Abigail Smith

Do the Work. Trust Your Process - Abigail Smith, Thai Harvest SOS

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Abigail Smith, who a year and a half ago established Thai Harvest SOS. An amazing organization that has, in just a short time created a process that is able to safely redistribute more than a ton of food a day to more than 20 communities in Bangkok.

For Abigail, she sees this time as a pilot for building the process, systems, and support needed to take this to the next level, and in my conversation with her we discussed a wide range of different systems that she is focused on, trying to nail down, or is struggling to bring to scale.

There is a lot of valuable content in here, even for the most experienced leader, and I hope you will enjoy watching this conversation as much as I (we) did filming it!

This interview is about identifying a problem, and building systems that address that problem and bring a measurable impact.

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Abigail

Thai Harvest SOS is a charity dedicated to the reduction of food waste and the redistribution of food fit for for consumption but not sale to those that need it.

Thai Harvest SOS collects non sellable but consumable food free of charge and sends it to communities where it can be of use. Food not fit for consumption is sent to local farms for composting.

Abigail Smith, originally from the U.S., is the group's operations director for Thailand and is responsible for driving its mission to "reduce food waste and use it in the most meaningful way."

Follow Abigail
Website: https://www.scholarsofsustenance.org/thailand
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-smith-44a25681/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thailandsos

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

RICH: Good afternoon everybody I'm here with Abigail from Thailand Harvest SOS. We just had the most amazing interview and I think you're going to love this one. We covered everything from having a laid to like process to focus on your organization. The myth of the administration costs and just going from getting through one day, to one week to one month to changing the world. We hope that you enjoy this episode. I know I sure as hell did and if you do, please like, share and comment on her Facebook page. On every Facebook page. Thank you Abigail, this has been hysterical.


RICH: Tell me about your operating plan. How many trucks do you have and how much food do you process?

ABIGAIL: Twenty one food donors right now all over Bangkok. We're processing anywhere from, it's averaging out to about 900 kilos a day. Cuz we do get some bulk in every once and a while and 900 kilos a day and about 22 recipient communicates throughout the city of Bangkok.

RICH: And do you move it, do you like you get it that afternoon and it has to be out your door by the evening?

ABIGAIL: Pretty much. Anything that my trucks, So I've two vehicles. I have one compost vehicle and one edible vehicle. They start at 7:00am and then they are parked back on premise by 7:00p. If any of the food...the compost is all managed within a day. If any of the edible comes in after 2 or 3:00pm, that's what our storage coolers downstairs is for and that goes out the next cuz we've got get it to the community in time to prep dinner. Otherwise it's going to go to waste for them. Also we're working though a lot of agencies that don't have the fridge storage.

We've done food safety training but we would rather manage it for as long as possible. A, to save them on the storage costs and B, to ensure that it's of the highest quality that we can give it to them and it's served at the highest quality that we can predict to the best of our ability.


RICH: So how do you look at your system? Like, what are the flaming hot risks that you try to manage every day?

ABIGAIL: The flaming hot risk of course your first one is food safety. So we don't take cooked rice. We don't take anything cooked with coconut milk. It has a high volatile right after it gets heated. It kind of like goes on this crazy spectrum of bacteria within almost 45 minuets.

RICH: So, don't eat cold curry on the street.

ABIGAIL: Really don't. But it's just one of those things that we know that's a hot point especially here in southeast Asia that's a lot of foods made with it. We do not take cooked seafood, at all. We do not take frozen shellfish, at all.

RICH: Because?

ABIGAIL: Because it's just, those are your biggest risk factor categories for sure. The next is I guess cultural sensitivity with the food a lot of Hala communities. A lot communities that wouldn't eat the food that we were given. So we spend a lot of time trying to match out. You bring a Thai family a box of bad Ghats, they don't know what to of with it so it's ending up in the landfill anyways. You bring Vietnamese refugee a box of baguettes, they thrilled. Same with we cater a lot of...yea, we cater a lot of post large Indian weddings. This is a huge Indian wedding hub. Pakistani refugees, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, all love it. But my Vietnamese are like whoa, why what is this? I don't want it. So that's how we deal with a lot of that.

Then the other hotspots are of course just being sensitive with the people that are receiving food. We want to treat them with dignity right?


RICH: Did you start with one community and move out? Did you always do everything like it, how it started?

ABIGAIL: It started pretty much one community, one donor, two donors, two communities and now it's blossomed and it works. Now what we need are more vehicles. That's really our next step. So in our first, we're about a year and half old. Locally founded in March 2016. I've kind of looked at everything we've done still even almost up to this January as a pilot, as proof. Now, what we've been able to do is, we've been able to physically prove is that the food waste is there and that you know when I walk into a hotel and an executive chef says I have no food waste, that you do. You do and it doesn't matter if it's 10 kilos or 100 kilos, it's still food waste and the more on people I get on board, the more 10 kilos matters and so forth and so forth.

So I've proved the food is there and the waste is there and that it's not a hard process. Actually we've found that like some of the stewarding teams in hotels we're making their jobs easier because they have less, wet heavy garbage. Ya know.

RICH: Right, so they save money from that.

