Impact at Scale learned a lot about building communities with Alya Annabi the founder of GreenPush. GreenPush runs various programs that empower people with knowledge, resources, and support to encourage sustainable behaviors in every part of their business and personal lives. Alya is passionate about growing communities from the ground up, which really shows in this conversation. 

Some of the topics Alya covered: 

  • Creating a vibrant community
  • Finding purpose and value in communities 
  • The power of individuals to impact change 
  • How to help those that want to make a difference
  • The importance of small actions

Some of the other titles we considered for this episode: 

  1. Taking a Positive Approach to Sustainability
  2. As Individuals, You Have So Much Influence
  3. Long-term Change Through Building Communities 
  4. Helping Change Through Building Communities
  5. People Are Influenced by What Other People Are Doing

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Zal Dastur 0:01
Hi, everybody, and welcome to the Impact at Scale Podcast. I’m sitting here with Alya Annabi, the Founder of GreenPush, which is a very interesting company that looks to create communities that are involved in sustainability in corporations. Hi Alya, welcome to the show.

Alya Annabi 0:18
Hi, there. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me today.

Zal Dastur 0:21
Why don’t you start a little bit by telling us just what GreenPush is and the work that you’re doing?

Alya Annabi 0:27
Sure, great question to start with. So GreenPush is here to inspire, educate and engage the next generation of sustainability champions. So we focus mainly on companies. And we really help employees make a difference in their workspace today, so they can create a better tomorrow. So the way we do that is that we start by planting a seed with some educational talks. And then we have other programs called the sprout and the tree program. So aim here is to really help companies create their own Green Communities, or squads or groups, but just to have the employees work together to build and build green actions and implement with actions in the office and drive sustainable change.

Zal Dastur 1:12
I love that I love the idea of creating communities within businesses that can impact change within those organizations. So what inspired you to start this program?

Alya Annabi 1:26
Many things, actually. So I have started communities myself. So actually, it started in 2020, when I moved to the neighborhoods in Singapore, and so I created the first neighborhood community to encourage my neighbors to stop wasting, could be food or non food items, but instead should donate to other neighbors. And then I could really see the change of behavior. So today, it’s been more than two years and the group has been created. And you can really see the group being very active. And the behaviors have changed because people are giving even extra, I don’t know, salad or tomatoes they have at home, when actually they don’t need to do it. But now they understand that they shouldn’t wait anymore. And the other thing is that when you are within a community, you tend to also be influenced by what others are doing. So if what’s interesting is that when you have someone new joining the community, I always ask them to read the group description, because I have only one rule is that there is no if they cannot sell items, because I want to keep the sharing spirit going. But actually, they even they just read the group description, and but they don’t need me, they just see how others are doing how others are donating. And they tend to do the same. So it’s just like, now they don’t need me as Alya, telling them to how to do it. So this was at the beginning. But now it’s completely self sufficient. They, there’s items being given almost on a daily basis. And today we have saved, there’s more than 3500 items that have been either saved from landfill or borrowed or shared with with others. So yeah, so I really, really liked this. So then when I left Singapore, I went actually to Bali at the beginning of this year, and created sustainability, because I also saw there was there was a lot of, you know, businesses doing amazing things and eco conscious brands, but then I couldn’t really find any people who was, you know, thinking the same as me, who was into sustainability and who had changed were themselves on their own journey. So I just decided to create also a community now we are more than 90 people. And same it’s about you know, sharing events, articles, tips. So you can really see like momentum when you put people together on the group. And and yeah, it can, it can be very interesting to to drive the change on the long run, because now I’m not in Bali anymore. I’m not in Singapore, but the communities are still ongoing, so they don’t need me. And I think he’s just having that start. So that push, that’s where we push comes is really to help companies put these people together help build the community. And then yeah, and then once you have created created the momentum, after a few weeks and months, they become self sufficient.

