With how the world is, we sometimes ask if social enterprises do really create a positive impact? Or do they have any impact at all?
We all know that nonprofits and ‘well-meaning’ government bodies are just not enough to fix the issues in our world. In most companies, the social action they are a part of is through corporate social responsibility (CSR). But those are more of a side venture.
What many don’t know is how there are social enterprises focused more on being forces for good than what we assume.
It’s not simply lip service with certain companies, they are truly brands that advocate social responsibility.
It takes commitment to truly take a social stand in the world. The ones who you can guarantee are walking the talk are those classified under Business Corporations.
Today, the B-Corps (a.k.a. Benefit Corporation) are a pioneering movement for organisations to stake claim as socially responsible businesses. When they pass the rigorous testing, it means these companies meet the highest and best standards of verified social and environmental performance.
There are over 3,500 businesses certified across the globe and there are B-Corps in our own backyard. In fact, we have one of the largest numbers in Asia - some by international companies but others started in Singapore.
“For B-Corporations [and] social businesses it’s much more that the social mission, social impact focus is in the core [values] of the company.” expressed Christopher Marquis, professor at SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University and author of Better Business, during his interview with MTC during our podcast, Conversation of Change.
How many of these companies do you know?
MAKE THE CHANGE
Make The Change (MTC) is a social enterprise that focuses on integrating their creative agency (with design, marketing, advertising) to aid in their continuous endeavours in community programmes.
MTC Give Back has offered pro-bono creative services to agencies like Club Rainbow (Singapore), Silver Ribbon, YWCA Singapore and Bright Vision Hospital.
On top of that, a major focus of MTC is educating people on the varying uses of iPads, such as
In media literacy and digital art in primary and secondary schools;
In content writing, communication design and marketing with persons with disabilities PWDs; and
In social entrepreneurship, digital art and thinking and social media for good to the public
MTC’s social initiative was even highlighted by Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran, saying that “The work of strengthening digital literacy in Singapore is an ongoing effort and we want to catalyse more ground-up initiatives.”
Thanks to all the concerted effort, MTC is now B-Corp certified and continues to ensure that their belief and purpose will be what guides them moving forward.
They gave individuals in Cambodia a change to learn and develop handicrafts; a chance for student-initiated projects such as Xscape (raising awareness for the visually handicapped), Sondering Slate (conducting a digital art class for children from Beyond Social Services) and #YOLO2020 (raising awareness about mental wellness).
Pretty obvious why they have such a high B Impact Score, no?
Vision Strategy Storytelling (a.k.a. VS Story) is a media company which helps brands get more visibility through innovative video, virtual reality, photography and social media campaigns. They have been rated as a service with a minor environmental footprint and certified as a B-Corps since Jan 2018.
“I have always been driven to stand for a higher purpose, not take anything for granted and work hard to create a lasting impact.” said Jacqui Hocking, CEO and Storyteller at VS Story. “My personal objective is to get more people inspired to do the free B Impact assessment and start thinking about things beyond profit for their startups.”
During her Conversation of Change podcast, Jacqui continued to say, “It’s the B-Corps spirit [we share]. All the B-Corps around the world have more or less aligned towards being carbon-neutral.” which is achieving a zero carbon footprint by ‘balancing’ any carbon emissions any organisation (or individual) produces through investing in environmental projects around the world.
Genashtim is a digital solutions provider. In 2015, it became the 2nd company in the whole of Southeast Asia to be a B-Corps, named ‘Best for the World’ every year since.
Their CEO Thomas Ng has an inclusive business model has provided employment for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), LGBTQ, HIV-infected, women in oppressed environments and elderly individuals remotely from anywhere in the world.
During his Conversation of Change podcast, Thomas described how "When you are up-close with people and you understand how how they struggle ... To see them excel and see them happy, see them make something out of their lives, I think it’s certainly very rewarding.”
There are so many of us who are serious coffee enthusiasts or simply caffeine addicts, but would we take the step further - to be like the founder of Bettr Barista, using her passion to create a social enterprise?