ABIGAIL: Tesco Lotus is built into their KPIs for the store managers to donating. Things like that. We've proven the food is there. We've proved that the process is not impossible and we've proved the need and the hunger is there and maybe there aren't staving people, but they will take the cost off that. They will take being remembered. It's kind of fun and that they enjoy the difference in their diet and the variety that we are able to bring. Halfway home I got 100 kilos of frozen salmon from a restaurant that was changing menu. We brought it out. We mad fish balls. They've never had salmon before. So it was like this really special moment for them. Ya know, so it's ya we're providing meals and nutrition, but we're also ya know just....

RICH: Like a nice night out in a way.

ABIGAIL: Yeah, it's like they see our truck coming and their like, "oh my god, maybe it's going to be a really cool desert today." Or something different than they have every day.


RICH: Legally, how difficult was this? Were there laws in place? How open is the Thai society, Bangkok, a foreigner coming in and setting this up?

ABIGAIL: We do it before. We have a mixed Thai foreign board. We are locally registered. We are a Thai foundation. That process to get a local registration start to finish was bout 9 months and as we say, Phaeng mak, very expensive but well worth it. So Phaeng mak, mak. I'm the only westerner on staff. Even like my one American staff, she's half Thai, she grew up in a Thai household and she's fluent. I'm the only westerner on staff. I try to stay off the camera as much as possible and like when we do local news articles that it's featuring the Thai staff. In Thailand, as much as like I don't, there's also a respect with the foreign foundation.

Now for me, I'd also been here for four years. I'd also worked in hotels for four years and could speak a little bit of Thai was kind of able to win over respect and that a lot of our corporates that were going through most 5 star hotel executive chefs are European here. Right? So I set it up and then my Thai staff comes in with their Thai staff and knocks it down. Then working with the mixed refugees who are used to working with UN, with asylum access, which has a.... So they were pretty used to it already. Some of our biggest blockades have been, I don't want to say Thai, I want to say Southeast Asian here perception of what food waste is. Changing language over to surplus that it's not dirty.

I feel like culturally all over the world, we have this big problem where...Oh my god if we donate food you're going to sue us...everybody's going to get food poisoning. It's an Urban Legend essentially it really doesn't happen. One of my partner foundations has been operating in this fear for 14 years over 1 billion meals served and not a single claim. They've also been able to change the laws in Australia to get food donors under Good Samaritan. It's something that we're looking at doing here.

Right now, I offer contracts to each food donor that guarantees that we accept liability if there is an issue and we can do that cuz honestly, there isn't going to be an issue. I really firmly believe that.

RICH: You don't worry about it.

ABIGAIL: We do have global insurance, but I really firmly believe that we're not going to have an issue.


RIGH: Even though it's potentially the hottest thing, it's something that you don't worry about.

ABIGAIL: I mean I worry about it, but we practice ____ some standards. I'm _____ (9:15) certified. I have a full time food hygienist on staff. We don't take the right things. We train the people donating food. We trust our process.

RICH: So you trust your process.

ABIGAIL: We trust our process. We train our communities receiving food as well. It's not....there is nothing half-assed about this. It was really thought through. It's been really well thought through in other programs in the world. You trust your process and honestly, you can get food poisoning order at the table at a 5 star hotel just as easily as you can get it in street food, just as easy as any where in the world. So we trust our process just as much as you do sitting down at a restaurant and ordering a meal.


RICH: How do volunteers support your organization? Who makes the best...like, do you use volunteer on a regular basis? How are they part of your....

ABIGAIL: We done on couple..first off we take interns. Usually the interns are admin, are Facebook, social media, like doing cute little projects that we want to do that are itching in the back of our head, but like nobody had time to do a sliding scale, so our staff can see how close we are getting to our food capture goal. They bring a lot o f light and energy to the office to normally and so it's great to have some. So internships have functions really, really well for us. We've taken volunteers on web design and on different projects like that which functions pretty well and is fun.

We are having problems. I don't even know how to say it. We're absolutely having problems. We are having problems having people cancel last minute. We're having problems of people taking photos of the wrong thing and posting it on social media. Then we need to..

RICH: What's the background of your average volunteer? Are they Thai? Are they foreign?

ABIGAIL: College students born here, but maybe a foreign background is a huge section of the population. Thai people returning home is a huge section of the population. Then all of our refugees want to volunteer, which is amazing. So we kind of use refugees volunteers on site to help sort, pack and distribute. That works well. But they can't go out on the truck all day really.

We've also found some great success volunteer from spousal expats. So they're on a spousal visa, so they can't work, but they can only give so much time to it legally. It's complicated I guess finding good volunteer help is not easy.

RICH: What are some of the challenges that you face, like how you...because managing volunteers is a process. It really is. It's no different than budgeting. You ask for five people, you're going to get three. How do you, what's the process you try to create?

ABIGAIL: We've tried to create by month volunteer trainings, which happen right in this living room. Ten to fifteen kids come in, we pull out a wipe board, we sign them up for days. We go through food safety food standards, safe lifting, community sensitivity, all of that kinds of stuff. They sign up on the wipe board, we follow-up with email. Um, I learning that, that might not be a great process, so it's not enough and honestly, I would love something like what you do to help us managing volunteers. It's really... It's really hard man.

RICH: Yes.

ABIGAIL: I thought it was supposed to make my life better, but it makes it worse almost every single time.

RICH: That's the irony of volunteering.


RICH: So, how good are you with your cash flow? Like how in touch with you are and I found this out like two years ago I nearly spiked my non-profit. I had about a four month window and I mean we were headed straight for the earth. I realized there's a big difference between sales and cash flow. Like it's huge. So, how do you know that?

