What A Good Idea!
My favourite social enterprises are the ones who create a win-win situation: the customer is happy, there’s positive social impact, and the business itself is sustainable.
These also make for great stories and case studies.
Here are a few of my favourite examples of clever social enterprises:
Designed for baristas, coffee drinkers and the environment. KeepCup launched a series of customizable bright plastic coffee cups that were a standard, barista-friendly size.
Customers liked the environmental impact – saving a stack of paper cups from ending up in landfill, but what they LOVED was the design.
Some café’s even offer a 50c discount if you bring in your cup, it saves them money and incentivises environmentally conscious behaviour. It certainly worked on me.
Now KeepCup have an even nicer range in glass – I love that there’s no plastic-y taste and they look stunning. I am constantly impressed by their focus on building a beautiful product without compromising on sustainability.
The ultimate social enterprise – Terracycle divert waste from landfill, create cool products out of what they collect, and in the process create jobs for people with disabilities.
They sell unusual and unique items like tote bags, stationary and jewellery, through a trend called Upcycling.
In Melbourne, a group called Green Collect run a similar model, selling unique and interesting products made from the materials that companies throw away.
Alex Drew is determined to get Aussie men to go to the doctor. Not by twisting their arm, but by making the process more appealing. Instead of fluoro lights and cold waiting rooms, blokes can sit in a bar-style environment, have a drink and talk to their doctor side by side.
No awkwardness, just expert advice and a listening ear.
If more men take up the offer, more issues will be detected early and lives will be saved.
When social entrepreneurs want to learn how to pitch for investment, I show them LuminAID’s segment on Shark Tank.
Their product is clever, an inflatable LED light that recharges in the sun. No replacing batteries, it floats and packs down to a tiny size for transportation. In the event of a natural distaster, LuminAID is more efficient and effective than a standard torch.
The same product is sold to the retail customer and NGO, albeit at different price points, and is great for camping or keeping in your car. A great example of clever product design solving a problem, especially for disaster zones.
In places like America, Europe and Australia, premature births are scary but manageable. We use incubators to re-create the conditions of the womb, and give the baby the best chance of staying healthy.
If you live in a country without reliable electricity, or without advanced medical equipment, the odds of survival shift against you.
The embrace warmer is genius – like a sleeping bag for premature babies that keeps them warm and healthy. It requires no external power supply, and is reusable.
What I love about a product like the Embrace Warmer is that the social impact comes from the product itself, not the profits of the company. Sell 100,000 more of these and the world becomes a better place, irrespective of how much profit gets redistributed.
There are two things that I admire about Thank You’s first product – a 600ml bottle of water.
Firstly, they turned a mundane product into a source of impact, and made the process so transparent that every customer can see how their purchase has helped someone in need.
Secondly, they created a sharp visual brand, and made their product cheaper than all the other water in 7/11.
I love that Thank You make it easy to make a difference. People are incentivised to buy the ethical product, rather than being asked to pay more.
These are remarkable shoes – made from discarded motorbike tyres. By turning them into a distinctive fashion item, Indosole have stopped tyres from ending up in the ground, and have created jobs for people living in poverty.
Ethical Property Australia
Not your typical social enterprise – Ethical Property Australia are more like socially minded landlords rather than vendors. By designing and improving large commercial buildings, EPA create social enterprise communities and support organisations who make a difference.
They are also an impact investment opportunity – a great way for investors to get the benefits of owning property while also supporting green buildings and good businesses.
Most people in Melbourne recognise STREAT from their café in Melbourne Central, a business that also employs young homeless people and gives them hospitality training.
STREAT believe in creating stable lives, which start with stable homes and stable work. This is a huge effort, and they do it well – over 520 young people have been through their program.
More importantly, they make a really good coffee (essential in Melbourne) and their new café/bakery in Collingwood is stunning.
I often hear the hardcore environmentalists take shots at Thank You for using plastic bottles.
“Why can’t people just carry a canteen with them?”
I hate it, the pompousness of insisting that everyone lug an ugly bottle around all day. Plastic isn’t ideal, but at least Thank You made a product people want to buy (and also save lives).
S’Well have taken up the challenge, creating something so striking that you’d want to carry it with you.
Well designed, bold colours, huge range, positive impact.
Instead of using guilt, S’Well built something people like, and it’s working.
If you think Tesla doesn’t deserve to sit alongside other social enterprises, think about this:
If Elon Musk’s plan for Tesla works, will they create huge social change?
Are they making petrol cars obsolete, and electric cars desirable?
Is their gigafactory rapidly improving efficient battery technology?
Are their shared patents better for the industry?
Is their charging network incentivising other companies to make their own electric cars?
How many billions of barrels of oil will be saved if this works?
There’s every chance that Tesla could be the most impactful company of this century, and I’m all for it
Irrespective of what you think of Grameen, their partnership with Danone was really sharp. Grameen persuaded Danone to make a nutritious fortified yogurt that would be good for potentially malnourished children in Bangladesh. It was much cheaper than their regular products, and sold through a network of local women – creating jobs for an otherwise unemployed demographic.
I love stories like this, where a business sells a product that improves lives while also creating impact through their supply chain. No donations, no favours, instead taking wellbeing into account when brainstorming new ideas.
Impact isn’t an industry, it’s a philosophy. I can’t wait to write a second part of this blog in the coming years, when more and more of these businesses emerge.