Blog : Social business

The eco challenge

The eco challenge

Now that Ariel is based in Bocas del Toro (for those of you not yet in the know, check out the map, here) there is a lot of research to be done! This research is vital to us being able to offer the best service and most comprehensive knowledge about Bocas to our guests once we’re up and running – otherwise known as customer service ‘bíku style’. But, the research and network building serves a much bigger purpose.

What are we trying to achieve?

Our longer term vision is to develop a hospitality and business foundation, focusing on innovation and sustainable practices. Our aim is to develop this school in collaboration with existing eco lodges based in Bocas, building on what they are already doing. This would benefit the entire Bocas community – and would be core to managing and preserving the beautiful environment and culture that Bocas has to offer.

To get a flavour of our line of thinking – check out a couple of our main inspirations: Sumba Hospitality Foundation (main photo is from one of the Foundation’s Instagram posts – if you’re not following them, you should be!) and Green Village Bali. We strongly believe that these models should be replicated across the world particularly in locations like Bocas – where tourism is a main economic driver but simultaneously threatens the local environment and socio-cultural make-up if it is not set up in a sustainable way, working with and led by the local community and peoples. There is a fine balance to be struck in order to share these beautiful places but also ensure that they are managed and preserved.

The challenge and how you can help

We have set ourselves the challenge to meet every eco lodge currently running in the Bocas islands, by the end of June! I say ‘we’ – but it’s really Ariel who’s based there. The commute from London to Bocas makes things a little bit tricky for me! We will share with you our first draft of the list in the next couple of weeks.

How can you help? Well, we want to make sure we leave no stone uncovered, so want to ask you to get in touch to add any places to our list that we’ve missed off. It’s time for your own digging. For those of you who have been to Bocas or who are based their currently, please do get in touch and let us know of anywhere you think we should be checking out.

How to stay up to date on the challenge          

We’ll keep you updated through the blog, but will give more detail on each of the lodges we visit, in our monthly newsletter – looking at what each lodge is doing to support Bocas  – and why you should know about them. You can sign up to our newsletter here.

Know someone who might want to be a part of this?

Equally – if you have a background setting up a similar project to a hospitality/business school focusing on sustainable practices (particularly in rural communities) or think you can put us in touch with people who would want to be a part of this – let us know:

ariel.stephenson@bikupanama.com

zabrina.shield@bikupanama.com

We look forward to hearing from you. In next week’s blog, we find out more about Bocas’s Plastic Bottle Village! Stay tuned.

Until the next time #liveslow

Speaking with the Tropical Chocolate Café in Panama City

Speaking with the Tropical Chocolate Café in Panama City

“We are tree to bar producers; it’s more than bean to bar!”

We speak to Carolina Buglione – the general manager of Tropical Chocolate Café, about tree to bar chocolate, 100% authentic Panamanian chocolate from Bocas del Toro.

Can you tell me a little bit about Tropical Chocolate Café?

We are located in Casco Antiguo, in Panama City, and this is a gorgeous place where we celebrate chocolate and cacao from Panama, in particular from Bocas del Toro. We own a very beautiful cacao plantation based in Almirante, Bocas del Toro. We grow a fine cacao which is used to make Oro Moreno fine chocolate, which we sell here in the Tropical Chocolate Café.

What makes Oro Moreno different?

Oro Moreno is a Panamanian chocolate company as well as the name of our ‘home branded’ chocolate bar. We are tree to bar producers. It’s more than bean to bar! We start the work from the plantation, from the harvest of the cacao trees. We ferment and dry the cacao seeds in Bocas del Toro and then Oro Moreno artisanal factory here in Panama City makes the chocolate – the fine products that you can see here.

We want to celebrate fine, high-quality chocolate. People – generally speaking and particularly here in Panama – are not yet used to consuming a very high-quality chocolate. Industrial chocolate you can find anywhere. But we want to offer our clients the very best here in the Tropical Chocolate Café.

Our plantations are grown without the use of any pesticides or any other chemicals. Our employees are Panamanian, most of them are from the indigenous communities. We have around 150 hectares of cacao plantation. First it was just the cacao plantations in Bocas and then we opened the Tropical Chocolate Café here in the City where we sell the chocolate made from our cacao. So we’ve created this opportunity to produce 100% Panamanian chocolate, right here in Panama.

What is it about chocolate that people love so much?

