More than Just Words
1 August 2017 at 3:04 pm
A Brisbane entrepreneur reveals how “words with heart” is having a positive impact on the environment, improving girls’ education in developing countries and empowering girls to fight for equality, in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
When Lauren Shuttleworth returned home from a volunteer trip in Kenya she felt what many caring Australians might feel: a sense of injustice at the poverty coupled with a desire to make a difference, to do something, anything to help the people who had touched her life.
A few years ago Shuttleworth had found herself in Kenya, after the sudden and unexpected death of her mum.
“I had one of those moments when I just wanted to get away, like many people do when they face adversity,” Shuttleworth says.
So the international business graduate and human resources consultant decided to keep up her mum’s legacy and volunteer in a local primary school.
“My mum was a primary teacher so I decided I want to go into that space. I was not expecting to be impacted as much as I was and came back really passionate about girls education,” she says.
“I became really interested in the concept and saw so much value in combining the brain for business with the heart of charity. I thought that was really powerful,” she says.
Soon after Shuttleworth enrolled in the School of Social Entrepreneurs and was accepted into their incubator program in 2013-2014.
“This is where I learnt all the ins and outs around social impact measurement and how to go about starting a social enterprise.”
During this period, Words With Heart, a social enterprise which produces stationary on environmentally friendly paper and donates 50 per cent of profits towards girls education in developing countries, really started to take form.
“Stationary had a real synergy with education and no one was doing anything in the space, in terms of social impact,” Shuttleworth says.
Shuttleworth says although she “she had no idea about stationary,” and didn’t know anyone in that space, she “completely jumped in”.
For Shuttleworth it is “incredibly important” that Words With Heart was environmentally friendly.
“I didn’t want to solve one problem but create another. For example when we are creating stationary it was really important for us to do that sustainably.”
Shuttleworth says it is equally important to apply a critical lens on the business model to ensure the impact she was hoping to achieve would come into fruition.
“I think, often social enterprises are started with a great intentions to create good social impact but I think a lot of social entrepreneurs need to cast a critical eye and speak to people in the development space to ensure the way they are setting up their business model really truly will have a sustainable impact,” Shuttleworth says.
“An example of that is the one for one model, for example if we donated a notebook for every notebook we sold, we quickly realised that that was not going to help girls staying in school, it would also have a detrimental impact for local stationary sellers.”
After completing the Incubator program and with the assistance of a dreamstarter grant from ING Direct, Words With Heart launched at the end of 2014.
To fund the initial order and startup costs, Shuttleworth run a successful crowdfunding campaign where 20,000 pre-orders were placed.
“Some of the biggest challenges have been the gaps in scaling. We currently have more business than we can service,” she says.
“Another challenge was moving Words With Heart into a full time job – I think a lot of social entrepreneurs know it is a hard call to make.”
Shuttleworth says Words With Heart aims to have a positive impact in three areas: the environment, improving girls education in developing countries and empowering girls and fighting for equality.
“We use design to promote words of empowerment and equality for girls and women,” Shuttleworth says.
“By placing our messages on stationery products like notebooks, we believe they can act as mini ‘billboards’ in the classroom, the workplace, on the train, bus etc. – spreading messages of empowerment and equality even further.”
Gender equality is something really important to Shuttleworth and she hopes more women will consider becoming social entrepreneurs.
“Being a woman in the entrepreneurial space is challenging, more often than not I am pitching to all male investors, the startup scene is very male dominated, I hope this will change.”