Ram Gidoomal had many advantages that helped his first social venture. But what mattered more: his background as a corporate CEO or his roots as a political refugee living in a four bedroom flat with fifteen family members?
In seven years his venture generated $10 million, mobilized 50,000 youths across the United Kingdom, and educated them about social enterprise. And though today he chairs a social enterprise that impacts 893,000 people per year, he still works long hours to inspire people one by one.
1. Make Your Challenges Strengthen You
When India was partitioned in 1947, “my family had to flee because I come from a Hindu family and we were in the Moslem part of town, which became Pakistan, so we fled to East Africa,” says Ram.
Twenty years later, they were forced to flee Ida Amin’s rule and landed in London where they lived in a corner shop. “Again, starting from scratch,” says Ram, “our family had business in our DNA, so running our own business was appealing, even if it meant selling confectionary, tobacco, and newspapers!”
Entrepreneurs almost never have all they need. Yet how you cope, makes you stronger.
2. Keep Your Purpose Resolute
“It was a visit to the slums of Mumbai during a business trip,” reflects Ram, “that was a turning point for me. “ “I was at this point UK Group CEO and Group Vice Chair for Inlaks Group. I left my air-conditioned hotel and as an interested tourist was shown the worst slums in Asia, Dharavi, where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed.” On the flight home, he decided to resign his executive position and commit his life to making a difference.
Your motivations must connect with concrete, underlying values.
3. Leverage Your Resources
His first project was Christmas Cracker, working with 100 youth groups they taught teens to operate businesses for social good. “Teenagers [and young adults] have a lot of energy but a low attention span,” notes Ram. So every couple years, they varied the business model. What started as a program where youths could run restaurants, broadened to include radio stations and fair trade shops.
“The money then went to organizations like World Vision, Tear Fund, [and others] because they’ve got established development projects in different parts of the world. And the condition we had with them was, because they had not raised the funds through their channels, they were not allowed to deduct any administration fees.”
Leverage people’s strengths and design around their weaknesses.
4. Exercise Your Compassion
Part of what TRAIDCRAFT does is “find people in the poorest of the poor regions of the developing world, train them, encourage them, and help them develop and grow their businesses so that they have jobs, they have dignity,” says Ram. “You help one person, but you could be helping nine or ten because you’ve got their spouses, their children, and their extended families.”
Lasting compassion requires economic sustainability.
5. Make a Lasting Difference
“Through Christmas Cracker we mobilized 50,000 people and I would say several thousand are [today] working in development causes and development issues”, says Ram, “or careers they otherwise would not have done.”
And in regards to TRAIDCRAFT he says, “When we help them set up a business, the conditions and criteria are that they must do fair trading.” “[This means] you pay a fair wage and you do your work in a manner that is environmentally friendly.”
Teach people that creating social uplift and planetary healing can be profitable, and it’ll last for generations.
6. Measure Your Impact
“TRAIDCRAFT was one of the first businesses in the United Kingdom to produce social accounts,” says Ram. In 2011-2012, TRAIDCRAFT had 893,295 beneficiaries. Always a business man, he says “we’ve got to be prepared to demonstrate evidentially the impact that can be made and the difference to the lives that are made.”
Allia has worked with landlords to refurbish unutilized, dilapidated buildings in deprived neighborhoods into affordable office space for social entrepreneurs and other startup businesses in the United Kingdom. “We started this like eight to ten years ago and every unit has been profitable and that profit goes back into helping those who are in need. “ “Now we have five, and the government is very excited and is giving us more and more [access to] space.”
Measure the difference you make; it’s a critical component of economic sustainability.
7. Use Your Stories to Inspire
Ram uses many ways to gain supporters. “One of them is seeing-is-believing experiences,” illustrates Ram, “we takes them to an [Allia] site or on trips, literally holidays, where they have the privilege to visit [TRAIDCRAFT’s] projects in Kenya, Bangledesh, or India.”
“A second one is stories from the ground,” continues Ram, “I organize fundraising dinners and awareness raising dinners, and there I get executives from the City [, the financial district of London].” “When they really see they can challenges us and critiques us on a level playing field,” he continued, “people either respond by giving gifts or saying ‘hey, we want to get involved’.”
If your story is vivid, visual, and solid, you can win over even the most skeptical.
8. Know You Can Do It
Ram reminds people that “one person can make a dollar of a difference, but a million people can make a million dollars of difference”, and they often ask him, “Well what difference will you make?” And he says, “I cannot solve the whole worlds poverty but I can solve one person’s poverty, if I really make an effort for that one person.” “And if you start doing something…you and I will now make twice the difference’.”
People will question you. Yet, your ‘can do’ attitude can shift theirs.
On December 29, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri, Ram Gidoomal will moderate a panel discussion “Responding to the Great Invitation in Business” as part of Business Changing the World at Urbana 12: Intervarsity’s Student Mission Conference.
Ram Gidoomal is Chairman of TRAIDCRAFT whose services helps the world’s poor expand their local markets and sell their products to the Sainsbury’s and Waitrose’s of the world. He is also Chairman of Allia, whose latest project, Future Business, redevelops dilapidated buildings into affordable offices and incubators for social entrepreneurs and other disadvantaged startups in the United Kingdom.
You can read more about my interview with Ram in Spirituality & Work.