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Switching On

13 April 2015 at 10:52 am
Xavier Smerdon
As the founder of Ethical Switch, Tamlyn Rudolph has a passion for seeing consumers regain their moral confidence when selecting providers of day-to-day products and services. Rudolph is this week's Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 13 April 2015 at 10:52 am


Switching On
13 April 2015 at 10:52 am

As the founder of Ethical Switch, Tamlyn Rudolph has a passion for seeing consumers regain their moral confidence when selecting providers of day-to-day products and services. Rudolph is this week's Changemaker.

Rudolph founded Ethical Switch in July 2014 after being asked at functions which was the least harmful energy provider. She recognised that Australians spend around $40 billion annually on household bills, but are often directing money to companies whose activities don’t align with their personal values.

An alumna of the School of Social Entrepreneurs and 12 year veteran of the energy industry, Rudolph started Ethical Switch in 2014 with the aim of empowering people like herself to switch to a more ethically sound lifestyle. Ethical Switch collaborates with businesses to make socially and environmentally responsible products accessible and affordable.

Central to the vision, Ethical Switch raises money for Not for Profits from the commissions received when people switch provider. Following a successful pilot in Victoria, Ethical Switch is seeking applications from NFP’s interested in benefitting from its business model.  

In this week’s Changemaker column Rudolph discusses the challenges and rewards of starting up a social enterprise that empowers consumers to make more informed choices that are better aligned with their “ethical compass”.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

Ethical Switch is a social enterprise which considers the merits from an ethical perspective of companies where a lot of our daily household spend is directed  (eg. energy, banking etc.)..  We then offer “switches” to the most ethical companies who in turn reward each new customer by making a contribution to our NFP partners.

I’m currently focussed on collating the learnings from our recent pilot program which saw over 50 Victorians switch to a carbon neutral electricity provider and raised almost $3000 for our NFP partners in the process.

We’re excited to be expanding into New South Wales and launching our new website, so that’s all keeping me very busy!

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?

About two years ago, I took a pause from my professional career in the energy industry to consider various entrepreneurial ideas.  I was drawn to the ideas behind social enterprise where business skills could be channelled for a better purpose. To learn more about the sector, I became a delegate on the SSE incubator program and soon after graduating, I launched Ethical Switch.

Since diving into social enterprise I’ve learned how important business partnerships with NFP’s can be.  There is an immense amount of goodwill from companies that are trying to do better things.  I’m passionate about these partnerships being mutually beneficial because I believe that sustainable relationships are ultimately best for the long term goals of the NFP’s.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Raising funds for our current NFP partners has brought me immense satisfaction.  I am continuously inspired by the stories of hope that emerge from circumstances of discrimination, tragedy and poverty.

As an example, Samuel Richards and Gavin Newton from the Portal Project (run by Peace Palette) just returned from their trip to the South Sudanese remote village of Turalei where they piloted a solar powered digital media/education facility in their centre for displaced children. Turalei is incredibly remote and surrounded by conflict zones on all sides. South Sudan is a place where 46 per cent of the population are under the age of 14, due to the effects of war.  Sam and Gavin who are professional filmmakers screened messages of hope from the Turalei community in Melbourne which were emotionally received 13,000km away.  I’m looking forward to viewing their follow-up documentary which will be an eye-opening insight into the effects of 30 years of war in South Sudan.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

One of the largest challenges we face is convincing consumers that ethical purchasing doesn’t require extra time and cost. We are combatting years of misinformation, a lack of transparency, myths and well-funded competitor marketing.

Our approach to overcoming such challenges is to present as much verifiable and easily absorbed information to consumers, via our website and social media. We are also dedicated to ensuring that the actual switching process is simple. For example our Victorian electricity switch is typically completed in five or so minutes online.

Personally, I’ve found starting a business from scratch has been far more challenging (and rewarding) than I could have imagined. It feels like my “to do” list only ever expands and I’m not sure if it will ever be all done!

I’ve been lucky to have the support of an incredible team of volunteers, consultants and advisors. I’ve also had fantastic support from our pilot program’s corporate partner (Powershop) as well as supportive NFP partners (ASRC, Pollinate Energy and Peace Palette).

I’m always being asked …

What is the most ethical bank?!

We’re currently doing the research and hope to be launching our answer to that soon!

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

My ultimate dream is for all businesses to be rewarded for the positive effects they have on society rather than their ability to maximise profits.

Australians spent an estimated $642 billion in 2012. The power of that amount of money, which is controlled entirely by us as consumers, could do amazing things if it was spent with the companies that are actively trying to change business and the communities in which they operate for the better.

We try to work with companies who are tackling problems within business and society, treating their customers fairly, acting responsibly with regards to the environment, helping to raise money for charitable causes, and conducting their business transparently. Every time you make a switch to a company like that, you are shifting your portion of that $642bn to a place where it is doing good things rather than fuelling the negative effects of some of the big corporations who are just in it for the money.

My greatest challenge is …

Pacing myself!  It’s been a very intense six-month period of developing Ethical Switch from the seed of an idea into a pilot phase and beyond.

It’s been often  tempting at times to work rather than sleep but I’m trying to regain some balance again at present!

What (or who) inspires you?

Late last year I saw Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, during his speaking tour of Australia.  While I was already a fan of his work in Bangladesh and innovations around micro-finance/loans, his talk revealed his clear intelligence, humility and truly disruptive nature.  

I particularly loved that he built the Grameen bank from scratch by making decisions “exactly opposite” to his competitors.  This has meant that to this day they don’t have city based head offices and predominantly loan to  customers excluded by regular banks, including those in poverty and women.

Ethical Switch is seeking applications from NFP’s interested in benefitting from its business model. Application information can be found here.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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