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New values are creating a shift in business

Business is shifting into something that is not the old normal …  and it is being led by Change-makers, courageous individuals who are bringing the different values of caring and sharing to the commercial space once largely driven by wealth creation.  This was the assertion of the guest speaker Benita Matofska at Lady Val’s lunchtime Zoom meeting this month.

Lady Val Corbett hosted the group of women leaders from her network of supporters who donate to the Corbett Network charity for ex-Offender reintegration. This is actually a regular networking lunch but in these times, this means the fund-raising has shifted online, along with the conversation… we pay less for our tickets and make our own grub at home!  There is no travel and no need to dress up. That’s what it’s like for all of us these days .. adaptation is the key word. But wherever we are, in the dining room at Browns in London or in our own kitchens, it is wonderful to listen to a speaker who is passionate about her subject.

And Benita Matofska was passionate indeed sharing her purposeful life-calling of alerting people to how they can become change-makers themselves.  Interestingly, as she itemised a 4-step process that she takes businesses through to become a ChangeMaker organisation, it is reassuring to see that some of us are already running change-maker businesses but perhaps we have not thought about them in quite that way. Or we have not applied this new vocabulary to what we do. 

Benita is an international expert on the Sharing Economy.  She is the founder the global charity The People Who Share and created Global Sharing Week, an annual campaign reaching over 100 million people. Her unique insights to people and companies enable them to adopt new mind-sets and become ‘change-maker businesses’ fit for the future.  Benita has accomplished a great deal in her 30-year career and received many awards including Inspirational Woman of the Year and has spoken to audiences including: the European Parliament, European Cities Marketing Summit, Global Women’s Forum, Financial Times European Sharing Economy Summit, House of Commons, House of Lords,10 Downing Street, London School of Economics and TEDxFrankfurt. 

She has developed an expertise in the Sharing Economy, something that has taken root over the last decade and was seeded out of the global financial crisis. 

Of course the upside of a good crisis is the potential to create much needed change for without the impetus of that, things just roll on as normal. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. So much has changed in the last four months that it is clear the world is not going back to normal.  In her capacity as a counsellor for the One Young World Congress she met Desmond Tutu, and she quoted him as saying “A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity to choose well, or to choose badly.” Never has that been more pertinent than during this pandemic. It is time for us all to choose well. Benita highlighted the potential for business to thrive if choices are made around different values.

The swift arrival of the coronavirus crisis, meant that businesses had to change very quickly in order to survive.  Having become a spokesperson in the media and her increasingly high profile consultancy, Benita has been well-placed to see and draw attention to the potential for change in the pandemic. She said she has seen three types of sharing that has been taking place in the last few months. 

  1. Shared action. We’ve had the biggest volunteer effort since the Second World War, 750,000 people came forward to volunteer for the NHS in just 48 hours.  There has also been another pandemic happening .. that of a kindness pandemic all over the world where people have come out in their communities to help feed others and to make sure that people receive the necessary supplies. It’s been an extraordinary time for action.  As well as individual volunteers delivering food, businesses have been taking action as well coming together and forming partnerships and collaborations across sectors, even with competitors. That shared action has been incredibly important for businesses to look at how can their normal products and services they sell commercially now be adapted to be of support in a time of need. Businesses have pivoted and changed to participate in this shared action, with for example perfume suppliers reconfiguring their businesses so they can make and deliver hand sanitizer. 
  1. Shared understanding. COVID-19 has led many of us to reevaluate who we are, what we can contribute, what’s important in our world, spending more time at home, really starting to be grateful for, and value the things, that are important in life, and also to spend more time in nature.  There has been a shift in values with this whole idea of identifying key workers who are the people who are saving and transforming lives in our society. These are the people, many in low paid caring and cleaning roles who have previously been invisible.  Everyone has been forced to re-evaluate and take a really hard look at what value we bring. It is no longer the case that we can solely focus on commercial value, we need to be considering environmental value, and social value. 
  1. Shared responsibility. We’ve been staying at home to protect lives. Social distancing was unheard of a few months ago.  We have all stepped into the collective responsibility that we need to protect each other and that we’re in this together. We really responded to the need to work together in order to consider the greater good, and to save millions of lives. We have witnessed this as an extraordinary effort around the world too. But what we’ve also seen is the shared responsibility in terms of business know-how, a business’s understanding that to survive in the future they need to adapt and change, and take on this collective responsibility for people and the planet. Benita urged that only those businesses that can and will do that, and become what she referred to as Change-maker companies .. they are the ones who will survive, not just this crisis but into the future.

