Marten Dresen: a go-getting social entrepreneur forging new paths to fight poverty

Marten Dresen is a trailblazer – teaming up the hospitality industry and social enterprise to find solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

He’s the Founder and CEO of Good Hotel Group. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, the Good Hotel Group is a “social business” that trains and employs disadvantaged people from the local community and dedicates all profits generated from the hotel operation to support local communities in need. #SleepGoodDoGood

With a background in law, a career in social good was not really in Marten’s plan. He first uncovered his passion for social entrepreneurship in 2006, when through first-hand experience he saw the economic hardship faced by local communities in Central America. That exposure led him to develop Ninos de Guatemala (NDG) – a charity that builds schools to empower children through education. Since 2006, NDG has built three schools and educates over 500 children each year.

Beginning in 2013, Marten started to conceptualise the first Good Hotel, which would then open in the UNESCO world-heritage site of Antigua in Guatemala. Whilst this was a 20-room boutique hotel, Marten’s next project was a 148 room floating accommodation barge which first “popped-up” as Good Hotel in Amsterdam from 2015-2016, before setting sail across the North Sea to land in London, where it now finds its home as Good Hotel London at the historic Royal Victoria Dock. Marten is now planning to open more Good Hotels in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Guatemala City, as well as other exciting new locations, including a potential opening in Sydney.

Advance is delighted to speak to another incredible international university alumnus  doing remarkable things on the global stage.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.

You have a legal background, what drew you into social entrepreneurship and hospitality?

Even though I studied law both in Australia and in the Netherlands, I never really wanted to be a lawyer. So when I graduated in 2005, I decided to go and backpack around Central America. It was there that I saw first-hand the level of poverty, and the lack of quality education and job opportunities for the communities there. I met a little girl called Mirna with no shoes and decided to buy her a pair. I soon realized that this wasn’t enough to really change her future. So, I started there, trying to help just Mirna, but this soon turned into helping her whole community and setting up the NGO Ninos de Guatemala (NDG).

I took a corporate job in shipping whilst building up NDG in my spare time. NDG has now built three schools and educates over 500 children each year. A few years later, I came across the work of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus’s and his idea of social business – a non-dividend business model that commits all its profits to social good. With this in mind I took the decision to leave my corporate job and establish a social business that could support organisations like NDG well into the future. As tourism is such a huge part of the economy in Central America, hotels made perfect sense as a way to create jobs, create wealth, and create new reasons for people to visit and support these beautiful communities. I really never intended to be in hospitality, but one thing lead to another, and the concept of Good Hotel was created.

What’s the impact Good Hotel Group trying to create?

Good Hotel Group is a social business, which means that we donate all our profits to social good. For us, we’re most excited by the impact that providing good education and skills can have on people and their communities, that’s why all our profits seek to support projects that are trying to do just that. To this day, we support NDG  as they continue to provide quality education to impoverished communities in Guatemala, as well as each ensuring Good Hotel offers its own local training programs.

Hotels are interesting places – they mostly serve people who are not local to them. Hotels are often internationally owned, and often times filled with people who are quite far removed from the local setting. Here’s how we try to be different – we want to always make sure that our hotels, Good Hotels, serve the community they are in. For example, in London we work with the local council to identify local long-term unemployed people. We then take them in and pay them to train with us – helping them to build confidence, build skills and break the cycle of unemployment. We also try where possible to support local business and tradespeople, we offer discounts to our neighbours, and we support the community groups around us.

Our impact will always be measured by the number of lives we touch through helping to provide people in need with access to education and training so that they can fulfil their potential and live their dreams. It’s all about how many people we can empower – quite simple really.

What inspired the vision of Good Hotel Group?

People. Seeing first-hand what amazing things that people can and will do if you just give them the opportunity, if you can offer them something to be proud of, a reason to shine. By giving people something to be a part of, including giving them proper training, you can instill them with confidence and self-belief. Our vehicle for doing this has been through creating Good Hotels and providing the product and service of beautiful hotels and great hospitality. Through it all, our main inspiration has always been to ignite human potential.

What’s the biggest challenge running a social enterprise?

Social business is awesome because once we’re up and running, Good Hotels are self-sustainable and profitable. The fact that we don’t pay out those profits is sometimes hard to understand for people. When you are committed to doing good, people will quickly associate that with charity, or a sub-optimal quality product. So that’s something we have to always keep our attention on, balancing the two definitions of “Good”: purpose and quality.

What’s next for Good Hotel Group?

We want people all around the world to be able to choose Good travel options over “normal” ones! This goes way beyond hotels. First and foremost, we are focusing on a couple of new hotel projects and openings right now. These include locations such as Guatemala City, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, all within the next two years. Then, we would love to make our model available more widely. We are actually very actively considering doing something in Australia right now. Sydney has a special place in my heart, so who knows…

How was your study experience in Australia?

I had an amazing time in Australia whilst studying at The University of Sydney. I was born in the Netherlands and seen some of Europe but I guess I hadn’t really appreciated how big and exciting the world really was until I spent some time Down Under. In that sense, I guess you could say that my time in Australia opened my eyes and paved the way for my Guatemalan and Good Hotel adventures.

What did you enjoy most back then?

Probably the sense of adventure, and opportunity. I vividly remember buying my first car, a big yellow Ford Falcon. I drove it all around Sydney and then the country, until it literally fell apart. In a way, that car ignited some of my own human potential…