SDG Business Model Innovation Workshop

Have you ever visited a research conference or business congress as student or young professional? If so, you might have experienced a momentary unease or stiffness to start conversations. Starting a conversations might seem bit frightening at times or even impossible with the biggest players in the game.

The Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development powered by the United Nations SDG Action Campaign and held from 21-23 March in the UN congress hall in Bonn, Germany, might indicate a lot of formality and stiffness. But surprising for the size and severity of the event – no formality and no stiffness. The Global Festival truly succeeded in bringing together key SDG actors from various professions, cultures and ages who are involved in innovative ways of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. With high-level panels, hands-on skill-sharing workshops, deep-dive immersive sessions and interactive experiences, the program provided 1,500 participants from all around the world enough opportunities to get inspired by people who are fighting to make the SDGs a reality!

We were highly delighted to have been selected under 150 applications as an official partner at the Global Festival, next to organisations such as Oxfam, Transparency International or the UN Refugee Agency. In our function as incubator and consultancy, Generation Why was chosen to conduct a workshop on “SDG Business Model Innovation”. The “SDG Business Model Innovation” workshop uses a holistic framework drawing on participatory methodologies and Lean Startup to start organizations (for-profit social businesses and non-profit NGOs) which are aligned with the SDGs. In this short session, we sought to give participants a rough understanding of the Lean Startup approach and Generation Why´s SDG business model canvas which they might apply to their own ideas in order to build organisations aligned with the SDGs.

The workshop took place during the second day, which was thematically assigned to workshops, exhibitors and speeches around “the power of the collective, leave no one behind“.  In the 1,5 hours workshop, we used Generation Why´s SDGs business model canvas as roadmap to ideate on new business opportunities for our showcase, a local social start-up tackling SDG target 10.2 (i.a. social inclusion of all) by helping older people to participate in social life, called Radeln ohne Alter (Cycling Without Age).

After we briefly introduced Generation Why to the audience, Natalie, the founder of Radeln ohne Alter Bonn, pitched the key aspects of her organisation and her current problems of mid-term financial viability. Then, our workshop coaches Tarek, Nicola and Hilma went step by step through our SDG business model. Divided into six groups, the international participants worked in groups of four to five people by using our SDG business model canvas to help improve the business model of Radeln ohne Alter. Within repeating brainstorming sessions and with the support of our coaches, each group ideated and prototyped a SDG business model canvas. The session was closed by short pitches of each group and Natali’s comments as well as the groups’ feedback.

In total, we and our guest speaker Natalie were positively surprised and highly satisfied with the high activity and engagement of all workshop participants as well as the creative and diverse ideas which came up during the session. The positive feedback we received for our workshop highlights the niche that Generation Why is tackling with it´s SDG business model canvas. For this reason, we feel reassured to be on the right track with our SDG innovation frameworks to support other young policy-, business- and social-entrepreneurs as well as organisations which are interested in translating the SDGs into their specific contexts.

Our take-home message and inspiration is that we will even more intensively establish our services as SDG innovation incubator and consultancy in the world out there to help other young change agents and organisations to align their activities with the SDGs. We learned that it is vital to build networks, to connect networks, to form political advocacy, to create ecosystems and most importantly – to become part of the SDG movement! Although the Global Festival is over now, the work is just getting more intense. The plans and promises made during the Global Festival among numerous SDG actors world wide must be now turned into action and brought to the attention of those who missed the opportunity to be inspired by this amazing scenery. A spread-the-word message for everyone: We can truly recommend taking the way to the next Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development!


Hilma Immonen (Finland/Germany)

Hilma Immonen has acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Mannheim and a Master’s degree in Sustainability Science and Policy from Maastricht University. She has gained working experience in research projects about the many faces of the sharing economy in Finland and later as consultant in urban planning in the Netherlands and real estate and management advisory in Germany. As Head of Marketing and Public Relations, Hilma is mainly responsible for marketing and external communication at Generation Why . She uses her experiences in science, politics and business to improve constantly our communication strategy, information campaigns on the SDGs and business model.