Chocolate is indeed something special. There is something that goes beyond the love for sweetness – people are very passionate about chocolate, there’s a real love affair. There are also the health benefits and people are becoming more and more aware of this aspect of cacao. Cacao is a superfood – it has a lot of amazing properties and – if consumed in the right amount(!!) – it is great for your health, it also lifts your mood. It’s a great product.

Is chocolate changing?

I think so, yes. In Panama, slowly. We have read a number of articles recently about the chocolate industry – the negative side – bringing to people’s attention how the chocolate industry is destroying natural forests and also employing a lot of children in the plantations. Because of this, I think that we’re seeing consumers becoming a lot more aware of what they are eating and wanting to know where the chocolate they are eating is from. You will have noticed in recent years the finest chocolate brands putting a lot of attention on the source of the cacao bean and the way it’s grown, including the way workers are treated. This is of course something that we care deeply about.

Things do need to change – I’m talking here about the industry, the global chocolate industry. As I’ve said, there are cacao producers that use child labour and have bad working conditions for their employees. Cacao is like other mass-produced products and of course there are the same issues and challenges. What we and other fine chocolate companies are trying to do is produce a higher quality chocolate. This includes knowing about the supply chain and the working conditions of the farmers. We’re raising the quality, which probably also raises the price too, but it’s for good!

What’s next for the Tropical Chocolate Café and Oro Moreno?

The next step for us is to open our doors to other chocolate producers here in Panama – who are producing fine chocolate. We want to be a chocolate ‘hub’. We’re calling out to people who are making fine chocolate to come here and create a place where we can talk about cacao, talk about chocolate, learn from each other and offer customers a wider range of high-quality chocolate products.

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Tropical Chocolate Café:

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am to 7pm

Address: Calle 6ta. Oeste, Casco Antiguo

Further information: info@tropicalchocolatecafe.com

Social: @tropicalchocolatecafe

T: (+507) 388 6843

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Oro Moreno and the Tropical Chocolate Café were created in alliance with ForestFinance, a German forestry investment company that offers investments in ecological reforestation and sustainable forest products. Taken from ForestFinance’s website:

“At ForestFinance we believe that the long-term protection (and establishment) of ecologically-sound, sustainable working forests is the only global, mainstream approach to prevent chemical and profit dominated forestry. We do not follow the “donations to save the rainforest” route; we have developed a sustainable forestry system which benefits all stakeholders.”

You can even invest as little as €40 with ForestFinance for which you will receive five bars of chocolate made from ForestFinance cacao as well as a cacao tree – ForestFinance will plant a cacao tree for you; you receive an individual planting certificate with the location of the tree.

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The boy is back in town

The boy is back in town

Contemplating my journey back to London tomorrow – I have been in Panama now for just over two months – I am not looking forward to the change in temperature! I do love the fact that I can live here (Panama) and just wear shorts and flip flops all year long come rain or shine (except on a bus journey from the City to Bocas (del Toro)).

A tourist in my home

I must say, even though I was born here and lived here until I was 18 years old, I do feel like a tourist at times. If I really think about it I have pretty much lived most of my adult life out of Panama, which to me sounds (and feels) a bit weird. A lot has changed since I last spent a significant amount of time in my home country.

The heat. The heat is something you have to adapt to. It can get crazy hot in the City. Once you get to Bocas you can feel the cool breeze coming from the sea. I love Panama but I love being in Bocas. I guess it’s where I find my peace and also being there with the people, the local community and family, reminds me of why we are doing this.

Cherish moments

It’s true what they say and it might sound cliché but you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And it has taken me over 20 years to realize this, but it also made realize that you must cherish moments, life, family, friends, and make the most of any situation. Life is too damn short – you’re here today, gone tomorrow.

Being in Panama these past months, I’ve also seen how politics is involved in most things here, well, I guess that’s the same everywhere, but it feels very heavy here. It’s truly ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’. You have to combine the ‘know-who’ with the ‘know-how’. And because of this, a lot that should get done doesn’t get done – a tale that’s true in a number of places around the world. Sometimes it frustrates me as you can see what needs to be done, but that doesn’t always take priority on the political agenda. This makes me feel even more strongly that if we want change, a lot of that has to come from us, and the business community can play a big part in this – especially a social business.

But for all these things, there is no other place like Panama on the planet. The place, the people, the culture is unique. You have to truly immerse yourself in it and you will then fall in love with what I believe to be a little piece of paradise on Earth.

Until the next time, #liveslow! And I guess we all will, with Christmas and the holiday season coming up!

