My TEDx talk: Isn’t Business an Opportunity to be Kind?
In February 2018 I was delighted to deliver my first TEDx talk in Findhorn Scotland.
- Watch this on Youtube HERE.
- Listen to it on the Give-to-Profit Podcast above.
- Or read what I shared during my talk below:
Rwanda often conjures up images of gorillas, volcanos or genocide.
For me, it evokes a deep sense of love, peace, and gratitude to all the young genocide survivors who have inspired me to put charitable giving at the heart of my business and to develop a more compassionate approach to business. A business model I call Give-to-Profit. Come join me to find out more…
WOW, how did I end up here?
Standing in an orphanage at the top of a mountain in Rwanda, in front of a sea of unfamiliar faces looking at me.
Watching – Waiting – Eager for me to start.
Gosh. I’m way outside my comfort zone!
Only a few weeks ago I was running a successful training consultancy business spending most of my time delivering courses in workplaces. But now I’m in a very different world, and unsure what to do.
The shy little child inside, who used to blush whenever anyone spoke to her, feels like she’s gatecrashed someone else’s party. With no idea if she’s going to pull it off.
All sorts of doubts are flying around inside my head, as I stand here feeling alone:
- What am I doing here?
- What are they thinking?
- What are they expecting?
- What if what I do at home, doesn’t work here?
Meeting the group of young genocide survivors for the first time a few minutes earlier had been easy. In fact, it had been a wonderfully uplifting experience to start the day with African singing and dancing to improvised drumbeats on a bucket, followed by a few minutes of prayer.
But now they’re waiting for me to start today’s training… in this drafty bare brick shed – a bit like an airport hanger with nothing more than holes in the walls for windows. All very different to what I’ve been used to.
3 months ago
It was just three months ago that I set the intention to do something more meaningful with my life.
For the previous few years, I’d really enjoyed building my business since leaving the investment industry, but I felt I’d become a slave to the job I’d created. I loved what I did but I was working long hours, I was away from home too much and felt there was something missing.
Whenever I saw films of people suffering around the world due to conflicts or natural disasters I’d feel useless – because I didn’t think there was anything I could do: I’m not a medic, builder or disaster recovery specialist who could go and help.
Yes, I regularly send money through disaster relief charities, but that never felt enough.
The pivotal moment
Has there ever been a pivotal moment that significantly changed the direction of your life forever?
I remember vividly the day I left a lucrative corporate training contract and decided to volunteer overseas. I’d just returned from an overseas trip working for a client who had very different values to me. That morning as I entered their office I knew I’d had enough. I could no longer work with businesses that don’t care about the impact they are having on people, communities or the planet. So I ended my contract and instead spent the next few hours enjoying the sunshine with my sister, sipping wine and chatting about ideas for the future.
At that stage I had no idea charitable giving and supporting social causes would become a core part of my life and business in the way it has. My initial intention was simply to ‘give back’ – a phrase I now hate but that’s a story for another time.
All I knew that day was that I wanted to do something meaningful that involved supporting young people, made use of my skills, and fed my passion for travel. I was looking for a new adventure.
As so often happens when you stop doing something that drains your energy and get clear on what you’d like instead, new opportunities appear. That’s what happened to me.
The very next day I received an email with a link to a short film about a project in Rwanda helping young genocide survivors. Being someone who believes in synchronicity rather than coincidences, I took this to be a ‘sign’ and immediately sent an email saying, “I love what you’re doing in Rwanda and would like to hear more”.
Little did I know then how pressing ‘send’ that day would profoundly change the rest of my life.
I got an immediate response from the founder of the charity and during our first conversation a few days later she invited me to join her in Rwanda. And that’s how I found myself up the top of a mountain in Rwanda with these young genocide survivors shortly after.
Our work during that trip involved trauma healing, teaching heart-centered leadership skills plus entrepreneurial and employability skills – all with the intention of equipping these young people with the skills and resources so they could create better futures for themselves.
We started with trauma healing to help these young people overcome the trauma of experiencing some of the worst things we could ever encounter as human beings. The same emotions such as anger, hatred, fear, anxiety, and helplessness that drive others to terrorism. Through the work, we did we helped these people replace what they had been feeling with genuine feelings of love, joy, and compassion. Most were able to find forgiveness in their hearts for what they’d experienced during the genocide.
