This social enterprise shows why it pays to ‘give a crap’

Who Gives a Crap co-founders Danny Alexander, Simon Griffiths and Jehan Ratnatunga

Who Gives a Crap co-founders Danny Alexander, Simon Griffiths and Jehan Ratnatunga. Source: supplied.

Going from being a plucky startup to admired social business isn’t a leap many make. Back in 2012, Who Gives A Crap founders Simon Griffiths, Jehan Ratnatunga and Danny Alexander decided to try and help some of the 2.5 billion people across the world who don’t have access to a toilet … by selling toilet paper. 

It’s a story that started on the toilet when Griffiths spent 50 hours on one in a draughty warehouse until they reached their initial funding target. Over the ensuing years, people and businesses rolled in and embraced the idea that buying something they use every day can do a little good.

Full disclosure: I’m a happy customer with stacks of their jauntily wrapped rolls sitting on a shelf in my bathroom.

Central to the Who Gives a Crap business model is the promise to donate ‘50% of the profits to build toilets’, but while sitting on the loo in that warehouse it’s unlikely the founders imagined a $5.85 million donation was less than 10 years away. 

Before hoarding toilet paper became the COVID-19 pastime anyone could play, Who Gives a Crap’s total donations was under $3 million since 2012. And if it weren’t for a dose of pandemic panic buying that number wouldn’t have changed as dramatically as it did. 

In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins’ research showed successful and unsuccessful companies get about the same amount of good and bad luck. What’s different is their ‘return on luck‘, or in other words, how well they take advantage of good luck and survive the bad.

Not all companies can translate or survive ‘luck’ events. That Who Gives A Crap did is due, in no small measure, to how it uses the elements of its brand result — the organisation identity of its purpose and values shows up across the business in how it does things and makes promises.

The promises the business makes get kept by the experience people have. From the seamless process of buying the bright, happy wrapped toiler rolls, to wiping with their soft, comfy recycled sheets. And reading about the collective impact of sanitation projects funded in the third world.

Flush and repeat the basics. But there are also piles of other trades that contribute. Here’s a company that knows the relative value of its different capitals and how to trade them successfully. I know it can be almost unseemly to talk about money and social enterprise in the same sentence, but let’s take the recent profits as a visible example.

Profits, aka financial capital, are not the bad guys. But hoarding them like Joe on a toilet paper bender isn’t a good way to grow. Who Gives A Crap trades a chunk of the profits it makes selling toilet paper for things that are worth more than money.

For example, to keep its most prominent promise, it gives 50% of profits to partners who put it to work on those sanitation projects. In less emotive terms, the business trades some of its financial capital for the more valuable social and relationship capital. 

You could say Who Gives A Crap is a super-efficient social and relationship capital engine, and it has steadily used the energy it generates since day one to continue to grow.

Why is one form of capital more valuable than the other? Because social and relationship capital expands with use. For example, by trading profits for sanitation projects in the third-world, Who Gives a Crap builds more robust partnerships and gains goodwill from customers, who help it get more customers.

The results of those and other trades get stored in the brand. So when people think of toilet paper that does a little good, they give a crap.

Don’t think about the brand as a thing you create. Take a look at what you’re trading and let your brand be a warehouse for the results.

See you next time.

NOW READ: Aussie toilet paper panic leads to 1000% sales boost for Who Gives a Crap, but founder Simon Griffiths says sharing is caring

NOW READ: Two days on the loo: The extreme lengths this founder went to launching charitable toilet-paper company Who Gives a Crap

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