Zal Dastur 4:15
So you have started effectively, a very grassroots organization and what I envisioned to be real meaning behind the sharing economy. So what tell me you you mentioned food, what are some of the other things that people are sharing on this platform? What are the what are some of the one of the more interesting and unique things that people have put on there that that are being shared?

Alya Annabi 4:40
Yeah, it can go from so many different things. At the beginning, it started more with non food items, because this is something that I was pushing to convince people to be on the group and you know, it’s okay. If you have I don’t know, a chair that you want to donate or it can be basically anything that you think you shouldn’t have. Nemo in your household, but people tend to just think of the beans. So what happened is that when I went to the bins of my condo, I discovered so much items that shouldn’t have been actually in the bins in the first place. So like things I don’t know, like carpets really nice carpets, golf bags, yoga mats, microwaves. I mean, it was like crazy amounts of items that were like really treasures. So you know, the saying, One man’s trash is another person’s treasure. So it was exactly that. So actually, when I created the group, I was, you know, definitely rescuing these items, because they were in very good condition. Of course, I couldn’t go to the bin area every day. So I had the people actually working in the bin area would keep things on the site for me. And, and yes, so what happened is that every day I would go and then take these items, put them on the group, and people would be really excited about, you know, having this in this. And what happened is that people started expressing some needs. So instead of thinking, oh, I need this, let’s buy it, they would say, okay, maybe someone in your community has it, right. So then they will just express some things like I don’t know, I would love to have a coffee table. And then magically, I don’t know, maybe the karma was there, I would go to the bins and find a perfectly in new condition, IKEA coffee table. So at some point, people started calling me to Jeannie because they would just express express something, and then magically would happen and happen to be there. And now of course, yeah, I don’t live there anymore. So I don’t go. But people donate things from I don’t know, so fast to chairs to plants recently, to food. So here it has went into food also lamps, I mean, so many different kinds of objects, there’s also more and more boring being done in the in the group. So they borrow, I don’t know, things that they need only for one time use. So mostly, you know, like shells or things like that. Ladders, ladders, or other objects, actually. And what has been done as well is that we have shared us a lot on a lot of topics. So we would also discover that, you know, some people would actually making their own temporary at home or their own kombucha, okay, let’s just get together and then learn from that person. So we did a lot of like workshops and gatherings where we just, we would just share the skills. So I also animated some workshops on how to compose or the climate phrase or, you know, other people shared about, you know, how to make your own kombucha, or Tempe. So we would just get together have this sharing moments. And I think that helps also build community feeling, especially in a neighborhood where we all live next to each other.

Zal Dastur 7:47
How do you get these communities started? What was the initial part to go? Because obviously, once you get to 200, you’ve reached a critical mass where there’s people and there’s enough conversation on the platform that people are engaged. But at the early stages, how did you get people to come on to the platform or, and it’s not even a platform, right? It’s you were telling me it’s a WhatsApp group?

