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How you can create massive change with micro giving

How you can create massive change with micro giving

This week we are thrilled to share an interview with the incredible Buy One Give Onea social enterprise and non-profit organization with a mission to create a world full of giving. Unlike conventional giving models, B1G1 helps businesses of all sizes achieve more social impact by embedding giving activities into everyday business operations and creating unique giving stories. Every transaction can create an impact through B1G1, and even for as tiny a contribution as one single cent, the ripple effect is enormous.

You may have already noticed that Aquamarine Home is a proud B1G1 member, meaning each and every one of our beautiful products is also paired with a fantastic social and environmental program. This week our founder Alison Rentoul got together with B1G1 founder Masami Sato to find out more about their wonderful organisation and share how you can get involved as well.

Watch the video interview:

Listen to the audio:

Read the full transcript (click here)

Alison Rentoul:
Hi, everybody, and welcome to our interview today. I'm Alison Rentoul, the founder and CEO of Aquamarine Home, and I am joined here today by the amazing, the beautiful, lovely Masami Sato from B1G1. Hi, Masami.

Masami Sato:
Hi, Alison. Great to see you.

Alison Rentoul:
Oh, my goodness. I’m so excited to be doing this interview. I've been looking forward to it for so long, and I just can’t wait to share with everybody all the wonderful things you do, so people can learn a bit more about B1G1 and hopefully, everybody that's watching this will join and become members. People can read a lot about your backstory in your wonderful books, can’t they, and we’ll put links to those in the blog as well, so we won’t go into a huge amount of detail on the backstory, but I just wanted to ask what were you doing before you had the epiphany of setting up B1G1, and what was it that led to the amazing insight that you had?

Masami Sato:
OK. Just in case you don't know what B1G1 is, I just wanted to give a quick overview. B1G1, which is also known as Buy One Give One, is a global giving initiative for business owners. Businesses, especially small businesses, might find it difficult to make a meaningful contribution and make a real impact. B1G1 makes that happen by working with small businesses and allowing them to embed effective giving in their business and in their regular activities. We work with more than 2,000 businesses. These small businesses have created over 130 million giving impacts to date. That's B1G1, and we have a lot of causes that we work with as well.

Now, the question Allison just asked about what is it that I was doing before B1G1, because we've been doing this for over a decade now, so when we first came up with the idea of B1G1, Buy One Give One, I was a business owner running my own food business. As a small business owner, when I started, I had a dream and a vision as well. I wanted to make sure that everybody has had a opportunity to have a healthy meals and enjoy that with families, so that's how I went into business. At the same time, I also wanted to make a difference and make sure that people who didn't have access to healthy meal or even access to education or opportunity in life, I wanted to contribute in some way so that I could participate in making our world a better place for everybody. When I started, it was more than 17 years ago.

I had my baby daughter with me and we worked very hard, but I realized that being a small business owner, I always had lots of things to deal with and even though I wanted to give back, in business, you can always find the things to invest in next, so even when my business was growing and we had more and more customers as we were doing wholesale to retail stores and at one point, we already had more than 150 stores selling our products in Australia but then we reached that status with all the hard work and sacrifice and everything, but at that point in time, I suddenly realized that even when we had 150 stores, we weren't making much profit anyway because we were investing all the money we had back into business to expand. So it felt like it was a never-ending chase for success rather than being in a position to really make a difference and give back and help people. I thought if I went on thinking that way, then I would still be in the same position maybe in 10, 20 years’ time too with a bigger business then.

The idea for Buy One Give One, B1G1, when I got that, and I got the significance of that idea, it transformed everything because I realized that it wasn't about becoming really successful first, and then as a result, being able to give. Actually, if I could just embed giving in our everyday activity and in our case, every packet of frozen meal we were distributing, we could give a meal. With that, we could do it with small giving but then know that every time somebody purchases our product, somebody receives a meal and that already can happen today, rather than waiting for big success. That was kind of like a game-changing moment for me.

Alison Rentoul:
I love it. It’s such a simple concept, but yet so deep and so profound. And as you say when you play that game of, “Oh, when I'm successful or when I'm doing well enough, when I have enough, then I can give back,” that time is never going to come when you feel like, okay, now is the day that I’ll give it all back. It’s just so profound to have that insight about being able to do little things along the way and make those micro impacts that all together create this enormous impact. And by getting so many people involved as well and spreading the ripple effect around the world. It’s so exciting, I get goosebumps. Okay, so you had the big idea and I'm sure it was not a very easy thing to set up in the first place. You already mentioned that now you have over, how many thousands of business do you have?

Masami Sato:
2,000 businesses.

Alison Rentoul:
How many projects do you guys work with now?

