SDG Pioneer for Small-to-Medium Enterprises

Eva Gouwens

CEO, Fairphone


Western Europe and North America

Embracing the superhero within: Becoming an SDG Pioneer is like becoming a sustainability superhero, fighting to make our world greener and fairer. What's your special power for this mission?

My superpower is my ability to combine strength and success with kindness and empathy. I always ensure my team and I stay sharp when it comes to decisions, asking ourselves whether we make the right, ethical choices in our business. Over the past 11 years, I have successfully scaled two mission-driven companies to become fair, sustainable and profitable examples that inspire the rest of the industry.

Origin story: Please briefly describe your journey towards becoming an SDG Pioneer.

After my studies at Wageningen University, I worked for ‘traditional’ multinationals, gaining 12+ years of consumer industry experience. In 2012, I decided to use this experience for something more socially responsible and joined Dutch chocolatier Tony’s Chocolonely. My team and I successfully scaled up the business to a €40M+ revenue-generating market leader in a five-year period. I joined Fairphone in 2017, taking over as CEO a year later.

Turning passion into purpose: Your SDG Pioneer recognition shines a spotlight on your incredible work. Please explain the work for which you are being recognized as an SDG Pioneer and how your interest in this field developed.

Fairphone is a Dutch Social Enterprise building a market for ethical electronics. Our ambition is to make the manufacturing process of these devices fairer for everyone and everything involved. My job has been to make sure we never lose sight of our mission in whatever we do, inspiring other players to do the same. We want to show the world that sustainability and profitability can go hand in hand.

Every epic tale has its share of challenges: Please share some challenges and battles you've encountered while pursuing your SDG ambitions. 

If you don't like dilemmas, don't scale a Social Enterprise! There are sacrifices we make that other companies wouldn’t think twice about. We have had production delays because we didn’t want factory workers working longer hours. We have had to say no to beautiful design and packaging options because they weren’t as sustainable as the alternative. We are always thinking creatively to come up with fairer solutions.

Accomplishments: As part of your SDG journey, what stands out as the most rewarding? Please describe a moment that made you feel like you were unlocking a new level of impact.

Since we started operations, there seems to be an actual shift in industry conversations. Other brands are now thinking about sustainability and repairability. Social media influencers have started talking about tech specs AND fair specs. Governments are asking us for advice on tackling issues like e-waste. While the industry has a long way to go (greenwashing is a huge risk), it is good to see our efforts inspiring actual change.

Next chapters: What’s next in your career and journey? Please give us a sneak peek!

As of 1 Sept., 2023, I will have stepped down as Fairphone’s CEO. After our recent investment round in January, it felt like the ideal moment for me to step aside after six years of leading this incredible company and make way for someone else to take Fairphone to even greater heights. I will be taking a small break before orienting myself towards new challenges and opportunities.

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