Transforming capitalism for good
20 January 2020 at 8:22 am
Simone Dowding runs World Vision’s coffee social enterprise, Change Coffee. She’s also on a mission to see the corporate world operate for purpose. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Dowding’s first introduction to the world of social enterprise came years before her job at World Vision and happened accidentally.
In desperate search of work with purpose, while managing multiple cafes and a national coffee roastery, she decided to rethink the purpose of her company to operate for a social purpose.
Not only did it boost the business’ revenue, but it was also of benefit to the local and global community.
It was this experience that led Dowding to where she is today – on a mission to show the world and the business community the potential of using capitalism for good and creating systems change.
In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses the challenges of balancing profit and purpose and why you’ve got to put yourself first to make a social difference.
What was your first introduction to the world of social business?
I was running six or eight cafes and a national coffee roasting business at the time. But I was finding it really unfulfilling, and I was also concerned about the sustainability and ethics of our business. I was concerned about the farmers and I was concerned about my community because being a cafe you get a lot of people coming in and sharing stories around their mental health and domestic violence issues.
This was around 10 years ago and I didn’t even know what a social business was or what I was doing. But the minute we started to share this new vision of raising awareness around how our farmers were being treated, the plantations, and how we were sourcing ethical coffee, people started to trust us and understand us a lot deeper and saw our value.
How did that lead to you starting at World Vision?
I eventually had to step away from my company and was headhunted by World Vision because they wanted a social entrepreneur and an expert in coffee to take over their existing social enterprise. I realised the impact they can create is far greater than anything I could do on my own.
It was also really important for me that all the proceeds of Change Coffee were going towards women’s economic empowerment because if you empower women, especially economically, they give back to their children and their families.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced running Change Coffee?
When you’re a charity and you come into the market with a coffee brand, it’s difficult because people want unrivaled quality and taste and they want to know that you’re an expert. World Vision is not about specialty coffee, which is why they employed an expert coffee roaster and me, someone that has years of experience in the coffee industry. But the challenge was making sure that people weren’t just seeing us as a charity selling coffee, and that you don’t have to compromise on taste to support a good cause.
Another challenge is that people still don’t get that you can do good and be profitable. People don’t understand that having a purpose can give them a point of difference, it can help them build trust in their communities, it can give them higher staff retention and it can give their staff a sense of purpose. Before this, I found work meaningless, but having a purpose and giving back is really something that people crave because they want to make a difference, and so you can’t underestimate that as a business principle.
And what are some of the things you love most about your job?
I love the work we do. Before I started this job, I knew about their sponsorship program and that was about it. I really didn’t understand the full extent of their work, especially their work in emergency relief. I joined the company when there was a tsunami in Indonesia and they went in and the first thing they did was protect the children because human trafficking was happening at an out-of-control level, but we were the first in there setting up camps for these kids and keeping them safe. So sometimes I take a step back at everything we are doing and it really makes me proud.
What do you do in your spare time?
I do mindfulness meditation every day, I do yoga three times a week and once a year I go to the Amazon to live with an Indigenous tribe. I do that because I want to keep humble and go to a place with no consumerism, and no Wi-Fi. I’m able to completely switch off.
If there was one piece of advice that you were going to give to a leader or someone who wants to get into this space what would it be?
It’d definitely be self-love comes first. If you want to be vibrant, energetic and make changes in the world, this is so important. And so it’s really giving yourself that time and space to re-energize, refocus, and to feel good. That way you can share that joy and love and peace in everything that you do.