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Speaking with Giselle Barboza, founder of Eyes of the Street and KRIYAR

Speaking with Giselle Barboza, founder of Eyes of the Street and KRIYAR

‘I believe that the future of the world is in the hands of responsible businesses’

Eyes of the Street founder Giselle Barboza on the power of human connection, invisible communities and using business for good

I started the social project Eyes of the Street after working with Channel 4 on a documentary about child prostitution in the Northeast of Brazil. I produced the documentary from London, and when the images came back from Recife, Northeast Brazil, I saw kids as young as five and six smoking crack on the street at night and sleeping on the sidewalks. I had to stop and go out of the editing suite and cry. I felt awful. I felt like a complete failure as a human being. There was this one boy…he looked straight at the screen. He had these massive eyes. I looked at his eyes and it was as though I could feel exactly what he felt. In this moment I felt a profound connection. That’s why I named the project ‘Eyes of the Street’, after that little boy’s eyes, after I had felt that powerful human connection with him even though we had never met.

Eyes of the Street is a non-profit, independent project. We use a skill-building methodology that empowers kids through the use of creative tools such as photography and film. We go to ‘invisible communities’. Communities that few are talking to or working with. We come into the community, partnering with a local organisation. We run photography workshops and give kids cameras so they can capture the realities of their lives. We train community leaders and we leave all the equipment behind so they can continue the work once we leave. So, that’s the legacy.

I also founded a London-based, creative agency – KRIYAR, this means creativity in Sanskrit. I believe in business. I studied anthropology, and economics – as a form of human relation – was the reason for that. I wanted to understand the whole psychology of barter and trading. At the end of the day we trade. Trade is a relationship, money is a relationship, and it’s a belief that you’re assigned something. I believe that the future of the world is in the hands of responsible businesses. Businesses can be a force for good.

I think we are living during a shift, a mindset shift in the world. In each generation there are more people who are really pro-business, but business for good. You can’t say, ‘we have to end corporations, we have to end business and then the world will be a better place.’ This is an illusion. We love making things. We do need a token of exchange. We are heading in the right direction – we’re not quite there yet, but we are the generation experiencing perhaps the greatest mindset shift of all times.

Muhammad Yunus – founder of microcredit – is a great inspiration. I have been lucky enough to have met him twice. Yunus invented what we call today ‘social business’. For him, making a profit is investing in the social good of all. And it’s the same for me. When I say that I am pro-business, what I mean is, yes, let’s make as much wealth as possible and then use that wealth to create good things for everyone, and tackle social issues. That’s what a social business is about.

Eyes of the Street is not an institution with walls, we don’t have an office. During the workshops, we only stay inside when we are projecting the pictures and discussing them. The rest is completely dynamic, we are walking chatting, doing many exercises. That’s the power of photography. There was this boy and he was very shy and he would never speak. Never, ever. The way we understood his life was through his pictures. Through the pictures we build dialogue and it’s amazing how the pictures speak. The moments that register with the kids, the reason why they decide to capture something, in itself, tells us a huge amount about them.

Today the project is run by me and Daniel Meirinho, co-founder, who lives in Brazil. We are also fortunate to have four volunteers as part of the team and a board of supporters. Our model is very simple. We only raise funds to cover the cost of execution and everything else is donated – from equipment to services. This enables us to keep focused on why we do what we do and committed to our vision.

My vision for Project Eyes is much bigger. The key question is how do you create an environment for people, for the kids, to acquire skills to enable them to go out into the world and earn their living? The key for me is sustainability and the power of human creativity. That’s what Project Eyes harnesses – human creativity – ideas, vision, and seeing solutions. And this is core to any social business!

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Eyes of the Street’s next project will be in 2018 at the biggest landfill in Latin America, home for 1000 families. The landfill is called Jardim Gramacho, located in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. For more information or if you want to get involved with Eyes of the Street, visit their website. You can also find more information on Giselle’s creative agency KRIYAR on the company’s website. The company’s core services include film, design, production and creative consultancy. You can also follow Giselle on Instagram @gisellebarboza_.

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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Speaking with Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis

Speaking with Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis

‘In time it might change but at the moment it’s quite hard for social businesses to get investment’

CorkYogis founder Lara Sengupta on Dragons’ Den confusion, the future of CorkYogis and what’s needed for social business to thrive

To be honest I was completely terrified for two months before! You go to the audition for Dragons’ Den and then they give you a two-three month period where you know you’re going to be filmed but you have a gap between the filming. I was in India for those two months, doing some work with the charity over there. But the whole time, I was literally, terrified. You never know, sometimes you see a really lovely person with a great product and they [the Dragons] just tear them down. It was scary but at the same time it was good to push me out of my comfort zone. I was in there for an hour and a half, so in the 15 minutes that air, you don’t know which way they’ll swing it. They painted me in a good light – which was a relief.