Alya Annabi 8:09
Yes, yeah. So I definitely believe that, to have a successful successful community, it should be in a place where people usually go, so if you take people, usually they would have a social chat on their phone. So whether it’s WhatsApp Telegram, I mean, you name it, if you take a company, they use other tools, like teams, for example. So I think it’s having to use a platform that is not new to them. Because otherwise, they might log in once or twice, but then they won’t go there anymore. But it’s rather using a tool that is already ingrained in their everyday life. So for spiritual community in Singapore, what I did at the beginning was to just knock at my neighbor’s doors, floor by floor going, you know, me as earlier, I did actually a flyer. So I think the great thing behind community before having, as you said, the critical mass or building the momentum is to really market it. So I did a really nice flyer, I printed with a little text of why I was doing this with the logo, nice colors. So it was like it’s already set up, you know, even though the group at the beginning was only me, my boyfriend and my next door neighbor. Still it was there, it was already created. And so it must it was much easier for me to go knock on their door and be like, Would you like to be part of that group? You know, hey, I’m just I just moved in. So basically, it was me going and knocking. And then I got like this I got around 20 people but what happened is that there was also word of mouth that works super well today. So when there’s a new person coming in, people just reach out to me say Allah, can you please add this person? And that’s it and I’m just adding it. The other thing is that only admin for all of my communities so It’s just for me to have to know who is joining the group also, and make sure that they’re within that area, or, you know, just to keep a little bit selective also. And so people when they join in, they’re really happy to join, you know, thank you so much for adding me. It’s not just like, it has not come to them, but it’s more de want to join, because they heard from someone, they heard it from someone else. So once they join, they’re so happy to join that, you know, actually there, they know, it’s, it’s precious what they have. And also at the beginning, I joined also another Whatsapp group that we had in the neighborhood. That was that was more general group. And I also posted the link to the group there, because I knew he was all neighbors saying that, you know, I had created this group to increase sharing amongst neighbors, and this is why I had created it. So I think the last thing when you create a community is that people need to know why they’re joining, what’s the purpose behind? Like, what is this group, you know, aligned with my values? Do they find it cool? Do they find it interesting? Are they curious? And then, at the beginning, I was like, Oh, why did this person leave the group? Like, I wouldn’t understand. After a while I understood that, yeah, of course, people either leave the neighborhood, so they’re not, they no longer want to be part of it. And that’s okay. But also, sometimes it’s not also for everyone that they join, and maybe they’re not that interested into picking up other items, or donating. And it’s fine as well. But I think it’s giving that space to people. But most importantly, they need to understand why does this group exist in the first place?

Zal Dastur 11:37
I’ll move on now to your latest venture. Push, what is the goal of that company? What are you guys hoping to achieve with that?

Alya Annabi 11:46
Okay, good question. So we definitely want to help companies build their own Green Communities, because I really, really believe in the power of the snowball effect. So actually, if I didn’t think about it, just like that, what happened is that when I created GreenPush at the big, I mean, it was like, a few months ago, in April, I just wanted to continue what I was doing on the side, which was give educational talks, and bring awareness keep on spreading my knowledge. And of course, I didn’t have all the knowledge in the world, but I have always taken that positive approach to sustainability. Because of course, the issue of climate change is such a big topic, people can often feel powerless, right. So my approach has always been to empower people and show them that as individuals, they have so much influence, they can do really a lot. And they can, you know, you, you as one person can influence your own circles. And if you plan to sit in once people hit, then this person can also influence her own circle, right? So if you have that kind of ripple effect, and I really, really strongly believe in that. And that’s why I believe in the power of communities, right? So at the end of the day, with GreenPush, I keep on doing what I was doing, which is bringing awareness, but then I started having this urge in me like I felt like my mission was definitely not complete, because I wouldn’t see what what were people doing after the talks, you know, because you give a talk you kind of bringing the knowledge, engage them as questions, make them think, because definitely, I’m not here to convince here to make people think, think about their own choices, individual actions, and really plant that seed coming from different angles. Because I really think that we all come come from a different angle when it comes to sustainability. So if you like that’s an example I like to give, if you go to the supermarket, and you see some veggies, you know, almost going to waste, then you might you know that you might buy them because you’re against food waste. And you know that there’s a lot millions of people, hundreds of millions of people being hungry every day, and you don’t want to participate in that. But me as I see them wrapped in plastic, so I might not buy them because I’m concerned about plastic pollution. So at the end of the day, there is no one solution fits all. But it’s about understanding why we want to do better, because we all have an impact on the daily basis. Because we all eat food every day. We drink water, we wear clothes, we take transportation, we are online, almost all the time with our jobs. So we have, let’s say your footprint on so many areas of our of our lives, but it’s having, you know, better actions. So that’s for me something that’s really important, the education part. But then I wanted to go further by helping people who want to do more actually do more. Because what I noticed is doing quite a lot of interviews in the past weeks with companies and people who were either part of Green Teams or not over sustainability managers. There’s definitely one challenge that is how to change the mindsets of people. How do you can you really really drive behavior change within a company because, oh, we have put the most amazing recycling bins, but people put, don’t put the right things in the right place. So then the recycling rate is obviously low. So yes, it comes from education, you need to educate, but you also need to kind of nudge them in to influence them. And there are some techniques for that. We are everyday influenced by these marketing techniques, influential techniques, actually, by you know, brands pushing us to buy more and more and consume more, but we can also use these techniques to do better. So that’s why I have, you know, thought of, Okay, let’s try to have this long term change by building the communities within companies and take the people who want to go further and create a first group, that first momentum, it can be 234 people, but they are the ones who will be, you know, the driver of change, because they they will have the space and opportunity to do more and bring more. You said something

