As part of their Enterprise and Society guest speaker series, on 25th October Leeds Enterprise Centre ( a quasi-autonomous department of the Leeds Uni Business School) very kindly invited me to talk about my experiences post-graduation, and my reasons for choosing to do business with a conscience.
To say I was nervous beforehand was an understatement. Well, actually, my nerves came and went in waves. In the days leading up to the talk, I didn’t feel nervous at all. On the day, I went through cycles of feeling like a wild animal trying to escape from a zoo, to feeling placid and also excited. I said to myself that I would hold firm and not opt for some Dutch Courage before the presentation, aka the easy option, but that didn’t last long when my mate (and fellow Leeds Uni alumnus) Chris Kenworthy took me to The Angel Inn in the city centre – to my delight the local Yorkshire ale was just £1.60 a pint! Can’t say no to that now, can you?!
Meeting up with Sarah Underwood and Julia Clarke from the Business School was great too – aside from settling my nerves, it was nice to chat and catch up too – I hadn’t returned to Leeds since the day I graduated in 2005.
Fortunately, everything ran smoothly in the preparation and set up – my powerpoint presentation was working fine, which meant I could spend the remaining minutes before the talk relaxing. It felt very odd to be standing on the stage, facing out towards the seating in the lecture theatre for the first time, having spent years facing the other way (when I turned up). I secretly hoped I could rely on the students staying at home to watch Countdown instead of turning up here, but to my shock a steady stream started to trickle in. About 70 of them. My mate Chris’ words of encouragement rang in my ears, “you’re going to screw up and I’m going to be there to see it, muhahaha!”
I hadn’t done half as much practice as I would have liked, therefore was surprised at how well it went! The day before the presentation, a friend of mine said to me , “when you’re speaking about something you’re passionate about, you can talk for hours” and that’s how it felt. It was a little strange delivering a monologue, as I find it hard to gauge the level of interest of the audience, but luckily the students seemed engaged and asked some interesting and challenging questions at the end. I was flattered when Julia and Sarah said they were pleased, as some of what I talked about in my presentation forms part of the academic material in their courses.
A few of the students posted some very kind and encouraging messages on our Facebook page and through Twitter, which I was very happy to read.
So, all in all, my first experience of public speaking on behalf of PricePie went really well! Needless to say, the evening was rounded off where it began, at the Angel Inn.
Uzbekistan is the third biggest exporter of cotton worldwide, generating over $1 billion annually. Approximately 50% of the harvest is picked, by hand, by state-sponsored forced child labour. In 2008 alone, there were at least 5 reported deaths of children, who are left exhausted and malnourished after months of hard labour.
Where is the biggest market for Uzbek cotton? Europe. How can you help? Sign the petition to put pressure on the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek to end child slavery.
I will be running the Great South Run on 30th October for Anti Slavery, and will soon have my Just Giving page ready. All donations will be greatfully received!
A recent survey of 1,000 people by the integrated creative agency 23red, (whose previous campaigns include Change 4 Life and Drink Aware), highlighted by and sent to me by a lovely lady called Hannah at Pumpkin PR and Social Media Agency, adds weight to the growing cache of evidence that proves consumers are demanding a higher standard of ethics in business.
The survey, commissioned in conjunction with the launch of 23red’s new inititiative ‘Great Good‘, which educates brands and businesses that “it’s the good a brand gives back that makes the difference“, produced some powerful and elucidating results. For example,
91% of consumers say how a brand behaves towards customers and communities is an influential factor when making a purchase.
74% want to know more about the behaviour of a company before buying
60% say that awareness of a company’s ethics – environmental record, sourcing, sustainable employment policies, etc, affects their decision making.
The survey also points towards an age and gender split – a majority of under 30′s ranked ethical brand values as a priorityn when spending their hard earned pennies, and a greater percentage of females demanding social responsibility from their brands, compared to their apparently less conscientious male counterparts! (I am happy to point out that I do not belong to that minority – I purchased a pair of the wonderful Monkey Genes chinos recently, which now means I can dress ethically from head to toe!)
Jane Asscher, managing partner and founder of 23red, stresses that authenticity from brands and businesses is essential,”The real challenge for brands is how best to harness the values at the heart of their business as marketing tools, without appearing cynical. This isn’t about sound bites and tokenistic gestures; it’s a paradigm shift. It’s about making specific and quantifiable changes..”.
It’s fantastic to learn of further bodies of evidence that confirm what I already knew – the future is ethical. It appears businesses now have a choice – dig your heels in, carry on as you are, ignore the buying signals from consumers and consider moral values & business mutually exclusive, or, join and help sustain the burgeoning movement for ethical business, in the mean time contributing to a better standard of well being for people and the planet. As Anita Roddick said,
“being good is good business”.
Guy Whitehead, Director of The Leap, has nothing to hide with his profit margins – in fact, he wants his customers to see how fairly their money is distributed, to help them feel more trust and faith in the business.
We’re working on their accounts now and you’ll see our logo and pie charts on their website within a few weeks. When it goes live, we’ll let you know!
Another small victory on the way to helping to sustain the ethical consumerism revolution. Viva la revolucion!
It’s taken a wee while to get live, but Outreach International are the newest partner of PricePie.
They offer gap year and career break opportunities in Mexico, Cambodia, Nepal, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands. What makes them different? They are a small, friendly and very professional organisation that carefully select both the volunteer projects and the volunteers themselves.
Furthermore, James Chapman, Director, is always keen to point out that ethical pricing and transparency are key to them. Hence, it made perfect sense for us to work together! See below for James’ very kind words about PricePie:
The thinking behind PricePie is great. Outreach International have always tried to be open, honest and transparent in our work and pricing. PricePie are providing an independent service to reflect this. Many thanks.“
Being a social enterprise is just fab. My work is my passion, therefore I spend a majority of my time doing something I love. That makes me very happy!
Part of what I love about running a social enterprise is the great people I meet, who also run social enterprises, the cooperation and good deeds that result between us. Let me give you some examples to illustrate.
hiSbe Food are initiating the People Before Profit revolution in the food market. Their flagship store will be opening around October/November 2011 in Brighton and I can’t wait. More importantly, I now consider them friends of mine. We met through Twitter, have agreed that PricePie and hiSbe will work together and regularly meet up to discuss business, ethics, life, love and other things I won’t mention! I know some friends and colleagues of mine have, in the past, expressed a hesitancy to mix business and pleasure. Frankly, I couldn’t give a sh*t. My business is my pleasure, and the people I meet are good people. So spending time with them can only ever be a good thing!
Give Me Tap is run by the thoroughly nice chap, Edwin Broni-Mensah. GMT sell aluminium water bottles with their branding on, partner with cafes and restaurants who place GMT’s branding in their window, to communicate to customers who have the GMT bottle that they can come in and fill up their bottle for free from their tap, then GMT use 70% of their profit to build water projects in developing nations. We’re just about to start working on GMT’s accounts in the coming weeks. As I believe in Edwin and GMT, I have been promoting them in Brighton in my spare time, encouraging cafes and restaurants to sign up to the scheme. It just so happens Edwin is an ambassador for the social enterprise charity UnLtd, so has been helping me apply for funding. Happy days.
Finally, I recently stumbled across Mabboo, who make sustainable and stylish bamboo clothing. For a long time, I have been looking for a company who make t-shirts that (a) fit me (b) match my ethics and (c) look good and Mabboo do all of the above! I couldn’t contain my exctiement, so got on the phone to Ed, who runs Mabboo, straight away. After a bit of a natter, Ed agreed to send me a t-shirt to make sure it fitted, free of charge. What a nice gesture, hey? Again, as I’m passionate about what Mabboo are up to, I spent some time last week in Brighton chatting to owners of clothes shops along The Lanes to promote Mabboo. Just yesterday, Ed got in touch to say he’s had enquiries about a wholesale order. Woo hoo!
People, my message is this: being good is good business! One good deed leads to another. Gone are the days when our individual success comes at the cost to another person. So go forth, spread the love and then everything will be gravy, baby!
I’ve just read through their website and think the work they’re doing is fantastic. At present, when big retailers, including UK highstreet brands such as M&S, Gap and Debenhams place large orders for clothing to Asian suppliers, they want the cheapest price possible, in order to maximise their profit. Where one supplier, say in Vietnam, quotes a price that the retailer feels is too high, they will seek a supplier in Cambodia, who quotes a cheaper price. This pernicious practice, of profit maximisation at any cost and squeezing of suppliers in the developing world, promotes undercutting of prices across borders and keeps the wages of the workers in the factories suppressed. In simple terms, the Asian supplier wants to win the contract, so will always offer a cheaper price. The people who suffer are the garment workers, who are therefore paid an inhumane salary.
Asia Floor Wage campaign to enforce a minimum salary (to the equivalent of $475 per month) for garment workers across Asia. This way, when a greedy, profit-maximising-at-any-cost retailer goes fishing for the cheapest price possible, there is a minimum level that an employee’s wage will not fall below.
What a fantastic idea – every citizen on this earth deserves a humane standard of living and this is a great way to achieve it.
Inevitably, there is resistance to this. When AFW called for Chinese garment exporters to comply, they were met with the response, “this isn’t possible”. One factory manager intimated that western retailers won’t be willing to pay any more than they currently do, which is based on workers receiving the equivalent of $250 per month.
“Why?”, I ask myself? The answer is clear. Greedy western retailers seek to place profit before people. Shareholders demand dividends, therefore retailers fight to maximise profit at every opportunity. Lowest cost, highest possible sale price. These very same retailers need only accept making a profit of, say, £250 million per year, instead of £280 million per year, to ensure the workers do not endure sweatshop like conditions and are paid a fair salary.
We as consumers must pressure retailers to stop their harmful and greedy practices and let them know it’s NOT ok to always put profit before people. To quote my good friends at hiSbe Food, the answer is, People Before Profit.
Another great organisation campaigning for better labour standards for garment workers worldwide is Labour Behind The Label.
In the report entitled Taking Liberties: The Story Behind the UK Highstreet, LBTL reveal the harrowing conditions that exist within Indian garment factories, supplying major UK highstreet brands such as M&S, Debenhams, Miss Selfridge and Next. Workers are coerced in to working long hours in sweltering temperatures, subject to physical and verbal abuse and have limited access to sanitation facilities and clean drinking water. Those who state the desire to join labour unions report being victims of threats and violence.The reward for enduring the above conditions? £60 – less than half the living wage of £126 per month.
Which begs the question – why are we prepared to turn a blind eye to this? Would you want a member of your family to work in these conditions? If the answer is, “no”, then demonstrate your support to the workers’ cause by boycotting unethical brands, and instead provide your custom to those which enable a humane standard of living for workers within factories that supply its goods.
Each time I buy a product now, I ask myself, “Who made this? How much were they paid? Were they forced in to working excessive hours?”. Just today, I managed to buy some new socks from an ethical shop in Brighton called Jaba Yard and I felt good inside, knowing that my comfort hadn’t come at the expense of someone else’s.
I understand that in order to add credibility to my rhetoric, I need to turn to others, who have a more profound knowledge of certain subject areas I discuss. Through Twitter (which, incidentally, I see playing a fundamental role in the reformation of our governance systems – that is for another time) I learned how the British charity, Anti Slavery recently brought a handful of child domestic workers to the International Labour Conference, in order to address the dignitaries themselves. “What a stroke of genius”, I thought, as I believe part of the reason the average consumer manages to turn a blind eye to malpractice in the supply chain of the goods they buy, such as clothes, is because they feel disconnected from the process . I truly believe that if you stood the hypothetical 8 year old child, who had worked 12 hours per day for £1 per day, to make the 5 pairs of socks for £1, in front of the hypothetical Primark shopper who was considering buying them, then the shopper would not make the purchase. Anti Slavery’s website is an excellent resource for learning about the different types of slavery that exist today and what we can do to help end them.
On my journey through cyberspace I have also become acquainted with No Sweat’s website. As the name suggests, they campaign for the abolition of sweat shop labour around the world, including the UK. The feel of the website is more edgy, contemporary and verging on militant to me, which I like. As Polly Toynbee from The Guardian says, “those who shout loudest get heard”. Check them out.
PricePie is just over 6 months old now. All my favourite and most cathartic blog posts are as a result of weeks of quasi non-scripted planning when either showering or on the throne. This, ladies and gentlemen, is no exception. You will be pleased to know that I am not currently on the latrine as I pen my innermost thoughts (I do, however have a conspiracy theory along these lines – I am almost certain Archimedes was partaking in said activity when he had his ‘eureka’ moment).
To date, the conceptualisation, planning, launching and running of PricePie has certainly been an adventure! Much like I wish someone had warned me that my hairline would begin its progressive backwards moonwalk to meet my crown shortly after my 23rd birthday, so I was prepared and could make the most of it, I believe had I been taken aside and told what to expect from self employment, I could have been spared the roller coaster of emotions and stress that I have experienced! On the other hand, maybe I would have experienced the same feelings irrespective of fore-warnings – I am a strong believer that experience is the best form of education.
As I imagine is the case for all brave souls who set out on their own, the first couple of months were very exciting. My burning desire to make a difference in and bring about a fairer distribution of wealth around the world was mainfested in my own business. I imagine it is a similar feeling to giving birth to a child – months of creating, planning and waiting had finally come to fruition and stood before me as an autonomous being – an extension of myself. Darren and I were careful to understand the stark difference between an idea and a business, hence made sure we carried out rigorous research before launching. The results of our market research proved the existence of burgeoning ethical consumerism and more importantly, demand for the service that PricePie provides.
