In collaboration with Member Red Bull, on Tuesday 1st November we examined how organisations can create scalable social impact initiatives that have a lasting effect, and the lessons not-for-profits can learn from businesses.
As more and more organisations commit to building effective and impactful CSR programmes, and an increasing number of businesses are committing themselves to a social objective, we heard from companies who are doing it well — and doing it well at scale.
We explored the lessons charities can learn from for-profit organisations, discovering how smart strategies borrowed from businesses can help social enterprises to make meaningful cultural connections with audiences.
To support this exploration, we were joined by Sam Conniff, Joint CEO, Co-Founder and Chief Purpose Officer at Livity. Setting out to create a socially responsible marketing agency, Sam has helped develop effective campaigns to communicate messages around important issues. These campaigns are co-created in close collaboration with their intended audiences, offering young people opportunities for training and development, and valuable first experience in marketing.
Bejay Mulenga also shared insights from his experience. The 21-year-old entrepreneur founded Supa Academy, a work-based training company that aims to help teenagers and young adults "earn as they learn." Taking cues from the hacking culture pioneered by tech start-ups, the organisation aims to connect aspiring creatives with brands, including Facebook, Barclays and Accenture, offering opportunities for mentorship, apprenticeships and collaboration. Bejay explained how Supa Academy is helping create opportunities for businesses and young people to work together in ways that benefit them both.
We also heard from Kresse Wesling, Co-Founder of luxury accessories brand Elvis & Kresse. Inspired by a childhood fascination with waste, as well as a solid grounding in VC, Kresse and her partner have developed a line of accessories made from recycled fire hoses, crafting beautiful bags from their robust red coils. The company’s business model sees 50% of proceeds donated to the Fire Fighters Charity who provide the hoses. Stocked in boutiques in Europe, Asia and the US, Elvis & Kresse’s model aims to prove that “It’s easy to be good in business.”
The event was the first in a series we'll be hosting in collaboration with Member Red Bull's community for social innovation initatives, Red Bull Amaphiko.
Here’s what we learnt.
Challenge and disrupt
From providing opportunities for young people, to tackling the global waste crisis, social enterprises often achieve their aims most effectively by thinking like start-ups or challenger brands.
Sam playfully posed the idea that a social enterprise is a modern form of piracy: like pirates, mission-led businesses refuse to accept the status quo, constantly threatening, disrupting and innovating. From Blackbeard to Mark Zuckerberg, he addressed the way in which they both challenge institutionalised norms, proposing that business might update and apply a version of the original pirate code — rules built largely on innovation, high standards and fairness.
Kresse also discussed the value of disrupting established approaches. While most industries encourage a linear economy where goods are made, used, then disposed, her vision of a circular economy is demonstrated by the energy cycle of a tree: a system in which nothing is wasted. Elvis & Kresse works to challenge the wasteful models that proliferate, crafting beautiful, covetable products from up-cycled fire hoses that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Our speakers argued that social enterprises are proposing a new definition of how businesses can be run, making purpose, as well as profit, their primary concern.
With this in mind, Sam stated that entrepreneurs should look ahead and think about how they can help to "write the future," helping to make small but fundamental changes to the way that we do business.
Bejay discussed his first venture, Supa Tuck, an enterprise giving students their first taste of the business world, by helping them set up and run their own school tuck shop. This idea was inspired by Bejay's own early entrepreneurial spirit, which saw him selling sweets at school from the age of 14 (he described the thrill of earning his first tenner this way).
For Kresse, making impactful change means broadening the business' scope to tackle new areas of waste, as well as pioneering more sustainable production models. After Elvis & Kresse found success recycling fire hoses, in 2010 the company shifted its focus to tackling leather waste, designing a range of luxury homewares and accessories using reclaimed leather waste sourced from British manufacturers.
Approach change with agility
As well as the importance of establishing future goals, enterprises must be flexible enough to meet unexpected challenges, and understand that audiences and aims can be subject to change. Sam invoked the familiar truism — “the only certainty is uncertainty.”
Bejay also expressed the importance of a having a clear and well-established purpose, but also argued that social enterprises must understand that this purpose might adapt or change.
Just as Elvis & Kresse went from repurposing fire hoses to finding new uses for leather waste, Bejay’s aims have also evolved as the business has grown. He explained that despite Supa Tuck’s success — turning over £15,000 in one year when he was just a teenager — once he left school its aims and audience felt less relevant. His focus subsequently shifted to Supa Academy, an initative that aims to allow young entrepreneurs like himself learn more about running a business on the job.
Thanks to our speakers and to Sam Bush for the photos above.
Location:155-171 Tooley Street,
London, SE1 2JP,
Start:1st November, 2016 at 6:30pm
End:1st November, 2016 at 9:00pm