Benita spent the last four years working on an extraordinary project called Generation Share. She wanted to find out more about ChangeMakers .. who are the people themselves, the social entrepreneurs, the innovators, the business people who all care about people and planet and want to transform communities and societies at large, and not just focus on wealth creation. Who are the people leading a shift in business? The resulting book Generation Share, is the world’s first collection of successful, new, impactful business models and initiatives that are transforming lives and became a best-seller last year. Through stunning photography, social commentary and interviews with 200 change-makers, Generation Share showcases extraordinary stories demonstrating the power of Sharing. She found a hugely diverse range of projects and people including a rebel supermarket, fashion library, low carbon logistics companies and trust cafes. 

Benita gathered a vast amount of intelligence on the who and how of change-making and during her fund-raising she was contacted via LinkedIn by a young girl in Mumbai.   

“I hope my voice will reach you.  My name is Aarti Naik. I’m a slum-based young girl Change-maker. I run, the Sakhi School, a slum School for Girls in Mumbai, India. We share knowledge and the chance of a positive future for girls. I would like to be part of your project because I am Generation Share. I strongly believe that because of you and your initiative my slum based girls voices’ will reach globally.”  Wow, how extraordinary, moving and inspiring to receive such a communication from a young girl across the world, working in a slum.  

Benita’s book project is becoming a powerful voice bringing visibility to extraordinary initiatives like Aarti’s.  She explained that the goal of Generation Share has been about changing the narrative. She read us an excerpt from the introduction to her book:

‘You only find things or people when you go looking for them. I went to look for Generation Share for the brave, positive change-makers. I intentionally sought out the positive stories, the stories of hope. Positivity is an important characteristic of the sharing economy, because it provides a much needed antidote to the disease of cynicism and negativity that’s destroying our world. It’s the language of the new economy. It offers people healing, and hope and inspiration, much needed at a time when hate, totalitarianism and populism are winning votes. We have a global crisis of responsible leadership, but to tackle complex problems, we need solution-focused socially-conscious, but above all, positive leaders …. change-makers.   I believe that by elevating the status of good, positivity and consciousness, we can begin to change our malfunctioning world.’

Benita asked a very simple question: “What does sharing mean to you?”  When she asked this question of Kenyan campaigner Nanjira Sambuli who enables women in sub-Saharan Africa to access digital resources, her reply was “Sometimes when we talk about sharing, it’s tangible stuff. We never talk about the softer stuff, your time, your energy, the idea of always showing up, being present.  There’s still that inequality. I can go into a room with men and be the only black woman but I have to keep showing up because unless I do, one day, that door is going to be locked. Even if you’re the person for the diversity poster. If you’re in a room and everybody looks the same, and they are making decisions about the world, it’s a problem. So keep on showing up, have a voice”. 

There’s a lesson to be learned for all businesses. What can we do to ensure that through our businesses, we are able to share that voice, that we’re able to offer that opportunity and ensure that we are more diverse? How can we reach out to help to redress that imbalance in the inequality that so clearly exists in our world?

The whole idea of dependence on others has become very apparent during the COVID-19 crisis, the idea that we cannot get through this pandemic without the support of others.

We are all surrounded by an invisible infrastructure of support

Jacob Berkson is an extraordinary change-maker who set up Thousand 4 £1000 a crowdfunding platform to raise rent for refugees. Jacob is a disabled man in a wheelchair. When asked what does sharing mean to him, this is what he had to say: “One thing that’s nice about being disabled, is that it makes you aware of your own dependence on other people. I can’t get dressed, go to the toilet or eat without assistance. Of course no one else can either, right. We invisiblise the sewage worker. We invisiblise the people who make the clothes. They are somewhere else, but your dependence on them is enormous.”

Sharing is just very visible when you’re disabled, and how interesting is it that during this crisis. These key workers have become so much more visible. As businesses, what can we do to increase that visibility? What can we do to share that value to enable people to be able to access the resources that they need. How can our businesses make a positive contribution?

Valuing the Milk of Human Kindness – literally

Another change-maker is an extraordinary woman a doctor called Natalie Schenker who set up the UK’s first human milk bank, sharing breast milk to enable sick or premature babies to survive. It’s estimated around the world that over 1.2 million lives of babies have been saved through the sharing of breast milk and milk banks. Benita asked one of the volunteers who works with Natalie about sharing and she said ”You have to imagine you’re in an ICU unit, your child is in an incubator, there are tubes and cables everywhere, and he can’t even breathe by himself. Knowing that my baby could still be fed by donor milk, was the moment I thought, I’m so thankful that somebody took the time to share their milk. It came through a chain of people who were willing to share. We need to get back to that and not be so engrossed in our own lives. All women who are able to share their milk are heroes to me”.