ABIGAIL: I do all the forecasting. I am on it. I am picky about receipts. I am watching it all the time. Know when I say that we have x-amount for this program, for this month. There is usually a buffer in there. I build buffers all over the place. I always when I look at fundraising, I forecast on the fact that what this person that's gonna to do this campaign for me, he's going to raise me a million Baht, I put in my forecast, 25,000 Baht. You know what I mean? I don't put anything in my forecast until I have ink on the paper. There's no pipe dreams in it.

RICH: I have three sheets. One that is current and this is what I booked and I have exact numbers for. There is realistic what I'm pretty confident I can sell through. The other is potential. This is not just the revenue side, but it's also how many people can I add. Like when they want a raise, I have to bake the raise in. That way I can figure out how many months do I have at present. I sort of hyperventilating under 6. I started loosing hair at 3. Sort of my doctorate at...
ABIGAIL: Yeah. When I do my end of 3rd quarter books, I mean I just...I just like to be hiding under my table with a bottle of wine going I have to fire everybody.

RICH: At least you don't end that sentence with again. Right?

ABIGAIL: Again, no. It never...and that's what buffers are about right? There's guarantee, their bonuses aren't guaranteed. Now are they all siting on my forecast like they're all going to happen at 100% at all times, yes. Then that gives me another, that gives me a whole another month lets say something goes horribly wrong, that gives me another month. There's things in there, there's stuff in there like we know that our refrigeration is often unkind. Or we're working on getting trucks in Kind now. But I still build my budget and forecast like I'm paying full price for that. That's a lot of ways that I manage it. By telling my staff that we have less money than we do.

RICH: This give us the idea of scale. I think we'll close it out here. Everyone's like you got scale, you gotta do more. Bigger impact. More people. More trucks. More this, more that. How do you, how do you approach scale?

ABIGAIL: How do I approach scale? I mean...

RICH: Because this is a pilot right?

ABIGAIL: We're still in pilot and I'm like looking at the real thing like I've proven it. Now we know stuff like for every US dollar we spend I can provide 4 meals. That's the fuel I need for fundraising. Now I know that I've done operated for almost over a year and we haven't had any food poisoning cases. Now I can say that. Right? I can really say that so now I can sell it stronger and better. Chicken/egg is a huge problem in what I'm doing here. Do I have the truck waiting in the wings and the staff sitting there with nothing to pick up while I'm out pitching to hotels? Or do I get the hotels on board and tell them I can work wonders and then when they call me and say can you start on Tuesday and it's Monday and say, hey who can go buy a truck today and hire a staff. So we're kind of balancing on that right now. I'm at the point where I'm at capacity and I'm still selling and the program to more food donors.

What I'm saying is that I'm going to get another truck, which we are. In the beginning of 2018 and then we would like to start your program on this day or this day. I also don't pick up new communities and new food donors at the same time. For example, Hilton started on the first. Chatruim will start on the 15th. We've got a new recipient community starting on the 25th once I know that that's all there and ok.

Because so that's kind of the stuff that I'm doing. Just praying, there's a lot of praying. I say to the kids, I call my staff the kids, everyday I kind of walk in and put my purse down and I'm like alright, what are we doing to get to the end of the day. If we can get to the end of the day, we can get to the end of the week. If we can get to the end of the week, we can get to the end of the month. Then eventually we are going to get to the end of the year and if we just keep doing the right thing every day...and if we just keep communicating and if we just keep pushing ourselves, our other team members, our donors, our recipient communities appropriately and just a little bit, we're going to make progress.

If you're doing the right thing, the money is going to come. The stuff is gonna come. I know it feels like ______________(17:35) I talking to you just like my staff talk, like I know today felt really hard, but we did it. It wasn't impossible, it wasn't maybe graceful, but we got to the end of the day, so now when this problem comes up gain, we're going to be able to get to the end of the day with a little more grace. Then we're gonna be able to prove our numbers and then we're going to get more.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Francis Ngai

Dream Big, but Act Small - Francis Ngai, SvHK

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Francis Ngai about the work he is doing to build community centers in some of Hong Kong's most vulnerable areas.

Work that is difficult, but as he says more than once, while you need to have big dreams, you need to be focused on taking small steps.

It is a fantastic conversation about approaching big challenges, the role of purpose, and maintaining continued momentum through small steps.

It's important that you keep on dreaming. Dream Big, but Act Small.

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Francis Ngai

Francis Ngai is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SVhk. He is the Co-Founder of Green Monday, Playtao Education and RunOurCity.

Francis believes that everyone can be a changemaker. Seeing ‘ME’ as the reflection of ‘WE’, he hopes to bring together more people to re-imagine our city and pursue big dreams to make a difference to the community we live in.

Prior to establishing SVhk, Francis was the Head of Strategy in a listed technology conglomerate in Hong Kong. He graduated from the City University of Hong Kong and was conferred as an Honorary Fellow by the University in 2013. He was selected as one of the 100 Asia Pioneers by The Purpose Economy in 2014, a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum in 2012 and one of Hong Kong’s Ten Outstanding Young Persons in 2011.

As an ultra-running veteran, Francis completed The North Pole Marathon in 2013 and the 250-km Gobi March of the 4 Deserts race series in 2012.

