• Ke kořenům – To the Roots

    Prague-based Ke kořenům (“To the Roots”) took third place at the Czech Social Impact Awards in 2014. The founding team’s goal is to disrupt the traditional business of arranging funerals in their native country.

    Traditional burials waste natural resources. Not only is valuable real estate devoted to cemeteries, which have no useful secondary function, but millions of trees and tons of metal are used to create caskets and mountains of concrete for the crypts – all to give survivors the illusion that their departed loved ones will never be forgotten.

    A crisis of funeral rituals and death taboo

    If that weren’t enough reason to create a business devoted to alternative eco-burials – a trend that started in the UK in the mid-1990s – there are other social reasons why To the Roots’ three founders launched their enterprise. “What Czech funeral homes offer hasn’t changed in 10-15 years and people are no longer interested in organising funerals,” believes Monika Suchánska, who, like her cofounders Blanka Dobešová and Alžběta Živá, is in her mid-twenties. “We’d like to solve this crisis by giving people an alternative.” To the Roots’ not only offers ecological funerals (by burying ash remains in tree roots at a natural burial ground) but also counsels the dying and their families about how to organise such unique funerals.

    Blanka was personally inspired, “when my grandpa was dying in the hospital, he felt very lonely and my family couldn’t talk with him about what he was going through. Everyone involved suffered. I saw first-hand that death is such a taboo topic in our society.”

    Getting it together at SIA

    Blanka and Alžběta studied at the Masaryk University in Brno (environmental studies and social work, respectively) and became interested in ecological burials. When the Prague cemeteries bureau decided to establish the country’s first natural woodland burial ground, the two friends were introduced to Monika, who had studied anthropology.

    The trio found out about the Social Impact Awards in Prague and felt this would be an ideal way to develop their idea. “We didn’t think it would be possible to win,” says Monika. “There was a lot of strong competition. But our topic is very unique and we knew that people need us.”

    Blanka adds, “At first, we had problems communicating our offer – what exactly we wanted to do and for whom. We got a lot of support from Kristýna Bartoš and Roman Bojko at the Impact Hub Prague. The communication was very friendly and they explained what’s important to clarify.”

    Monika recalls, “We got so much help from so many people through the program,” including an assigned mentor from Price Waterhouse Coopers. “It did just what it promised to: accelerate the process of becoming a business. We attended workshops at the Impact Hub Prague about online marketing and for refining our ‘elevator pitch’ and practiced a lot.” It paid off, literally, when they reached the finals and won a 3000 euros award.

    Leveraging the prize

    The resulting media attention helped their fundraising efforts last fall. “We’ve raised about 66 thousand koruna on HitHit [a Czech crowdfunding platform] and the Vodaphone foundation contributed 49 thousand koruna” – a total of about 4000 euros.

    The team will soon be an official NGO. “Now we have a very clear offer, a visual identity, a physical office space of our own. In two months we hope to open the first natural burial ground in the Czech Republic: the ‘Wood of Memories.’”