From Melbourne’s first not for profit pub to an innovative crowdfunding campaign that went viral globally in just hours, Simon Griffiths is reinventing the landscape of social entrepreneurship.
University of Melbourne alumnus Simon Griffith shared his journey from volunteer to social entrepreneur tackling social change on a global scale at The Compass Master Class.
After ten years volunteering in South East Asia, the economist in Simon began to question the relative scale of what he was achieving and he quickly realised a new approach was needed.
“I had been in and out of the developing world over about a ten-year period, going back to the same places quite frequently.
But, visually I couldn’t observe any improvements in the level of poverty in front of my eyes.
The figures didn’t add up. At the current rate of change, global literacy and global sanitation are approximately 70 years away. While the grassroots work Simon was engaged in was helping, it was not solving these core development issues quickly enough.
The average Australian donates 0.63% of their annual income. While valuable, compared to the amount spent of retail, entertainment, or even our morning coffee, this percentage is negligible and the potential for change is slow. To solve these problems more quickly, this figure needs to be closer to five or ten percent.
According to Simon we need to start turning consumers into philanthropists; to entirely change how we think about and engage with philanthropy.
We need to take the profits from products that we’re purchasing because we want them, like beer, or need them, like toilet paper, and reinvest those profits in creating social impact.
“We’re working with something that we all do every single day as consumers and using the profits from our everyday purchases to turn consumers into philanthropists. This is what I call consumer-driven philanthropy.”
It starts with an idea
Shebeen was his first brainchild but Melbourne’s first not for profit bar didn’t just pop up overnight. The concept is simple – Shebeen sells beverages from all over the developing world and 100% of the profits from each drink goes to an organisation tackling poverty in that drink’s country of origin. It was a great concept, but Simon had no idea if others would agree. The first phase of market testing took place in Madam Brussels where they sold an Ethiopian beer with $1.50 on each bottle donated to get Shebeen started.
“People had a thirst for what we were doing,” said Simon. “So, we took the next step and set up a pop-up bar with the full Shebeen product range. We overshot the revenue projections of our business model and showed that it was possible to sell much more product than we had originally estimated.”
In February 2013, Shebeen officially opened its doors and now donates around $200,000 to developing countries per year.
Toilet paper came into the equation when Shebeen went from a hair brained scheme to a viable business model. Simon and his business partners started to think what could hold Shebeen back – not everyone drinks beer, not everyone wants to drink an Ethiopian beer and you can’t fit everyone inside a single bricks and mortar building.
We wanted to create a product which would touch everyone, which is exactly where toilet paper comes in.
And so Who Gives a Crap, an environmentally friendly toilet paper company donating half the profits to sanitation in the developing world, was born.
But, as it turned out toilet paper is a lot more complicated than beer. They needed to bulk purchase 50,000 rolls of toilet paper which translated to about $50,000 as well as storage costs. They turned to consumers once again and launched an innovative crowdfunding campaign to presell 50,000 rolls.
They released this video to raise enough capital to establish the business and, simultaneously gain an understanding of their market.
Simon’s three rules of social entrepreneurship are at the core of the business and the marketing campaign.
1. Don’t sell a low-quality product
2. Don’t charge an excessive price premium
3. Avoid the old tactic of using guilt to motivate sales.
After 50 hours of live streaming Simon’s toilet habits from a warehouse in Melbourne, Who Gives a Crap reached their $50,000 target.
The momentum grew on social media with customers posting pictures of their pets and kids with the colourfully packaged toilet paper. Sales were doubling each day and they quickly sold out of the first 50,000 rolls. In partnership with Water Aid, each roll they sell continues to supply one toilet for one week in the developing world.
Failure is an important learning opportunity
“Stop wasting time worrying about failing,” said Simon. “It’s important to accept failure is going to happen and see it as a learning opportunity.”
Sound advice from one social entrepreneur to 250.
Watch Simon’s Master Class
The Compass is a growing community for people interested in, and passionate about, social entrepreneurship, providing practical insider knowledge on what it takes to run or get involved in ventures that generate positive social impact.