Follow Francis and SVhk:
Website: http://sv-hk.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/francis.ngai.90
LinkedIn: https://hk.linkedin.com/in/francis-ngai-87915831
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Ngai
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/socialventureshk

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

Welcome back everyone. Thank you for you very much for joining. I am here with Francis Ngai who has worked in across the spectrum of issues in Hong Kong, Very inspirational. We're talking about how your children drive you to change. To the future of millennial purpose. Then how to bring business skills to the social sector for impact. So we hope you'll enjoy this. If you do, please remember to like, comment and share.


RICH: Francis, thank you very much for taking the time to meet with us. Please do here and maybe introduce yourself and the work that you are doing here at SVHK.

FRANCIS: I am Francis from Social Ventures Hong Kong. I founded the organization since 2007. So we are practicing that philanthropy. We invest, incubate and invent social innovation in Hong Kong.


RICH: What is venture philanthropy? What does the impact investment?

FRANCIS: I think those are some terminologies that can explain more briefly. I think overall to access things like an applications of all good resources in the community So come capital owners they don't they prefer not just writing check. They want to participate more. I use them, their networking expertise, professional volunteers. So people with good ideas...social entrepreneurs or corporate. We try to reshuffle all these resources coming together. So we threw ourselves to always to be an applicative.


RICH: So how did you start SVHK? Like what was your background? Why get into the venture philanthropy area when you probably had another business you were working on?

FRANCIS: I start with business, around 15 years of business or experience. Having two kids and I quit my job. So probably a lot of self interest I think to my kids future wealth. So I think that and current world is not that good. Also I think we are not using enough idea to work it out. I think we have a lot of resources in the community impacting. We will always just prefer to wait for the government to happen. I think obviously original idea that we try to do something else.


RICH: I know when you have children, everything changes. So, what were the major concerns you had about the world that you were like you're looking at your kids, oh my god I don't' know what I'm going to do?

FRANCIS: After having kids, you reflect. So what is the current role? What is the society? You read about some education brings about how to see some, but I think at the end of the day I think that it's how you are doing is influencing their future. So I'm asking myself, what is the most important thing to teach them. I think at the same time I am asking myself whether I'm dreaming or not. Maybe not. I'm helping some rich people to fulfill their dream, which I don't think hopefully can agree with that dream. It's just profit sometimes over purpose. So how can we turn it around? Around society we see that we're not talking about purpose.

RICH: I struggle with this. I really view business as a medium to, I wont say find purpose, but to deliver purpose. At the end of the day, what you have here is a community center. People will say, oh it's a non-profit, but it's still a business. You still have rent, you still have staff, you still have P&L, you have everything. The question is what do you do at the end of the year. When you started this, when you started getting into this, obviously you probably had a very different view of what venture philantropy or whatever. Like social entrepreneurship, whatever that it might have been. How did you start like, kind of starry-eyed, and then what do you feel now after you six to ten years of being in this space?

FRANCIS: I would say at first is static bubble that we shuffle around a lot of all that seeing philanthropy. How social investing is doing things. Just trying to form that kind of entity to do things. I think in the long journey we discovery more. I think could be summarized as the purpose. I think at first I think we all remember that. When we're doing business in doing something in the world, even non profit, they got a purpose. But ultimately we become more resources driven. We just see something that into more rich as KIPs and then we lost something else.

RICH: Now when you go back...actually I'm going to take you back a little...you talk about when you started in business. Like I started in business and was like, I'm going to change the world. I'm going to do this and this and I'm going to grow and I'm gonna grown and that's like my goal. Then you get a little bit more, practical. You start going wow, I have bills to pay, I have staff to feed. You become very practical. You don't loose your dream. You don't loose your purpose, but you definitely get into the business and it becomes a very different thing.

I found the same thing for social innovation as well. I'm' going to save the world. I'm going to help these children. I'm going to educate the elderly, whatever it may be. But then you get into the business side of things. How has your own perspective changed from really kind of idealistic into the practical? What are the practicalities now that you didn't think you had before?

FRANCIS: So I think at first I think we started off with do engine thinking. So I think social enterprise is all about social business. So we didn't think that what was one thing was more important than the other. So when we find the purpose, the social side how was the problem that we were are more cared about. I think that's it. So after that, I think we had a whole attitude on the business side. We have to make it sustainable. Make it work. Make it a public so everyone gets to know it.

So I think how do you keep the balance is not easy, but I think always and still in 10 years of journey, one thing is important, keep on dreaming. Dream big, but act small. So we hold up to with persistence on every thing we are working on. But every day we still try to think about fine tuning our model. Because we find that if we lost that dream that could keep us forever, we lost the momentum. So I think that also feeling feed back along is the passion. Where's the passion coming from? So every day I think still we are asking ourselves in the morning, why we are coming into office again today. I think that is the most important question. If we have that, we will keep on dreaming. We don't mind the niddy gritty things. We don't mind the hard work. I think if we lost it, we're done.


RICH: You have a lot of different issues. You have Diamond Cab, that is kind of challenge access - wheelchair access. You have Green Monday, Meet. Is it a problem that you're all over the place? Or do you think that it would be better if you were focused on one issue? Is it part it....because you have to maintain your passion you have to move things around? Or is it that the best way you think you can get things done?

