Women's Biz

Sharing the joy of giving - An interview with Masami Sato

January 3, 2019

We recently interviewed Masami Sato, an inspiring female social entrepreneur and CEO and Founder of social enterprise and non-governmental organisation B1G1 (BUY1GIVE1). Masami is recognised as one of the ‘Top 30 Female Entrepreneurs to Look Out For’, two-time TEDx speaker, finalist for the Inspired Leadership Award and winner of the Sustainable Business Award (B1G1).

She has always been deeply concerned about the inequalities and other challenges existing in the world. Since 2001 she has founded and led several enterprises and initiatives. Has been traveling and working in more than 30 countries and realised that giving is the key to happiness.

In the article, Masami shared with us her journey with B1G1, her thoughts on social works, as well as her life’s passion and motivation.

1.    How did the idea for B1G1 originate?

Before I founded B1G1, I was the owner of a food company. I started my first business in 2001 because I wanted to make a difference. It was just three months after I gave birth to my first child. While it seemed like a crazy time to start a business, I felt it was the right time. As much as I cared about my own child, I also knew there were many children and people who didn’t have the kind of opportunities we had. I wanted my food business to provide healthy eating options to busy people so that they could enjoy wholesome meals with their loved ones, and at the same time, I wanted the business to give food and education to disadvantaged children in the world.

But as a business owner, I was always too busy. As the business grew (and at one point, our organic frozen meals were being distributed to more than 150 stores in Australia), we were continuously putting all the money back into business to keep growing. It felt like we were never ready to do anything meaningful.

And one day, a simple idea came to me. I thought “what if we just gave a meal to a child in need for each product we sold?”

That realisation was a real game-changer. Because I found that just by giving 25 cents for every product sale to give one meal to a child through an experienced NGO in India – the country I spend some time in my youth – we could ‘embed’ giving in every product we sold. Suddenly, giving and caring became a part of our everyday business.

And about 7 months later, I had another epiphany: “what if every business did this?”

Then in June 2007, we sold the food business and moved to Singapore, to start the global giving initiative, Buy1GIVE1 (which is now known as B1G1).

Today, B1G1 is a business giving initiative – but we’d rather regard it a movement – working with more than 2,500 businesses. And those businesses have together created over 168 million giving impacts to date.

2.    How does getting involved with a charity platform like B1G1 can actually help businesses?

We think of B1G1 as a movement. It is also a social enterprise and a B-corp.

Certainly, B1G1 makes business giving far easier than ever before but what our Members tell us is that it shifts the spirit of the business.

We focus on creating a community of businesses that want to make a difference and helping them make a real impact in the world.

We help them ‘embed’ giving in their business and create a real giving spirit. We help them track their impacts and experience the extra sense of meaning with what they are doing.

Many businesses collaborate in this business network. We host Business for Good Conferences and annual Study Tours to visit various projects. We make sure that we set good criteria to select high impact projects to list on our giving platform and review them regularly. We make sure 100% of giving our members do goes to projects they choose.

While there are many examples of how giving has enhanced the performance of those businesses, we also not to try promising any specific business benefits of giving other than the fact that B1G1 makes business giving even more impactful.

Businesses join B1G1 and give with us because they believe that businesses with a real sense of purpose can together change our world. Being part of something bigger uplifts the spirit of those businesses. And when businesses are giving more with a genuine sense of caring, truly great things can happen.

Many of our members say that by having great giving goals their teams are now coming together in amazing ways. That is a profound benefit that’s hard to achieve by doing other things.

3.    Tell us about a time when you overcame a challenging situation since the birth of B1G1

I feel that I experienced more challenges when I was first getting started as a brand new business owner in my first business with two infants to take care of. A journey of a business owner is always full of challenges! You would never start a business if you knew all the challenges ahead of you. ☺

In the development of B1G1 in the last 11 years, the most difficult time was to really figure out how this simple yet complex initiative would really work. The first 3-4 years were especially tough as we didn’t raise any external investment. And we didn't know how to ‘sell’ a program that enabled businesses to give away their money without a range of very tangible benefits.

Over the years, we have developed the unique giving platform and processes to enable effective giving and the great business community. We’ve also become better at expressing the philosophies of B1G1 and more and more businesses are now joining us.

All these things happened in the past decade through countless failures, continuous small improvements and numerous connections we’ve initiated. Whenever we hit a wall, we think of all the people who have greater challenges in their lives and then we keep going.

4.    What is the source of motivation that helps you maintain the true passion for creating social impact and doing what you are doing now?

Thinking of amazing business people who support our idea. When it is not required for small businesses to give or participate in solving big issues in the world, they chose to work with us and contribute their hard-earned money (and often time) through our initiative. That giving spirit is really inspiring.

5.    Being a social entrepreneur and a mother of two at the same time must be challenging. How do you manage a balance between the two and ensure high productivity?

I do not really think of a balance in terms of time divided. I think I’m working and thinking about B1G1 most of my life. That doesn’t mean I do not take care of my family. I love my family dearly and my family know how much I care about my work too.

I think the balance is created through balanced physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I never think of work-life balance because I think working and loving and being a parent are all part of my life. But if I’m upset or stressed by anything in life, that’s when I’m losing balance.

6.    You have travelled around 30 countries and lived and worked across them as well and now I understand, you live in Singapore. What do you think is the greatest advantage of travelling and working in different countries and cultures?

A deeper understanding of how we are all difference and same at the same time. This leads to a more developed empathy – which is useful in business too.

7.    If you could send your young self a message - what would it be?  

Just do your best every day. ☺

8.    Could you share with us a little bit more about your book ‘GIVING BUSINESS - Creating Maximum Impact in a Meaning-driven World'? What motivated you to write the book and what are the key messages it delivers?

I wanted to write a business book that could convey the real value of giving to any business owners. My previous books were more ‘self-help’ type books. But I believe that businesses are the real catalysts in making a much-needed change today.

9.    In your opinion, what are the main challenges of being a social entrepreneur in comparison to being an entrepreneur in other sectors?

I feel that the challenges we experience as entrepreneurs are very much the same. If there is any special challenge for social entrepreneurs, it could be that social entrepreneurs have a risk of thinking that they can get away with lesser quality products or services because they are ‘social’. Being passionate about specific social issues does not mean that we can skip steps as business owners to make our businesses successful with great value we add as businesses

10.  According to a report by Babson College, less than 3 percent of venture-capital-funded companies have female CEOs. In your opinion, what is the main reason for this and what can we do to tackle this problem?

I feel that as long as every person in the world is given fare opportunities to start their lives, we do not really need to worry about something like this. I think the first step in creating a happier world for all is to remove prejudice and judgment

11.  As the new year is approaching what message would you like to send to entrepreneurs, particularly social entrepreneurs?

There has never been a time like this. Now more than ever, businesses really are the ones to create real change in the world. And we have limited time to turn many things around to create a truly sustainable future. So, in fact, everything we do in our own individual businesses matter. And collaboration is really the key.

We hope you get inspired and motivated by Masami’s example; and can make your New Year more meaningful by contributing your support to charity projects around the world through B1G1.

Are you a female entrepreneur looking to grow your venture? Join us for UK & EU’s only and biggest funding exhibition till date, The Business Funding Show ‘19. Learn more and book tickets here.

Do you have a question? Contact us now!

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