Lessons in exchange for football

Another young change-maker featured in Generation Share with whom Benita has kept in touch during the pandemic is Ashok Rathod, a football coach who founded the Oscar Foundation. They work with slum-based children to enable them to have an education, using football, as a way to entice those children into education.  The kids don’t get to play football, unless they have succeeded and attended various courses in maths English literacy, science and so on. During this pandemic, Ashok has been safely delivering food to over 5000 slum-based families in southern Mumbai. The team’s mission has been, how can we ensure that our communities survive, whilst at the same time being able to find ways to deliver education in a digital way so that those slum-based kids can stay safely at home. 

Buying the Book makes a positive contribution

The innovative Generation Share book co-authored with photographer Sophie Sheinwald is an inspiring read. Every single copy of the book, helps to feed and educate a girl in the slums in Mumbai, and also plant a tree through the Eden reforestation project. Benita believes that whatever type of business, charity or social enterprise we can all find ways to make a positive contribution to society. In the future, unless we become these Change-maker businesses and organisations, she says we simply won’t survive. So as businesses we need to become change-makers, in order to survive this pandemic, and the future crisises that will happen.  Buy your copy here.

Learnings from these Generation Share change-makers 

From the extensive research for her book, Benita identified six key characteristics that every single one of these change-makers had. Take these onboard and your business is more likely to survive further crises in the future.

  1. The ability to share:  Change-makers show us that we need to ask important questions. How can your company share? What’s your collaborative advantage, because in the future, how well you can partner and collaborate will determine your future success. 
  2. Bravery. Change-makers are brave. They reinvent the rules…. because what has now become clear … there’s no such thing as business as usual.
  3. Adaptable. Change-Makers are adaptable.  Your company can only survive and contribute to the planet and society at large if you can change and adapt.  
  4. Love. Change-makers put love at the heart of everything that they do,  love and care for people and the planet. They consider the impact of their actions. Businesses that do put more love into their operation will be the ones to thrive in the future. 
  5. Positivity is an important characteristic of Change-makers.  They are positive and solution-focused. 
  6. Future facing. Change-makers see the bigger picture. They consider the wider impact of what they’re doing. And they’re interested in systemic change. 

To weather the uncertainty that the world is clearly going through, even without the challenges from COVID-19, companies need to become Change-makers and learn lessons from these brave young people.  Benita works with companies helping them make this shift.  She takes them through a four stage process. She gave us a few highlights of some of the key questions she asks her clients. 

These are helpful for you to ask yourself about your own business endeavour

  1. What does your business currently do that is needed in a time of crisis? 
  2. Using your existing capability, consider what could your company do that is needed in a time of crisis?  
  3. What do you do need in order to make that happen?
  4. What aspects of your core business, could you deliver digitally? What we need to acknowledge is that technology has transformed the way we’ve been able to respond to this crisis. More and more businesses are now operating online because they have to, while before they could not see the possibility. Who would have though in just February of this year that you would be consulting your doctor on Zoom, court cases would take place online .. even the Prime Minister’s cabinet meeting would be online on Zoom instead of in Downing Street. Those are big shifts that people have had to adjust to, in just weeks and in some cases days.

Along with the many efficiencies that have been made we have had many important benefits in terms of our climate crisis too. It’s clear that your sustainable future as a business depends on you becoming a change-maker company, how well you can:

  • share 
  • be brave 
  • be adaptable
  • be positive 
  • show love for people and the planet 
  • consider the future impact of everything that you do. 

The power of a great question

Benita started out with the quest of finding out who are these change-makers and what does sharing mean to them. During this journey she discovered that sharing is everywhere….if we look for it. It’s in our homes or communities or schools or businesses or cities or villages, it’s an unlimited supply within each of us.

Sharing is something that goes beyond gender and culture. It’s simply a human thing. This Generation Share shows that to share is to be human. And these human values powering our businesses will make the difference that will help us all survive and ride out future storms.

To watch a video recording of Benita’s talk then click here. (Start at 15 mons 30 secs to hear Benita)

If you want to find out HOW your business could become a Change-maker company contact Benita.