Working life after MBE: Lena van der Wal

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Lena van der Wal | RE:BORN

Lena graduated from MBE in 2020. During her time at the faculty she was an active BOSS member and functioned in the 26th board of BOSS, with the organisation of the study trip being her responsibility. In her graduation, she focussed, together with Marcella Wong on social entrepreneurship and integrated area development with special attention to social impact. Next to her studies she started her own company: Walden Studio. After her graduation, she continued Walden Studio and her graduation internship at RE:BORN Real Estate became a fulltime job. At RE:BORN she focuses on future innovative real estate, and is a project developer. 

What did your study career look like? I started my studies not in Delft actually, but in Groningen. Here I finished a bachelors in Autonomous visual arts, followed by two years of work before starting my bachelors’ of Architecture in Delft. After the bachelor, I finished the mastertrack of MBE.

You were active at BOSS during MBE, what is it that you did these times?Within the BOSS Board I organised the study trip. We went to Chili and Peru, with ‘Change making in the Built Environment’, as the theme. The trip was great, we visited lot of social enterprises and NGO’s who were a lot more ahead when it comes to social impact, than in the Netherlands. As the social problems are much more visible in Chili and Peru, building companies have innovative solutions and work on this in a proactive manner. 

Organising the study trip was in ways almost harder than starting my own company. You have to get something off the ground with no money, and no story when you start – while also carrying a lot of responsibility. Besides learning a lot, it was great fun! I am still in good contact with the committee. 

What about your graduation? My graduation was part of the Explore Lab, and it was a project together with Marcella Wong. Focusing on social entrepreneurship and integrated area development – in particular the social impact of projects. 

The outcome was impact development – how does one develop with the goal of making social impact. Not greenwashing, but actually started from a point where you can do something good with real estate as a means. I graduated in 2020. 

 After graduation my graduation internship became a job at RE:BORN Real Estate. Marcella and I started at RE:BORN at the end of 2019 for our graduation internship. After we finished MBE, we both started with full time jobs at RE:BORN. The switch from study to work was easy, one of the factors for this was that I was already involved with the company. And besides this, the MBE masters does prepare you for the working life!

About RE:BORN Real Estate… The company is fascinating and great! First off, they work with an interesting internal structure, best compared to a holocratic approach. This means that everybody works from their own powers and capabilities. As a result, you work in more of a circle manner than a hierarchical manner – this gives you responsibility early.

RE:BORN is still quite a young company, they just entered the scale up phase (after the start-up phase). Work is dynamic, new and changes quickly. Personally I work as a leadlink for the RE:FUTURE branch of the company. The work consists of studies, experiments and work on a toolkit to provide a futureproof vision of RE:BORN. We believe that real estate should be flexible and able to change with times, sustainability and users. The world changes, but real estate does not, and this should be different! – treat real estate like lego and make it relevant every time. To show this, we are also working on a prototype. 

Besides this work, I am also active as a real estate developer within the company. Having multiple roles and responsibilities comes with the holocratic approach. It is great that my current work corresponds with my graduation. Marcella and I brought a new kind of thinking to the company – and we still work on this, making sure we have an impact strategy and also keep track of the impact on a social, ecological and economical level.

You also started your own company whilst you were still studying, can you tell me about it? Yes! I started Walden Studio with my brother, when we were both still studying. It started about five years ago, as a bureau for small and self sufficient architecture – it was a side business for us both. We did a lot of projects together, and were in the news a lot – doing smaller and eventually bigger projects. It actually blew up a bit too early, as we were both still studying when clients treated the company as something we both did full time. However, trying projects, pioneering in a field and learning along the way is great. 

Lastly, do you have some advice for your younger self? Don’t work too hard, you are probably already more valuable than you realize! Enjoy the moment when it is happening, you can spend your whole life learning and working. Futermore, for all the MBE ladies, do not be afraid to aim for a leadership position or your own company. Let’s all support eachother in these ambitions, especially (and despite working) in this still mainly male sector. We need more girls on top! Let’s dare to have that ambition!