We then taught them basic life skills that most of us learn from our parents and those we grow up around. And only once we had these foundations in place did we move on and teach them entrepreneurial and employability skills – so they could earn money to support themselves and their families.
Most of what I do now has been inspired by these young people
I’d intended my participation in the project to be a one-off trip so I could decide whether I wanted to continue to support the project financially.
But that first trip my heart burst open with love and unleashed a desire to help that was so strong I couldn’t walk away. I couldn’t leave these young people I’d met.
- Young people helpless yet eager to create better lives.
- Young survivors who were keen to learn.
- Young people just like you and I once were but who through the unfair lottery of life had endured horrors and hardship most of us will hopefully never experience.
I’ve been back to Rwanda many times helping these young people set up businesses, find jobs, go to university and go on to get married and have children. A tragic twist was witnessing how these young people in Rwanda helped survivors and families from the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in 2012, overcome their grief and loss. It was an incredibly healing experience for those involved.
But it wasn’t until we showed them a documentary film made about their journeys that I realised the impact of our work. There we were, sixteen of us all crammed into a makeshift cinema in one of our hotel rooms, watching them emerge from being tragic genocide survivors to beacons of light touching hearts around the world. The film had won accolades and awards at international film festivals.
Once ignored by the world when they needed us most. Their voices were now being heard.
Rwanda changed me
Without a doubt deciding to get actively involved with regular trips to Rwanda, rather than just donating money, has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – in so many ways.
It has completely changed the core essence of who I feel I am. After that first trip, I felt more connected to the authentic person I was born to be than I could ever remember.
As someone who hasn’t had my own children and has silently grieved for the loss that brings, I now feel a deeper sense of meaning, peace, and contentment in my life. I no longer feel I need to justify my existence. I deserve to be here too. This is my way to contribute to the future of humanity. In the words of Morgan Scott Peck, I seem to be living a road less traveled.
Before that first trip, I thought I was going to ‘give back.’ But as anyone who does voluntary or humanitarian work will know, the greatest gifts often flow the other way. The people I worked with taught me so much about the capacity we all have as human beings to survive, to heal and to love. And that at a core level, no matter what our experience of life we are all very similar human beings striving to feel safe, to feel loved and be happy. I am full of gratitude to these special souls for helping me become a much better global citizen.
All that feels great and would have been plenty but that is not all. One of the biggest surprises has been the impact my humanitarian work has had on my business.
Rwanda changed my business
You see when I came back from that first trip, I needed to raise money to fund future trips and to continue to support the charity. But how do you do that when you’re running a full-time business?
To me it was obvious – I didn’t want my fundraising to eat into my personal time as I was already struggling to maintain a good work-life balance. And so I decided to make these miracle bead bracelets.
A side effect of my charitable giving
I started taking these along to networking events in the hope that a few people would buy them… and they did.
Much to my surprise, I’d regularly raise a few hundred pounds at events and the more events I went to, the more funds I raised. Over time people started referring to me as the Rwandan woman. Cleary not Rwandan but ‘the women raising funds for genocide survivors in Rwanda.”
People were keen to support me. A surprising side effect of my fundraising was that my business started to grow on the back of it. For example:
- Friends started holding fundraising parties – inviting me to their homes to teach their friends techniques to help them cope with stress and to sell my bracelets; People bought my bracelets and also started booking one-to-one sessions with me too.
- I was asked to speak at networking events, local groups, and conferences. Where ever I went I took along my bracelets, often raised more funds for the cause and picked up more clients along the way.
- I also started running fundraising events for people in my business community – auctions, film nights and online events. Running fundraising events became one of the main strategies I’d use to test out new products and services.
Soon I became aware that my fundraising was generating all sorts of new business opportunities – new clients, business partners, contacts and additional revenue streams I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
And I began to realize that how I thought about business had changed: I now saw business as a great opportunity to be kind. Not just for social enterprises but for all types of business.
