In anticipation of the upcoming Social Enterprise World Forum October 2 to 4 in Calgary, Alberta, SEE Change spoke with speaker Andreas Souvaliotis, Executive Chairman of Social Change Rewards, an organization that designs and implements public incentive programs that reward healthy and environmentally responsible lifestyles.
Souvaliotis was the founder of Green Rewards and later AIR MILES for Social Change, the world’s first national environmental and healthy lifestyle incentive programs. His achievements in influencing and rewarding behaviour change on a mass scale have been recognized by global social responsibility leaders, including The Prince of Wales.
In a compelling and frank interview, Souvaliotis shares his social entrepreneurial journey and offers his thoughts on the Shared Value Model and the ongoing challenges facing entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in their world.
*Stay tuned to an important announcement at the end of the piece!
What would you say was the biggest impetus to your becoming a social entrepreneur?
The honest answer is that it happened entirely by accident. I knew (and cared) a lot about climate change, because I had grown up as a bit of weird “climate geek” – I was always fascinated by weather and climate and the unpredictability of it all. When climate change started to emerge as an obvious trend and a threat to humanity, I probably understood it more than most of my fellow marketers and business executives in our country.
And, one day, I woke up and realized I had a very unique edge over all of my peers: I was much more accurately tuned into this new, permanent “green” trend in the marketplace than just about anyone else. I understood why consumers were going green; I understood how deep and permanent this new trend would be, and I understood the types of inputs, triggers and incentives that would have an impact on consumers’ everyday decisions.
So my decision to become a social entrepreneur and launch Green Rewards as the world’ first national eco-incentives program was entirely opportunistic: I knew I had a significant first-mover advantage, perhaps for the first time in my life, and I just couldn’t waste that opportunity!
To what would you attribute the success of Green Rewards and AIR MILES for Social Change? Were you surprised that it had such a strong response?
Other than our first-mover advantage, the other terrific wind we had in our sails was the incredible reach and popularity of AIR MILES in Canada. We fused our powerful idea with the most successful and most popular loyalty points program in our country and the upshot was a social venture that resonated with everyone – retails, governments, utilities and, of course, millions of consumers.
Most Canadians love to collect AIR MILES, so they responded beautifully to our incentive offers for taking the bus, conserving electricity, exercising, eating healthy, quitting smoking etc. And, of course, the more consumers responded, the more clients (retailers, government agencies etc.) we acquired and the faster our program grew! It was the perfect snowball.
In your opinion, who will play the biggest role in future social/environmental change achievements – consumers, corporations or entrepreneurs? Or is it each, in equal measure?
It’s all three – in equal measure – and a very significant fourth: governments and other “regulators”. The entire eco-system of commerce, legislation, regulation, promotion and consumption needs to be engaged simultaneously and consistently.
Tell us about the Shared Value Model and how it lends itself to your view of social change
Humans are greedy by nature and they respond much better to incentives (things that add value or pleasure to their lives) than they do to sacrifice. We won’t fix the world by asking people to give things up – by asking consumers to live less or asking corporations to make less. The only way to create meaningful, scalable and sustained social change is by finding ways to create more value and more satisfaction for all the stakeholders without any (obvious) sacrifice for anybody.
We’ve been trying to fix the world through sacrifice, donations to charities, guilt for consumers and all sorts of other negative methods for several decades now – and we’ve only managed to go backwards. If we want scale and broad engagement, we have to get much more creative about intertwining financial or material returns with social returns – and a perfect example of that type of model was AIR MILES for Social Change.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing social entrepreneurs today
I think there is still some sacrificial inertia in the whole social entrepreneurship/social change system. Most people expect social entrepreneurs to work only for the good of the planet or the good of the species, instead of also working for the good of their wallets. There are still a lot of traditionalists out there who are offended when they hear of social entrepreneurs generating profits! So we still need to shift society’s expectations a bit more.
As I mentioned earlier, the best and fastest way to achieve scale with solutions to our species’ problems is by intertwining them with the power of profit. Authentic, powerful, real social ventures can be profitable – and in fact they have much more impact potential if they are designed to generate profits. We need to unleash the awesome power of the human mind when it comes to social ventures.
I speak at a lot of Universities and I know that younger thinkers get it – they do understand how to intertwine social and financial returns very correctly and authentically; it’s the older generation that are still sometimes challenged by the notion of blended returns. I am optimistic, however. I see a fairly significant shift happening and I am excited about the future, in a world filled with more and more hungry social entrepreneurs!
Andreas Souvaliotis will be taking part in the Corporate Social Innovation panel on October 3. For more info and to register: Social Enterprise World Forum
Powerful Memoir “Misfit” to Launch at SEWF 2013
SEWF 2013 will be the site of the official launch of “Misfit”, a memoir by Social Change Rewards Founder and Executive Chairman, Andreas Souvaliotis.
Souvaliotis chose SEWF 2013 as the stage for the worldwide launch of his book because he wants his story to help inspire young changemakers and social entrepreneurs all over the world.
To learn more about the book “Misfit”, click here
SEWF Contest Celebrates Misfits as Changemakers
To all SEWF 2103 attendees: send us a tweet and tell us how being a misfit has empowered you to affect social change – we’d like to hear your stories ‘from the trenches’.
Five lucky winners will receive a signed copy of “Misfit” and a personal meeting with the author. One grand prize winner (out of the five) will also receive a Kobo.
Rules and Details:
Tweet about how being a misfit has empowered you to affect social change
Tweet before the 30th of September and use the hashtag #SEWF
Five winners will be selected and announced at SEWF 2013.
Meetings with the author will take place during SEWF 2013.
While this contest is only open to SEWF 2013 attendees, we encourage everyone to tweet about, talk about, and celebrate how the things that make you different have helped you change the world for the better.
Elisa Birnbaum is the co-founder of SEE Change Magazine, and works as a freelance journalist, producer and communications consultant. She is also the president of Elle Communications.