Materialise Celebrates 30 Years with a Gift of Sustainability

February 2, 2021

2020 was a big year. Not just in world events, but also close to home: Materialise turned 30! This is a tremendous milestone, but one that could not have been accomplished without our people.

People are the cornerstone of Materialise ― both those that work for us and those with whom we collaborate and are inspired by to create groundbreaking designs and innovations. This is why, to celebrate our big birthday, we decided to give something back on behalf of our people that reflects the shared values of who we are and who we continue to strive to be.

At Materialise, we believe that our mission of creating a better and healthier world can only be fully accomplished by looking beyond just our immediate region and working to foster sustainability globally. We have built in a commitment to social engagement as part of our sustainability program and, with that in mind, made a donation for the occasion that goes beyond our own company.

On behalf of our employees who have helped grow our community, we have donated a banana plant in each of their names to the Foundation Hubi & Vinciane to help grow another community!

A Banana for Every Woman project

The Bananas for Every Woman project is an initiative started in Benin that aims to improve nutrition in the region and provide women with financial autonomy. According to a recent UNFPA report, inequality is the root of much of the poverty and injustice in Benin, with 75% of women being financially dependent on their husbands.

In addition to this, Benin has long struggled with chronic undernourishment. Although these may be seen as independent challenges, the Bananas for Every Woman project hopes to improve both situations by empowering women with the skills needed to gain independence, while also improving nutrition for their communities.

The project operates as a long-term, multi-stage process. Women first attend training sessions where they learn the basics of banana cultivation and care, as well as skills in processing the crops.

Beninese women planting banana clippings
Beninese woman holding bananas in front of a fence
Woman preparing bananas for cooking in Africa

The Bananas for Every Women project is an initiative from the Hubi & Vinciane Foundation for women to provide food for their families and improve women’s financial autonomy.

Bananas are perennial, contain good levels of Vitamin B, Vitamin C and potassium, and are also very versatile and can be made into byproducts such as flour or banana chips. These features make the plants good for both self-sustenance and sale at local markets, so the program also ensures that women are taught essential skills in budgeting and sales. Once they have these skills under their belt, the women take banana cuttings back to their own village for planting.

But the project doesn’t stop there.

Meet a participant in the Bananas for Every Woman project

Foundation Hubi & Vinciane wants to make sure that women who have participated in the program are succeeding with their plants, so each plant is tracked and monitored by GPS to ensure that it does well. Participants of the program are also instructed to plant the shoot close to their house and latrines so that domestic wastewater can be recycled to water the plants. Finally, to ensure a broader, integrated approach with the community, Foundation Hubi & Vinciane have partnered with local schools and hospitals to ensure that knowledge of banana cultivation and nutrition can be instilled widely.

The success of the program has been significantly better than projected during the startup in 2017. In the last three years, participants in the program have sold over 575 tons of bananas, equivalent to an incredible EUR 250,000 on the local market. Now, with Materialise’s donation, we’ve contributed enough plants to fill another one hectare - enough to remove 80 tons of CO2 from the air and yield an important amount of nutritious food for Beninese for years to come.

As Pascale Van Assche, Managing Director for Foundation Hubi & Vinciane explains, “Thanks to the support of the Materialise team, we have been able to extend our program significantly. The strength of this initiative is not only the availability of bananas as an indispensable addition to a family’s daily diet, but by planting these banana plants, one is also planting the seed of further autonomy and emancipation of the women taking care of them.”

Partnerships for progress

The roots of the banana project and Materialise’s relationship with Foundation Hubi & Vinciane actually began about ten years ago, when Materialise co-founder Hilde Ingelaere visited the foundation’s team in Benin. A bioengineer, Hilde was astonished that a way to grow such a valuable crop as bananas had not yet been realized in the region, and became the impetus behind the program we see today.

Further inspired by the possibilities to help create sustainable opportunities in Benin, Materialise and Foundation Hubi & Vinciane also created the Benin Summer School to offer mentorship to young entrepreneurs, university scholarships, and support for initiatives that stimulate the local economy and social progress. Several successful local projects have developed from this collaboration, including Baobab Express - a local transportation company that has recently achieved B Corp status - and a network of gardens integrated into hospitals and schools.

As these initiatives show, Foundation Hubi & Vinciane are dedicated to bringing real, structural improvements to the population that treat all parties as equals, and are committed to their overall mission to create a better world for everyone. This could not be closer to the mission at the heart of Materialise, so joining forces again with Foundation Hubi & Vinciane to make an anniversary contribution to the Bananas for Every Woman Project felt like a perfect match.

“I’m always touched by the enthusiasm that Materialise’s CEO, Fried Vancraen, has and that he also is able to transfer to his employees,” Pascale enthuses. “We continuously look for a synergy with the investment of Materialise and make sure that it is not lost. With the creation of a community of Summer school alumni and support from the Foundation in Benin’s local team, the young people in Benin now have that leveling up of being an example for others, that doing your best at school will bring you further in your own development and will give you the possibility of having a better life.”

The same holds for the women who participate in the banana program. With the money they earn, they are now able to purchase school equipment, books, or anything that their children need to go to school every day and succeed in their classes. And with the informal support that already exists in Benin, the knowledge from these endeavors is being transferred to others in the community, ensuring a long life for the health of the community.

Thanks to the support of the Materialise team, not only is the fruit an indispensable addition to a family’s daily diet, but by planting these banana plants, one is also planting the seed of further autonomy and emancipation of the women taking care of them.

— Pascale Van Assche, Managing Director, Foundation Hubi & Vinciane

Social engagement is integral to sustainability

3D printing is entering its fourth decade. We have spent the last 30 years developing additive manufacturing to be efficient, reliable, meaningful, and scalable, and it is now finally time for AM to achieve greater adoption as a mature technology, not just a tool for experimental use. The worldwide push toward sustainable systems will be a key driver in the wider adoption of 3D printing, but we also recognize that our role in this journey is an ongoing process.

Materialise is committed to continually improving the sustainability of our operations but we want to empower others to be able to choose sustainability as well. These choices don’t just come from sustainable product innovations, but by also understanding how our products and operations impact people and the planet.

As a signatory of the UN Global Compact, we want to lead by example and show that initiatives that create fulfilling jobs and that encourage economic and technological development go hand-in-hand with those that help sustain the environment, and can combine together to create truly sustainable systems that benefit us all.

Hilde explains it best: “Fried and I, from the start of Materialise, always believed that it was important to give back to society, but in a way that goes beyond just donating money. We believe that by sharing our expertise with communities that are struggling and creating solutions together, we can really empower local people and give them the skills they need to continue to improve and grow.”

Time for reflection

And so, our 30th anniversary is a time to celebrate, but it is also a time for reflection. A time to reflect both on what we have accomplished but also what we still wish to accomplish. What new boundaries we can push, and what new areas we can grow into.

We need to reflect on what our commitment to sustainability will look like for the next 30 years and how we can best achieve it.

As we move into a year of continued uncertainty but also unprecedented innovation and hope, we look forward to working towards these goals and continuing to innovate in close collaboration with our people and our communities to make the next 30 years just as rewarding and memorable as the first. Cheers to a great 30 years!

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