I was prepared to be pulled apart on the financials, but in terms of the comment like, ‘oh, you seem confused, are you a business or a social enterprise’, I didn’t really know what to say. As far as I’m concerned, a social enterprise is a business and there are examples of amazing social businesses that do make money, a lot of money in fact. But people love them because of their social impact. I didn’t understand the comment really, and I didn’t want to reply, because I didn’t want to trip myself up! A lot of investors made their money at a time when social business didn’t really exist so I think it’s difficult for them to understand it as a business concept. I think in time it might change but at the moment it’s quite hard for social businesses to get investment. People have advised me to enhance the social aspect of CorkYogis when talking to customers but they say hide the social aspect as much as possible and lead on your ‘business side’ if you want investment.

TOMS inspires me. I knew I wanted to follow that business model with CorkYogis – we want our customers to be able to see what impact their purchase is making. Change Please is another social enterprise – completely different – that inspires me. Partnering with the Big Issue, they train homeless people as baristas, helping people get back in to work. TOMS didn’t get external investment. The founder sold his old business to fund TOMS. And Change Please got funding through the Big Issue. I don’t know a social business that has received big backing from investors in its early days.

We stand out in terms of our product as well as our social purpose. What makes our cork yoga mats different is that they are a lot more robust. We have done a lot of trial and error. The cork is very thin, so it doesn’t chip or crack as some other mats do. We work with a lot of yoga studios in London, especially hot yoga studios as our mats are really good for grip when you sweat. We’re currently focusing on getting in to the big studios like Gymbox. TriYoga has just started using our mats, which is exciting.

Everyone has business plans right at the beginning, but the way a business grows and develops is so different to how you think it’s going to be. We’ve had to keep adapting as we go. We’ve just started working with a sales team – which is great. They deal with the meetings with the prospective buyers – which is really handy as that is my worst nightmare! I guess hiring people to do jobs that you absolutely hate (read: are not very good at!) is the best way to spend money even if you don’t have a huge budget! Our focus in the next 2-3 years is to just keep growing, organically. We are splitting our time, focusing on increasing sales through the website and also targeting yoga studios. I would love to expand to the US eventually. So, yes, we’ll just keep working on the foundation and see where that takes us.

We’re working with the charity Destiny Foundation in India, who combat human trafficking and the challenges faced by the survivors of human trafficking by helping women learn employable skills. For every natural CorkYogis mat purchased, we provide a contribution towards a training course for one girl. It’s still early days, but maybe in the next year or so we’d also like to start our own charity, partnered with CorkYogis, so that we could develop our own courses and be able to better record, I guess, where the funds are going and the specific impact that they’re having.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to change investors’ views and standpoints, I think it’s more about different investors coming through. There needs to be more information available about how social businesses can raise funds. Most of the information out there is on how purely profit businesses can raise capital. And this is the route a lot of social businesses try to take – and it might not be the right or best one. Hopefully, the more exposure social businesses get, the more information there will be about how we can thrive.

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CorkYogis launched in April 2016 by Lara Sengupta. The company’s core product is its ‘luxury cork yoga mat with a social purpose.’ CorkYogi’s product range includes cork yoga mats, cork yoga blocks, yoga accessories and yoga packages. You can find CorkYogi products on their website and also on Woocommerce, Amazon and eBay.

 

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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A prickly business

A prickly business

Ananas Anam and its ‘natural leather alternative’ Piñatex® are the brainchild and vision of ‘ethical entrepreneur’ Dr Carmen Hijosa. Concerned by the toxic impact of mass-produced leather and polluting synthetic textiles seen by Dr Carmen Hijosa during her time in the Philippines advising on the leather industry, Carmen set out on a mission to find an alternative process and product. Piñatex® – a plant-based, non-woven textile made from pineapple leaf fibre – is the result of seven years of development. It continues to evolve and develop, along with the company that produces and manufactures the textile, Ananas Anam.

For those of you who receive our monthly newsletter, you will know that Ariel and I stumbled across Piñatex® at the Grand Designs Exhibition in London earlier this year. The textile was showcased as one of Keven McCloud’s ‘Green Heroes’ – and we can completely understand why.