Zal Dastur 16:01
interesting there where you said, You’re not here to change people. If I heard what your business does, I would think that changing people’s minds would be the primary goal of the business, mainly because those who already know that climate change is a problem already believe in sustainability, they don’t need to be convinced it is the people that are skeptical that may not care that think that this is gonna happen anyway. Maybe they are the ones that need to be convinced. So I’m just interested as to understand why you don’t think you’re going to be changing people’s minds.

Alya Annabi 16:41
Yeah, thank you for the question. So I don’t know how I said it. But what actually the main thing for me is, as Alya, or as GreenPush, I’m not here to convince, I’m not here to say you should do this. Now. I’m here to make person think about her own choices, her own actions, what is this person doing on a daily basis? So to give you an example, instead of saying to someone, Oh, you shouldn’t eat meat, it’s not good. It’s not good for you. Or it’s not good for the planet, you know, it destroys the soils, it destroys. Okay, this we know, but if the person doesn’t really care about climate change, or is that really interested to be like, okay, whatever, you’re not really interested in what you’re saying. But if you say something like, Did you ever ask yourself why the chicken rice is $4? Why is it so cheap? And we say, Oh, I don’t know. Or have you thought of why the price is so low, maybe the chicken was actually, you know, has not ever seen the sun in India in his life. Or maybe it’s also filled with hormones is also bad for your health. Really bad for my health? Oh, I care about my health. I didn’t know that. You know. And actually, that’s quite an interesting example, because that’s how it started for me. So today, I’m vegetarian. But it didn’t come like that, or because I want to do my part for the planet. And, and I want to become vegetarian, because you know, I want to lower my carbon footprint. For example, it didn’t come from that. It came from someone who told me once did you know that chickens they are, they are fitted with hormones. And I was shocked because my whole life, my mom has always said to me that she didn’t want to give me antibiotics. She didn’t want to give me any kind of medicine because it was not good for my health. So when I heard that chicken, we’re actually fed with antibiotics and hormones, and then I would eat a chicken. So it would come in my body. It may be snuck from one day to another because I cared about my health, not about the animals, not about the planet. So that’s why I was saying at the beginning that we all come from a different angle, what, but it’s about finding and helping people find something to care about, whether it’s biodiversity, the plastic pollution, animals, there’s I don’t know, there’s so many, so many different things we can care about as individuals. But once you have found that, and you kind of grow on that journey, at the end of the day, yes, you will see that everything is interconnected. But it has you have to have that starting point. So that’s why I’m saying I’m not here to convince I’m not here saying to people, you shouldn’t invade, this is what you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t do this, and this and this. And we’re here to ask the right questions, to make people open their eyes. And until they find a topic that is really like that really speaks to them. Because I don’t know we are all different. Some people because they are parents that might think about their children’s health or other people they might think about, you know, they love animals so they will be more you know, shocked to hear something about I don’t know for example, if you take the fashion industry and then they will be open. They will open their eyes they will have a new way. New movements, and then they will be more inclined to change. So I think it’s more to bring people from different angles to make them care. And take action. It’s so

