impact stories

"Look at Nature, Find the Future": Meinke Van Oenen on Driving Change with Nature-Based Solutions

In the realm of sustainable innovation, Meinke Van Oenen stands out as a visionary leader. As the founder of Algaenius and a passionate advocate for integrating natural solutions into modern economies, Meinke exemplifies the transformative power of youth leadership. Through her groundbreaking work in algae-based desalination and carbon capture, and her active roles in academia and advisory boards, Meinke is at the forefront of fostering an impact-driven economy. In this interview, she shares her motivations, experiences, and the vital importance of working with nature to create a sustainable future.

Personal Introduction.

How do you contribute towards a more impact-driven economy from your position(s)?

I contribute to a more impact-driven economy by leading Algaenius, a start-up I founded at 19, which uses unique algae to desalinate seawater and capture carbon dioxide, aiming to fight water scarcity sustainably. Additionally, I am a student at Rotterdam School of Management and serve on the advisory board of the Technasium Foundation, supporting STEM education initiatives.

What is it that drives you to make a positive impact?

I believe it’s time to start working with nature, instead of against it. Ever since I was little, I’ve been fascinated with nature. My first ever presentation in primary school was on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. A pretty heavy subject for an 8-year-old, but I was just captivated by how animals, plants, and insects were able to create the most resilient ecosystems. That were not only effective in solving their problems, but also functioned in harmony with their greater environment. This truly perfect balance is inspiring to me and my fascination and appreciation for it is what drives me to work to protect and preserve our natural world.

Can you elaborate on your boardroom experience and/or how you work executives to transform decision-making?

In addition to my entrepreneurial efforts, I am the youngest member of the advisory board of the Technasium Foundation. Our goal is to prepare, support, and inspire the future engineers and scientists who will be crucial to help solve our world’s biggest problems. Technasium offers a unique educational program for high school students, allowing them to tackle real-world issues by collaboration with businesses and government. I joined the advisory board at 18, and this remains my only boardroom experience to date.

What impact achievement are you most proud of?

Recently, with my start-up, I became the youngest nominee for the Philips Innovation Award, the biggest student entrepreneurship award in the Netherlands. Algaenius reached the top 3 in the Rough Diamond League out of 175 start-ups. As the only nature-based innovation nominated, this milestone underscores the potential and importance of nature-based solutions for the future!

On 2100.

At 2100, we collaborate the coming 76 years to realize an economy that contributes to the well-being of current generations and generations in 2100. Why did you decide to make your career part of the 2100 movement?

I believe it is our collective duty to leave behind a world that is better than how we found it. To me, this is what ultimately truly matters in life. So, with the many challenges facing our and future generations, taking action is crucial. And that is exactly what the 2100 movement embodies for me: collaborative efforts to make the vital change to an impact economy for a better future. This change is impossible to achieve alone, which is why it’s so powerful that we, at 2100, work together, combine our talents, knowledge and energy to change the status quo.

How has your involvement with 2100 influenced your career path and professional aspirations?

My involvement with 2100 has significantly shaped my career path and professional aspirations by emphasizing the importance of redefining our metrics for success in creating an impact-driven economy. Through 2100, I learned about Impact Weighted Financial Accounting (IWFA), which has been eye-opening to me. IWFA underscores the necessity of integrating environmental, social, and human value into financial metrics, highlighting the hidden costs of unsustainable technologies and rewarding businesses that generate positive impact.

I believe redefining our bottom line to include the true cost of environmental degradation can revolutionize industries. And I already see this happen in real life, for example, current carbon pricing allows nature-based businesses to thrive, as they inherently absorb CO2, unlike many conventional technologies. This way the value that working with nature creates, actually gets rewarded within our financial system.

So, because of 2100 I am now a strong advocate for changing our bottom-line as a great solution to change our status quo. And at Algaenius, my goal is to support this by demonstrating how this economic shift (we use CCS) can drive effective problem-solving and sustainable growth. It is time to make positive impact a core metric of success. That is why the By redefining our bottom-line and making positive impact reflect in successful business we can change the course.  With Algaenius, I aim to set a new standard, proving how this shift in our economy can empower effective problem solving.


Why do you find intergenerational leadership important for creating an Impact Economy?

In nature, the phenomenon of symbiosis occurs when two distinct organisms cooperate in a mutually beneficial way, often generating a combined benefit greater than the sum of their individual contributions. I believe that, just as with symbiosis, intergenerational collaboration can generate mutual value, while also ensuring long-term benefits for future generations “1 + 1 = 3”.

Older generations can gain fresh perspectives and innovative ideas from younger generations, while they can educate, inspire and empower younger individuals by letting them join in on the most important conversations of our time. This new dynamic does not only improve decision-making processes but also ensures that solutions are relevant and forward-looking.

Fun fact: symbiotic relationships are often used as a measure of the health of an ecosystem. The more mutualistic, the better. Currently, looking at our ‘human’ ecosystem, I think we have too little. So, by embracing intergenerational leadership, we can empower ourselves and drive the creation of a thriving impact economy. 

On Future

Looking ahead to the year 2100, what legacy or contribution do you hope to have made through your involvement with the 2100 movement?

I hope that our movement can leave behind a legacy of broad prosperity, where we have successfully overcome our challenges. So, by 2100, we have left behind a prosperous and dignified society with a flourishing natural world for the next generations.

What advice would you offer to other professionals or current executives?

Look at nature, find the future.

We often think we humans know best. However, my advice is to look more closely at the natural world around us. Nature has been evolving solutions for millions of years, having endured and adapted to countless extreme conditions. By studying and emulating these strategies, I believe we can discover highly effective solutions, be it in leadership or technological innovation. Nature is our most powerful ally in creating a better future.

Do you want to know more about 2100? Read our manifesto!