Marlene Lerch is the co-founder of the DIY platform dooiy. How can you grow vegetables in a small space, sew sanitary towels or make soap? Answers to these questions can be the first step to a better life for people in underserved communities. However, a smartphone alone is not enough to make this knowledge available to everyone. The offers are therefore prepared in a data-saving way and are low-threshold so that they are easy to implement because help for self-help is the top priority for dooiy.
What problem do you solve with dooiy? Why exactly does it need your solution?
With dooiy.org, we are creating the first do-it-yourself platform for and together with people in poverty-stricken areas, e.g. informal settlements. Currently, there is no platform on the Internet that bundles relevant and cost-effective solutions and makes them accessible in a simple and data-saving way. We are changing that with dooiy. With step-by-step instructions and through exchange, people can improve their living situation in a self-determined way and open up new income opportunities.
What did you do before you started the current project/company?
I studied geography and international urban research. After that (and also during that time) I worked as a project manager in different urban development projects. This always involved bringing people together, building networks, developing experimental formats and designing places in a participatory way. Most recently, I was a network manager at InnoTechHub, the startup incubator at HTW Berlin.
What or who motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?
It was always important to me to create social value with my work. The idea to found the company came about after a sabbatical of several months in South Africa, together with my husband Christian. The inspiration for this came from the many encounters with change-makers on the ground. People who go above and beyond in small and large ways and make a real difference in their communities.
Which of your successes do you remember most?
Most remarkable to me was meeting Alicia. Her home burned down last year in a huge fire along with 250 other cabins. Most people lost everything – traumatic! Together we later built 120+ DIY fire extinguishers with the community. A few months later, Alicia was able to prevent another major fire in her informal settlement with her fire extinguisher. That made me incredibly touched and happy.
Were there any moments that were particularly challenging and what did you learn from them?
Well, sure. It actually goes in waves. Particularly challenging was the time when we couldn’t travel to our pilot country, South Africa, because of Corona, and had to test our prototype remotely first. Now that we have a small team in South Africa, things like that are much easier. Setting up as a couple with a family is challenging, but also very rewarding. Sometimes the limited flexibility is difficult, but on the other hand it is also a great adventure together!
„It was always important to me to create social value with my work. The idea to found the company came about after a sabbatical of several months in South Africa, together with my husband Christian. The inspiration for this came from the many encounters with change-makers on the ground. People who go above and beyond in small and large ways and make a real difference in their communities.“ — Marlene Lerch, Co-founder of dooiy
Where should the journey go in the future and what are the next big goals?
Now that we’re online, it’s about making dooiy better known, expanding the content and growing the community. So an important goal is to continue building strategic partnerships. Like with the City of Cape Town, for example, which is now spreading our hacks in workshops and making them better known. After the launch in South Africa, we naturally want to scale dooiy to other regions.
What do you wish you had known before launching your project/company? What advice would you give to others along the way?
There’s a lot I didn’t know, and I think that’s the same for most people who start up. You just have to deal with a lot of different things at once and you have very limited resources to do that. I think that’s just one of the most exciting aspects of this journey – constantly learning and being allowed to develop solutions. So: don’t worry if you can’t do something – learn it along the way and seek out like-minded people for mutual support.
What podcast do you listen to regularly? What book is an absolute must-read for you personally?
An absolute must-read for me is “Humankind” by Rutger Bregman. I don’t listen to podcasts that often. If I do, I like to listen to the Purpose Projects podcast, for example.
Which organization or start-up impresses you the most and is a true role model for you?
Africa GreenTec. I think it’s simply incredible what Torsten Schreiber and his team are getting up to. The courage and commitment are really impressive to me.
Complete this sentence: The world needs more…
… people who start driving change in the belief that together one can achieve something big.
In our new magazine format, we interview interesting entrepreneurs and focus on their ideas and their very personal stories. The interviews are intended to inspire, motivate and encourage people to put their own ideas into practice.
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Andreas Renner, Co-Founder GOOD: firstname.lastname@example.org
We support dooiy in June 2023 with the proceeds of GOOD. Find out more on the project page: