It was all part of the clever marketing campaign used to launch Who Gives a Crap, a toilet paper company co-founded by Griffiths donating 50% of its profits to sanitation projects in developing countries through Water Aid. In those 52 hours, the team raised the $50,000 needed to launch, and now you can spot the fruits of his labour in any household or café in Melbourne, individually wrapped, colourful and iconic. The entire city is unknowingly supporting charity every time they use the bathroom.
Simon is a guy who makes things happen. We met at the communal table at the Melbourne café Seven Seeds, where he introduced himself with the kind of unabashed charm that only successful entrepreneurs manage to utilise so effortlessly. As we lined up to give our orders, he shared a taste of what he had achieved so far: Having spent the last 10 years in and out of developing nations, he had become acutely aware of how the majority is living without access to clean water and sanitation. When landing in South Africa, working on the ground with an ngo, he rapidly became disillusioned with the minor changes he was seeing through working only on a personal level. He felt like he needed to make a greater impact.
Simon’s solution was to usher in a new era of philanthropy, the kind that attempts to alter our perception of who a philanthropist can be. Instead of leaving the funding of important projects to a few wealthy individuals, the whole became the backer, through the purchase of daily staples such as toilet paper and beer. The idea was to let people facilitate change without ever having to ask for a donation. It was one of Melbourne’s first introductions to consumer driven philanthropy, and it was how Shebeen came to life.
A second kin
It can be difficult to wade through the overwhelming choice of places to eat and drink in Melbourne. The cheap serving licenses, obsession with good coffee and creative undercurrent creates a perfect environment for hospitality to thrive in. Shebeen, whose name is derived from a South African word for speakeasy, has seen success by utilising the brilliant concept of improving something that was already happening on a daily basis: consumption. By harnessing the ethical bonus of the profits being donated on behalf of the consumer, simply being a patron at Shebeen and purchasing a beer, leave those who choose to drink there with the warm glow of philanthropy for a small price.
Around about the time Simon was sitting down to stand up for his beliefs, another entrepreneur was also just getting started.
Not unlike Griffiths, Jarrod Briffa experienced a transformative two years in India, not realising until later how his time there had an enormous impact on his values and perspective on poverty and consumerism.
It was back in 2009 Briffa first reached out to tell me about an ambitious project hoping to combine social change and delicious coffee. I remember holding my reservations until he walked me through a tall wooden door just off one of the main streets in Melbourne’s commercial business district. The hum of the city fell away and I almost turned breathless seeing the space. The amount of work needed was extensive, but the opportunities were endless. His idea was simple: “Someone getting off a train at 7am in the morning is not thinking how they can be more charitable – but they are thinking about coffee. Kinfolk has the ability to leverage everyday consumer needs, like coffee, to create value for the disadvantaged in our communities”.
Jarrod knuckled down, and from that day onwards, with only a lean start up of $10,000 and a significant amount of volunteer time from some key players, the first hurdles were cleared without ever looking back.
From the beginning, Kinfolk’s goal has been to create a community that could utilise business as a force for change. It began with their model of conscious consumption – asking questions about where things come from, and it continued with an inclusive volunteer program supporting disadvantaged people.
The volunteer program’s inclusive nature seeks to break down societal barriers and provide an opportunity for people to contribute, whilst gaining confidence and skills. The open door policy means people are not tokenised for their situation, health or past, and it provides individuals with a chance to escape labels that may be holding them back. Customers can then participate by voting where they want their money to be donated.
A new backbone
The Kinfolk model has been so successful that during 2015, they saw the participation of a 100 volunteers and were consequently able to donate over $56,000 to some important Australian charities, like The Cathy Freeman Foundation and Urban Seed.
As Kinfolk has evolved over the years, Briffa has come to realise that their focus is beginning to shift. Whilst the money made and donated will continue to be a significant feature, it is the relationships built and the direct impact Kinfolk has on the lives of its volunteers that has become the backbone of the business.
So much so, that their they are now looking for a second site where they hope to expand into a production kitchen, to extend their abilities to bring people together and create opportunities for those who might otherwise not have them.
Jarrod was aware of the astute nature of Melbourne diners from the get go. Understanding that regardless of the ethos of the place, people will choose to spend their hard earned cash elsewhere if they don’t find what they are looking for. Communicating this to his team, they have been completely on top of it, funding 99% of the business with revenue from trade – demonstrating a pretty extraordinary example of a successful social enterprise.
Briffa believes that social enterprise is the only real way to fund projects struggling to appeal to big money and traditional charity, such as community health and drug rehabilitation. These issues are extremely difficult to address through commerce, and in his opinion, “We need more collaboration between charities, social enterprises and businesses to develop creative responses to the challenges our societies face.”
In an increasingly competitive market with a highly skilled labour force and a savvy bunch of consumers, it’s nice to know there are entrepreneurs facilitating more than just the growth of industry. Businesses like Shebeen and Kinfolk are enabling global change on a local level, one drink at a time.