Put your money where your heart is

 
Friend: “Hey Salah, did you see the company selling scarves at the conference?”
Me: “You mean WORN?”
Friend: “That’s the one. Women refugees make the scarves. They can work from home and earn sustainable income. I think what they are doing is wonderful.”
Me: “So do I. I like the idea and I support their work.”
Friend: “Me too!”
Me: “That’s great! What did you get?”
Friend: “Oh I didn’t get anything, I just love what they are doing.”

I hope I don’t offend anyone, most of all my friend, by pointing out that she does not support WORN. She admires them. She thinks their concept is exciting. And she is glad that they are tackling a problem with their money and energy. But she does not support them.

WORN is a social enterprise – that means it’s a business. If my friend actually wants to support WORN, she has three options:

Buy a scarf.
Tell others to buy a scarf.
Give WORN her time.

Yes, social entrepreneurs are grateful when you recognize their efforts, and like all people they love to hear your encouragement. But if you want to actually participate in changing the world through social businesses, you must buy something from them – or drive other customers to them. Social businesses are businesses. Without purchases, there is no social change.

If you decide to actually support socially focused businesses, you have to become conscious of your buying patterns for a little while. It takes just a bit of attention at first to remember to purchase from social businesses. But once you get in the habit, it becomes second nature. You go to Demeter Project’s It’s A Grind for your coffee meeting instead of a chain. You wait until you get to a store that sells Project 7 gum instead of picking it up at the superstore. You take your spouse to dinner at Cafe Momentum for date night instead of your regular spot. And yes, you skip the household and body care aisles at the grocery store and buy online from Soap Hope instead.

I admit that it takes a small additional effort to buy this way. Sometimes you have to wait, and sometimes you have to go online. But if you aren’t willing to make that effort, why exactly are you excited about social entrepreneurship? Social entrepreneurs aren’t working to enable abstract masses of people to change the world through commerce: they are working to enable you to change the world through your choices. I don’t mean the general audience of this blog – I mean you, the person reading this blog right now.

Social entrepreneurs are realists. They know a $100 scarf or a $75 dinner might not be right for everyone’s budget right now, and they know everyone’s got a favorite flavor of something that they will never switch from – but you can still support these businesses by converting your social network into value for them. They need customers above all else. Put an entry in your calendar once a week to post a tweet, share a link on Facebook, or e-mail a friend. That’s the best kind of marketing there is, and in two minutes a week you will be truly supporting your favorite social entrepreneurs.

You can change the world with very little extra effort by doing this one simple thing: put a sticky note in your wallet that says “Who gets this money?” Whenever you take out your credit card, ask yourself who is receiving the profits. Is it a faceless investment pool with shares in a multinational corporation? Or is it someone whose life is being transformed by support from a social business?

Social entrepreneurs are in it because they want to do the heavy lifting – they will identify the problems, the people, and the sustainable solutions. But they need you to become conscious of your buying habits. At Soap Hope we say, “Your choice is your voice.” So become aware of how your money contributes, or doesn’t, to society. Put your money where your heart is.

Soap Hope supports WORN. To make the scarves even more wonderful, we send cuts of fragrant soaps to WORN that they sprinkle throughout their inventory to give the scarves a gentle and wonderful aroma. We plan to have WORN available for sale at Soap Hope later this summer. If you would like to be notified when WORN scarves are available on our site, please sign up for Soap Hope’s weekly e-mail.

What You Spend Is What You Get

I often ask people, “What’s the biggest problem in the world?” If you don’t know your personal answer to this question, please stop and take a moment to think about it. When you know what the biggest problem in the world is to you, keep reading.

Did you say “potato chips and soft drinks?” No one ever does. Some of the most common answers I hear are water, energy, poverty, intolerance, and war. But did you know that last year, PepsiCo spend over $50 billion in their business of distributing drinks and snacks across the globe? Compare that to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) budget last year of just $5 billion.

You may not think of your potato chip purchase as a driver of human behavior, but it is. PepsiCo has built factories all around the planet; hired some of the smartest engineers, scientists, financial minds, and management experts; created an IT infrastructure that spans the globe – all to support the purchase of potato chips by you and billions of other people. It’s because you spend money on snacks and drinks that drives PepsiCo to create this amazing infrastructure and to organize these incredible resources.

Are snacks and soft drinks ten times more important than global health? They why do we spend ten times as much through PepsiCo than we do through the WHO?

Whatever your biggest problem in the world is, here’s how NOT to solve it: try to convince people to spend their potato chip money on your world problem instead. Trying to change powerful forces like capitalism or culture is a recipe for wasting time and energy. If you want to solve a problem quickly and effectively, use existing forces to accomplish your goal.

That’s where most non-profits take a wrong turn. They reframe the question like this: “How do we arrange for money to be spent on problems we care about like World Health, rather than on problems we don’t care about like Potato Chips?”

It’s the “rather than” that’s the error in thinking. Instead we need to ask the question in forms like these:

  • “Can we get people to spend money on World Health every time they spend money on potato chips?”
  • “Can we get potato chip companies to spend money on World Health?”
  • “Can we create powerful financial incentives for investors that will motivate them or their companies to invest in World Health?”

Guess what: the answer to all these questions is, “Yes!”

There are many ways to leverage existing forces to solve world problems. My favorite is to teach companies that they can make bigger profits if they will partner with world-problem-solvers under a model I call Good Returns (see Scaling Social Ventures).

So I ask you again, “What’s the biggest problem in the world?” Each person has their own answer, so to make it easy to write about here let’s just call it Your Opportunity for now. Now I challenge you to think about Your Opportunity using our new approach: can you get people to spend money on Your Opportunity every time they spend money on coffee? Can you get a glass cleaner company to spend money on Your Opportunity? Can you create powerful financial incentives for investors in a fast food chain that will motivate them to invest in Your Opportunity?

The answer to all these questions is, “Yes.” Now, go do it. Don’t delay, Your Opportunity is here.

If you read my blog, please shop at Soap Hope where we carry everything good for body and home. Every dollar of profit is invested into programs that enable women to lift themselves from poverty.

If you appreciate my ideas, please write on your blog or Facebook right now about Soap Hope and help me solve the biggest problem in the world – poverty in women. You’ll be busy tomorrow, so write a post now!