Establish a purpose
In 1970 Kiwis Viv and Richard Cottrell travelled to India to work with Tibetan refugees. On their return home they brought with them some of the beautiful rugs made by the refugees, and sold them for a small profit. Seeing the opportunity to both make a living and help those in developing countries trade their way out of poverty, the Cottrells broadened the enterprise to other countries and other products, and Trade Aid was born. This small, idealistic company has grown into 28 stores, engaging thousands of New Zealanders as staff and volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of consumers who have been able to vastly improve the lives of people half way around the world.
For forty years Trade Aid has asked its customers to consider asking ‘who made this?’ and whether they were justly and fairly compensated, and what sort of impact the product has had on the world. Welcome to conscious capitalism and social enterprise. The Cottrells started with an idealistic purpose, and built a business model around achieving it. But the reverse can also be true. Perhaps following your business plan will leave the planet and its people worse off. Retrofitting your business to encompass a broader social return on investment (SROI) is also possible. A good example is New Zealand’s Z Energy, which is attempting to lessen its environmental impact through the development of alternative energy sources such as biofuels.
“I acknowledge climate change is real, and it is caused mostly by humans, and that the products we sell are part of the problem. We have decided that we should be part of the solution,” said CEO Mike Bennetts, speaking to Element recently.
Establishing a purpose becomes the business’s reason for being – its modus operandi – and the basis for the organisation’s vision statement.
“Once you have a compelling purpose, you run the normal business model, but ensure that you check in regularly to make sure it’s working toward achieving that purpose,” explains Qiujing Wong, co-founder and chief executive of Borderless Productions. A small company with an international client list, Borderless influences through its two complementary offerings – digital storytelling and social change actions – and last year Qiujing was awarded the Blake Leader Award by the Sir Peter Blake Trust for her contribution to social change.
Alongside her husband, co-founder and managing director Dean Easterbrook, Wong has run Borderless for eight years. Their 2007 documentary ‘A Grandmother’s Tribe’ is an example of what they do. Described as a ‘for-purpose’ documentary, A Grandmother’s Tribe is the story of some 13 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa who are now being reared by their grandmothers. Its complementary campaign has raised funds and awareness for those grandmothers and which continues to this day by the mechanism of concerned citizens holding screenings of the film to raise funds.
Borderless Productions turns a profit, employs a handful of full time staff, and a much larger pool of freelance film production staff for its work, all the while improving the lives of the subjects of its films, campaigns and advertisements.
Says Wong: “Social change is everyone’s work so, when we tackle an issue, we don’t see ourselves as the problem solvers – we see ourselves instead as bringing together the energy that is already out there, helping to crystallise thinking, develop strategies and then create ways of working. That ensures everyone feels involved in taking action and being a part of the solution.”
Wong says social change often takes a long time – many social issues will take at least a generation to shift. “We have to be patient, and determined.
“It’s also often complex, so we are realistic that a ‘one size fits all’ solution is not going to work – instead, we find many approaches working collaboratively and cohesively is a much more powerful way to work.”
The company’s latest achievements include co-founding the Be. Accessible campaign, a nationwide accessibility campaign in New Zealand; founding the Borderless Foundation; and creating Harpooned Soul, a North American film and campaign targeting youth around the subject of drug abuse.
Another New Zealand company with strong social and environmental goals is All Good Organics. Auckland based, the company imports Fairtrade bananas from Ecuador, dried banana chunks from Samoa, and produces a range of organic soft drinks. Its ‘Karma Cola’, for example, contains real cola nut from the Boma village in Sierra Leone with natural spices; vanilla bean grown by the Forest Garden Growers Association in Sri Lanka and organically grown and processed sugar cane from the Suminter Organic Farmers Consortium in Maharashtra, India.
The recipient of global sustainability awards, the organisation is typical of the business career of Chris Morrison, who started All Good with his brother Matt and friend Simon Coley. Other profitable conscious enterprises include Phoenix Organics, Clean Planet cleaning business, Kokako organics and Nice Blocks –Fairtrade, organic iceblocks. “I am only interested in investing in and supporting businesses which are based around environmental and social sustainability,” says Morrison. “These are in line with my personal ethics and, fortunately, are on trend. There is a strong business case for these types of investments.”
Dean Easterbrook and Qiujing Wong, from Borderless Productions.