FRANCIS: Definitely a challenge on my team especially. Ten meetings in a day. In the morning you're talking about kids. But the other meetings talking about elderly. Then we move onto the climate change. So we keep on shifting. I think that is exactly our role. We don't need to be under the spotlight. Someone has to do it.


RICH: So you're basically investing into other entrepreneurs and their ideas and then you also start your own. Where does your funding come from?

FRANCIS: I think first the two or three of years it was my own resources, time, days, nights, kids, etc. But I think later we got some philanthropy money coming in. So I think all along I think partially we are relying on these resources to build that up because they are committed in incubating more social innovations in Hong Kong. So we are using that resources. But I think in long journey we also be our own income through some program, some incubation program. For the deals we don't ride on primarily on the profit. So I think it's not the short time we can get any repayment. I think whatever we get back, we just put back in the fund.

RICH: So are you making equity investments then? Or do you prefer debt or is it grants? Like what's your median?

FRANCIS: Mostly equity.


FRANCIS: Grant money would say that a lot of foundations would like to do more new things now. So when we, whatever we get these we go approach them. So we invest very little in the very early stage. So if you're sustain on the prototype stage. But after that, we try to find true investment even in equity as well. But we have to be bigger equity stakeholders some times because we need to have a safe interactions, great for sure. Invest in more.


RICH: Actually you mentioned something I kind of struggle with. They're always looking for something new. For me, the problems never really change. So how hard is it for you to focus albeit the entrepreneurs, the donors funders on just getting the current work done? Like how do you manage that?

FRANCIS: It's difficult. I think more philosophically sometimes we follow the flow. So we're seeing that one entrepreneur seeing that problem Something that we always keep in mind is that apart from the direct impact, which is confined to the scope within the entity, we always see the impact of that. The rippling effect. How that have the implications from policymakers. How with that them with an implications to the other industry people. Like Diamond Cab, there are two cabs. We get ourselves sustainable, and then another taxi licenses only. But end of conflict, 80 cabs. So like being affordable housing model, right now a couple different NGO's replicating it. Even in the media they call it...

RICH: That's okay right?

FRANCIS: That's what, that's how. So what we see right now at the juncture of ten years, we are shaping our 10 year plan. We are seeing a long journey, if we talk bout housing we talk about poverty. What kind of partners we need in that cab. Not all the things we need to invest ourselves. But we coordinated as one cabs. We need Avengers instead of Iron Man.

RICH: But what fuels your continued dreaming? You start off you're really passionate, you meet the challenge, but you are still executing it on a daily basis. What has been your impact so far that you look back and go I feel really proud about this? Then, do you still look in your kids eyes and go I still have a lot of work to do?

FRANCIS: I still do a lot. I think that learning from the journey whether change system or change mindsets. So like the interview today. I think using the small works that we have, how can we spread it out? Changing more minds is so important. I think maybe the ultimate goal is changing more mindsets. So I don't see that we need more people quit their job to be social entrepreneur is hard. So why we're working on business 2.0 or something else.

I think there are a lot of entrepreneurs can work together. So we're definitely in the world I think the society we're migrating from 1.0 to 2.0. If 1.0 is more resources drive in, 2.0 is more about a shared mindset, more value driven.

RICH: But do you see that happening? Are people more shared mindset now? Or are they getting more...cuz we have so much challenges of where we're all pulling back from each other. Is it...

FRANCIS: Main streamers do not. But I think all the movement start with quite a few city people like us. So I think we if we don't work it now, 10 years later when my kids are really grown up they will not see it. But I would say that at least the biggest gain that I have in the last 10 years...also feeling all my passion as the people that we see. I suspect that the mayor all the people got some good DNA in them. It's just that we don't have innovated enough to think about some platform for them to come up.

RICH: Well, and what the way to catalyze that? Like, how do you tap into that hidden gene or into that thing that's just sleeping for right now? How do you drive it? Like what does it take?

FRANCIS: Baby step. Green Monday. We are now asking people to be full time with charity. Although it made more sense for one individual for their health and things. I myself am a vegetarian, but I think we just take one day. Just start with one meal. By the way it's a beyond burger. It's delicious. Its fulfilling. So after that, we talk about you create an image. Use marketing.

If a marketing company can get someone to buy a bag, which is manufactured in Shenzhen, but paying several tens of thousands of dollars. How can I...can we use the same thing to your fake people to get them on board to try on hew things first? But after 10, you tell them oh by the way you're saving the planet now. All of them will become entrepreneur. They will internalize what the good habits. So I think these kinds of things is what we're learning now.

But I think all the more we start with small. Start with something small. After the engagement, they become part of the adventure too. That's more important.

RICH: Okay. Kind of going back to your marketing. What are the tools that you found most reliable. Like from your old days in marketing, what do you go back to every day in the office...yeah, this is what I used to do for this client? We can use that here. Like are there some standards tools that you've continued using.

FRANCIS: I think not very formal. I think at the end of the day I think it's more result of thing But I think one thing that we use a lot when I am at the time of them, in the business world, I also discovered one new trend that I invented some model is on the collateral collaborative marketing tracking. Collaborative strategies so that we always apply. Basically these partnerships. Especially social entrepreneur, I highly encourage you to try build more leverage.

