“There is no shortage of cash in the world, it’s just that the majority of it has previously been unavailable to most businesses trying to address social and environmental issues. The quicker we get our heads around the power of business for change, the quicker we can start making a dent on the issues we care about,” explains Bessi Graham, co-founder and CEO of The Difference Incubator (TDi).
Bessi and her program, event and consulting group company is out to prove that you can “make money and do good” and works to uncover, grow and support investment-ready enterprises that are both financially stable and ready to create a sizeable social and environmental impact. In short – helps leading companies to become both profitable and charitable.
“To be blunt, social enterprise models that only focus on what they do with their profits really annoy me. Redistribution of profits to “a good cause” is just prescribed philanthropy,” says Bessi. “We want integrated business models, not token percentages or side projects disconnected from the intent of the organisation.”
Only six years young, TDi was born out of Bessi’s own conviction after a chance meeting.
“I was introduced to one of the trustees of donkey wheel Foundation (DWF). I spoke to her about my passion for working on entrenched social problems and finding ways to get government, the private sector and not-for-profits (NFPs) to work together to address these issues more effectively,” she recalls. Having just hired a new CEO, DWF was exploring the move from ethical investing to impact investment. This is where Bessi met Paul Steele, then the new CEO, who would later become her cofounder.
The group has now worked with over 350 enterprises in Australia and 85 in the Pacific to help companies better understand how they can incorporate two concepts that most would think are at odds.
“Profit is a small part of the overall business for the vast majority,” Bessi says. “We want to focus on all of the money spent in the business. This includes supply chains and procurement as well as how we treat our staff and the environment. [Also] profit pays for capital. Most people don’t actually understand where profit goes or what it enables. It can also be easily manipulated, so purely relying on the reinvestment or redistribution of profit as the way in which a business model ‘does good’ dramatically undermines your ability to create social change.”
TDi considers it their role to strengthen organisational output and the delivery of social good via testing and refining the financial and business models that underpin them. “
You should use your intent as your anchor but be agnostic to the business model, products and services,” Bessi says. “Don’t get too stuck on any one way of delivering. Your focus should be on making sure you’re moving towards the desired [social] outcomes while being responsive to the market in the way you deliver.
“My advice would be to start with real clarity about your intent. Why you’re doing what you’re doing. A clear intent gives you the solid grounding needed to sustain you through the ups and downs of running a business with both profit and social outcomes.”
And if your business is doing well, so is the impact of your social outreach.
“When you have a solid business that is delivering products or services customers want, and will pay for, you can plan for the future, you can retain your staff and you can grow your sphere of influence,” explains Bessi. “Bringing together a social aspect and a great business model means you can suddenly tap into pools of money that charities could never access before. You go from a world shaped by what I call a ‘scarcity mindset’ into one where suddenly the massive amounts of capital you actually need to address deeply entrenched social and environmental challenges are available to you.”