Masami Sato:
More than 500 projects. The number of projects goes up and come down or overall, it changed quite a bit because it's evolving but we have hundreds of projects available for all these businesses to give. Our projects start from as little as one cent so if even one cent can make an impact, a tangible impact, it's not one cent. It's about somebody receiving access to water, life-saving water for one day, or a child receiving access to e-learning digital education so that their life will really transform in the long run or so every impact in B1G1 is, we call a smile, something positive happening to somebody else's life and making a difference. If you can start with at least one cent or two cents or 10 cents or a few dollars, wherever you are in your business development, actually anybody can make a difference today.

Alison Rentoul:
Yes, absolutely. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. I’ll get you to talk more about the projects in a minute but I just want to ask you a bit about how you break those impacts down because that's one of the secrets of success, I think, of B1G1 is that you break everything down into these little micro impacts that are affordable, as you say, so on every single transaction in your business, whatever your business is, you can contribute something meaningful and actually see that it is doing something great. How do you calculate that? How do you work that all out?

Masami Sato:
When we normally speak with charity organizations that are interested in joining our program, because B1G1 could be a great way for them to raise additional funding, charity organizations that never thought about raising support in the impact base might say, “Oh, people can just donate to us through a donate button on our website," and so that’s the conventional attitude around fundraising. We realized that in order for us to be fully transparent and also making the business giving as meaningful as possible, we find organizations that are focused on delivering a specific impact and which have long enough expertise to know the costing around their activities. That's quite straightforward to do by assessing the organization's financials and history of the activities.

Once we identify the right potential partner, then we start asking questions. The first question could be, so let's say here is a organization that builds wells in communities around the world. Then, the initial question is, okay, so if we are to pick a village well like when you're building one well, what is the general cost range for building a well. Then we start looking at the financials. Then we ask them about the number of years that item, as in this case, a well, would last without much maintenance. Let's say they said, okay it's close to $5,000 to build a well, the general wells would last eight to 10 years without too much maintenance. Then, we will ask about the number of beneficiaries in the community and then once we've got all the figures, then we can look at the breakdown of the project in the per person cost or per village cost, or apartment cost, and finally get down to the smallest impact unit, usually day’s cost. Then, even though it costs $5,000 to build one well, which is difficult for small individuals to do, once we look at how much it costs to fund the well for one person for one day, then it can be less than one cent per day.

So that's how we list it, but because we are raising support toward their main activity, these organizations are not just dependent on B1G1 to raise the cost. So what happens is all the funding comes through B1G1 and is amalgamated for the project, so it will go to that project but as a portion of the project delivery that they were already working on, so we know that every cent we are transferring to the project will be used to make that particular impact happen.

Alison Rentoul:
Wow, that’s so clever and such a logical way of doing it, but again, so simple and so perfect to be able to break it down like that and then to be able to give the businesses like us this opportunity to just specifically purchase an impact or even as you said, a smile on each transaction. I love the way you've done that. It's really clever. One of the reasons that we got so excited about B1G1 when I first found out about you guys, which was in 2013 with my previous business, was because I was looking for a way that I could contribute or give back but that wasn't particularly tied to any one charity or any one organization. When I found you guys and I realized that there was a way I could contribute to lots of different projects, that was what got me really excited. Because there's something for everyone in there, isn't there, from environmental to social to women's rights, children and animals, and all of these different sort of projects. How do you find the projects that you work with and how do you vet them and make sure that the money is all going in the right place?

Masami Sato:
Many of the B1G1 project come from member recommendations, so when we are working with businesses in certain countries, then those members might already have a favorite project they were giving to before or that they heard about. Another thing is when we start working in new project destination, then usually, the charity organizations that we connect with have already existing partners or other organizations that they know of that are operating at very high standard. As the communities develop and expand, we naturally hear more about other new organizations. In recent years we are starting to hear more directly from the organizations that heard about B1G1 because we are starting to be a little bit more known than before too.

Fundamentally, whether they come from recommendations or not, we put them through the same assessment process. Even if it’s a great organization, if they do not meet our criteria, then we either reject or put them on hold until the conditions are met. You can find out about all the criteria and how we select our charity partners on our website, so if you go to www.b1g1.com/causes, then you can find out about that. If you know yourself some great charities that should be part of B1G1, then please recommend them to us.

