Testing the Business Design approach in Brussels

Confluences tested the DEAL toolkit with a pharmaceutical company. This story shares the lessons learned.

Intro and group composition : 

The company is a family business and listed company having its headquarter in Brussels, with approx. 9.000 employees worldwide. Our contact persons are the head of sustainability and public affairs. We organized a first session with 12 participants representing a nice diversity of positions in the enterprise (based on the recommendations of DEAL – see business toolkit page 83). Benefiting from this diversity was clearly an added value. Unfortunately, there was no official board member. Having them on the workshop can be particularly interesting when the deep design is addressed.  This was one of our recommendations of next step.

Workshop roll out : 

Introduction to Doughnut Economics and how we implement it in Brussels. (for more information on the BrusselsDonut project have a look on our website available in french, dutch and english: www.donut.brussels )

Exercise 1 : "Donut Express & impacts" 
With this first activity, the main target is to assess how the company is affecting the ecological ceiling and social foundation. Here the doughnut dimensions have been adapted to fit the specificity of the health sector. From our experience, adapting the doughnut dimensions help the participants to relate to those categories more easily. 

Exercise 2 : " Transformative ideas"
The second exercise was to generate new ideas based on the 2 limits of the Doughnut to amplify the current ambitions and accelerate their pathway towards the inside of the Doughnut.
To help the participants and give them inspiration, we presented some uplifting examples. Here, on top of the usual inspirations (such as Houdini and their open source design) we also gave examples from the sector or local examples so that it can speak to them and show that it is feasible.


We also adapted the instructions of this second exercise : we made the distinction between transformative ideas to be implemented and realistic ones but not yet implemented. This distinction can be useful to enable participants to think of boald ideas (even if they are today not feasible) but also some realistic ones that they could implement tomorrow. This short term and long term vision of ideas was quite useful and we continue to do it in our workshops. 

Exercice 3 : "Assess current design"

After having selected 3 main ideas from the previous exercise, we started presenting the regenerative and distributive principles as well as the five layers of the business design as key elements for transformative change. 

This exercise was mainly focused on the current design as the company showed resistance to work on a potential ‘redesign’ of their business. However the exercise was very interesting and generated some useful reflexions.  

In order to be as effective as possible, we also provided some factual informations about the 5 layers with the help of our contact person. We wrote down their official mission, what is the composition of their shareholder structure or how their governance is officially described. By doing so, we ensure that all the participants refer to the same information when they speak about the different layers. 


Lessons learned and challenges :

- The participants were interested in the theory, the examples and the exercises. In general, the framework is accepted and we didn’t come across serious resistance or critics about it. 

- The categories adaptation of the doughnut express, as well as the pre-filled deep designed, helped the participants and it saves time. 

- Transforming the deep design of a large company is a long term process. It requires a long-term commitment of the company and a genuine willingness to change. As explained above, having one or several board members will be important to engage in the process. 

- It was the first time for our team to work with a company that asked us to analyse how its activity fitted into the regional framework and ambitions. Even if we don’t have the right methodology and tools to address this request so far, it has strengthened our desire to link the business approach to the Brussels doughnut portrait and indicators. Making the link between the individual ambitions of a company and the collective ambitions of a territory would be of a great added-value. 

In conclusion :

It was interesting to understand how far the Doughnut approach can go in helping businesses to adapt their design. However, this is a long-term process and won’t happen in one session. Therefore, we are keen to further collaborate and understand from the company what is needed, at which frequency, when is the momentum to organize such sessions and with who in order to drive change. The learnings from the workshop confirm that where ever a company is regarding sustainability, there is room for improvement and the design is essential to accelerate and align processes internally to facilitate the right decisions to take. To be continued! 




    Daniela Borodak

    Clermont-Ferrand, France

    The doughnut economy is a source of inspiration for my teaching! I hope this community helps me to answer the questions I'm consta

    Aline Marcelino

    Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands

    I want to meet like-minded people for collaboration, specially in the fields of education and Food Systems.


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