Social enterprise aims to partner with consumer goods giants to help end poverty

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2020 12:01 PM

Thankyou co-founders Daniel and Justin Flynn. Handout

MANILA -- A social enterprise is hoping that Filipinos and other people across the globe will support its ambitious campaign to partner with two consumer goods giants to help end extreme poverty.

Headquartered in Australia, Thankyou creates different consumer products and finds partners who will sell them, with proceeds used to serve vulnerable communities.

It recently started its "No Small Plan" campaign, which taps into the power of social media to convince Unilever and P&G to partner with them and distribute its products.

It seems like a David and Goliath story, but collaborative instead of adversarial. And it's not totally impossible -- after all, Thankyou was able to convince Australia's two largest supermarkets to stock its products, and beat its fundraising target through its "pay-what-you-want" book to fund the company's growth.

ABS-CBN News got to interview Thankyou co-founder and managing director Daniel Flynn via e-mail, where he talked about the "No Small Plan" initiative and more.

Below are excerpts from the interview: 

Q: Tell us something about yourself and the story behind Thankyou. How did it all start? 

"In 2008 I was 19 years old, and I remember this moment sitting in front of my computer with tears streaming down my face as I watched footage of kids in Africa having to walk kilometers each day to collect water for their families -- putting themselves at great safety risk, and being deprived of education -- but then also putting their families at risk because the water they collected wasn't even safe to drink. 

"When I considered, 'What if that was my story,' that's when the tears started to flow. I couldn't even comprehend it. My co-founder Justine had traveled to developing countries as a teenager to volunteer in communities, so I had seen the effects of poverty firsthand. We saw one world that had two extremes -- extreme consumerism and extreme poverty. It wasn't right that such inequality existed, and we wanted to do something about it.
 
"Today, $63 trillion is spent globally on consumer products and services. And just before the pandemic, 736 million people were living in extreme poverty. We envisioned a brand that could be a bridge between these two extremes by empowering consumers to help end extreme poverty. We sell consumer products that exist all for the end of extreme poverty." 

Q: What is your goal at Thankyou, and what has been your approach to achieving it? 

"Our ultimate goal at Thankyou is to see a world where not one person lives in extreme poverty. It's a goal that many companies and organizations globally are trying to achieve. Our approach has been to redistribute consumer spending dollars (from the sale of Thankyou products) to impact partners who are implementing water, food, health, livelihood programs, and more. Thankyou's raised $17 million for our impact partners but we are a long way off our vision. And it turns out, due to the pandemic, the world is, too.
 
"Off the back of this new reality we are all living in due to the global pandemic, we are seeing a huge regression in the world's work to reduce extreme poverty. A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report just released shows 37 million more people have been pushed below the extreme poverty line, and a report released by the World Food Programme says that up to 265 million people face severe food crises, up by 130 million from 2019.

"This is why we're seeking a bold new path forward. We believe that to thrive in the new post-pandemic world order, partnerships at global scale are necessary. We hope that this next partnership will help Thankyou raise hundreds of millions of dollars for our impact partners on the front line." 

Q: Tell us more about your products at Thankyou. How do customers access them, and how do these products help create social impact? Are you confident that these products can stand on their own, even without the social aspect?

"We have over 50 products in the personal care and baby categories. One of our hand wash products is the number one seller with our category in Australian supermarkets! These products are available right now for our customers in Australia and New Zealand, but our hope is that in time they'll be available for consumers worldwide to access. How it works is that after all the costs in running a business to get great consumer products to people are taken care of, every last cent that Thankyou makes goes toward ending extreme poverty.

Thankyou offers products such as hand wash and hand lotion. Handout

"Since day one, we've been driven to make products that people love for their quality -- not just the cause. Because we know if people only buy a product due to the social impact attached to it, they'll buy it once and then probably go back to the products they actually love to use. This is why our mantra at Thankyou is 1, make great product, [and] 2, never break rule one. Rule two has a little asterisk on our website that says never use a good cause to sell an average product. This is something we've considered carefully when looking at potential partners -- we need to partner with people who can absolutely make great products and have a track record in this area." 