The overall view of how we select our partners is, of course integrity and transparency is important, so there are documentations or audited accounts we request and review and so on, but aside from that element we identify that this organization is doing really great work and has a proven record of making positive impacts. Then there is the financial. Once we get to that point where all the ticks are put in, then we will also look at the uniqueness of the project that they have because we are not just looking at bringing in as many of similar projects as possible in our list, but we want to make sure that every project we bring in would have a better chance of raising enough support too so that they can take that to scale their project. In that sense, we look at the optimization of the number of projects in a particular country and category. In some cases, we have to put the new project on hold, but then we go and try to recruit other projects that will meet with the community's need. There's a lot going on. Today, we have a good team and also great board for B1G1 giving, which manages the entire selection process. Over the years we established a better process so now, it's much easier for us to really identify the right type of project and partners, but yes, it did take quite a long time to figure out.

Alison Rentoul:
One of the things that I really like about it as well is that you're very transparent with the way the funds are used. Can you just explain a little bit about how the membership works and what kind of businesses could become members, and individuals even?

Masami Sato:
Okay. I think B1G1’s model is very unique and seemingly unusual as well in the giving space because most of the cases, when you are donating money to charities, then usually, you would just donate and then expect that money to go to good activities and the charity organization you were supporting. Then, often people say, “Oh, but I don't have so much trust in charities or I don't feel good about donating because we never know how much is going to the actual activity and how much is going to support other means or other costs,” so that is sometimes preventing people from actively giving.

When we first came up with our model, we did not think like charity organizations because we, the initial founders, all came from a business background, so we could all think like business owners. When we were putting all the structure in, we realized that we wanted B1G1 to be a social enterprise, a social business even though at that time 10 years ago, terminology like that wasn't heard of, but we wanted B1G1 to be a business thinking organization. We were very clear that whatever we do, we wanted to add value to businesses and wanted to make business giving impactful and then, also really connecting and rewarding as well.

Then, we thought about the impact of giving too, that when people are giving, we felt that 100% of what they are giving should go to the actual project activity, so we created the model of a membership program. As a business, you sign up to become a member and to become a part of this movement and community. There are lots of value items that you can access as a member, but then at the same time, when you give to any of the projects listed in B1G1, fully 100% of your giving goes to their project.

Then, we even talked about the bank charges as well. When a credit card company charges for processing your contribution, we also top that up because if every cent can create an impact, we cannot waste a cent, so we do that. By doing this, our sustainability of own initiative B1G1 does not depend on the donations that people make, but it's more about focusing on the value that we can keep adding so that our members are feeling fulfilled and happy and continue to be with us and then, as a result of it, we together we ensure that the ful 100% of everybody's giving can go to the projects.

And the second question about what kind of business can be part of B1G1, I would say any. Usually, people say, “Oh, if it's a one-for-one model like TOMS shoes," which is a popular organization that people know of, then people think, “Oh, I run an accounting firm, so we can't do one for one because we don't have a product.” If you have an ice cream shop, should you give another ice cream for free? This one for one has a fixed perception sometimes but in the world of B1G1, actually, it doesn't work exactly like that because any business could find a way to be giving in their activities.

Yes, in many cases, it could be their product or services or based on their revenue, but it can also be simple things like sending an email. Like every email you send, maybe you can give a digital education or every project you achieve as a team, then you could plant a tree. Every business has all these day-to-day activities that they want to celebrate. I think it's not about trying to do exactly the same giving but it's about the intention of your action, as well as what you want to see in the world. We have enough opportunities for any business to give to, so any business can definitely join B1G1.

Alison Rentoul:
Absolutely. I agree with what you're saying because we at Aquamarine, we’re trying to roughly match them up with our products like our Turkish Peshtemal towels, we’ve matched them with a project that gives people access to bathroom facilities and showering facilities. Then, all our children's toys and products are matched with things that give back to children, but it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?

Masami Sato:
Yeah, it’s more about creating a meaningful giving habit. I think one of the problems that exist in the giving world right now is that a lot of giving that happens in the world is ad hoc, so it's driven by specific campaigns or big events like charity balls or driven by natural disasters, so when something happens, people could be encouraged to give but when nothing happens, we might not give. As a result, it creates a cost issue for the causes that need to continuously raise funds because their activities are happening all the time, so B1G1 is a way to let the giving flow no matter what's happening, so that always impacts can be created.

Alison Rentoul:
That was such an important point to make. Thank you. What about individuals? Do you have to be a business to be a member of B1G1?

Masami Sato:
Actually, right now, we really focus on businesses. Then, for individuals to support this movement, the best way is first of all, you can spread the word and if you know any businesses that might resonate with B1G1, you can tell them about B1G1 so that they can consider being part of it. As a customer, then you will be helping more great impacts to happen too. Another way is if you come across the B1G1 businesses, then working with them, supporting them as a individual will be a great, great way for you to make those impact to happen, and you can spread the word about the products and services or companies, so we can reward the businesses that are making great impacts. The third thing is if you are working and if you think your company may be interested in this, then it's a great thing for your company to consider being part of it, so the team members of the company will be contributing toward making greater impact together as a team too.

