Do Good. Make Money. Change the World. These words, and the ethos behind them, stem from my belief that business can be a powerful force for positive social good [and still be a business].
Where did it start?
In 1984, I watched Michael Buerk’s report from Ethiopia, on what he labelled a “biblical famine”. The images of Mohammed Amin, together with Buerk’s powerful words, produced one of the most famous television reports of the late 20th Century.
The images from the report shocked me profoundly. I was at university at the time, and wrote regularly to a friend who was teaching for VSO in a small village four hours’ outside Nairobi, Kenya. Despite our regular discussions about her job, the conditions, aid and international development, nothing had prepared me for the visuals Buerk’s report provided.
The images beamed back to the West were so powerful that in an era long before ‘viral posts’ – before instant connections, social media or YouTube – the BBC report went ‘viral’ and was transmitted by more than 400 television stations worldwide. It became the focus of a whole new style of celebrity fundraising; produced a never-before seen world-wide television event in Live Aid, and subsequently transformed modern media.
Described as the Woodstock of the eighties, Live Aid, the world’s biggest rock festival, was organised by Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof to raise money for famine relief in Africa.
Wembley Stadium in London packed in 72,000 spectators, JFK Stadium in Philadelphia held 100,000, and the event was beamed to over 1.5 billion people, in 160 countries – the biggest broadcast ever known.
Everyone was glued to the TV. I was watching with friends and family and just as we were sitting down to eat, David Bowie introduced a video set to the song ‘Drive’ by the Cars. I’ll never forget one of my friends asking why images like these (of starving children in Ethiopia) were being screened when the nation was having its tea! I realized, at that moment that we had a very long way to go to change attitudes to charitable giving.
A month after Live Aid, I flew to Kenya (on Sudan Airlines, an edifying experience). I met up with my friend Linda, a teacher with VSO, and we travelled together, meeting other aid professionals working for VSO and Peace Corps.
I spent time in local schools, talking with students about their hopes and aspirations; I visited their villages and ate lunch with their families. At every turn, I was humbled by the generosity of people who had so little themselves. After one such lunch, I was given the gift of a kiondo (a handwoven sisal basket) filled with fruit, vegetables and eggs because I was considered an ‘honoured guest’. I knew my hosts could ill afford this gift; but I also knew they would be offended if I didn’t accept it with grace.
It was following this trip that I decided to apply to study for an MA in Development Studies.
Development Studies at Leeds University
After graduation, I studied part-time for an MA in Development Studies, whilst working in health and social care to pay for my living expenses. The course was a steep learning curve, not least because it was heavily based on economic theory, a subject I’d never studied before.
I wasn’t sure how to use my degree. Whilst I was considering my options, I took an entry level management role, and before I knew it, was working my way up the corporate ladder, quickly rising to a senior management position where I managed 150 staff and 7 buildings.
Like many in the ‘80s, I was involved in campaigns to end apartheid in South Africa and this led to a desire to see the country for myself. In 2003, I was fortunate enough to make that happen. I visited the Cape, and took a trip to Robben Island where I was privileged to be shown around by a former prisoner. What struck me most powerfully was the systematic way in which the apartheid government had set about creating a brutal, humiliating and dehumanising regime, intended to break the spirits of its political prisoners.
This visit was also a lesson in transformation and leadership. I was fascinated by the profound personal transformations Mandela and his associates had undergone. How they had readied themselves through the power of education to become leaders of the new South Africa. We all know that education is the key to most things – I am an avid reader and acquire knowledge whenever/wherever I can – but there is no better example of this than that set by these extraordinary men.
The CEO Years
After eight years in the trenches as a Chief Executive, I was looking for a change. I considered, and even started to apply for, CEO roles to lead charities in the international development field. I quickly realised that these charities wanted a leader who’d had their boots in the field, rather than somebody who’d honed their skills as a CEO. I also realised that there were other ways to pursue my personal passions than through a job.
Rather than taking on another CEO role, I decided I wanted to run my own business, and took a sabbatical to figure out what this would look like.
Over Christmas and New Year 2013/14, I spent the most amazing three weeks travelling in rural Rajasthan.
This trip was intended to mark a major transition point in my life, as well as to provide some much needed time for reflection about how I would ensure that mine is ‘a life well-lived’. Nelson Mandela had just died, and I was inspired by Gen. Colin Powell’s comments about Mandela. Powell described him as a ‘remarkable individual’ who taught him many life lessons. “Humility. Have a purpose. Have a vision. Be prepared to sacrifice. Be prepared to listen to the other side.” And, said Powell, “always be ready to change your mind, but never abandon your principals.”
I don’t think it’s possible to visit India and not be changed. India is alternately inspiring, frustrating, thrilling and confounding. The depth of poverty is shocking. And the lack of educational opportunities, for rural girls in particular, is appalling.
On my return, I read extensively on development and education, and researched a number of charities, all of which were doing great work but just didn’t ‘call to me’. By chance I heard about a book titled ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity For Women Worldwide’. Written by Pulitzer Prize winners, Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, ‘Half the Sky’ stunned and captivated me. Not just because it’s a compelling read, but because it offers an insightful, optimistic perspective on why, and how, each of us can and should meet one of the great moral and humanitarian challenges of our times.
Do Good. Make Money. Change the World.
It’s taken me a while to work out how to bring my personal story together with my brand. To be honest, I didn’t really figure it out until last month. It came to me while I was out walking on the beach one morning.
I help business leaders to do good, make money and change the world.
This has become the organising framework for everything I do, and my re-brand. It’s the foundation for all my work. Leadership, building a highly profitable business, living your purpose and values. Making a positive social impact. Enabling business leaders – the people I serve – to maximize the positive social impact their business has.
I believe passionately that if we all ‘do a bit,’ we can effect positive social change, and “make a ding in the universe”, as Steve Jobs said.
To help make my ‘ding’ that bit bigger, I’m drawing inspiration from the Global Goals for sustainable development. If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.
The Global Goals my business is focused on are:
#4 – Quality Education
#5 – Gender Equality
#8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be sharing how I intend to go about this on this blog, and exploring different ways in which small businesses are making their own ding in the universe.
Join The Conversation
Question: How do you do good through your business? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share how you’re going to use this in the comments box below.
Explore These Additional Resources
Did you miss?
- Magnanimity: The Quality That Made Nelson Mandela An Exceptional Leader
- A Personal Reflection On Half The Sky
- Business Review – May 2017
Work With Me
I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible businesses to build profitable and successful brands of the future. To do so, I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO.
I’d love to start a conversation about whether we’re a good fit to work together. Simply use this link to arrange an informal Skype coffee chat. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching (or business consultancy) would be right for you.
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