Mimi Nguyen
COO - Handprint, Founding Member - The Matcha Initiative
Mimi’s introduction

I was born in Vietnam and grew up in France in Paris’ low income suburbs. My parents used to bring us to the park to have some outdoor activities and that’s where my father taught my siblings and I to observe, love and respect nature. He gave us perspective on our place in a much bigger ecosystem. 

At that time, we didn’t describe our family as “sustainable”. It was very pragmatic, we didn’t waste anything, we mended everything, saved and reused, because we just couldn’t afford not to :)

In 2018 in Singapore, after what felt like a long, unfulfilling professional tunnel on autopilot, I was forced to make a pause and took the opportunity to consider what I really wanted to do with my life (I know this resonates with many!)

Then I really realised how passionate I was about sustainability and for the first time, I considered making it my job. Nothing is easy when you don’t hold the right degrees or the right amount of money, so I co-created The Matcha Initiative to jump into action instead of procrastinating. That’s how you start an amazing experience with amazing people :)

Cherry on the cake: TMI helped me land my current job at Handprint, where we help businesses embrace the next step - Regeneration.

Could you describe your company? What do you do?

Handprint is a “ClimateTech”, we provide digital solutions to channel companies’ ESG budgets to the organisations and projects of their choice. Our main differentiators are the diversity of our impact portfolio (if we want to tackle the climate crisis we need to move beyond carbon), the direct relationship we create with the impact organisations (bringing back human and emotional connections), our 2 PhDs and co-founders behind the Regeneration First Manifesto (our tools are science-based) and the services we provide to businesses in order to effectively engage their stakeholders on their ESG initiatives. 

I joined the company in its early days and have been wearing multiple hats. I’m currently their General Manager, with a focus on People & Culture, Ops and Performance. I’m proud to contribute to a real positive impact, within the company and with our impact partners :)

Which sustainable actions are you in charge of or have you implemented in your organisation?

We haven’t implemented internal actions in the company, such as BYO or no printing policy… Our team members are all aware about sustainability and individual actions at different levels, they joined us because they care. Some are vegetarian, some only walk or cycle, some buy refurbished devices, or much more. We create a positive impact in our daily job, and although nothing is perfect, it is real, tangible and quantified.

It’s also very challenging to implement activities across teams when they’re all around the globe!

On another aspect, my role in People & Culture is to make sure that we create a company where it's safe to speak up, where people feel good and proud; to foster resilience, adaptability, empathy and a growth mindset. Sustainability like startups is about people.

What were the challenges and difficulties you faced? How did you overcome them?

We're a fully remote company created during the pandemic, which has both pros and cons when it comes to a sustainable way of working. Remote meaning 10 different countries, not just working from home. The hardest part is probably creating and maintaining meaningful and authentic human connections, which is key if you want to have happy people making a positive impact at scale. It's a very new setup for many companies and we're learning as we go.

So for instance, you reduce the commute by car or public transportation on a daily basis, but if you want to have teams be together to bond and break the depressing isolation, or increase collaboration efficiency, that would mean multiplying flights.

Hence you choose to keep things online but any “let’s do something together” initiative means additional screen time, with very different vibes than irl, be it a coffee break, a game or a sustainability challenge. It’s only natural that less people attend or it turns into a work call. As a consequence, you would have less engagement from your employees, even a feeling of burnout. Less human interaction also results in less trust, which plays a major role when you’re an early stage startup.

Early last year we faced a rough patch when the teams had worked hard for a whole year in a Covid-19 stress at startup pace. They lost sight of our mission and of the purpose of their work. That’s what happens when you spend your days putting out fires, buried with a million things to do. Exhaustion, demotivation, lack of human touch… We would have lost valuable people. We brought them together in Indonesia where we have an office, on a voluntary basis, to meet in person (for the first time!) and bond. Most importantly, we had a workshop with one of our actual partnering impact organisations: LivingSeas. We went preparing corals on the beach and “planting” them in the sea to restore local ecosystems. That was a game changer! They loved every bit of it. Now when in doubt, they can remember that this is what we do, “handprint” is not just a word anymore, it's real. 

Yes, it took a number of flights. No, we don’t play the neutrality  game. As a company we do what we can, when we can, gifting impact to a colleague who gets married, enabling our team members to buy impact through Handprint’s recognition system, planting trees ourselves… without limiting it to carbon. Our goal is to scale it through businesses and start doing much more :)

You have co-founded The Matcha Initiative: What does it represent for you? What did you learn & take away from building it?

The Matcha Initiative represents a lot to me:

  • It’s my turning point into a place where I feel aligned with what I do. 
  • It’s a humble project to kickstart something that matters, where I stand and with what I know - and at the beginning, I didn’t feel legitimate in the sustainability space because I had so much to learn and I didn’t have any academic background nor working experience in that field. “Take action here and now” is still a core motto of the organisation.
  • It was a unique experience managing volunteers remotely during lockdowns!
  • It’s an everlasting opportunity to learn and meet incredible, knowledgeable people. Two things I love so much :) I’ve made dear friends along the journey. I also met people I wouldn’t have reached without the TMI network. 
  • It’s a lot of time, hard work and energy that I gave without thinking twice and it’s worth it. For everything that followed, including me landing my startup job in the impact space.

I take pride in the creation of TMI and it’s so great to see the ecosystem continue thriving. I had to step down from co-leading with a broken heart when it was no longer possible for me to lead both TMI and Handprint. I remain a board member and take part in the supplier board, as a normal volunteer.

Obviously, I learnt more about sustainability in general. I also learnt that I knew more than most John Does but the topic is so complex and vast that you never get to the end. Being part of a community helps you keep the conversations going and the optimism alive, despite the doom and gloom, despite the daily bad news and the inevitable loss of faith in humanity every now and then. 

If I had to do it again, one thing I would do differently is bringing more cash in earlier. A not-for-profit still needs a budget to operate and make an impact. There’s no shame in making money, the important thing is what you do with it. TMI now provides workshops and trainings to be sustainable by ourselves.

What are you most proud of?

I’m a builder, I’m proud of The Matcha Initiative and of Handprint. The journeys themselves made me grow as a person and I believe I brought a few people along the way with me. 

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice to The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?
  1. Action is the cure to eco-anxiety and overthinking paralysis. 
  2. Change comes from within and spreads out; start with yourself and influence your own world little by little. Be patient and kind to yourself, to others, to strangers, in that journey :)
  3. Be a humble learner, keep learning. Use knowledge as a lever of positive change.

Bonus: I’d like to add that it took grit to get me where I am today, but not only: I could achieve it because I had the financial support of my partner during those 2 years not earning a salary. I’m fully aware of my luck and that not everyone can afford doing this. So wherever you stand, do what you can, with what you have.

In which field could you help The Matcha Initiative users as a buddy?
  • Kick Start Help
  • Best Practices sharing
  • Experience Sharing
How could you help The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?

I can share my experience of transition, the challenges of a startup, the basics of sustainability (and why we should move to regeneration), what you can do on a personal level, how companies should and can move away from the carbon tunnel vision.

Mimi kindly accepts to answer your questions.

If you need additional insights, you can send her a message.