“The financial crisis of 2008 ...eventually led me to my second and current social business,” says Pamela Chng, founder of Bettr Barista, in an interview with The Asian Entrepreneur. “[by] using coffee as a vehicle to change lives.”
Bettr Barista is Singapore's first certified B-Corp, four years after they began their journey. They operate a coffee academy and a roastery.
“At the heart of [the] business is a social programme that arms disadvantaged women and at-risk youth with vocational and life skills that pave the way for long-term careers in the specialty coffee industry.” continues Chng.
MullenLowe Salt is part of one of the world’s most iconic brands in strategic communications, which is simply the Public Relations arm of Mullenlowe Group. They have offices in the UK and Singapore and have been a B-Corp since 2015. With this certification they wanted to demonstrate their commitment to making a positive impact.
To their co-founder and B-Corp Ambassador Andy Last, “Being a B Corp sets us apart. Hopefully one day it won’t, but for now it helps differentiate us from competitors jumping on the purpose marketing bandwagon.”
These are some recognisable brands in Singapore that have been selling goods to do good.
“People are consumers, they buy products and they could be anything from pencils, pens to clothes and more expensive jackets; I personally always try to buy from a company with a social impact.” said Marquis.
Tea brand T2 does tea differently. They have three sustainability ‘pillars’ involving people (where 50-percent of the leadership team is female), planet and product. Their teas are grown and cultivated in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. They’ve been reducing their footprint with a lot of their products and packaging being sustainably created and sourced, which include all their tea bags made from plant-based sources.
“I believe the reach businesses have with the brands they sell enables us to have such a strong ripple effect across the community,” says T2 global CEO and newly appointed CEO of Unilever Australia Nicole Sparshott.
“In making that commitment and wanting to be a force for good, we sought to have the highest accreditation possible and that’s what B Corp offers. A very holistic accreditation of a business that looks at corporate social and environmental responsibility.”
Started in 2014, Boxgreen came up with the idea of offering natural and nutritious snack subscriptions straight to their consumers and three years later they became B-Corp certified. A portion of the proceeds of each snack would go to providing meals for the needy plus their packaging boxes and cards are made out of recycled materials.
They also work with ex-offenders through training programmes and hire refugees, asylum seekers in disenfranchised communities. To them ‘it’s not charity; it’s honest pay for an honest day’s work’.
BEN & JERRY'S
Ben & Jerry’s is renown all over the world for their luscious ice cream, unique names and quirky flavours, but how many of us can say “I also buy their ice cream because they’re a B-Corp”?
All the way back in 1988, they were one of the first companies in the world to focus on a social mission and put it on the same level of importance as their products. Their current initiatives work around marriage equality, fairtrade for farmers, peace building and climate justice.
In Singapore, Ben & Jerry’s had joined forces with environmental campaigners to create Up2degrees, which encourage a cutdown on Singaporeans’ use of air-conditioning.
“We need to make sure that we are doing the hard work internally first before we pick an issue out of the sky and decide to champion it with ourselves and our products,” said Kalli Swaik, Senior Marketing and Social Mission Manager at Ben & Jerry’s Asia and New Markets. “It’s not an afterthought. It is a long-term commitment to use our business to drive positive change in the world.”
“I think this is the biggest thing we as individuals can do. What young people [like MTC’s Changemakers] can do is investigate companies and don’t just buy the things that look the best, but buy the things that are produced in a sustainable, ethical way.” according to Marquis.
These philanthropic efforts show that these socially responsible companies don’t focus on profits alone, which is rare enough, but they are achieving so much by leading by example. The B-Corp community ‘works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.’
There are more and more millennials leaning towards purchasing from and supporting socially responsible companies. “There’s a passion to make this their life work, to find a company and do a job that’s consistent with their values and way of living.“ expresses Marquis.
So why not consider these enterprises to buy their products, use their services or find out about starting one of your own?