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Local ‘Social Businesses’ Aim to Support Those in Need

Social Businesses are a new trend in today’s business world. For these companies, it’s not all about making money. They’re using their profits to give back to impoverished communities around the world. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe visited two local social businesses, and reports on how they make a difference.

SOUND: customer checking out at Anna Sophia's...

That’s Diane Gamucio, owner of Anna Sophia’s in Springfield, selling another pair of Tom’s shoes. Her store, located on Glenstone Avenue, sells fair trade products as part of a mission to help empower artisans and craftsmen of developing countries.

Gamucio has owned Anna Sophia’s for a little more than two months now. She’s had little time to market her fair trade products, but offers ample opportunities to learn about fair trade inside her store. Gamucio says only a small percentage of the Springfield population is familiar with the concept of fair trade, and she would like to change that.

“So that’s what I’m working on is to educate people on what fair trade is. In the store we have a lot of pamphlets and brochures, information what shopping fair trade means and how it benefits other people. It’s what we call, simply stated, it’s a better way of doing business. It benefits everybody,” Gamucio said.

Gamucio buys many of her products from members of the Fair Trade Federation—that’s the group for fair trade businesses in North America. Its members work with craftsmen and farmers in developing countries to sell their products in the United States and Canada.

Renee Bowers is the Executive Director of the FTF, and says one might be surprised at how many fair trade products are sold here in Springfield, though the number of actual fair trade businesses is low. She says all it takes is a little bit of investigation.

“Talk to store owners and ask them, ‘Do you have anything here that’s fair trade? Is there any way that you would consider sourcing some of these products and selling some products that are fair trade and come from a fair trade federation member?’ Because as soon as store owners know that shoppers care about that and that shoppers are looking for that, then that’s how we see change start to happen,” Bowers said.

Kelly Still heads Drury Unviersity’s Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship. She says the current generation of young people is mindful of giving back to those in need, a far cry from previous generations.

“Whether it’s because they care about environmental issues or if they care about issues of poverty or women’s issues or children’s issues, whatever it is, we’ve just created an environment from high school on through college where people are learning more about the impact of their actions,” Still said.

So what’s the difference between a social business and a non-profit business? Still says non-profits are governed by a board of directors, thus leaving the creative minds behind the business unable to make final decisions. But with a social business, a person can make a profit doing something he or she is good at, and be able to help impoverished people at the same time.

Still believes social businesses are also used as an effective marketing tool.

“Let’s say that you’re looking at two stores, and they sell exactly the same thing. And one of them blatantly says that ‘x’ percent of everything that gets done with them, of all the business they do, or ‘x’ percent or some kind of a matching thing happens to support a cause that you care about, you’re gonna shop there, all things being equal,” Still said.

SOUND: Bryan Simpson...

Bryan Simpson is the owner of Five Pound Apparel in downtown Springfield. For every shirt sold from the Five Pound Apparel line, five pounds of peanut butter are donated to malnourished children in Nepal. But the company is more than just donations of fortified protein: every product sold has some charitable purpose. And that’s where fair trade products come in. For example, each handmade Guatemalan bag sold at the store equals five meals donated to a hungry Guatemalan child. Simpson sells jewelry made from bombs dropped during the Vietnam War, and the profits from the jewelry go back to help clear leftover land mines in the Vietnamese countryside. Even handmade sandals from Uganda are sold to help put Ugandan women in school.

Simpson says that since his college days at Missouri State, he’s wanted to dedicate his career to giving back to those in need, breaking the mold of his business school peers.

“The majority of business students are so driven by profit and money, and I just feel so fortunate having all the things that I have, that I just thought that being a young, poor college student, I might as well figure out a way to give back while I still can. And then hopefully that turns into a lifelong career, something that I can sustain throughout the rest of my life,” Simpson said.

Simpson says for his business, like so many other social businesses, social media is a necessary marketing tool with such a small budget. He says it’s an effective tool to help make a difference, five pounds of peanut butter at a time. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.