Piñatex® is made from what is thought of – or was formerly thought of – as a waste product of pineapple agriculture – the leaf. Farmers, therefore, benefit from a new income stream without any additional costs. There is no need for additional water, land, fertiliser, etc. Pineapple fibres are used in traditional Filipino woven garments – and this local tradition is what helped to inspire Carmen, and her vision. A lot can be learnt from the local communities – from those who have lived in harmony with and adapted to their surroundings for years and generations.

Design is not just about product.
Design is about responsibility.’ – Dr. Carmen Hijosa

This quote from the Ananas Anam CEO captures the ethos behind Piñatex®. Social and environmental responsibility is at the heart of Dr Carmen Hijosa’s vision; a vision for a more sustainable future. The company’s guiding principles centre around a high social impact with a low environmental one.

And it’s not just about sustainability. It’s also about innovation – of thinking outside the box to come up with solutions for processes, practices and behaviours that have become the status quo. It’s about sustainability through innovation.

A business or a cause?

Significantly, Piñatex® is commercially viable and at the same time supports pineapple farming communities in the Philippines. Profits and a purpose. Helpfully, in the press pack sent to us by Ananas Anam, they define social enterprise as ‘an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvement in human and environmental well-being – including social impact.’ We are no longer in a world where there are two sides of the fence, profit (i.e. business) and nonprofit – perhaps we are starting to sit together on that fence. These two worlds seem to be coming closer together.

Piñatex® is being used in a variety of ways – finding its way into our everyday life. It’s being used by a number of designers including for footwear, other fashion items, furniture as well as automobile interiors. We see this as the future. You don’t have to reject a certain lifestyle in its entirety to want to or be able to make a difference, to have a social impact. It’s something we can all be a part of, day to day.

Let’s hope that more of us and more businesses follow Dr Carmen Hijosa’s lead. Carmen we salute you. Pineapples will never be the same again!

In next week’s Wednesday blog I speak to founder of CorkYogis, Lara Sengupta, and find out what she has been up to since Dragons’ Den (see our last blog post, ‘In the pursuit of profit or social purpose‘) and what the future holds for yogis of the cork kind…

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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In the pursuit of profit or social purpose?

In the pursuit of profit or social purpose?

Wow, November already. How did that happen? Am I allowed to use the ‘C’ word yet … or should I wait until December!? Over the next few weeks, in the run up to the Christmas (yes I said it) month of December, we will be taking a look at the concept of social business. Or should I say social enterprise? Or social venture? Or social entrepreneurship? In whichever of its guises, we want to know whether a business can have a social purpose and profit making as core aims.

bíku and bíku’s business model has been inspired by social business (13 September blog post). It is an area that interests me greatly and a topic that I see becoming increasingly important in all sectors and all businesses.

The customer is always right

Businesses have seen an increase in their customers wanting more information. More information about the quality of products, where products are coming from, how the products have been made, and whether what they are buying is eco-friendly. And this isn’t just happening at the higher end of the market, it’s even an issue for the budget supermarkets. Just look Lidl’s #LidlSurprises marketing campaign as one example! It’s affecting businesses across the board.

Businesses are increasingly having to adapt their business models to meet this demand. But how many businesses give pursuing a social purpose the same weight as pursuing profits? And can you prioritise both aims and still be successful?

But what about the investor?

An episode of Dragons’ Den sparked the idea to write this November series of blogs. I watched in amazement as Lara Sengupta from Cork Yogis pitched her high-end cork yoga mats with a social purpose (the business, not the mats!). Although in agreement that Lara’s business was doing a great thing, there were doubts from the Dragons about the investment opportunity. Each Dragon insisted that the focus should be on developing a strong business (read: profits) before giving a significant amount of the revenue to the social cause. In this case – helping to create ‘futures for vulnerable communities.’ CorkYogis works with Destiny Foundation, an NGO working to end human slavery and trafficking. For every CorkYogi mat purchased, the company contributes towards a training course for one girl. Destiny Foundation provides the training courses in sewing and literacy, giving the girls employable skills.

I have to say that I was surprised by the response from the Dragons to this social enterprise model. No one could disagree that the business would give back to the community. However, this appeared to be a peripheral concern to the business moguls, who continued to focus on numbers and the financial return on investment. The Dragons even asked Lara – on a few occasions – if what she was doing was even a real business.

Social impact investing is moving into the mainstream. Hopefully this is a sign that investors are beginning to see the social purpose in and of itself as part of the return on investment; just as big a part as the financial return.

A long way to go

I feel that business is heading in the right direction. This has been driven principally by customer demand. There’s still a way to go.

Mahatma Gandhi probably said it best, ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.’

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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