But in fact, what is FAMAE?
It all starts with Eric Philippon, founder of the FAMAE Foundation, who, reaching a certain age wanted to give his actions sense and meaning. After 20 years in private equity, it is for him an appropriate time to spend his money with purpose, and invest in things that in his opinion have more value, especially for his children and future grandchildren.
He then creates FAMAE, a family foundation with from the very beginning this wish to transmit. The question of which world we leave to our children, without accepting to leave it to its ruin or to leave it as it is, is fundamental. With this desire to act in a radical way, Eric stops his professional activity and launches instead a competition for the environment. To do this, he creates this family foundation (by the way FAMAE is an anagram with the initial of the first name of his family members).
A first theme: waste
To hit hard, the topic must speak to the greatest number, so that we can find solutions that enable improvement. Obviously, the chosen theme will thus be waste. Indeed, it is a very tangible problem, whether it is waste being visible in the environment, or simply while shopping, with the apparent over-packaging.
“We will put 1,000,000 € on the table to support initiatives in favor of the environment and especially on the reduction and recovery of waste.”
The idea of the action type for FAMAE — a contest — is as such born like many startups. A brainstorm within the family, possibly with a nice glass of wine. Which would be the best way to detect initiatives, to be able to valorize them? To make sure these initiatives and projects reach us in a spontaneous way? Thus it is a major innovation contest that is needed. Besides, one of the pillars in FAMAE, is being convinced that new technologies will accelerate the necessary ecological transition.
The first challenge, at the end, was to become visible. Being certain that all persons with projects related to the theme of waste knew about the competition. In short, a communication problem, because there already are plenty of competitions, and FAMAE wouldn’t bring to mind anything to anyone, appearing out of nowhere. Besides, in the beginning, they were only 2 persons at FAMAE. But this eagerness to act made them take to the road, and they did indeed do a lot of prospecting with universities, stakeholders in social and solidarity economy etc. to promote the contest. They also did not forget a few trips abroad in order to meet these same communities all over the world. Little by little, the message got louder until the snowball effect took over. The initiative thrived globally and by dint of being in the field, 1500 projects were submitted. Amazing!
“We wanted the challenge to be international from the start because we have this certainty deep inside: as several we are more intelligent, and, as far as there are digital champions, the next champions will be green.”
In order to get “green champions”, the international span of the competition is a must. The main result being to make an impact, we need solutions that can be scaled, or that we easily can replicate globally. In the tech world, we talk about scalability, but in the world of impact, it is a state of mind that had not really unfolded yet, for various reasons, mostly due to degrees of maturity and ambition.
However, we are probably now on the edge of a profusion of environmental businesses because all the criteria are being met. You find for instance entrepreneurs with a global ambition (a recent example is Phenix, a startup that wants to reduce food waste), as well as financing solutions that are increasingly present and abound. Above these criteria, more and more citizens are being aware. The whole sector is therefore gaining importance and can no longer be considered just a trend.
One of the biggest challenges in the world
The first contest is extremely open. The team assumes that good ideas can come from anywhere, like good fulfilments. Whether it’s an NGO, an association, a startup or a local community, the contest is open to everyone. This resulted in heterogeneous responses, which also was one of the objectives. Besides, this diversity proved to be very interesting as an analysis about weak signals for the future.
“We could perceive that there are emerging solutions, though not ready yet, but that will be in a short time.”
An example? The conversion of plastic into energy. Today it is a process that still is at a prototype stage but the files received for the challenge show that it is something that can become very interesting. The fact to be international also allowed to see that this kind of project emerged at the same time in different parts of the world. Thus, by now it’s just a matter of time.
Another takeaway, the major issues are not all the same in different regions of the world. For example, the diversity of projects received shows a difference between countries with a collection system and those without. In the latter ones, a large number of solutions emerge around recycling and collection with sometimes even a financial incentive.
Ultimately, the team also felt something quite evident with the quantity of projects tackling the problem of plastic, both upstream in eco-design, but also downstream, in the different ways to reuse / recycle this waste. Most of these projects strive to think of this waste as an input, a resource for manufacturing, especially since it is already out there and all over the globe.
First and foremost, what was taken into account is the environmental impact, of course. The other selection criteria focused mainly on the team involved in the project and also the prospect of finding a virtuous economic model in the longer term.
The selected and rewarded projects of the challenge “Don’t trash your cash” are in this line. Whether we take Precious plastic, Protifly or the consortium of candidates dedicated to design the world-first biodegradable and compostable layer, the vision, the implementation, the technical elements as well as the power of a global impact are gathered.
In 2019, FAMAE looks into water.
Next comes the competition PRECIOUS WATER! Launched on November 15, 2018, the challenge focuses this time on water. As the first edition was a huge success, we want to be even more greedy this year, including an even broader and shared problem, around which the team hopes to federate even more project leaders. Compared to last year, the FAMAE Foundation also is supported by a really scientific committee which will be involved in the selection process. One of the lessons learned from the first edition!
“What prevents us from sleeping is to know that a project leader who has an idea about water, whether it is for responsible consumption of water, access to water or the reduction of wasting water, misses the competition. “
The mission of the Foundation is to have an impact and, this way, to reward projects that bring concrete solutions about water. Hence the idea of 2 millions euros for this new edition. Which, by the way, is the competition that has one of the largest endowments worldwide. This year, the contest also on-boards international and prestigious partners such as Enactus World, the MIT Water Prize or the Solar Impulse Foundation.
Thanks to the success of the first edition, FAMAE has developed a legitimacy and credibility among innovative stakeholders serving the environment. So en route for even more innovation, even more projects and concrete answers to the major challenge of preserving our water resources.