The next stage was selling PricePie to businesses. Having worked in the industry for 3 years and being well connected, gap years were the logical place to start. The first point of call was Gap Discovery – Chris Hughes, the MD, is a friend of mine, having previously worked together at the UK’s largest gap year operator. Speaking with Chris, I discovered that ethics, transparency and fair pricing were central to his operation, therefore forming a partnership was a logical step, as PricePie was the vehicle to enable him to prove this to his customers. Within 2 months of launching, our first client went live. Happy days! Every day I called other companies in the same sector, and in the majority of cases, the answer I heard was, “this is very interesting – send me some more information and let’s talk more about this”. Having worked in sales, gaining this level of interest on the first call was unheard of! Furthermore, the rush and elation I experienced was intense and incomparable to feelings experienced when making sales working for someone else – to use the same example as previously, the sensation was akin to seeing one’s own child smile for the first time (I imagine, as I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I am assured this description is accurate by my two brothers). The lead list grew, with many in the ‘yes’ column. Exciting times.
Then it all went a bit quiet. The ‘ yes’s ‘ were still ‘ yes’s ‘, however, they were also, ‘can we speak again in a week?’. Then I thought to myself, ‘ok, so, what do I do now?’. In order to attract new partners, I understood I was in the near-impossible position of having to already have partners. The question, that of course arises, is, “how can I attract partners, without partners?”. I was in a waiting game. Now, it would be a fair remark if one were to accuse me of being somewhat impatient. Through years of being in a habit of getting what I wanted, when I wanted, this was a new and uncomfortable experience for me! My pal, who just so happens to be the incredibly talented dude who knocked up our website, Chris Kenworthy, was on the money with his description,
“You just feel like a fraud – turning up to work, pretending to be busy, keeping up the bravado, when what you’re actually doing is just checking Facebook and reading the news online all day – I’ve been there!“.
I was looking at everyone around me, thinking, “why are they so busy? Why aren’t I? Have I made a mistake? Should I go back to working for someone else?”. In addition to having to wait, every now and again I would hear a ‘no’. Someone even laughed at me once. Now, this may be revealing of my subconscious persuasion, but the ‘nos’ seemed to have a more powerful effect on me than the ‘yes’s’. I would consider myself to be a pretty level-headed and positive person, but there were times when, I would say, I felt like absolute sh*t. I was used to being busy and achieving things regularly – this foreign feeling of stasis and like life was passing me by scared the sh*te of of me. Mr Happy Happy Joy Joy was no more – he had b*ggered off on holiday and had left Mr Grumpy Sad Negative B*stard in his place, without so much of a note to say when he was due back.
My solution was to take a break. Excessive self-preservation it may have been, but it seemed the right thing to do. Also, I believe stepping away from a situation and allowing myself time to look at it from afar enables new insight to be gained. I started work part time as a support worker for children with disabilities, which helped to pay bills, and immersed myself in that, working as many hours as possible. Upon reflection, I suppose I was sulking with PricePie. “It’s not fair!”, my actions were saying!
I am an alumus of Leeds Uni Business School (don’t you know) and they were kind enough to do a profile piece on me and PricePie. The nice lady who arranged it all signed me up to their newsletter and invited me along to one of their events. I decided to give it a shot and attended a debate and networking evening for those involved in social enterprise in London. When people asked what I did, and I explained, they seemed really interested. I then became more interested. The old shoulders relaxed and after a couple of glasses of the fine (free) Argentinian Merlot my mojo had well and truly returned. When I was walking to toilet, I felt like I was doing it to the beat of that Bee Gees song that goes, “..now you can tell by the way I walk that I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk…”. I made some very good connections and got in touch with them post-event. PricePie was back on.
Fast forward a few months, and here we are. Darren and I are very excited to have recently formed a partnership with Give Me Tap, headed by Edwin Broni-Mensah, voted Britains’ Top Black Graduate 2010 by Future Leaders Magazine. Furthermore, Darren is squirelling away on the accounts of Outreach International, to be launched live, very soon. Things are looking up. Sista Du, who retail fairly traded goods from Tanzania online, are waiting in the wings with their books tucked under their arms too. Mr Grumpy has packed his bag and fooked off and in his place is Mr Realistic, slightly Battle Worn yet Positive.
The above is a lengthy, yet compacted version of events. All characters have been portrayed as accurately as possible and voices disguised where necessary. No animals were harmed in the filming.
In summary, I would like to leave you, the reader, with this departing note. Life is a roller coaster, just got to ride it. Actually, Ronan Keating is a poor source to quote. Entrepreneurship is a massive challenge – one which I believe, no one can prepare you for. The challenges are immense and original, yet the rewards are insurmountable. Keep the faith and stick with it.
Viva la revolucion!