Simon Griffiths is an unofficial face of social change in Australia. He talked about social change, once sat on a toilet until he raised $50,000 for social change, and he's started three businesses dedicated to improving the lives of other people.
He understands the challenge of doing so; namely, as much as we may want to help, the cold reality is that many people just won’t go too far out of their way to spend money differently to help others out. In order for the majority of us to make a difference, creating social change needs to be as easy as possible.
Griffiths’s obsession with social change started when he lived and worked in developing countries such as Africa and Cambodia during university. What started as an idea for a holiday that allowed him to live cheaply, became the inspiration for his businesses.
“There was no epiphany moment when I realised the rest of my life would be dedicated to this,” he says. “But I decided that rather than become a banker or a lawyer, I could figure out how to run my own businesses and use them to achieve the social justice I was passionate about.”
His first foray into social change was Ripple. The now defunct search engine donated its profits to the developing world. After that came Shebeen. You’ve probably gone for a drink at the CBD bar, but maybe you didn’t know that 100 per cent of its profits go to the developing world. That’s the Griffiths trick – he makes it as easy as possible for you to help out.
His current venture is Who Gives A Crap, an online toilet-paper company that donates half its profits to building toilets in the developing world. Since 2010 it has raised enough money to provide 120,000 people with access to a toilet.
Ninety-nine per cent of toilet paper is sold through supermarkets, so how do you get people to order it online, just because it will help people? You make it easy.
“We decided to sell individually wrapped, well-designed rolls of toilet paper you would be proud to display in your bathroom,” he says. “The rolls would be delivered via a subscription service, dropped on your doorstep before you even realise you need it. People’s bathroom habits are actually pretty easy to predict. We used that to our advantage.”
At Shebeen, the approach is similar. “People are always going to go for a drink, we’re just asking them to think differently about where they go,” he says. “But at Who Gives a Crap we’re asking for a huge behavioural change. It took a lot of experimenting to find a strategy that worked.”
A range of social-change businesses have been popping up around Australia, from Elliot Costello’s YGAP, to Streat coffee and the Crepes for Change food truck. All donate some, or all, of their profits to help create change in areas from youth homelessness to developing the leadership skills of entrepreneurs.
Griffiths says these businesses are the new type of social change, and that business owners should continue to tap into new ways to find funding. It’s challenging, and you need to make sure your money is going to the right place, while providing real, tangible evidence you’re making a difference.
“[If you donate money] towards building a well somewhere but no one ever uses that well then you’re not creating any impact at all,” Griffiths told Dumbo Feather. “You need to make sure that someone is having an improved quality-of-life, otherwise it’s potentially wasted money, it’s just marketing.”
The rewards are worth it. “To be able to talk about the actual genuine impact we’ve had is pretty freaking awesome,” Griffiths says.
If you’re considering opening a bar, a restaurant, or a new business, take a leaf out of Griffiths’s book and think about where your profits are going. If you understand the challenges of social change, it’s a lot easier for you to help create it.