Connecting volunteers to causes to sponsors, Incitement is a thriving global community that has set out to make the concept of ‘social business’ a reality.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
On the 11th of November, back in 2011, Incitement held their first event in Kaula Lumpur, where eight people got together to share their stories and ideas to inspire each other. As the events continued, they started posting the content of it online and at one point, they started receiving phone calls from the world over. The first one was from a lady called Patricia from Sonoma Valley in California, ‘Hey guys, I’ve seen your content, how can we do the same thing and bring this to Sonoma Valley.’
Daniel de Gruijter and Zikry Kholil, the co-founders of Incitement, didn’t think much of it at the time, until they also received phone calls from South Africa, soon followed by Croatia and then Jordan. Upon realising that they were onto something here, Daniel and Zikry started putting a structure into place and started thinking about what they wanted to do with their events. There were already a lot of events out there that had high-quality content to inspire people, TEDx to name just one, but Incitement, of course, wanted to be different.
Six years later, Incitement has its chapters in over 46 countries with 1000s of volunteers and 100s of social events and projects. Join in on our conversation with Daniel de Gruijter as we find out how Incitement became a ‘one-stop-shop’ for volunteers, NGOs and corporate brands alike for creating social impact across the globe.
INKLINE: How did Incitement change its tracks from when it started out as a get-together event to inspire people?
Daniel de Gruijter: It was while we were brainstorming for ideas as to where to take Incitement, when at one of the events, Yu Jin, who’s now a good friend of ours, came up to say, ‘Guys, I’m from Labuan (a region in Malaysia), there are a lot of children there who don’t have access to education and I would like to do something about it, but I can’t find the people to help me with this. Here you are in a room, successfully inspiring people through the stories of others, why can’t you announce that this is a project am working on and ask people who want to help me?‘
We did that, and they did their project, a very basic DIY kind of project to help the kids in Labuan to provide education for them. We saw at the time that this might be something very interesting, we are bringing all these people in a room together, and initially in our events, they get inspired but then at the end of the event they just leave and go home to sleep and wake up the next day. And basically, this is the story all over again. We thought why do we not provide the opportunity for people who are already at the peak of their inspiration and motivation and provide them with an outlet to participate in social projects, it could be a very good outcome for an event if we can drive volunteers to social causes.
And this is what we started to do with a few NGOs. The first one was Fugee school, which was a school for refugees in Kuala Lumpur in an area called Gombak. We started working together with them and started designing a curriculum for the students of Fuji, that was built around the education of soft skills because the refugees here in Malaysia get to learn only three things – Maths, English and Science at a very basic level. We went to refugee schools with them and we funnelled the volunteers from our events to this specific initiative and a few others of NGOs around the area that we were partnering with.
Soon, we realised that this was successful and it was actually a very good funnel sort to speak where the event is the inspiration part and the social work, the action part.
I: Your events became a sort of funnel for the manpower that NGOs require. How did the sponsors get involved?
D: At a certain point, the NGOs we were working with started explaining to us ‘Look, guys, this is very nice. We are getting a lot of volunteers, a lot of manpower, but we also have some other issues that we have which are for example funding’. All NGOs look for two things – funding and manpower. So we managed to solve one of those problems, but of course, that left them with the other problem of funding. We decided to try and fix that issue as well so that the Incitement event would be a one-stop-shop for NGOs to solve their obstacles and grow their impact.
Initially, we reached out to the government, that’s where we tried to raise the grant money, which was all relatively very unsuccessful. This was all in the startup phase of the company, we were trying out different things, most of which actually failed. Then at some point, we went to the corporations. There is, of course, a lot of CSR budget available and we thought why don’t we tap into that and hopefully get the brands to sponsor the NGOs in the projects that we do through Incitement.
The first brand we collaborated with was Nestle. In the monsoon season, on the east coast of Malaysia, there is usually very severe flooding on an annual basis. The project we did with Nestle was to rebuild schools and the houses in the flooded areas. The one that really kind of kicked off and validated this model of growth was a project with Pepsico. There is an initiative called the Liter of the Light, which started the same time that Incitement did.
Illac Diaz, the founder of Liter of Light, had spoken at one of our events, we had stayed in touch with him and Zikry particularly became very good friends with him. After three years or so, when we were both going in our own directions, but good directions, we thought why don’t we do something together? That’s when Incitement adopted Liter of Light as one of the projects that we do and we raised funds for them from Pepsico. Pepsico sponsored a significant amount in the project in Malaysia. And this was a project that we expanded on significantly. So far we have done 32 villages in the span of two years with clients like Pepsico, L’oreal, FedEx, Cummins. So we knew that this business model was a very successful one.
I: Why do you think your business model worked so well?
D: The reason for this was that we had a very unique selling point. First of all, Incitement is not a non-profit organisation, we are a social business. So we try to optimise profit but we balance that via our social mission, so our social mission and revenue generation are on par with each other, both are equally important. But the good part about Incitement was our marketing arm, always very strong although we did very little of it, our growth always impressed our clients.
We grew to 46 countries in the span of 4-5 years, which is very fast. When we went into the conversation with our clients we told them, ‘You can either work with this NGO who can create exactly the same impact we can, but on top of that we will do branding for you to make sure that you look good for your customers.’ Of course, this is something that the brands found very interesting, because they always give out their CSR budget as a philanthropic donation, but we managed to talk to these clients and say this doesn’t have to be a donation, it can be an investment at the same time.
This was a very good pitch that we managed to make to them, an irresistible offer that we made to them, it’s a no-brainer basically. So this is a model that scaled very well and very fast.
I: You have opened chapters in over 46 countries across the world. Could you name a few that you guys are really proud of?
D: Our flagship chapter so to speak is Italy. Italy was the fifth or sixth one to join and is headed by Diletta Marabini. Zikry and I were actually working at a company together when Incitement began. Diletta had come all the way from Italy to work for the same company, but as she told us, the reason she came to work there was because she had thought that Incitement was something that was organised by that company, which was not the case. But from the moment we met her for the first time when we were having banana leaf rice, she wanted to start Incitement in Italy.
In a couple of months, it was already done and she had a partner who was based out of Italy whose name was Lorenzo Olivieri, and they kicked off Incitement very fast. They are one of the steady organisers and they have a huge following. They are structured in a different way because there is a lot of freedom in relation to how the Incitement chapter runs their own chapters. The main issue that they try to tackle is youth unemployment. Every Incitement chapter has to focus on a specific social issue, you cannot just run events without any social impact. Organisers themselves decide what kind of social issue is important and what they have to focus on.
They have partnered with Tony Buzan who is considered the founder of Mind Mapping, and set up an initiative called Skola Tres Punto Cero aka School 3.0, where they focus on the youth and they teach them the new-age skills, computer skills, skills around communication, self-confidence etc.
I: What would your advice be for the people out there who want to do social good?
D: All beginnings are small. Currently, we are living in a place where we are surrounded by best case scenarios and worst case scenarios, and a lot of the things that happen lie somewhere in the centre of that. So I think for a lot of people who want to get involved, I think it’s important to realise that you gotta start somewhere and you shouldn’t get distracted by all the extreme cases. In 90% of the cases it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to go horribly wrong or horribly good, it’s just going to be something good, something nice to do. Or it’s going to fail, you’ll learn a thing or two, and you move on to whatever’s next.
The scale doesn’t matter, it matters that you do good things. It’s a very rewarding process, mentally, to get involved in social good and if someone who has never done so I would just say just try. It will probably end up being a very humbling process.
Just try it, just start somewhere.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases. He currently works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.