We caught up with Melbourne based social entrepreneur Simon Griffiths to talk about social business in Australia and what he thinks the future looks like.
Simon Griffiths is a leader in a new breed of social businesses, which he calls ‘consumer driven philanthropy’. He’s the founder of Shebeen – Australia’s first social-enterprise bar and also the co-founder of Who Gives a Crap, a venture selling eco-friendly toilet paper where half the proceeds go to sanitation projects overseas.
AE: You’ve been phenomenally successful over the last few years with both Shebeen & Who Gives a Crap – what is your background and how did you get started in this sector? Simon-Griffiths Simon Griffiths.
SG: I studied Engineering & Economics at university and started out working in the corporate sector but found that it didn’t particularly enthrall me. I then went into the pure NGO sector and although I loved the outcome of what I was doing, I found that it was harder to have a large-scale impact. I became particularly interested in creating a new consumer driven philanthropy channel where not-for-profit and business are combined so you can use every transaction to create something mutually beneficial.
Shebeen was my first project in this area. It’s a non-profit café and bar in Melbourne where we sell products from the developing world and use the profits to support a development project in that drink’s country of origin. Last year we were able to make our first donation of $12,000 and the projections for this year are looking fantastic.
AE: Who Gives a Crap?
SG: Despite the success of Shebeen, we realised there were limitations to what we could achieve given the fact we were only in Melbourne. We also became aware that people were starting to think about the end result of their transactions and we wanted to capitalise on that to do some good.
We wanted to find a way to use mass-market products that are available anywhere in Australia. The answer: toilet paper! We quickly realised we were onto something and Who Gives a Crap was born. Everyone needs toilet paper and as a concept, it lends itself perfectly to supporting sanitation projects. At present, 40% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a toilet. Diarrhoea related illnesses fill over half of sub-Saharan African hospital beds and kill over 2,000 children under 5 every day. Our impact to date shows that every roll of Who Gives A Crap is providing someone with access to a toilet for about one week.
AE: How did you get the project started?
SG: From a financial perspective, we worked out that completely non-profit business models can be somewhat limiting and it can be hard to raise capital, because it’s difficult to offer your investors any financial incentive to invest. For this reason, we decided to start off as a for-profit company that uses 50% of its profits to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
In terms of actually getting started with production, we quickly realised that toilet paper was going to be a challenging product to launch, as the market is dominated by large, multinational competitors with some very deep pockets. We knew we had to think differently about what we were going to do and how we were going to finance our first production run. We took the initiative to crowdfund – essentially asking people to pre-order their first delivery because they thought the concept was worth getting behind. To help things along, I agreed to sit on a toilet on a live web feed until we reached our crowdfunding target (you can watch the highlights here). We hit our fundraising target in 50 painful hours, and generated some incredible media coverage at the same time. Thanks to everyone’s support, we’re now running a pretty serious toilet paper company!
AE: What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneurs who are looking to set up their own social business?
SG: For anyone starting out, I’d recommend getting a job with someone who is already working in a similar area and learning from their mistakes so that you can shortcut that process when it comes to getting your own idea off the ground.
When we started out, the challenge was that we were operating in a space that was only just starting to emerge globally, so there wasn’t really anyone experienced enough to help us or talk through what we were doing. It was more about getting in there, doing it, and making a lot of mistakes along the way.
AE: Is the market changing in Australia with regards to social enterprise & social business?
SG: Yes, definitely. People are thinking a lot more about where their money ends up and what that means for them, which is really exciting.
AE: How does Australian Ethical fit into what you are trying to achieve?
SG: Once you start digging deeper into conscious consumption you need to start thinking about where you are passively investing your money through your banking and your superannuation – it’s one thing to be an ethical investor, but if you don’t have your superannuation in the right place then it doesn’t really make any sense.
If you’re interested in getting your hands on some life changing toilet rolls you can order online from the site: au.whogivesacrap.org
Shebeen & Who Gives a Crap are part of a number of exceptional new social businesses that Australian Ethical are fortunate to have as employer clients – this means they use Australian Ethical as the default super fund for their employees, ensuring their business ethos is aligned with their finances. If you’d like to make Australian Ethical the default superfund for your business find out more here: australianethical.com.au/employers
The information in this article is for general information only and does not take into account your personal financial situation or needs. You should consider obtaining financial advice that is tailored to suit your personal circumstances.