B1G1 has turned 8 last week.
Each and every one of those 8 years brought us something really significant to be grateful for.
But they’re not always the obvious things as you’ll see. Let me extract the insights as you might find something interesting (or even useful); all of us tend to grow through similar patterns.
In short, our 8-year journey went like this:)
Idea → Action → Failure & Endurance → Stability → Diversity → Connection → Systemisation → Simplicity
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
Year 1: Ideas are free (and easy to overlook)
People who know us today say B1G1 is a simple yet powerful idea.
And some say it was a stroke of genius for us to come up with such a great giving model.
But …… we did not come up with it! It was actually just a chance remark we heard one day.
Before B1G1, we (the people often referred to as the ‘founders of B1G1’) had always believed in giving back. We used to run a food business that aimed to feed street children with the profits it made.
But doing something beyond meeting day-to-day obligations for survival was challenging. It’s so easy to say, “We want to give back when we become successful.” So it was only when someone else who heard about our business mission said “Ah, that’s buy one give one!” that the idea really dawned on us.
At that moment we realised that giving didn’t have to be as a result of success. We realised we could do something each day — just something small – instead of waiting for profits to come in first.
That was the origin of B1G1; someone’s ‘off the cuff’ remark!
So, the idea of B1G1 initiative doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. It’s a gift. How can we not be grateful?
Year 2: Some people are daring enough to bet on your absurd dream
I remember standing in front of about 200 people one morning in Perth, Australia.
My 15-minute speech followed the 3-hour business presentation of now B1G1 Chairman, Paul Dunn. At that point Paul didn’t know that one day he’d be lured into running the initiative full-time for good.
And after the heated excitement Paul left on stage (if you know what I mean), I simply said,
“Buy one give one. We imagine a world full of giving where everything we do makes a difference. Will you join us and create that world together?” (in essence, I said “We have no idea how to make this work sustainably but we want you to support this dream.”)
You’re right. Not everyone is prepared to jump on-board something that is not figured out and fully proven. But there are (thankfully) some people who do.
And if we’d waited until it was all figured out and proven, we’d never be celebrating our eighth birthday!
So, you and I can also be the ones to jump on board someone else’s dream sometimes too! Who knows, it might just change your life and the lives of others.
Year 3: Fall over to rise back
2009 to 2010 was the time of a total collapse for B1G1.
In the first 2+ years, we worked and worked to build a system, we did many events, we called lots of people and printed many brochures and marketing materials… we even created a movie!
But doing more and more did not get us to clarity, efficiency and progress. We became too busy to see the real gem of what we had.
So the team we formed had to dissolve at that time. Some moved on to do other things. A few remained to re-build the whole initiative from the ground up again.
And this time, we broke it all down and then started to reassemble the tiny pieces together; this time more carefully and diligently so the foundation was put properly in place. We questioned everything – whether we were doing it right or trying to take a short-cut.
It was the year of re-birth and re-build. And we are grateful for everyone who accepted and supported the difficult transition (and they still turn up for our celebrations).
Year 4: Funding Good (without begging)
After 3 years of losses after losses and obstacles after obstacles, we started to break even financially for the first time ever!
The initial years were like a bad financial dream for B1G1 chairman, Paul Dunn. He almost single-handedly funded the initiative when we could not pay the bills – he simply believed in the potential but he also got frustrated that this venture did not go quite the way he’d always succeeded in business. To him, success was almost like a habit. But B1G1 proved it wasn’t!
And when his pocket was nearly empty (sorry, Paul!), we started to turn around and upward.
We now had a basic system. We had much better processes. More and more giving started to flow. We could see the accumulating impacts soar.
It was the first time ever we started to believe that we could indeed run a Social Business that didn’t need to rely on donations from people. We could create a value exchange – something that could last. But we still had (and still have) a long way to go.
Year 5: Power of misfits
It was this year we invited (hesitantly) some extraordinarily ‘unfitting’ people to B1G1.
Until that time, we were always hanging around with ‘like-minded’ people. Those passionate types who understood the jokes and were bold optimists. We avoided those who pointed fingers at details and logistics.
Some of the B1G1 Giving Board are such people – like the legal guru, Paul Petruccelli and the auditor EK Pang who both ended up serving B1G1 for a long time (they are still with us today). Initially, what these people said or asked us seemed to be ‘too logical’, ‘picky’ and ‘too inhibiting’… But after a while, we started to see the real points in it all!
If there is a foundation of good conduct, stability and sound decision making processes in B1G1 today, that’s because these ‘misfits’ have all played critical roles in keeping the whole team on track.
Sometimes, the people you are afraid of can be your best partners.
Year 6: Connect
Sometimes when we are too busy DOING what we do, we forget to CONNECT.
At B1G1, we are fortunate enough not to obsess over making money (aside from making sure we have the capacity to sustain our activities.) Instead, we obsess more over the giving impacts the B1G1 community creates.
Regardless of what it is though, when big numbers become the primary focus point, we can easily forget to connect with the real reason to be creating those numbers.
We can even get a bit edgy and ungrateful.
A giving initiative that is driven by a stressed-out team who are mechanically turning the dials of the counter is definitely not inspiring….
Luckily, before we ever got to that kind of state, we had numerous opportunities to feel the real effect of those numbers we worked on day in and day out. We created a habit of taking time once a year to visit some of the projects the B1G1 community is supporting.
It initially seemed like a big loss of resources to be organising Study Tours for small groups of people to visit projects in remote places. It’s unbelievably time-consuming…
But we saw remarkable returns for the energy we put in.
After all, we cannot buy purpose at any cost.
And if you have come on one of these tours, you’d know what I mean.
Year 7: Formula for scalability
Even when we have something good, if we can only deliver it once and if we do it only when we feel like it, how can that benefit many people? If B1G1 is to make sure that businesses are giving regularly and they are also feeling the goodness of their giving consistently, what do we need to do?
The year 7 was the year of thinking (and implementing) of processes and systems. We systemised much of our repetitive decision making or created guidelines and documentations to maintain the consistency of our approach and integrity procedures.
When we create a system, it takes the stress away. We now have more capacity to think of other things that matter. We still have a long way to go in terms of being really good with the systemisations but we do want to leave room for genuine humanity and spontaneity in the way we do things too.
We look forward to improving our systems and processes with your great support too. Thank you so, so much for sharing your ideas as you got in touch with us with your suggestions. We can only do better and be better because of you.
Year 8: We do not have to be everything to everyone. We just need to be something important to those who believe what we believe.
You’ve probably noticed that giving has started to become like a new trend recently. It seems like there are so many initiatives.
So now, you probably receive many emails, encounter many street fund-raisers (whom you avoid having eye contact with), and get invited to many fund-raising events and campaigns.
In the past, we worried about what others were doing. We compared ourselves with others and we pondered on how to do better than them.
But not any more!
The most important realisation is that we are not here to compete with ‘others’ or revise what is already there in plenty.
We took the challenge 8 years ago because we wanted to see a giving world where everyone in our community felt more caring, generous and grateful. And that’s because doing that and being that creates a happier world.
B1G1 was, after all, never about charity ‘donations’. It was about embedding giving (and caring) into our everyday activities.
So today, we still aspire to work on creating a more giving world. And we aspire to do that together with you and with all other great causes.
Then, there is no ‘competition’. It’s what you might describe as ‘a work of art’ — something worth dedicating what we all have to give. For good.
… and it continues to the 9th anniversary (thanks to you!)