Maria Wagner of GamesForest: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit…

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Maria Wagner of GamesForest: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Leadership is about having a vision, being able to inspire, motivate and enable people to create their own ways to realize this vision. My vision is about restoring nature and creating a new sustainable culture and lifestyle.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Wagner, co-founder & general manager of GamesForest.Club

Maria is a social entrepreneur and a gaming industry expert. She entered the gaming industry in 2018 and was amazed to find it has the power to build cross-cultural communities and solve global problems like climate change. As a co-founder of GamesForest.Club, a Berlin-based nonprofit, she aims to build a community of leaders who are empowered to reduce environmental impact by investing into reforestation efforts and doing what they love: creating the future of entertainment by developing and playing games.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I was born in Kazakhstan in a multicultural setting, so I always wanted to connect people from different cultures and improve our lives. From a very early age, I understood the meaning of the prosperity gap and saw how people struggled from environmental problems. When I moved to Germany in the 1990s with my family, I was surprised by how wealth inequality was lower there. This made me look for a community where equality and intercultural settings mattered. I started to participate in environmental campaigns, even collecting money for charity together with my friends. After getting a degree in Intercultural Conflict Management, I worked for several purpose-driven startups and was responsible for managing refugee accommodations. In 2018, a friend invited me to work for a gaming association, and I totally fell in love with the industry. I believe that the gaming industry has the power to build cross-cultural communities and solve global problems like climate change.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your nonprofit?

Working for NGOs before running my own, I sometimes experienced that their services and communication were not user-oriented. For-profit companies, at least the good ones, pay more attention to communications and are user-oriented because they understand that they won’t last long without addressing those issues. However, for-profit companies often have a different problem: They forget about the bigger picture, which is that their business can’t exist without a healthy planet or stable political systems.

I always wanted to connect these two in my own organization. I always wanted to make the world a better place through building bridges, connecting people and spreading knowledge. So, we combined best practices from NGOs and for-profit companies to create GamesForest.Club, which connects businesses with forest projects.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

GamesForest.Club is a Berlin-based nonprofit that supports the gaming industry in investing into forest restoration to tackle climate change. We believe that, together as one industry, we can have a major impact in stopping one of the biggest problems accelerating climate change: deforestation. Deforestation contributes to 13% of total human-caused CO2 emissions, exacerbating the biodiversity crisis with 1 million species facing extinction today.

Our mission is to summon the power of games and entertainment to conquer the challenges of climate change by growing and protecting forests. Currently, we have over 50 supporters: gaming companies, e-sport teams, developers, conference organizers and publishers. The GamesForest.Club’s community already supports 16 forest projects worldwide, such as WWF, WeForest, Sugi, Gula Gula, Rewilding Sweden, Wilderness International and others.

At GamesForest.Club, we develop an interactive virtual forest, which we call a games forest, that mirrors the real-world reforestation efforts of GamesForest.Club partners. We are proud that, within a year, our community has so far protected nearly 1.4 million square meters of forest and planted 75,000 trees.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

When we started GamesForest.Club around a year ago, our goal was to support the individual efforts of gaming and creative companies that were working hard to become climate neutral. While we absolutely love when individuals join our cause, our focus has always been on engaging companies and their communities to have a positive impact on our environment.

We have inspired so many of our supporters to do more for the planet, and we’ve seen how good they feel about being able to share what they’re doing in a fun, visually appealing way. GamesForest.Club has been helping companies create a “trickle down” effect where our big ideas for sustainability and change are creating a positive, hopeful mindset for individual employees, who then carry those ideas to their communities and feel empowered to organize their own efforts, like donation events. These help companies restore nature, increase their visibility, improve their internal and external branding, and enhance revenue opportunities because their impact is closely connected to employee and client satisfaction and attraction.

In general, it just feels great to do things with purpose in the right companionship, and our Club is a place where it’s easy and effective to impact nature and the games industry in a positive way.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We need further supporters and companies who are ready to take responsibility and join GamesForest.Club to show that long-term investments into sustainability, environmental protection and climate change could not only make a change in the world but also be profitable for businesses.

Politicians have to finally implement laws which make the reduction of CO2 compulsory, invest into renewable energy and inform people about the environmental impact of products. It is also crucial to support companies to reduce their ecological footprint.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is about having a vision, being able to inspire, motivate and enable people to create their own ways to realize this vision. My vision is about restoring nature and creating a new sustainable culture and lifestyle.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a nonprofit”. Please share a story or example for each.

There are several things you need to know to run your nonprofit successfully, such as understanding as much as possible about taxes and public funding. Don’t be shy about asking for advice from knowledgeable people. And, of course, you should know everything about your product or service and about your donors and supporters. Try to understand what they need, how they want to make an impact and what you can do to meet those needs. We realized that we should connect gaming and forest projects to create a brighter future.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Choosing one person to talk to would be difficult for me. I would just like to say that constructive conversations between companies, players and politicians are crucial for the preservation of existing forests as a way to fight climate change. That is why we are open to everyone — companies, e-sport teams, developers, even conference organizers, publishers, business leaders and individual supporters. Now is the time for the heroes to get together and playfully conquer the challenges of climate change.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we created them.” This is why I believe the gaming industry is able to have a significant impact on climate change. The gaming community consists of different people with outstanding backgrounds and ideas and, with the power of entertainment, we can affect the thinking and behavior of others towards nature restoration and a climate-positive lifestyle to conquer climate change.

How can our readers follow you online?

Here are my, and GamesForest.Club Linkedin accounts.

Please follow us on Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.

Thank you!

photo credit: devcom

Maria Wagner of GamesForest: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.