August 15, 2018 | Alwin Veldboom

Free the Zebra in your Organisation!

Social Enterprises, Unicorns and Zebra’s


We see many startups around us embrace the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN (SDGs): social enterprises. They get (rightfully!) a lot of attention, but at the same time, their collective impact is limited because they represent only a fragment of the current economy. Meanwhile, we all know the 'unicorns' (former startup with a value of more than 1 billion dollars) such as Facebook, Uber and the Dutch Ayen. They are in size much larger than social enterprises, but not always in their contribution to a sustainable new economy. What is less known now is the 'zebra company'. These established companies, such as clothing brand Patagonia and chocolate brand Tony Chocolonely, are both "black" and "white".

"They combine successfully doing well for society and the planet, with making a profit and growing. To make the transition to a sustainable new economy, we need more zebra companies."

Beyond the 'Organisation Immune System'

But where do we get 1-2-3 zebra companies to realise the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030? There is an unexpectedly simple answer: these companies are already there, but they are struggling with the 'organisation immune system'. Established companies are set up and designed to defend and expand the existing core business. Developing new business models is difficult in an environment with KPIs and procedures aimed at optimising patterns.

"The challenge is therefore not to see these two interests as a trade-off from each other, but to combine them successfully as a zebra company would do."

The UNDP wrote previously that there are commercial opportunities worth 12 trillion dollars in achieving the SDGs. More and more organisations seem to realise this: social and ecological values ​​play an increasingly prominent role in the objectives and incorporate the strategies of established parties: they are freeing the zebra in their organisation. Take a look at Danone, Unilever, Ahrend or Renewi: they look beyond profit maximisation and some, for example, certify parts of their company as B-Corp.

Towards a Sustainable New Economy 

In order to contribute to solutions for the major challenges of our time, it is therefore not enough for existing organisations to manage existing patterns more efficiently or effectively. A future-proof company is connected to the outside world and knows how to remain relevant by reinventing itself. But how do you free the zebra in your organisation and break out of the 'organisation immune system'? The following 3 steps are a good start:

How Do you Free the Zebra in your Organisation?

1 - Rely on the unique qualities of your organisation

Where lies the strength and quality of your organisation? What values ​​do employees cherish? How do your products or services represent these values ​​and qualities?

2 - Embrace your social connections

Which challenges in society and for our planet are relevant to your organisation? Which Sustainable Development Goals touch on the core activities of your business today and the day after tomorrow? Where do you see economic opportunities in these challenges?

3 - Send on the statement of your end user

Which parties work with other solutions on the same tasks of your end user? How can we develop new relevant propositions through collaboration? Open up your organisation for collaboration with new players and dare to experiment.


"Your inner zebra frees you by acting from a clear and deeply rooted goal: your purpose."

A goal that appeals more motivation from employees than getting paid; a goal that creates connections within the organisation and with innovators from outside. Imagine that in every sector, the front-runners release their 'inner zebra'. The road is then open for existing organisations to shape the transition to a sustainable new economy and to guarantee their future-proofing.

Want to know more about how we bring back zebra stripes in organisations? Take for example the 'Final Footprint Challenge' together with DELA and Yarden or one of our other programmes.