Last week we featured G-Lish, a West African social enterprise dedicated to providing sustainable income sources to women and youth through innovative basket creation. In addition to offering employment and empowerment, the Bolga Baskets they weave help the environment in two ways -- first, the baskets are created from salvaged plastic bags, and second, G-Lish plants a tree for every basket sold.
This week we had the opportunity to interview founders of G-Lish, Godwin Yidana and Gayle Pescud. Below they share where their business idea came from, what inspires them, and their plans for 2012. They also spoke about adhering to the triple bottom line and shared details about their social business model.
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
We wanted to create an organisation that could sustain its existence through income-generating activities, while providing opportunities for the community in which we operate to develop. In other words, we wanted to create a social enterprise, not a charity or aid organisation, that makes a meaningful, measurable improvement on the lives of the people with which it works.
As a social enterprise, G-lish has three bottom lines. Each are equally important:
- Social impact
- Environmental sustainability
100% of profits from sales of products and volunteer contributions are reinvested in G-lish with the aim to grow G-lish to reach more people in need and make an increasing economic, social, and environmental impact in rural Ghana.
This is not new nowadays, but we felt it was the best model to underpin what we needed to do and enable the change we wanted to bring about.
While our focus is on developing innovative recycled products using traditional weaving techniques, we have plans to shake up the pre-existing basket making sector across the region, which affects thousands of individuals involved in basket production, to try to improve the income they receive from the traditional market. This will be undertaken throughout 2012.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
We have both worked for other organisations in Ghana and South East Asia and feel committed to contributing our experience and skills in the social development sector. It also happens to be what drives and inspires us most. In addition to that, the region in which we work, which is the second poorest region in Ghana, is quite neglected on the national level--the need for income generation in this area is urgent. We saw that collectively, we had the perfect skills to make a social business work in this region.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
We're perpetually in brainstorm mode. We find that ideas and solutions present themselves when we let the questions percolate just below the level of consciousness. We don't dismiss any idea, however bizarre or unrealistic, until we've explored it to its conclusion. The so-called impossible and bizarre can lead to innovation and solutions to serious problems like how to reduce poverty. But you have to be open to the ideas in the first place--if you're not open to new ideas, you're not going to innovate. We never assume we have all the answers or know enough. We read widely and enjoy learning new things. This openness to new ideas and self learning naturally opens your mind to new ways of working and allows you to see connections between ideas that you might otherwise miss. These connections may be solutions or the inspiration for the next idea. That's why we think inspiration flows fairly freely.
More simply, it's everywhere we work. You just have to spend half a day in the villages to experience the urgency to meet basic needs to feel the need to find sustainable and creative ways to help more people. Our main challenge is choosing which ideas we'll develop into a real project, not the ideas themselves. We have many more ideas on our creative wishlist than we could ever execute. We have a simple process for this as well. In general, our philosophy is to keep things simple. Don't complicate processes unless it's absolutely necessary.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
We tickle the ears of a baby warthog and skip backwards in an eastward direction as the dawn breaks. Or so we would wish--baby warthogs are endlessly entertaining but one of us is not a morning person, and the one who is plays soccer in the village most mornings while fantasising about playing beside Messi. So, aside from soccer, we listen to music that puts us in the right frame of mind for whatever we're doing and we drink a lot of tea and coffee! We also make and chug down pineapple and banana smoothies almost daily.
We read a lot of fiction. Fiction lets us escape to other worlds outside the limits of this area, helps recharge the batteries, and sometimes even provides the solutions or inspires new ideas.
We know our weaknesses and we're not afraid to ask for help when we need it. We are fortunate to have good people around us with skills to help plug the gaps. People will generously come out of the woodwork and help you when you ask. It's been a challenge, but accepting that you can't do everything NOT actually doing everything yourself is liberating--it leaves you free to maximise your strengths, to do what you do best, and stay creative.