profit money

Making a profit for the better

By Anna Campbell

Capitalism is getting a bad rap at present, and when you see the degree of imbalance across society, this may be an obvious bow to draw. I think this view is a little simplistic, when you think of the many good and hard-working people working within private enterprise, from mechanics, to farmers and hairdressers.

Far too often, I hear negativity about business and private enterprise from people who are sitting on comfortable salaries within wasteful and inefficient government-funded organisations. It seems hypocritical that many of those same people will criticise private enterprise for being money grabbing and without morals.

I have followed recent debate about social enterprise company Eat My Lunch with interest. The company started in Auckland driven by a social purpose, but still acknowledging they are a business and need to make a return for partners and shareholders. Consumers buy their lunch, in the knowledge that part of the about $15 paid will go towards making a lunch for a child, who may not otherwise get lunch. The company has provided more than half a million lunches to children in schools in the North Island - for free, since its inception two years ago.

During the early life of the company, the owners did not take salaries home; now they do - and fair enough; most of us are not willing to work for free. They have also recently sold a 26% share of the business to Foodstuffs for an undisclosed sum. They are now getting some flak in the media for not disclosing the sum or disclosing how much profit they make - yet they have never stated that they are a charity, rather that they are a business with a social purpose.

Eat My Lunch uses both volunteer and paid workforce for packaging lunches and they also have some food provided for free under sponsorship. People in the media are now questioning whether they should be making a profit on the back of this.

In my view Eat My Lunch is a well-planned, well-managed business, doing good for the community and making a profit. Why is making a profit considered to be so dirty? This is no conglomerate run by US corporates; this is a local business, with an engaged volunteer and paid workforce, run by young people with drive and passion. Surely, we are not becoming so anti-business that the mere mention of the word profit sends us into an "all capitalism is bad'' spin?

I say congratulations to founder Lisa King, who had the guts, energy and drive to get Eat My Lunch off the ground and make it into an attractive enough proposition for Foodstuffs to invest in. If she were to be bought out completely by big business, or even the Government, because she has built a great enterprise, then well done to her. I would hope the business continues to thrive and give to good causes and I hope she would turn her energy into a new venture that is equally successful.

I am intrigued and excited by the millennial generation's lead on building social enterprise. Old-style business and boards are starting to get their heads around what these young leaders are doing and the more success stories we have, the better. Like any businesses, those that are successful will have equal parts vision, pragmatism and discipline. The principles of good business management never really change, but the passion of the millennials shows the way we do business can.

Perhaps, the older we get, the harder it is to be open-minded or think outside a left-right political paradigm. There is good in government organisations and in private enterprise, as there is good in ``left and right'' thinking. Boundaries are being blurred all the time. All of us want to have a purpose to our work, to feel that we can make a difference in some way to someone. It's time for society to rethink the mentality of assuming profit means greed. The millennials are challenging the status quo on many fronts; maybe it's time for the rest of us to start listening.