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5 takeaways from the GCA Impact Accelerator week in New York

During the culminating accelerator week for the 2023 cohort of Global Change Award winners, the significance of industry-wide collaboration, relationship building, and the role of psychology to drive sustainable change took center stage.

  • The GCA Impact Accelerator week brought together the 2023 winners and GCA alumni, industry experts and inspirational speakers from all over the world. Key themes that emerged included the potential of collaboration, the importance of understanding the psychology of human behaviour, and the emerging tech advancements in sustainable fashion, amongst others.
  • Winners gained valuable insights on how to remain confident even when things don’t always go as planned (do they ever!), strategic advice on building successful partnerships, and the importance of embracing a systems change mentality.
  • Some of the real magic happened in unexpected ways. Whether it was sparking connections over coffee or during conversation on walks back to the hotel, these informal unplanned moments were invaluable.

“I’m genuinely proud of the growth our innovators have achieved in our accelerator. It’s particularly exciting to witness the integration of new technologies like AI, accelerating sustainable fashion forward.”

Sara Cederlöf, Accenture

This reflection from one of our Global Change Award (GCA) partners at Accenture, Strategy Consultant and Sustainability Impact Accelerator Coach, Sara Cederlöf, touches on the noticeable growth that the innovators have shown throughout the year-long accelerator programme, and the centrally important role that technology plays in fashioning a more sustainable future.  

Joined by our other partners at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and past GCA winners, as well as a host of industry leaders and experts, the 2023 winners were exposed to incredible resources and inspiration to propel them on their journeys as they passionately look to scale their businesses and make a difference. Here are some of the many insights from what was jam-packed, informative, and at times, emotional (in a good way) week.  

  1. Be brave, be confident
  2. Build the right partnerships
  3. Involve as many people as possible in the conversation
  4. Harness the power of positivity
  5. Make time for the unexpected 

1. Be brave, be confident

“You have to be comfortable that things don’t go according to plan – that’s how you push innovation”. This quote by South African entrepreneur, celebrity chef, and philanthropist Miles Kubheka was a timely reminder for those listening that real change and true innovation comes with significant uncertainty.

With a background in the food industry, he shared inspiring stories and anecdotes about his own journey of building businesses and the lessons learned along the way; perhaps none more important than how energy breeds energy and the need to be confident in building an energy when building a business.

In a wide-ranging energetic and fun session, which not only grabbed everyone’s attention due to the engaging nature of his positive storytelling, but also brought a valuable perspective from a different industry altogether. And while there are clear differences, there are also clear similarities bridged together by the journey of entrepreneurship and everything that includes.

“People don’t go epic because of fear; usually not their own.”

Miles Kubheka


2. Build the right partnerships

Echoed throughout the week-long programme across various sessions, this sentiment came to the surface time and time again in different contexts.

Partnerships can take many forms. Whether it’s with a new employee, new investor, an industry mentor, or a potential vendor, deciding who to partner with can be a business-critical decision and have a significant – although not always necessarily obvious – impact in determining the success or failure of a company.  

This was illuminated by CEO, investor and advisor Caroline Brown who in her session ‘Accessing Early-Stage Capital’ with investor and circular fashion Expert Julia Viner, spoke about the importance of “curating the right people to invest”.  

A similar perspective was also voiced by entrepreneur and previous GCA winner Isaac Nichelson – who, through a cautionary tale of his own career to date – told the innovators to “choose your business partners very carefully” and that “the first money is not the right solution; the right partner is”.

While there are clearly challenges in finding investment, specifically the right type of investment, there is also room for optimism as we were reminded by Julia Viner when conveying her excitement about the amount of attention that circular fashion investment is getting right now.

3. Involve as many people as possible in the conversation

During the week, U.S Program Director at Accelerating Circularity, Sarah Coulter, gave an informative keynote talk and workshop around building circular systems.

Sarah delved into the importance of having a systems change mindset, meaning solving problems by looking at the root causes of it, rather than just treating the symptoms. This is something H&M Foundation is also working with on a large scale.   

When addressing the teams, she encouraged them to think about the system as they’re growing their businesses and the ever increasing need to establish common goals and parameters between themselves and thier partners.  

“Working together means we learn altogether. It’s about sharing the risk of innovation.”

Sarah Coulter, U.S. Program Director, Accelerating Circularity 

This collaborative sentiment continued throughout the week. Impact Advisor Linda Greer – who joined a panel discussion titled ‘From idea to impact’ at the Open Perspectives event hosted by H&M Foundation – raised an opinion shared by many when drawing attention to the paramount need to include the key decision makers, namely the supplier perspective.

“Since the supplier track has been under emphasized to date, we really need to double down on making this work from a supplier perspective and not just from the story telling brand perspective.”

4. Harness the power of positivity

Being an entrepreneur means wearing many different hats, and usually involves talking to and positioning a narrative with a wide range of people and organisations all with different interests and motivations. To do so in a positive way that shows confidence, creates interest, and fosters trust, is not something that comes easily to many of us.  

It was therefore of little surprise that Behavioral Psychologist and Fashion Business Consultant, and author of the seminal book, The Psychology of Fashion, Professor Carolyn Mair, effortlessly grabbed the attention of the audience during a fireside chat at the Open Perspectives event.  

Accenture’s Frank Zambrelli and Cognitive Psychologist Prof. Carolyn Mair

From psychology, we know that when you make somebody feel guilty, you might encourage them to actually do more of that behavior. So we need to engage people, understand their capability, the opportunities to change, and their motivations to change.

Okay, so one of the things that helps in behavior change is telling people what they can do rather than telling people what they cannot do. So really turning the narrative around to positive.

Dr. Carolyn Mair emphasized the importance of understanding human behavior to effectively instigate change. The discussion explored how doom and gloom narratives often fail because they overwhelm individuals, making them feel powerless rather than empowered.

5. Make time for the unexpected

As the week and the accelerator programme drew to a close for the 2023 cohort, a reoccurring message we kept hearing was how much everyone valued simply spending time with one another, sharing learnings and making new connections.  

While much of this happened in structured and planned settings it was the coffee breaks, non-scheduled lunches and time in between workshops and sessions, that contributed to the magic that helped foster unexpected connections and synergies.

As reminded by Christiane Dolva, one of our Strategy Leads here at the H&M Foundation, when opening the Open Perspectives event at NeueHouse titled ‘Fashioning the future – shaping solutions together’, she aptly said “the key word here is together”. 

As summed up nicely by one of the innovators when asked to reflect on the week and entirety of the programme, they smiled and said “what a remarkable opportunity it has been to mix and meet with so many industry experts and likeminded entrepreneurs who share the same aspirations in wanting the make the world a better place.”

A big thank you to everyone who attended and participated in making the week so memorable and special.