In the past hierarchical world, you find resources, feeling somewhat intermediary finance and partners and paying them and it worked a lot. I think not now. We're all in a circular positions. Then we come out in the middle where the value people came around. There's no high and low. We don't back for resources. They just come. They're fulfilling their own self resources and self interest. So I think we all fulfill thinking about the mutual benefits. We got corporate, they're funding it through charity anyway. But I think it's good for your brand.

We work on something that they don't demand for even. But for some company, people can come in here, they're just get a service. I don't know we take them through to empower them later. I think it's kind of more...think about neutral. So everyone we collaborate, we think about what is their benefit first.

RICH: What are the resources do you think that we're missing right now in the social space? Like if there's things that you could attract business people of any stripe or something else. It could be government, any other like what do you think that we're missing? What do you think that could take our challenges and solutions to scale?

FRANCIS: If there is one thing you want me to mention, I would say we have need to encourage more links. We need to build more links. So I think we are not having innovative platform enough to aggregate resources. So ticks around.

So I think for example, Green Monday. I take that example that we can both understand more clearly. So I think when we work with some caterers and we think about ways for them to participate. So when we work with some food manufacturers, we think about some of the waste. So if you create more different vehicles, so that could help them to come in, come on board much easier.

So for fund raisers, even. I would say talk to some vendors. If your funding directly on the impact or _______ (16:07) social enterprises, we can choose to fund the links. How can you encourage them to work more with the corporate.

So for some early pilot in some innovative, I always called them infrastructure innovation. So when you need to invest into innovation infrastructures because right now we're at the juncture of migrating to a new world, if there's an new world. But if I think if we do not have enough links, we cannot carry over all resources for people to come on board. That's so much important.


RICH: I was wondering....people really don't want to invest in the infrastructure though. They want to invest in the shiny building, not in the pipes, the wiring. Ya know, they don't' want to invest in research. They want to invest in the program that has no research. Like they want to fund the idea, not the amount. So how do you, I mean, because you come from the business world, because you have your own resources, is that where you spend...you build the foundations and you don't have to worry about what the donors want?

FRANCIS: We definitely get better language to talk to them. We know people, but I think most important thing is it makes sense for them. So I think it's around, I will say that. The most important thing is the kids. How can you illustrate that with them. Like especially we imagine a lot and infrastructures.

We need to go back to the funding and educate them and share with them. Tell them if that works perfectly. So I think without case, it's all empty talks. By the way I would say that younger generations for some big families they're changing the mindset. They don't believe in the name on the building anymore. They are migrating into a new generations. Within 10 years, I would say a lot of the younger generations would take over.

RICH: I think that's actually how we met. Through the family business network. Probably I think way back when way back when because I spoke with you at Bernie's event. So actually that kind of brings a really interesting point. Like the next generation of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a city run by families, largely. At least in the business world. As you mentioned a lot of the names on buildings. Albeit the business school or the different buildings that they own.


RICH: Five, ten years ago the second gen was either trying to leave the family business, but now they are trying to come back. I know a few people are coming back. Like what are they doing? Why would they want to change now? What do you seeing that makes them want to change the family business?

FRANCIS: I would say no matter what is their background, they are all citizens of Hong Kong. They are all people involved. So I would say the millennials especially, when they grown up, they have a lot of education on a sustainable world. On how to be build a better society, it's in their blood.

So I also think they are documented entrepreneur. They're not that resources driving. They're not that profit driven. They see more differently. In terms of wealth, I think they would think that I'm ok for the next, next six generations. So ....That number is just a number in the game. So I think for them, the more fulfilling thing is while they are doing their own business or doing their own land. They want to see the real impact.

So I think its shifting, but again I would say that we need more infrastructure. More different ways. Sometimes more cool way when we talked about charity of philanthropy, sometimes its way too old fashioned. So we need to move on as well.

RICH: Thank you very much for your time. You have a line of kids lined up outside. I don't want to hold them out! They're like I want to color. Thank you very much for your time. Very inspiring.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Tom Stader

Bringing a Business Mindset to the NonProfit Sector | Tom Stader, The Library Project

In our latest interview in the Entrepreneur for Good series, Tom Stader of The Library Project explains how running a non-profit is no different than running a business.

At the end of the day, you have customers, you have a business process, you have teams, and you have a vision. Navigating these shared realities bring in unique challenges for an NGO, from raising money, driving a team forward, or nailing down great partnerships.

Just as with any company, you have to be committed to providing the highest quality of service to your beneficiaries, providing a high quality of service to your clients – in this case, your donors – and finding ways to inspire all your stakeholders to aligning to your vision. Further professionalizing this donor-organization relationship is one critical step to improving China’s overall culture of philanthropy.

"For [my team], it's literacy, its programs, its libraries. It’s that, our first school in Cambodia that we donated a library to – that school, six months after we donated the library, won the best reading competition in the region. That's what gets them up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is giving them the space to build the best organization that they can."
– Tom Stader, The Library Project


Tom's story is one of commitment, integrity, and pragmatism.

About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Tom Stader

Tom Stader is the Founder and Board Chair of The Library Project, an organization that donates libraries to under financed schools and orphanages in Cambodia, China and Vietnam. He believes that education is the key motivator to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in the developing world.

In 2006 at the age of 32, Tom had a simple idea to donate libraries to two orphanages in Dalian, China. Soon after those libraries were complete, Tom founded The Library Project. Since then, Tom and his dedicated team have completed 1800 library donations, impacting over 500,000 eager young readers.

Tom is passionate about International Social Entrepreneurship and improving rural literacy.

