on their own or what tools and knowledge are available to help them solve sustainability challenges. As one of the central goals of the dinners is to share knowledge and tools, SMEs would have the opportunity to meet people from different sectors and share their needs as well as how they could help others. Thus, by organising events based on the ImpactDinner guide, SMEs are provided the space to gather and exchange insights to improve their own business.

Beyond, the guide enables anyone who is willing to create positive change to initiate an ImpactDinner. It guides you through all the preparations such as the choice of the issue, the ideal location and food. Additionally, it explains the structure of the dinners and shares experiences from Zwolle. A summarising checklist at the end of the handbook helps you to organize a dinner as close to the Zwolle example as possible. Reading about our value creation, did we inspire you? We hope that this methodology will be used all over the world and are curious to hear your ImpactDinner stories.

For more information, feel free to reach out to us:

Kaisa Keerd:

Clara Schultenkämper:

Nina Nürenberg:

Samuel Wagner:

This is a short introductory video (YouTube) about us and our topic:

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