Inspirational innovative social enterprises making the world better

People once went into business with the sole aim of making money, but now there’s much more to it. The desire to make a positive impact means more business owners – and their customers – are considering the social responsibility of their practices.

Businesses are tapping into this with innovative ways of mixing good deeds with good business. Social enterprise Thankyou launched a line of bottled water in 2008 with all profits going to fund clean water projects in developing nations. Today, Thankyou’s product lines have extended to food, body care and baby products and the not-for-profit business has raised more than $3.7 million to help the world’s most vulnerable people in partnership with charities such as Red Cross, World Vision and Oxfam.

“Our aim is to end global poverty and to change the world,” says Thankyou co-founder Daniel Flynn, whose business has just expanded to New Zealand. “The challenge for us is to really partner with the consumer and find a way to win in a highly competitive environment. We are all for a cause but we’re up against some of the biggest multinational companies in the world.”

The hybrid model

While Thankyou gives 100 per cent of its profits, other businesses have adopted a hybrid model that blends commercial, social and environmental value. Koala Mattress, for example, launched in 2015 and gives a percentage of its profits towards the welfare of one of Australia’s most-loved national icons. When someone buys a mattress from the online retailer, they automatically adopt a koala and contribute to the business’s partnership with Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital.

Social enterprise Who Gives a Crap also has a hybrid model. The company, which produces what it describes as ‘feel-good toilet paper’, launched in 2012 after a crowdfunding campaign saw them raise $58,000 of preorders in 50 hours. It donates 50 per cent of sales from its 100 per cent recycled toilet paper to help fund hygiene and sanitation projects with its partner charity WaterAid. To date, Who Gives a Crap has donated $428,500 to its cause.

Buy one, give one

Another innovative form of social enterprise is the one-for-one model, where for every product purchased, another one is donated to people in need. Examples include TOMS shoes, 141 Eyewear and stationery company Yoobi, which was launched in the US in 2014 and in Australia in 2015 after founders Lance Kalish and Ido Leffler felt underwhelmed by the selection of back-to-school stationery products for their children. “It was the same old brands that had been around forever and we thought we could do something to shake up the category with products that were colourful and fun,” explains Kalish.

While researching the education sector, Kalish says he was shocked to discover that many school teachers were buying stationery for students out of their own pockets, with many spending up to $500 a year. This inspired Yoobi to make a difference.

Yoobi inspire kids with colourful stationery.

For each Yoobi item purchased, the company donates an item to a classroom pack. When filled, each pack contains all the stationery supplies that one classroom of 30 children requires and is distributed to a school in need via Yoobi’s charity partner Kids In Need Foundation in the US and the Smith Family in Australia.

Consumers with a conscious

Within its first year of business, Yoobi’s sales reached A$34 million and it has now given enough school supplies to impact the lives of about 2.1 million kids in the US and almost 25,000 in Australia, with plans to reach 100,000 this year. Kalish attributes much of Yoobi’s success to the growing social consciousness of consumers. “In the US, for example, close to 90 per cent will buy a product over another one if it is connected to a social cause.”

Kalish says Yoobi’s one-for-one model is made viable by the company’s retail scale. Its products are sold through Target in the US and Officeworks in Australia. “We really needed their buy-in so we could generate enough scale to be a commercially viable brand versus just a charitable brand,” he explains. “We are a full-profit, full-purpose company.”

How to make a difference

Kalish believes there are easy ways for small businesses to make a positive impact beyond a one-for-one or social enterprise model. “One example is volunteering,” he says. “Giving a few hours to a charity aligned to your own field of business is a pretty simple way of making a positive difference.”

Volunteering is a way for small businesses to help charities

There are other ways your business can do its bit for society and the environment. These can include monitoring the energy usage at your workplace and finding ways to reduce it, such as switching to LED lighting or replacing energy inefficient appliances. You can also choose to use more environmentally friendly products in your business, such as the hand wash in your bathroom, and recycling products, such as ink catridges or mobile phones and computer accessories, wherever possible.

Flynn adds another way to demonstrate social consciousness is through your choice of suppliers. “Try to procure business products from socially responsible companies,” he says. “Ask your suppliers questions about their supply chain and their social and environmental policies. If you choose suppliers with good corporate social responsibility credentials, you’re already helping to make a difference.”

Find out more

Visit the following websites for more information
Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility
Pro Bono Australia