Follow Tom Stader and The Library Project
Website: https://www.library-project.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomstader
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomstader/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomstader/

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Tom Stader, Entrepreneurs For Good: Full Transcription

Tom Stader: My name is Tom Stader. I run an organization called The Library Project. It’s an organization I started about 10 years ago – we're on our 10-year anniversary, so we did it. And I think when I say “we did it”, I believe our greatest accomplishment is we stayed focused over the past 10 years.

We are called The Library Project, we donate libraries, we continue to donate libraries, and that's all we do. We focus on children's literacy, and throughout the years, we have been pushed into building schools, to working on any number of other projects – and we've said “no” to all that. And I think that is a huge reason why we have been around for 10 years and why we’ll be around for many more years after this.

It wasn't because of children's literacy. I'll say that. I became a believer in our mission years after the organization actually started. It was really because I saw that there was a basic need, and I saw that I was making a small impact. That's what kept me going. Now, I guess – how did we start an organization? That came after we donated nine libraries. Someone on our “board of directors” – which was a very loose group of friends – met someone at a conference, I think in Florida. And that guy said, “You know, I really like what this guy is doing in Vietnam” – where I moved to.

Rich: Okay.

Tom: “I want to give this guy $10,000 to start an organization.” But I had to quit my job, I had to move on and actually do this full-time. And honestly, I hated my job, so it was really easy decision for me to make.

Rich: But $10,000 isn’t a lot of money, so… you know.

Tom: Well, it's a lot of money when you're broke. I mean, today: Is $10,000 a lot of money? I would say that it still is, but it's not – it was enough for us to take a risk, for me to take a risk.

And I think, putting into context – $10,000 in America, I doubt you could even start anything in America with $10,000. But in Asia, I was able to hire an employee, I was able to implement a couple of programs, a couple of libraries, so your dollar gets stretched out here a lot more than in Phoenix, Arizona or San Francisco. I couldn't even make rent for that in San Francisco.

But I do remember the first time I got a donation from someone that I’d never met, and it was guy named Alan. He read about us on some blog, and said, “Hey, I want to give you $1,000 dollars.” And I’m standing in an airport, and I'm like, “Really? I'm gonna remember this.” And then a couple years later, I actually got to meet him and let him know, like: “You were the first donor that wasn't my mother or my friends.”

Rich: The little wins, right?

Tom: Yeah, man! It really was. I mean, I think that was one of those turning points where I realized, “Hey, this could grow into something beyond myself, I guess.”


Tom: Failure kind of really wasn't an option, so when we ran out of money, or when we ran into any number of issues that we were facing, it wasn't an option to fail. I mean, I have 27 staff members that work for the organization right now, in three different countries. We’re registered in six different countries, we've got hundreds of donors on an annual basis – failure kind of isn't an option. And it's something that drives me as an entrepreneur: to continue to grow the organization.

Rich: What do you do?

Tom: Like, what phase of the organization? Like right now, we’re 10 years in. We're doing financial forecasting for two or three years out, that we're planning two to three years out. That doesn't mean that our – what we like to call our “go broke date” is three years out. What it means is we're planning three years out.

But when I started the organization, I was planning 30 days in advance. I was like, “Do I have enough money to pay my team of one, or two, or three people at the end of the month?” That's what I was worried about.

I wasn't really worried about if our programs were going to be implemented to a high quality, or our libraries were going to be of the highest quality. That was my team's job, and that's why I hired the best people to do that. But what I was more focused on was, “Am I gonna be able to make payroll?” And that, I think, is true of most entrepreneurs in the world.

I think most entrepreneurs don't focus on the product or service at a point. They focus on, “How do I support my team so that they can do the best job?” Giving them space to implement the best libraries. I can honestly tell you, today – well, I mean, back up a bit.

Nine years – the first nine years of The Library Project, I was what you might call the “CEO of the organization”. Last year, I hired a CEO. I hired what I like to call my “boss”, which is kind of fun – and it was the best decision I ever made for me, personally.

I kind of lost the passion to grow an organization – thinking about all the finances, and the HR, and the compliance of six different countries. I mean, I did it and I was really happy about it, but I wanted to step back into the programs – and really, the reason why I started this. And get back into communication, where my professional was.


Tom Stader: What gets me up in the morning is my team. 100%. Programs are very second. The literacy that we provide is very secondary – for me.

For them, it's literacy, its programs, its libraries. It’s that, our first school in Cambodia that we donated a library to – that school six months after we donated the library won the best reading competition in the region. That's what gets them up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is giving them the space to build the best organization that they can.


Tom Stader: I think that it's hard to find people globally that… I think that once you start thinking about your teams being fundamentally different – whether they are Chinese, Vietnamese, American, Canadian. European – you're gonna run into some… You're gonna have a real issue.

I think that, fundamentally, when you come down to the basics: All teams need training. All teams want to make a pretty good salary. All of them want to feel as if they're part of something larger than themselves. They want to know that the company is going somewhere, and that they're going to be learning along the way, and that they're going to be empowered and making an impact.

I do believe that if you bring people that believe in your mission that just don't want a job – you can do an interview, and if they come in and say, “I want a comfortable job,” just don't hire them. It's the wrong position for them. We look for people that are inspired by what we do, believe in the mission, want to make a difference – whether they’re our accounting team, or whether they're the project managers on the ground doing the literacy programs at the schools, to our fundraisers.

