“Sabien is one of the smartest women I know”

4 January 2021
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For a period of one year, Sabien Windels, the founder of Roof Food, followed a counselling process at Happonomy, the organisation that strives for a sustainable transformation of value-driven entrepreneurs, organisations and society. This is elaborated below by Sabien and Bruno Delepierre, the founder of Happonomy.

Sabien:‘Bruno Delepierre is the smartest man I know. This is how Bruno was introduced to me by Pacquita Balcaen, a former employee and board member of Roof Food late in 2019. (Sabien laughs.) Pacquita had noticed a few organisational shortcomings and advised me to contact Happonomy. Normally, I am rather reluctant towards business consultants. I have the feeling that they don’t understand either myself or Roof Food’s mission, and that they only look at the purely financial aspect of doing business.”

However, that sentence about the Bruno’s intelligence stuck in Sabien’s head and made her curious. At the end of 2019, Bruno and Sabien met for the first time and they clicked immediately. “I immediately realised that Happonomy does look at the entrepreneur behind each organisation and that person’s motives,” adds Sabien.

Bruno: “That’s right. One of the goals of Happonomy is to build more and more successful sustainable organisations. We explicitly start from the situation of the entrepreneur, because entrepreneurs can only realise their visions by creating situations that are sustainable for themselves.

We want the economic framework to match their quality of life as much as possible in terms of workload, work-life balance, income, etc. The problem is that our current economic system does not support sustainability completely and that causes tension among sustainable entrepreneurs. This was also the case with Sabien; the clash between her vision and reality was so big that her personal well-being suffered.”

In October 2019, Sabien decided to follow a short trajectory at Happonomy. This process started with a financial-economic analysis of Roof Food, i.e., which activities are undertaken and how profitable are they?

“The audit was very thought-provoking,” says Sabien. “The catering activities were far less profitable than I thought, the HR did not run smoothly, and the organisational structure also needed improvement.

Bruno: “Roof Food had seven activities back then, such as the roof dinners, the roof menus, the catering and so on. I asked Sabien to think about the extent to which these activities helped her achieve her mission and whether the figures were adding up. It was up to Sabien to decide what she wanted to prioritise.”

Sabien: “That was extremely difficult for me. I felt quite restless during that period. I knew that I had to let certain things go, although I didn’t know at the time the direction in which Roof Food would evolve. That was a difficult process. Sometimes you’re so stuck in a business frame of mind where you think that you don’t have the option to tackle it in a different way. Happonomy helped me by acting as a sounding board. It helped me to zoom out and ask myself a number of critical questions such as, “How did we end up doing catering?”, “Why did we make that choice?”, “To what extent did it contribute to our mission?”, and “What did it provide financially?”

Bruno: “At the time, Roof Food was also in a very precarious financial situation. I insisted that Sabien should address this aspect first. Otherwise, she would never be able to realise her vision and ideas. I also immediately recognised a number of challenges within the Roof Food team that are typical of visionary entrepreneurship, because, let’s face it, Sabien is not a classic entrepreneur. Sabien is one of the smartest women I know, yet she faces an enormous challenge. The problem for people with a vision is that not everyone can see that vision, and you can’t sell what other people can’t see.”

With the support of Circular Flanders, Happonomy then started a project aimed at finding solutions for sustainable entrepreneurs who clash with the current business economic laws. Happonomy developed a structured roadmap for starting entrepreneurs who want to build a more social, creative and ecological world. The model guides them step by step through four phases that help them to leap forward as an entrepreneur and organisation.

After a model for aspiring entrepreneurs, the organisation is now also working on a model for entrepreneurs who have already started. The intention is to guide them in various aspects e.g., organisational design, pricing, planning and cash flow. Within the framework of this research, Roof Food acted as a test case and Sabien could count on the support of various domain experts from the Happonomy network for a year. Everything was reviewed from subsidy applications to pricing, and from organisational design to business case.

Sabien: “I gained so much from the counselling process with Happonomy. Something Bruno taught me, for example, is that creating a sustainable business starts with creating a sustainable situation for yourself. At the end of 2019, I was completely stressed. I had 1,001 problems and didn’t know where to start. One of the first sessions with Happonomy was about my comfort at home. I live with my boyfriend on a houseboat which we heat with a wood stove. Because the wood supply was not arranged very well, I spent a lot of my time every day just gathering wood. Bruno listed the following priorities: repair the stove, provide wood and make sure that it is comfortably warm every day. It’s crazy how long I had let that situation drag on, yet I was in so much trouble at the time that I couldn’t see the trees through the forest. Thanks to Bruno, we now have a large supply of wood to keep us warm during the winter.

Bruno: “The first step in sustainable entrepreneurship always starts with asking yourself: ‘What is important to you outside of your work?’, ‘How much money do you need for sustainable entrepreneurship?’, ‘What are your talents?’ and ‘What things do you need to improve?’ Don’t forget that the engines of companies, especially in the beginning, are the entrepreneurs themselves. Every company’s engine should run optimally and that is something which many starters seem to forget, along with all its consequences.”

Sabien: “Another important lesson I have learned is that structure gives you the peace and stability you need to build a healthy organisation. In the beginning, Roof Food was mainly chaos. My working week is much more structured nowadays. While I used to have an aversion to that, I now see its benefits. I will continue to work flexibly, although things like a budget, annual planning and activities are now on the agenda as well. Happonomy also made me aware of money. Bruno instructed me to keep track of all my personal costs and expenses for three months. This gave me a clear overview of what I consider to be important, where I spend my money and which dreams I want to realise in the future. This means that you can see in writing how much you actually have to earn to make it all come true. Happonomy works very hard on that awareness about your relationship with money and what you would like to build, what your strengths and weaknesses are and where you need to position yourself in your company to shine.”

Bruno: “The latter is important. It is a classic misconception that you have to be the general manager in your company. If that role doesn’t give you energy, then it is better to involve someone else who is better at it and enjoys doing so. It’s up to you to decide how you can contribute to your company in the best way. The type of organisation you build should be in line with who you are. For example, you can work with a small core team and rely on complementary partners for certain tasks.”

Sabien: “That’s actually what’s happening now between Roof Food and Happonomy. Several urban farmers requested guidance for their project. However, that requires such a range of skills that it is difficult to do it alone. That is why we are now working together, where Roof Food provides the context-specific expertise on urban agriculture and Happonomy focuses on the general business economic context. Together we will guide clients, using resources from each of our own networks. It is a symbiosis that I never imagined could happen before I got to know Happonomy.

This story was created with the support of Circular Flanders, the Flemish policy-making organisation for a circular economy.


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