Zal Dastur 20:09
interesting, you brought up chicken, because a few weeks ago, I spoke to the CEO of Tyndall foods, where they’re making a plant based chicken. And he was telling me serious detail about what goes on with these chickens, you know, and he was saying how the way that we grow animals right now is so not natural, that there’s so much antibiotics, so many hormones that are pumped into it into their feed, he actually gave me a very different angle, which is that chickens are 70% water. And in you know, 50 years, probably sooner water is going to be such a precious resource, that, can we be affording to waste it in this inefficient process to get food, and that’s where these plant based replacements are really going to come in? Because they’re going to require much less water. So that is interesting connection. The other thing? So I know you’ve been you haven’t been doing this a long time. You said you started in April, what has been the response from businesses when you when you talk to them, and you want to approach them about starting a community in their organization?

Alya Annabi 21:16
Yeah, actually, their response has been really, really positive, because I really took the time to understand the challenges behind. So what happened is that I understood that, you know, companies, they often set goals by, you know, 2030 wanted to date want to be carbon neutral. So they have their own teams, CSR teams, for example, working on this more on the company level, but often there’s that gap within employees, you know, because they, they some, in some sustainability strategies, employees and communities are one of the key pillars. So of course, each company has different strategies and approach to the topic. And it’s great because they, there’s a momentum, they want to do something, but they often don’t really know, okay, how to motivate them. You know, we are a sustainability manager, we are a small team, but how can we drive real change across that many number of people. So that’s why I believe that my approach and in helping this company build their own internal communities can really work because I have seen other companies doing that. And I’ve seen it work. But you also need, you don’t need the first group only, you need to have a group that is willing to take small actions, because for me, at the end of the day, small action, plus more action plus more action equals biggest change, bigger changes. And yeah, I read an article recently on Deloitte insights, saying there’s a study confirming that. I mean, also from the learning that I saw online, and the people that I talked to, it’s a very interesting time to be doing this, because actually, there’s a need for companies to, to drive and change the behaviors of their own employees.

Zal Dastur 23:03
So what is what’s something interesting that you’ve learned from the community building that you’ve done?

Alya Annabi 23:12
Yeah, what I shared at the beginning, people are influenced by what other people are doing. That’s definitely why I believe in that snowball effect. And the fact that, you know, once you have that group of people, you can have that collective intelligence as well. So community can also start with two people only. So what’s interesting to mention is that in my previous work, and the company, I was working in Singapore, I was a sustainability champion with a jerk ex colleague of mine is a very good friend today. And we, because we were too we were not afraid to do things to propose ideas to try to implement some actions also in the office. But we also knew that in order to influence other people and employees, we had to Yes, educate them. So we did some talks within the company, but we had to try to nudge them also like to influence them. So we knew some techniques. So for example, when we implemented a compost, we didn’t start with something fancy and big. We started with a really, really tiny container next to the coffee machine, it was very easy, very obvious that it was there. And we explained to people that it was easier to throw the coffee grounds there than going to the regular bean, because it was closer to the coffee machine. So we made the more sustainable choice and option, so obvious and so easy that it was the default option for them, almost, you know. So then we would see more and more people contributing to that small container of compost adding more and more things until we even put the flyer to explain what they could put and what they couldn’t put their. Do this people cared about if the coffee grounds would be incinerated or actually composted? I don’t think so. But they got influenced into clean attributing to that action, because it was really easy. And it was a first step, you know. So if you multiply this by the number of employees, the number of days, you can think about also the big change that it comes at the end, after even a few weeks or months.

Zal Dastur 25:17
That’s, that’s fantastic. Oh, yeah. Thank you so much for your time. I really have enjoyed speaking to you and understanding a little bit more about how you build communities.

Alya Annabi 25:26
Thank you, Zal. Thank you for having me. Thank you. Bye.