Alison Rentoul:
Yes, that’s wonderful. You also have a sort of a tiered scheme, don’t you, where when you recommend another business to B1G1 and if that business joins as well, it connects all of your giving together so that you can see your collective impact and the ripple effect that you're creating around the world, which is just fantastic. It’s so exciting to see.

Masami Sato:
Yeah, it is because this is really about the connections, because there are lots of great causes doing fantastic things but they may be struggling individually and there are lots of businesses, especially small businesses. Nowadays, it's becoming easier to start a business and even younger people are starting businesses and achieving a lot of great things. But when we are individually trying, then sometimes, we feel alone and we feel so small that we cannot make much of a impact in the world. But if we could form connections among all these dots, then let the giving flow in a way that individual businesses believe in, then we can, together, solve some of the biggest problems in the world as well.

This is really about creating the mechanism to form meaningful connections, and as the connection forms, we want to make sure that it becomes, more meaningful by leveraging on the data and systems and all sort of things. It's great to have companies like yours, Alison, being part of it. If you are watching this video, then you may be the customer for this business, and I want to thank you for being part of it too.

Alison Rentoul:
That’s so lovely. What do you guys do in terms of helping people actually access the projects and go to see what’s happening on the ground?

Masami Sato:
Not everybody can always take time to go and visit the projects, so that's why we still focus on getting great photos and updates or videos from the project and then post it online too, but if any of the B1G1 members can and want to take the time to go and visit and see and experience some of the impacts on the ground, then we have this annual tour called B1G1 Study Tours. Many of members have been part of this, but also sent their team members to be part of this tour too.

In a small group, we go and really experience the impact of a project. Quite often we can be surprised by the side effect of the giving activities too, because we think it's about feeding a child or this is about food, but when we go and then learn what happens as a result of the food program at school, we discover things like actually, the school participation rates go up, or the parents of those kids appreciate the education so much more and stop making kids work at home and instead, they send their children to school. There are so many other benefits or side effects of the project. Some of the other things, we may not be able to communicate just by writing or just by posting a photo, so when anybody has a chance to actually take time and then go to see the project, then I can guarantee that it's really life-changing.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, I can’t wait and to go and do one. Last but not least, what’s coming up for you, guys, because I know you have a conference coming up in Singapore?

Masami Sato:
Yes. The Business for Good Conference that we run started in 2016 as we wanted to celebrate our 10-year anniversary of the idea of the initiative. We said, okay, let's do this and bring everybody together in one place. That was 2016. Last year, we had three conferences in three different countries, regions, and then we connected with so many more business owners in different parts of the world. Now, this year, we are doing one global event again in Singapore. The reason it's Singapore is because Singapore is actually the home of this initiative. Our team exists in Singapore and we run the global Initiative from here, so we thought it would be really great to invite our members and partners from different parts of the world to come together and celebrate the great impact that we achieved together. Right now, we are already nearing 140 million giving impacts. I think that would be quite soon, so we look forward to celebrating 150 million giving impacts by the time we come together in July for the conference, so if you are interested please check it out. It will be on our website as well.

Alison Rentoul:
That is so exciting, Masami and just so wonderful as well to join a like-minded group of people and to meet other people who are passionate about the world that we live in and passionate and caring about other people and who want to make a difference. For me, that's one of the most beautiful things about being part of the B1G1 community is knowing that there’s lots of other people out there that really care and want to help change the world.

Masami Sato:
They all really do. Our community's full of amazing business owners like you and individually, they may be running relatively small business as well but by coming together in the last decade, these businesses created more than 130 million giving impacts. If we tried to do that individually, that would have been difficult or impossible, but together, we actually have done some really amazing things, and we can do even more of that from here, so that's exciting.

Alison Rentoul:
130 million smiles. I love it. Thank you so much, Masami, for giving up your valuable time to chat with us today. It's been so interesting and really lovely to be able to share a bit more about B1G1 and the Buy One Give One with my community as well. Guys, I'm going to post the link in the article below for you so you can go and check it out. Thank you so much, Masami. Enjoy the rest of your day, and we look forward to creating more and more wonderful impacts with you and through all of our beautiful customers at Aquamarine Home.

Masami Sato:
Thank you.

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To find out more about Buy One Give One please visit their website, www.b1g1.com. To learn more about Masami Sato and the wonderful books she has written, please visit www.masamisato.com

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What are your thoughts on embedding giving and contribution into everyday business transactions? We would love to hear your reflections on this in the comments below!

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