November 28, 2006. Toronto, Ontario. "Every cow in the European Union is subsidized to the the tune of $2 a day, while between four hundred and five hundred million Africans live on less than a dollar a day." That's according to Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, in his book of lectures, Race Against Time.
So it's a 'bull market' in more ways than one for entrepreneurs Michelle Shaw and Brad Arsenault, founders of a new social enterprise, Shaw Treatment. A body care company that designs and markets natural lotions, soaps, scrubs, cleansers and an expanding line of body care products. And its numbers like those presented by Stephen Lewis that have led the couple to form their for-profit venture.
Since the success of companies like Newman's Own, founded by actor Paul Newman, more and more entrepreneurs are jumping on the social enterprise band-wagon. The concept itself is still a relatively new form of business, although its definition is pretty open ended. Any company can declare that it has a social mission but Michelle and Brad are taking their enterprise to the extreme limits of the definition.
"We're giving 100% of our net profits to charities and grass roots organizations supporting relief efforts in Africa," as is stated on multiple pages of the company's website and on various printed materials.
In terms of their products, Michelle and Brad believe it's about offering consumers a greater choice with attached benefits that include the satisfaction of knowing that the ingredients are natural or fairly traded and that the money goes to an important cause.
"We should all be compelled to donate and write a cheque. We should also challenge the large companies we buy products and services from to step-up and do more for both their communities and the world. They have the power to change things on a larger scale than we do as individuals."
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a leadership role that can enable him to really start setting standards and putting pressure on first world nations to do more for Africa. But so far that hasn't happened to the degree that it should. Our Prime Minister's attention to important issue such as HIV/AIDS as well as the ignoring of promises made by Canada to Africa is shameful and needs to be fixed."
So Michelle and Brad have taken matters into their hands. They believe in having the freedom to choose a product off the store shelf whereby the manufacturer donates continually to a chosen cause. And although you could argue that there are many companies that give a percentage of profits already. Too often, the donations tend to represent a small amount of the sale, are usually for a single product the company produces and are more often than not attached to a short lived promotion. Shaw Treatment plans to stick to its goal of 100%.
As Shaw Treatment is still a fledgling company, it has a long way to go, and the cofounders want people to understand that they're not in business to run a hobby but are in it for the long haul. They've set a their first mission to get 200 bicycles to nurses and children in rural Africa. A bicycles can mean the difference between life and death as it offers nurses the chance to reach more patients affected by HIV/AIDS living in outlying areas and children the opportunity to improve their lives through education.
In order to achieve their first mission, the couple are now exploring the various distribution channels available and plan to get Shaw Treatment in to more stores so consumers can have the ultimate say.
The couple considers themselves in good company as they charge forward with social enterprises like Newman's Own and Me to We Style Inc. cofounded by Oliver Madison and inspired by Marc and Craig Kielburger's Me to We social movement.
Interested parties can contact Brad Arsenault directly at (416)569-6737 and get more information from the company's website at www.shawtreatment.com
Information about Me To We Style Inc. can be found at www.metowestyle.com
Information about Marc and Craig Kielburger can be found at www.metowe.org. Marc and Craig write for the Global Voices column found every Thrusday in the Toronto Star's GTA section. They are the founders of Free the Children.
Information about the Stephen Lewis Foundation can be found at www.stephenlewisfoundation.org