Part of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge team for nine years, Project Leader and Chair of the Dutch preliminary jury, David van der Leij, plays an integral role in overseeing all elements of the competition. As the 2020 edition enters its final phase, he discusses this year’s progress, the importance of managing expectations, and how the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic forced difficult decisions - as well as an organisational shift inspired by start-ups.

Please outline your role at Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge

I’m Project Leader for the Green Challenge, and this year for the first time, I’m also Chair of the Dutch preliminary jury: like last year, we have preliminary juries for each country in which we work. As Chair for the Netherlands, I’m responsible for making sure we have the best candidates as nominees to make up the top 25. In my role as Project Leader, I’m responsible for making sure everybody gets informed with the right information, at the right time. Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge is a close international collaboration between multiple entities; my job is to ensure everyone working within those divisions is on the same page throughout the process. It’s been challenging this year due to Coronavirus, as it has for everyone - it’s called for much more flexibility than usual.

Aside from the challenges of Covid, how else has this year been different?

This year we introduced a two-stage application process. So instead of asking entrants for full disclosure of all information right away, we invited a certain number to go on to the next phase. The reason for this was to lessen the amount of work for entrants: if we feel they’re not sufficiently qualified to proceed right now, then there’s no point for them in spending time providing extensive information up front. We now prefer to ask provisional questions to effectively screen applicants for eligibility - are they a legal entity, for example? If not, then perhaps now isn’t the right time for them to enter Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge.

Finalists were announced early September - and there’s an extra one this year! Why is that?

This year there were so many really fantastic, well-qualified entrants, why not broaden our range and add another finalist to bring us up to six! It's a great list, spanning different areas of potential impact, and also a nice spread across our regions: in the end we have six finalists from five different countries! It’s really good to see so many inspiring initiatives in all of the places where we operate.

How has the pandemic impacted your organisation and the competition?

Because our first deadline was beginning of March, start-ups wanting to enter were largely unaffected. But of course, the jury process lasts months, and a lot has changed in the world in that time. We’ve since had discussions with candidates about how the pandemic has affected their projected numbers, for example, as well as business as a whole. Overall, it’s been positive: many of the nominees and eventual finalists that we spoke with managed very well, and some even created new business opportunities due to demand for their products suddenly rising.

From our side, and from an organisational perspective, the pandemic forced us to be very flexible, just like the start-ups entering our competition. In the end, because much of Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge takes place online, it’s been relatively straightforward for us to keep the process going - just with a record number of video meetings! The only difficult part was the decision we had to make about the physical event.

Tell me about that - will it go ahead?

It’s been such a highlight these past 14 editions of the challenge, but this year we’ve made the difficult decision not to have a physical event. In March and April, it still seemed feasible that it might go ahead. But as the months progressed, we felt more and more strongly that an event would not be possible. Ultimately, our goal is to finance, and supply means and training to our finalists in order to increase their impact. The goal has never been to organise an event! In the past, it has of course offered exposure to finalists, but Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge has always been primarily about the jury process and funding start-ups. We discussed doing it in an online setting, but felt that would lose the energy of the room, the tension, the excitement of handing out over one million Euros… It would lack the elements that make our physical events really special. We're still hoping to have the finalists join us in Amsterdam to meet the jury, depending on travel restrictions. We’re also currently looking into new ways of communicating about our finalists, that could potentially reach an even bigger audience than an event.