Over the years my charitable giving has evolved to a point where I now put social impact at the core of my business. It influences who I work with as clients and business partners; who I take on as suppliers; the products and services I offer; how I launch or promote my products and services; and much more. Without the charitable and social impact components to my business, I’d now feel completely disconnected from it.
Seeing what I was doing, others started to ask me to help them grow their businesses by supporting causes too. That’s when the concept of what I call Give-to-Profit was born.
What do I mean by Give-to-Profit?
I see Give-to-Profit as a compassionate business model for business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders who want to grow a successful business that is both profitable AND makes a difference in the world – for those who are driven by more than simply making money.
You see most business owners think they need to choose between setting up a business that focuses solely on profits, or if they want to tackle a social problem or do good in the world that they need to set up a charity or social enterprise. But charities and social enterprises are not suitable vehicles for lots of people setting up in business.
Out dated traditional teaching is leading lots of socially conscious business owners and entrepreneurs to set up a business that focuses on making money and keep their charitable giving separate.
Simply because they don’t realize it doesn’t have to be that way. That as a business owner they can do both: make money and do good in the world at the same time by integrating their charitable giving into their business!
In fact for those of us who care, and are motivated to make a difference, leaving our heart at the door of business doesn’t work. Denying this part of ourselves causes inner conflict and dissatisfaction. We don’t feel whole – in a similar way making too many compromises in relationships or jobs isn’t sustainable over the long term.
That’s where Give-to-Profit comes in – incorporating charitable giving and social impact into business activities:
It’s about more than simply making philanthropic donations to causes but rather partnering strategically with charities, causes, NGOs or community projects for maximum impact. There are many ways to do this including fundraising, donating resources, sourcing social suppliers, or investing in communities connected to your business.
Give-to-Profit is a really easy model for all small to medium sided businesses to use to become a profitable force for good.
Doing good is good for business…
The good news is that not only is Give-to-Profit a rewarding and meaningful way to do business, doing good is actually good for business too.
We live in a time when consumers, investors and employees are challenging businesses to demonstrate they care – to stop focusing solely on profits at the expense of people, communities and the planet.
But don’t just take my word for it…
As a consumer, imagine you have the choice of two cups of tea/coffee. You can buy one from a company that is obsessed with profits, treats its staff and customers terribly and is having a negative impact in your community or on the planet.
Or you could buy exactly the same cup of tea/coffee from a café that is making a real difference in your local community, seems to care and is donating some of the price you pay towards a good cause.
Which one would you be most included to buy? Most people say the 2nd one. That they prefer to buy from cafes where a cause would also benefit from their purchase…
I wonder if you’d even be prepared to pay more to the business doing good?
What audiences consistently show me is consistent with the wealth of market research that indicates consumers, investors and employees who prefer to buy from, work for and invest in businesses that care about their social impact as well as making money.
If the role of business is to meet the needs of its consumers and investors, businesses that ignore the call for a compassionate approach to business, do so at their own peril.
This is where each and every one of us can help make the world a better place.
The genocide survivors I met in Rwanda taught me that business is a great opportunity to be kind. Businesses don’t need to choose between profits or doing good. That doing good and focusing on impact is actually good for business.
Imagine what could happen if more businesses were a force for good.
Today I invite you to consider the part you can play in turning this into reality:
- As individuals what type of businesses do you buy from, work for or invest in? Are they making the world a better place or destroying it?
- If you’re involved with a charity, social enterprise, cause or club, how you could make it easier for businesses to support you?
- For any business owners or leaders in the audience, how you could incorporate charitable giving or social impact strategies into your business?
Whatever you decide to do, remember business is a great opportunity to be kind and what you do next matters.
Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to improve the lives of a million people – by making it easy for businesses to be a profitable force for good, and through her support of causes that tackle poverty, education and social justice.
Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves doing humanitarian work, fundraising and living by the beach in Scotland.
Alisoun is also the founder of the Give-to-Profit Community and has written the following free resources:
- Ebook: 101 Ways To Attract Great Clients, With Heart, Integrity & Social Impact (click here)
- Ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Charities and Social Causes Through Your Business (click here)
- Ebook: The 9 Secrets to Signing Up Clients Without Selling (click here)
- The Online Course Creator Checklist – download here.
You can connect with Alisoun here: