Blog : social business

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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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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Inspired by social business

Inspired by social business

This week we’ve posted a few things on social media about projects and people that inspire us. Inspiration and being inspired keeps us pursuing our dream. It pushes us forward and it keeps us going on those really tough days when we question and doubt ourselves and wonder what the hell we’re doing!!

Face your fears

Whenever we tell people about our bíku project, their initial reaction is wow – that’s so exciting, and so cool. Of course we love this reaction because what we’re trying to achieve is exciting (to us), it is amazing and we love it. But, sometimes, doing something different is terrifying! Every day we need to push ourselves to make sure that we reach our goal. There are no personal trainers organising our routine or our daily plans, no one shouting at us when we feel like giving up. We have to do this ourselves – which at times can be really tough. Having people and projects to inspire us is even more important at these low points. They remind us that doing the impossible, is possible!

Ariel faces another fear…his fear of frogs. And with Bocas del Toro full of these amazing guys – poison dart frogs – he’s going to have to get over his fear, fast!

Who inspires us?

So – who are our main inspirations? Well, some are closer to home, including friends and family, and others are world renowned. For me, Muhammad Yunus is a huge inspiration for our biku project and on a personal level. I’m not sure how Yunus would describe himself. By education he is an economist, but I think he was one of if not the very first, true social entrepreneur. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding and his work with Grameen Bank, which was and remains a pioneer in providing microfinance for the poor. For all you creatives and social business…ers of the future, the Grameen Creative Lab is a great way to keep up to date with anything social business related!

Yunus has dedicated his life to helping people break out of poverty, and has always kept principles of sustainability at the core of his work. Looking at what Yunus has achieved, at what Grameen has achieved, it just seems impossible. A glance at the ‘Grameen Family’ section of the Yunus Centre website shows the magnitude of this man’s work. If you want to know more about Yunus and how Grameen began, I would strongly recommend that you read Yunus’s book, ‘Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs’.

From being inspired to inspiring others

We’re inspired every day – often by people who are working on personal, creative projects or in the community. They are driven by passion rather than a desire for recognition. We try to surround ourselves with people who are inspiring, people who don’t settle for the status quo – you know who you are! We can only hope that one day we can inspire others. That would be an honour.

#liveslow!

Bocas connections

Bocas connections

Panama visit – day 9. Things are really ramping up with only a few days left before we fly back to the UK, and still so much to do! Day 9 was a busy day on the Bocas islands, reconnecting with old Bocas contacts and making new ones – all for future collaboration with bíku.

bíku, a business to benefit Bocas

We haven’t written much about this yet, but we will run bíku as a social enterprise; ie a revenue generating business whose main aim is to address social issues. The profits from bíku will be reinvested in the local community, primarily to develop community led social businesses. There is already a lot of great work being done in Bocas for the conservation of the natural environment as well as the culture, especially of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community, and the history of the place. As they say, there is great strength in numbers. Since the inception of our bíku plans, we have been meeting with people working in Bocas with similar aims as our own – so that we can collaborate with them once we’re up and running.

One of these people is Angel – who we wrote about in yesterday’s blog. It’s always good to catch up with him; he is looking forward to seeing our project come to fruition. Angel knows everything about and everyone in Bocas! He’s at the core of a lot of the great work happening here. He told us about some very interesting developments in Bocas. In conjunction with the Panama tourism authority (ATP) a museum is being developed on the main island, Isla Colón, to share with tourists the rich history of the Bocas islands. The other is a work in progress regarding the restriction of tour boats going to Dolphin Bay (Bahia de los Delfines). The hope is that there will be a restricted number of tours a day, working to a schedule. This development is a long time coming and will be a huge benefit to the dolphins and other marine life in the area.

So fresh and so clean

Another of our visits was to Punta Coco, which is a small company that makes organic soaps and other toiletries from pure Bocas coconut! We were lucky enough to come away from the meeting with a number of goodies to try … Only local, and only the best for our bíku guests. And only things that we have tested and approved first!


Punta de Coco soap slab

Up in the hill

Finally, as you might have seen from our Instagram stories, we also visited ‘Up in the hill’ on Isla Bastimentos. After a 20 minute walk up the hill, making our way through tropical rainforest and stopping for the occasional photograph and insect / bird interrogation, we reached our final destination ‘Up in the hill’. This place is a real tropical hideaway – an ecolodge, cacao farm, coffee and organic product shop. It is run by a Scottish and Argentinian couple who actually met in Bocas. They originally came to Bocas, separately, some 20 years ago volunteering with the turtle conservation work. Anyone who comes to Bocas should definitely visit this hidden treasure. There is great coffee, chocolate, and conversation waiting for you after the long, uphill walk! And we completely agree with their slogan, ‘Good things come in the trees’!

Ariel tucked away at Up in the hill

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Until next time, #liveslow.