The Perfect Fit
21 June 2017 at 8:37 am
For the founder of HERO Condoms, a social enterprise which aims to save lives and fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries, combining business smarts with the heart has become the perfect fit.
Running a social enterprise fits like a glove for entrepreneur Dustin Leonard.
With a long-standing interest in conscious consumerism Leonard says the idea behind HERO Condoms was developed while studying his masters in international business at the University of Sydney.
“Conscious consumerism is essentially empowering the consumer; whereby their purchases can act as a catalyst to help accomplish the change they want to see in the world,” Leonard says.
“This was my initial inspiration when creating HERO. I wanted to identify an issue in the developing world and then create a business/product to help be part of the solution.”
After extensive research, Leonard decided to focus his efforts towards the HIV/AIDS epidemic and from a university project HERO Condoms was born.
“HERO was founded on the simple idea: ‘What if having sex in Australia could save a life in Africa?’,” Leonard says.
“We operate from the one for one philosophy, whereby for every condom sold in Australia and New Zealand, one is donated in a developing country – contributing to the fight against HIV/AIDS and helping to save lives.”
Leonard says that partnering with a specialist in HIV research and surveying what was needed on the ground was a crucial element to HERO’s success.
After meeting with medical scientist and HIV research specialist Kabo Matlho, Leonard decided to focus his efforts on Botswana where one in four sexually active adults have HIV.
He asked Matlho, who is from Botswana, to join the team and before long they were on a flight to Botswana.
Here they formed partnerships with government agencies and local NGO’s to establish distribution channels for their donations.
Leonard says Matlho was a crucial ingredient to the company’s success.
“He has been an invaluable asset to the team and he facilitated the introductions to our current partners and makes sure that there is consistent communication to ensure a positive and effective relationship,” Leonard says.
“On our initial trip to Botswana we discovered there were significant issues with the existing free condoms that were being offered. We distributed surveys at a social event organised by us, with over 500 attending. The surveys asked how we could make the best possible condom for them. We are able to provide the people of Botswana with a customised product specifically based on their feedback, both in function and design.
“We then went back to Australia went through a similar process and from there the development of HERO was underway.”
Since HERO was founded in 2012, 575,000 condoms have been donated to date and more than 2 million additional condoms are in the process of being shipped to Botswana.
Leonard says founding HERO and ensuring its ongoing success was a little more challenging than first anticipated.
“When I first started HERO I didn’t truly understand the retail market in Australia, I was under the assumption that if I had a good socially responsible product ready to go, as well as a plan to tackle the huge mission of stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana, that it would be a piece of cake to be stocked on grocery shelves,” Leonard says.
“This definitely wasn’t the case, it took us over two years to finally be stocked in Woolworths and Coles, which delayed our second donation offering in Botswana. However when we eventually signed the deals with both grocery giants we were headed back to Botswana within a matter of weeks to donate 500,000 condoms.”
Leonard says another challenge was competing with multinational companies for a slice of the pie.
“It’s truly a David and Goliath battle,” he says.
But one of the sweet spots of HERO’s journey was being named number one condom brand of choice among Australian women.
“We recently conducted a survey, which revealed that women prefer HERO Condoms due to its socially responsible business model, messaging and environmentally friendly values,” Leonard says.
Leonard says that being a social enterprise means that his company takes an ethical position on all facets of business.
“As a socially responsible company, we pride ourselves on passionately demonstrating our core values in everything that we do. We have a very inclusive culture that focuses on helping others, making a positive difference, gender equality, diversity, integrity, sustainability, and having fun,” he says.
“We are very conscious of our environmental footprint and always strive for fair and best practice work environments for not only the people in our manufacturing plants, but in the community groups we are connected with in Botswana too. I definitely support companies that have similar principles and practices.”
Leonard says that running a social enterprise is incredibly fulfilling.
“For me I didn’t see any other path to go down. Helping others has always been in my nature – why not go big and aim to do it on the largest scale possible?,” he says.
He says there is still much on the horizon for HERO Condoms as the enterprise hopes to expand their sexual health range to include feminine hygiene products.
“And we won’t stop here, there are more products to come so watch this space,”he says.