Recently, I was occupied with researching various business models and trying to find one myself. You know it is quite easy when you just want to introduce something likeable, edible or smokable to the market. Of course, it is competitive, but selling toilet paper, lemonade or some other bullshit is always easier than introducing something new, mission driven and not quite profitable at the moment. In this business world, we always talk about models. Actually, if you have guru, he can totally train you how to sell, how to promote, how to lick client’s ass in the right direction and basically how to sell shit and prove that this is gold. Sometimes I just get lost in this game, where everybody is lying so much that even myself start to believe that this selling culture is the right thing to do.
At least until I meet some outsider, total fucker, egocentric or, on the other hand, just an ordinary person, who is so driven with his mission and passion that it is just unbelievably inspiring. At that moment, I can actually feel creativity, this charisma coming with simplicity and honesty. The funniest thing is that these people sooner or later get that they want, maybe it will not be millions, but you will remember them for sure. We all know these stories about crazy artists, individuals and egocentrics. However, in everyday life I mostly meet beautifully polished faces, ugly shiny shoes and smart suits. In other words, this middle class, CEO’s who mostly talk more than do a decent job. I know that it could sound naive, but I just hate that feeling these people give to me — you somehow feel that you should sit straight, smile, be chatty and play the role of this charming and fluffy personality which is just so insincere. The worst thing happens when you basically realize that people buy into this stuff and then you either play the role, either try to escape to your world with people you mainly like and respect.
So, I want to shortly introduce this creative, mission driven and socially responsible hybrid organisation — Sun Ovens International. Maybe it is not so art related company, but its solutions and product are creative and fascinating. This company is based in Elburn, IL and provides energy solutions to the world’s poor. It has just six employees making and distributing solar ovens around the world. In developing countries particularly in rural areas, approximately 2.5 billion people rely on biomass sources, including firewood, charcoal, animal dung, and agricultural waste to meet their needs for cooking energy. Approximately 1.3 million people — the majority of whom are women and children — die premature each year due to exposure from biomass indoor air pollution. Fuel collection takes away time and effort that could be spent on education or other income-generating activities.
I think company’s business model is clever because they have consumers in both developed and developing countries and at the same time they are solving problems and making business out of it. Contrary to most of environmentally friendly organisations Sun Ovens International is registered as a for profit business, not a charity, but all of its business is mission driven and problem solving. In developed country markets, it’s consumers are green consumers (eco-conscious), food enthusiasts (claiming that solar ovens offer more flavour and juicier, all natural tastes) and emergency preparedness (using it when electricity in no longer available). Despite its core business in ovens, Sun Ovens has plans to expand the portfolio of offerings with solar-inspired cookbook, solar-powered headlamp and solar powered water pasteurizer.
In developing countries, Sun Ovens either licenses its Global Sun Ovens to local entrepreneurs who ultimately sell to poor families willing to replace their wood/dung based cooking equipment, or it sells to large international NGO’s who distribute these ovens to people in need. The aim of the entrepreneurial model is to drive as much cost as possible from the price, thereby making the product more accessible to a wider group of consumers. Recognising that donor funding is not a sustainable source of funding, Sun Ovens prefers to license its product to local entrepreneurs in an innovative arrangement. This is part of this business which attracted my attention the most. The company is primarily aiming to be profitable itself and chooses a different path from most of mission driven non profit organisations who always just seek for funding from donors. In my opinion, this is truly innovative and at the same time risky choice because the company has to earn her profits itself and do not prioritise grants. Many of its competitors are nonprofits, but Sun Ovens was deliberately incorporated by Paul Munsen in 1998 as a for profit enterprise because he believes companies selling truly valuable products that reduce poverty must be financially sustainable.
I just began to think how could we apply the same model of hybrid organisation to creative industries and arts in particular where most of the organisations are reliable on donors and grants. Of course, we have design companies which are mostly for profit, but just a few are genuinely mission driven and solve problems. I do not say that all of us have to work with poor and that there are no problems in developed countries or less noticeable problems. However, I somehow feel that arts and creative industries could learn from these hybrid models and be more self sustainable. At the same time, of course arts and culture are highly related to entertainment, fun or just advertising and visuals, but could it be somehow recycled and be more mission driven? I know that sometimes it is difficult to truly understand where are actual benefits brought by arts, but does it mean that we just stop talking about it? Do you know any art/creative industries related hybrid organisations? Especially, successful ones — mission driven and for profit?