It’s quite a daunting pile of books; most are very thick and serious looking, but it’s also an incredibly exciting collection too. They are all about social entrepreneurship, microfinance and corporate responsibility: all topics close to my heart and ones that I want to learn much more about.
About a minute after I decided to open my own shoe shop specialising in longer sizes, I knew it had to be a socially responsible business.
I had heard about a term called not-just-for-profit, which I adored immediately and have adopted as my future business model.
Of course, there are plenty of for-profits around with the aim of earning money for their owners or shareholders, depending on their size and structure. There are also plenty of not-for-profits around with the aim of raising capital to use to support their particular cause. I was fortunate to work for two amazing local examples (RACQ CareFlight for five years and the Spinal Injuries Association for another five years). Then you have businesses somewhere in between that sell the products of people that they exist to support, be it organic coffee grown on fair trade plantations in South America or gorgeous rugs woven in South Africa.
But to date I haven’t found many not-just-for-profits that support causes through their profits irrespective of what they sell or the services they offer. I’m talking more than donations at tax time or sponsorships or the occasional fundraiser, as worthy and impactful as all those are.
My view of a not-just-for-profit is that every day of the year I am raising funds every time I make a sale. I just love the idea of a business incorporating goodwill into its heart and soul (or should that be “sole”, hee, hee!). What I sell is irrelevant to the cause, somehow making it more meaningful as I’m simply a business that wants to make enough profit to support myself and then some more to support others.
And “others” will be women in Africa; women because it’s a no-brainer that if you support a woman, you really are supporting the whole community.
I have lived in Namibia and travelled through many countries in Africa and the experience always takes my breath away. It’s hard to describe. I always feel “at home” there, somehow connected to the land, to the people, to the hope of a better and brighter future. My book shelves are crammed with books about the continent, fiction and non-fiction.
It’s obvious then that my own respect for women and for Africa will ensure I’m a passionate advocate for both. I think that’s incredibly important to the success of a not-just-for-profit: there has to be that conviction and connection.
I’m a bit scared too because even more that opening my own shoe shop with no retail or shoe industry experience, this to me is much, much, much more challenging. I will be responsible for providing meaningful support through a steady financial contribution to assist a group of people. That’s a big deal. If I fail, I don’t just fail for myself but for other people depending on the steady, ongoing support that I have promised.
The process of how these funds are allocated is crucial. It has to be transparent, accountable, workable and sustainable. It has to inspire my customers so that they know that every time they buy a pair of gorgeous shoes at The Shoe Garden (or even a pair of heel grips or a can of waterproofing spray!) that a percentage of the sale will go towards a pool of monies devoted to empowering women. They need to be able to trust me that their contributions (even though it will cost them no more, simply the usual price of the shoes) will reach the intended recipient and make a difference.
There are so many choices ahead: Do I start my own charity? Do I set up a trust to support local woman already actively doing something fantastic? Do I dovetail on another charity’s work and support it? Do I support women’s education? Or their healthcare? Or their businesses?
So far, all I’ve had in my head is Step 1: Open Shop. Step 2: Be a Success. Step 3: Share the Success. Mmmm…I think there are a few steps in between though!
I haven’t written this blog for months now as I’ve been flat chat working towards Step 2. I’ve seen a great business mentor; introduced new financial software; started working with a second accountant; and spent hours and hours selecting shoes for my next season, Winter 2014, that will appeal to my very broad range of amazing customers. I’ve agonised over these decisions regarding my stock as I’ve learned this selection is crucial to my success. Pick the wrong shoes, they sit on the shelves and don’t sell and I don’t make the money I need to pursue this goal. Eek! Don’t buy enough shoes in a particular size and you disappoint people. Sigh!
I have tried to ensure that as many people as possible will find a shoe that suits their taste and needs and size so my sales continue to increase. I’ve increased my spend for this coming season as I’m more confident than ever that my customer database is growing each day.
So, in a nutshell: I’m not sure of timing and I’m not sure of the format.
What I am sure of is that I’m reading, learning, listening, watching and developing ideas of how best to make a difference and, at the same time, reading, learning, listening, watching and developing ideas of how best to create a wonderful and satisfying experience for every customer who visits The Shoe Garden.
It’s a work in progress and I can’t wait to let you know more as everything develops.
Thanks so much for being a part of it through your custom and your amazing support.
Until next time