And what I would say is, the one thing that we have not done is, we've never hired people that have experience, I would say. We've hired for passion, and then we train. And that training can occur over a six-month period, or it can happen over a seven-year period. But I personally believe its hiring for passion.

And age, gender, nationality, race –it doesn't matter. It really comes down to the passion for whatever you’re doing.


Well, you know. I mean, I think that the world is a really big place. And I think that: Why do people donate to the organizations they donate to? Why do they donate to the issues that they donate to? Well, it’s because it's a very personal experience.

I mean, I want to support rural literacy in Asia. I've got a friend that wants to support women's issues in North America. I've got friends that want to do HIV/AIDS in Africa. And so these are all needed, and they're all relevant – and for me, I like China. I like Chinese people, I like Chinese food, I like the culture.

And getting back to why I started here: Honestly, I had US$10,000, like I said before. I got a free office space, and that was a big reason for me. I was like, “I only have $10,000, I want to start this organization, I have a free office here, and I have a potential employee might want to come on. And I like China, and there's a need.”

So it just all lined up, and it's very serendipitous that it just kind flowed. And it really was the best decision we ever made. China has been very good to us. We will be donating our 2,000th library this month. I don't think I could have achieved that if I would have set this organization up in Cambodia first. Now, Cambodia's our third country. So it's just the way it kind of played out.

And if a donor – whether it be a corporation, a foundation, or an individual – if they're not willing to support your team, do not take their money. Do not take their money. It is hurting your organization, it is hurting the industry, and it will eventually bury your organization in debt.


Tom Stader: One of the hardest things that a lot of these entrepreneurs have is that they are having a very, very difficult time coming to the realization that starting a nonprofit organization – a charitable organization – is a corporate entity. I think that produces a lot of anxiety, and they have a hard time communicating that to themselves, and also to other people.

Rich: But what do you mean it's a “corporate entity”?

Tom: It is physically corporate entity – we’re an incorporated entity based out of Phoenix, Arizona. We are an Inc. The only thing that makes us different than a bookstore down the road is that we have a tax ID that makes us a “nonprofit status”.

And that defines what we can do with our profit, and what we can't do with our profit – meaning we can't pay it out into dividends for our board of directors. You can only do that with a corporate entity. We have to reinvest it back into the organization. We can issue tax-deductible receipts. We still have to pay tax, but it's just an ID.

And I think that is that's the biggest thing: It's coming to grips that you need to find – you have to hire salespeople to fundraise for it. They're just not called “salespeople”, they're called “fundraisers”. It’s not called “revenue”, it’s called “fundraising” – but really, it’s revenue.

We have expenses, we've got income statements, we've got balance sheets, and it's a business you're starting. I think that shock occurs about six months in. And it is a rude awakening, and it’s a scary one! Because you’re like, “Oh, my god. I've got two employees. How am I gonna pay these people because I have no money?”

And then it comes down to building a quality product, a quality service, reflecting on your mission to make sure that whatever you're doing and you're creating is of quality – and staying on point, keeping a razor-sharp product service for your mission. It’s just hard.


Tom Stader: Fundraising isn't the real challenge. I mean, yeah, you're always going to have that problem. Like when someone asks me, “What is your greatest challenge you have right now?” Like, it’s fundraising.

But really, it's cash flow. That, whether it's a for-profit, whether it's nonprofit organization: It's managing your cash flow. That, I think, gets challenging as you grow.

Well, that depends. I mean, we’ve got 10 years of history here. So I mean, the first two years. We literally had no money. We did it hand-to-mouth. We would raise money – we would raise $1,000, spend $1,000. Raise a $1,000, spend $1,000. Raise a $1,000, spend $1,000.

And then we got a donation for US$50,000, which was like, “What? Woo! We got money in the bank!” But then what happened was, we had to hire two new people to be able to implement that program to a high level of quality – which changed how we asked for funds. Then, we weren't just asking for a $1,000 dollars. We were going in looking for $10,000. $20,000. $50,000.

And the organization changed fundamentally at that point. And so as you scale, and as your revenue grows, and as your programs grow because of your revenue growing – everything grows exponentially.

There's not a lot of times where I stand back, and I say to myself, “Wow, this was a really easy day in the office.” It is hard. But then again, there are moments that keep me going – very finite moments.

Like, two months ago, I went and saw the best library donation I have ever seen at the organization. We were at like 1,950 libraries or something, and I found “the one” library that I was like, “We did it! It just took 1,950 to get here.”

If it was easy, I wouldn't do it. I'm just not interested in easy. I mean, if I wanted easy, I'd go get a job in America. You know, you get a job description, and you sit down, and you do your job. And you’re kind of protected by this insulated box.

And I'm not saying that it's easy in America, but for me, I was bored. I was sitting at a desk doing this box. I couldn't get out of that box, it was a job description, and it just was really uninteresting. And I didn't move to Asia to do that – and I didn't even know what an entrepreneur was, really, in America. It wasn't really even an option for me.

But once I started this organization, I realized, “Wow, this is really interesting. It’s really hard. It's rewarding – it's really hard. It's really hard!” And I think that… I don't know. I mean, I think that I can just say entrepreneurship is really hard, but it’s also for people who are looking for challenges and looking for something that…

Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah, I hope that answers your question!

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.