I was quite intrigued to hear a speech by Ben Ramsden, Founder and CEO of Pants to Poverty.
Ben's talk was all about social business which, when combined with social finance, creates a completely different and new form of commerce that, if the next generation has any say, will compete with and potentially merge with traditional finance and business over time.
Ben began his talk by saying how he used to be motivated by money, like most of us.
His career launched into a trajectory in telco’s before the dotcom implosion, at which point he decided to try something different and travelled out to Guyana to see how other people lived.
It changed his life, and he ended up getting heavily involved with Amnesty International and, through that work, the “Make Poverty History” Youth Movement of 2005.
This was the event, wrapped up with Live8 and lots of other NGO (Non-Governmental Organisations) pressure groups changed the world, or was meant to, by getting the G8 to sign up for relief for African nations from debt.
Only five years ago, but a very different world.
At this time, Pants to Poverty was launched and sold 11,000 pairs of pants in just five months.
After a while, Ben realised this could be a business and created it as a social business.
What is a ‘social business’?
There are lots of definitions of social business, with many mistaking such businesses as charities. They’re not. They are businesses, but they are there to deliver against social and environmental needs, as well as financial ones.
The core of such businesses therefore is that they redefine the profit and shareholder view of the world.
Profits are based upon contributions to the environment and society, as well as the bottom-line, and shareholders are all of the stakeholders, not just the investors. So the farmers, shippers, staff, customers, investors and community all get a share of profit here, not just the business investor.
It may sound airey-fairey, but it works in practice as Pants to Poverty sources cotton from fair-trade farmers, turns it into pants at ethical factories in the developing world, and sells them in ways that raise awareness as well as making money.
And Pants to Poverty is very good at creating awareness. For example, the business holds the Guinness world record for the most people gathered in pants in public …
… as well as the biggest pair of pants ever created!
The point that Ben made is that this had started as a social movement – to Make Poverty History – and had moved to being a social business – Pants to Poverty.
By being a social business, every stakeholder in the supply chain has a stake. The cotton producers get pesticides; the factories have inspectors to avoid any labour misuse such as child labour; and the distributors get rewards in both cash and kind.
For example, Pants to Poverty is going through a round of funding right now, to try and get £250,000 in order to build the brand and capabilities of the firm.
In order to raise the £250,000, the company has issued 100 convertible bonds valued at £2,500 each. The bonds last ten years and are designed to sell to friends and family, and anyone else who might buy them.
And interestingly enough, Pants to Poverty is finding a lot of High Net Worth Individuals are interested in taking the bonds.
Well, apart from the philanthropic virtues and the fact they are helping the world, there’s actually a really interesting triple bottom-line financial product on offer here.
What is the product?
For your £2,500 per bond investment, you get 8.65% annual interest.
The interest however, is paid in three ways via quarterly instalments consisting of:
- 12 pairs of Fairtrade and Organic underwear (inclusive of delivery)
- £21.63 paid in cash to offset tax at source
- £50 donation to the Pi Foundation, a charity set up by Pants to Poverty to help develop sustainable business models in the fashion industry
In other words, you actually only a small amount of real interest, the £21.63 cash, but add in the other components and it’s worth a lot more.
No wonder Pants to Poverty is gaining ground.
Changing it for the better.
Some in small ways and some in big ways, like Bob Geldof, and though the majority of us capitalist banking community might think they’re all a bunch of tree-hugging hippies, there’s something that struck me as Ben talked.
You see we have this old world, let’s call it the Establishment, and the new world, let’s call it the People.
The Establishment affirms the views of old, and believes that management of the People is through control mechanisms of which a key part is the traditional media.
The People represent the views of the next generations, and believe that anything can be achieved through crowdsourced change.
The Establishment has trashed the planet whilst the People want to change the planet.
And there’s the rub.
There is a real friction between Old World and New World.
This is what has occurred to me more and more as I think about Wikileaks, the rise of social networks and media, the ability for P2P to crowdsource globally and to think differently.
I thought it worth illustrating, and so created a few slides to illustrate the point …
And the key drivers of change are accumulating today to force the old bubbles to burst:
- Political: the belief in our political leadership has been undermined by the Iraq War, expense and other scandals, with Wikileaks leading the charge to expose corruption and weakness;
- Economic: there is a loss of trust in the capitalist system, with leaders of the world striving to find new ways to rebuild whilst global socials build new financial models;
- Society: as the ageing population become a burden on the young, Gen Y will be the next generation of leaders who will have to manage the books to support the boomers and Gen X retirees whilst nurturing the Millennials; and
- Technology: is transforming the world by linking everyone P2P globally.
Not sure where all of the above leads, except that it is becoming more and more obvious, and some form of hybrid model will need to be created.
Otherwise, when two tribes go to war, a point is all you score.