Es­tab­lish a pur­pose

Element - - Solar -

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.”

Photo: Richard Cray­ton

Dean Easter­brook and Qi­u­jing Wong, from Bor­der­less Pro­duc­tions.

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