Dignity provides a women’s wellbeing initiative of which corporates can purchase a subscription to have sanitary items provided at their workplace and in turn support a buy one, give one model to provide sanitary items to girls in secondary school currently going without.
Their customers, including ANZ, Cigna, Xero and Flick Electric, are delivered our Dignity package which includes Organic Initiative sanitary items (whose products decompose in 5 years as opposed to 500 years for conventional products), display canisters and posters in the female bathrooms to provide for free to female employees.
What was your primary motivation operating as a social enterprise?
From the very beginning, Dignity was always going to operate as a social enterprise. The structure of a social enterprise suited what we wanted to do and achieve when we started Dignity - using a financial model to operate our business for a social purpose.
We have had to explain what a social enterprise is to many people. As there is no legal structure for a social enterprise in New Zealand and it is a relatively unknown way of operating a business, there are always lots of people asking what it means to be “social enterprise” and how you become a “social enterprise”.
We recently wrote a blog post about the process we undertook to get certified as a social enterprise by the Akina Foundation, an impact development organisation. You can read more about why Dignity decided to get accredited by the Akina Foundation in their blog post here.
Would you work with any business that approached Dignity or are you conscious of not being a “box tick” for companies that are otherwise operating in a manner you consider to be unethical or otherwise not aligning with Dignity’s values? In this respect, what do you look for when deciding whether or not to partner with a business and provide goods and services to them?
There have been companies we have to discuss. It really just came down to a judgment call based on the vibe we got from the company. With Dignity, we want a genuine partnership with our customers - we are not just wanting to sell a product and that's it. We want our customers to be our partners in what we are trying to achieve, so if we don't think a company wants a genuine partnership with us, we need to consider whether we want to do business with them.
How do you think social enterprises can change the business landscape in New Zealand?
We believe all businesses can operate as a social enterprise and in the future, all businesses will be social enterprises. All charities will need to adapt to operate with a financial model and all companies will need to be purpose driven. Businesses will need to adapt to the public’s expectation of what a business should be and how a business should operate - all businesses will need to have a purpose other than profit or people will switch off.
However, you are starting to see businesses calling themselves “social enterprises” when they are not. Businesses are realising that consumers want to spend their money with businesses that have a purpose other than profit, and are using. And because there is no legal structure for a social enterprise in New Zealand, there is not much you can do when a business calls itself a social enterprise purely to gain customers.
Dignity puts a lot of energy into reporting on the impact they are having. Why is reporting so important to you and do you think all businesses should make it a priority?
From the very beginning, we knew that if we wanted to articulate and prove our value, we had to be able to measure it. We do this by conducting surveys of the female employees at our corporate partners and then provide feedback from these surveys to the corporate partners themselves. We also report on the impact we are having in the schools and communities we support.