Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Wise words from Albert Einstein that Rafik Riad, founder of the Buy Good. Feel Good. Expo, has certainly put to use.
Originally from Egypt, Riad worked for 10 years in international development with the Danish Agency for International Development (DANIDA), the European Union and the UK Department for International Development (UKDfID). He implemented ground-level development projects, developed policy and coordinated private sector partnerships. Many projects took off, doing well for their intended communities, until something, inevitably, would change.
Global recessions, donor bases drying-up, fickle development trends and shifting political priorities were unavoidable realities within the traditional development world. Regardless of the dedication of workers or the success of an initiative, Riad watched project after project loose funding, terminate and ultimately undo all of the social and environmental benefit it had once created.
“After years in the field I began to see the boom and bust pattern of traditional development. Economies would weaken, donations would dry up and development projects, along with their dependent communities, would suffer,” says Riad.
Riad realized the charity model, on which international development was founded, really didn’t work very well.
Rather than throwing his hands up in frustration and walking away, he explored what was working, quickly discovering a new and increasingly successful model for changing the world: social enterprise.
Over the past decade the social enterprise model has grown in popularity. Combining traditional sales-orientated business structures with social focused charitable outcomes, social enterprises create a framework of “blended returns”. Unlike the traditional charity model that attempts to connect a positive outcome with an existing business, a social enterprise, whether for-profit or non-profit, builds a positive social or environmental outcome right into its business plan.
Take for example, Zendagai, a new vendor at the BGFG Expo. Zendagai works with artisans in the remote mountain communities of Gilgit Baltistan, northern Pakistan who make contemporary jewellery with locally mined silver and semi-precious gems. As a business Zendagai sells these handmade pieces, mainly to women in North America. As a social enterprise Zendagi incorporates fair wages and investment in social development programs into their business model.
The result is a for-profit business that also provides stable employment programs and long-term economic development to impoverished communities. No more de-funded projects or charitable donors deciding to send their money to a new, trendy cause.
It’s this capacity to create stable, lasting social change offered by a social enterprise that inspired Riad. “I see social enterprise as an antidote to the feast-and-famine cycle traditional development work because it truly maximizes the capacity of business to do good in the world”
Launched in 2015 with just 15 vendors, the BGFG Expo has grown to 100+ vendors from around the world. The marketplace is divided into 5 sections, fair-trade, organic, local, environmental impact and social impact, and brings together a diverse selection of brands from ethical fashion to impact investing to organic foods.
When asked if he regrets his time in traditional development work Riad is thoughtful. “I don’t regret a moment of my time working in development,” he says. “I learned so much about working with communities and creating policy to guide positive change. And I’m glad I discovered the volatility of charitable development work because now I can pull back the curtain a little and offer an alternative. Social enterprises are definitely the future.”
Zendagi – https://zendagi.shop/
Buy Good. Feel Good. Expo – www.buygoodfeelgood.com