Redefining business and ‘charity’

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It seems that at every turn, we are being asked to give to charity, or a worthwhile cause. It is almost impossible to walk down the High Street without being stopped by a charity campaigner asking you to set up a regular Direct Debit to help their cause. There is always a new campaign on social media asking to you perform a comical act and then make a text donation, to save lives. Every now and again, the internet allows us to discover amazing young peple like Stephen Sutton, Alice Pyne and Harry Moseley – three people who knew that they wouldn’t win their fight, but who decided to make the world better for the future that they will always be a part of.

I am often asked why we do so much charitable work. I often hear the questions; “What is the commercial benefit?” “Will it not sink your business?” “Can you really make any difference?” “What has this got to do with Pink Sky?” “Are you losing sight of what you are as a business?” I always take criticism and questioning seriously, so I have spent considerable time reflecting upon these ideas and genuinely asking the questions in the context of the vision for our business.

I am a businesswoman, but perhaps not in the traditional sense. My ambition is to make a lot of money because if you do, you have choices about how to spend it, which is a privileged position to be in. My only hope is that I am a responsible pair of hands. I started Pink Sky as a very cruel recession hit. I had suffered from illness, causing me to set up on my own, but I had no funding. There were days when I used to pick up pennies off the floor if I saw them and put them in a sparkly ‘Jesus’ money box. Hopefully this would pay for lunch, which was usually 11p noodles from the local discounter. It was a very hard time, but I distinctly remember waking up one morning with a very simple principle in my head, repeating over and over. “If you have one penny and someone else has nothing, then you have something to give.” It made a profound impact on my business vision and I truly believe that this difficult time was training for the direction I might take in the years ahead.

There will always be people who have need and you will always have something to give.

We have a duty to give to those that have need.

The act of giving is really what “charity” is all about, whether that is financial, the donation of assets, or the gift of time.  It is unfortunate perhaps, that many organisations are called ‘charities’.  It seems to give us a slightly distorted view of what these organisations do.

Universities often fund research, for the progress of mankind and the development of ideas that will change the world. Endeavour and progress are really important principles. It is the mind that says “I wonder if…” that makes incredible things happen. We have been given inquisitive and creative minds for this purpose.

There are many areas of progress that need to happen in our world. Cures for incurable diseases, clean water for those that cannot access it, justice for those sold into slavery, freedom from poverty, education for children that have none, refuge for victims of violence, respite and support for families living with disability, help for those living with mental illness… The list goes on. The problem is, this requires scientists, incredible business visionaries, builders, counsellors, medical staff, designers, architects, engineers, news and media representatives and many, many more people with specialist skills. This presents a further problem. These people are expensive, particularly if they are good at what they do.

So these skills have to fall under the realm of ‘charity’, because they rely on acts of charity (giving with no direct gain), to survive. For this reason, there is a peculiar opinion that the people with these skills should not be paid properly. Where did that come from? If you want good peope to work for you, you need to pay them what they are worth, whether you are a business, a charity or otherwise.

Who will fund these endeavours? People in business who make money will often invest in business initiatives. This is usually with the purpose of making more money. But as a wise person recently said to me, “you don’t want to be the richest person in the graveyard”. Unfortunately there is a popular notion that the world exists as “every man for himself”. So people invest their time, money and efforts in that which will directly benefit themselves. They have no problem buying health insurance in case they get a horrible illness, but they won’t invest in the prevention and cure. Is this because they might not see it, or because it feels like a drop in a very large ocean? What is the point in paying health insurance so that you get better treatment for an illness with no cure?

We need to think more carefully about the meaning of ‘return on investment’. Not all returns are financial. Invest good time with your family and your return will be memories that last forever and a better relationship with your family. Invest in a cure for cancer and your children and their children might have a better life. Or is it better just to be able to buy a bigger car?

What you give might be a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is indeed made of many drops. Incredible initiatives such as Kickstarterand Indiegogo have beautifully visualised this notion, as crowdfunding takes the world by storm. You can now invest a relatively small amount of money in making an exciting project a reality. Instead of having to find big investors, you can now achieve a dream through ‘many drops’, rather than one big lake. This is the way the world is moving.

We must lose the perception that ‘charity’ is about ‘do-gooders’ who boast about all that they do. It is simply not true. These people might be funding scientists, or builders who need materials and to be paid for their time, but there is no one else to pay for it. If you provide that funding, it is you that is being charitable, meaning you are a part of what they do. You are not funding people to shake buckets, it is your bucket that is being shaken under your very nose. As director of your company, you need to be saying, “how are we going to fill this bucket? And when we do, what are we going to do with it?”  What a privileged, scary and responsible position to be in. In your hands is a bucket that has they power to change the world.

So re-invest, make more money, pay your people well and give some away.

I really believe that this principle is true: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

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