Q: How has the pandemic affected Thankyou's operations, and how did you adapt?

"The pandemic has turned the entire world upside down. For CPG/FMCG brands like us, one of the biggest challenges was the global supply chain -- which got flipped on its head overnight. We were struggling to get componentry and ingredients through our normal channels, and had to get extremely creative to meet demand. Because at the same time all of this was happening, our hand wash and hand sanitizer products were in higher demand than ever before. In just a few months, we were able to make A$10 million for our impact partners. To put this into perspective, it took us 11 years to make $7 million." 

Thankyou hand and surface sanitizer. Handout

Q: What made you decide to start an ambitious campaign with P&G and Unilever? 

"Right now, the world is in a really tough spot. We think our planet needs change at scale quickly, which we believe Thankyou can offer, but the fastest way to get there is finding partners with that kind of scale now. We've watched these two companies for a long time and are impressed with their work in the sustainability space. But industry experts have told us that it will be tough to convince them of this kind of partnership, because it's outside what they usually do. Which is why we just launched this public invitation -- asking people everywhere to petition P&G and Unilever by posting ' 'I'm in, are you' on social media with the hashtag #thankyoutotheworld. 

"So far we've seen a huge groundswell of people posing their support in over 80 countries, and media covering the story in 29 countries. People have got so creative with their posts, from painting art, singing songs, spoken poetry, baking a cake with the message in it, to one guy who even ran 27km using an app that showed his run spelling out, 'I'm in, are you.' We're excited to see the rest of the campaign play out!

"It's a bold ask -- and from our experience, these kinds of ideas always need huge public support, or they don't ever see the light of day. People power + a simple yet bold idea = impactful change." 

Q: How does partnering with P&G and Unilever help your cause?

"A partnership of this kind is called a licensing agreement in business. They are really common and a lot of big companies use them. For example, Adidas have a license to make and distribute Kanye's brand Yeezy. Nestle has a license to make and distribute the Starbucks Coffee pod into retail stores around the world.

"How it works is that the business (in this case P&G or Unilever) pays a royalty to Thankyou to use their name, product design and brand. From the fee paid to Thankyou, we'll pay our impact partners. We believe we can make as much money (if not more) running this model as we have been running our current model over the past 12 years. This is a more efficient model for our mission of getting the most money we can to our impact partners." 

Q: Can you give us an idea what will happen next if they say yes or they turn down the partnership?

"We really hope they do say yes, but whether P&G or Unilever say yes or no, our goal of a world where not one person lives in extreme poverty won't ever change, and we won't stop until we see that vision realized. In the video, you'll see that we've invited 9 of their nearest competitors to look at this idea, too. We just need one partner to take this idea to global scale. 

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"We've seen the power of people getting behind a cause, and in Thankyou's instance it has been people collectively using what they have in their hand to make a difference. If this campaign reaches more people who join together in pursuit of a better world, that makes us excited for what the future of Thankyou looks like and makes this entire campaign worth it -- regardless of the outcome." 

Q: Are there any plans for the Philippines in the pipeline? 

"We've always seen Thankyou as global consumers buying global products to make a global impact. This campaign is a call out to the world to see which countries are up for this. We've had people posting support in over 80 countries and the more people use their voice in the Philippines in support for this idea by posting 'I'm in, are you,' the easier it will be for us, with the help of a partner, to bring the model there." 
 
Q: Can you give advice to those who are also thinking of putting up a social enterprise, especially amid the pandemic?

"We started Thankyou during the global economic crisis in 2008. Many thought it wasn’t a great time for us to start, but we believe if you've got a vision and idea for a better world, there's no better time to start working on it than straight away. 

"We really believe this pandemic has turned the lights on globally on the inequalities that exist and together we must forge new paths forward. Now more than ever, the world needs social enterprises and social movements to flip business as usual."