It was during a visit to Nepal in February this year that 24 year-old Tim Mahendran came up with an idea to start a business with an important social purpose – to lift children around the world out of poverty.
Curing the world of poverty with a sustainable business model
Shocked to see the critical conditions in which many families live, Mahendran decided to develop a business model that would help children who are tragically affected by poverty. And then BabyGives was born.
“I thought night and day about how I could start a business that had a sustainable way to provide clothing to children in poverty,” says Mahendran, who was completing his Master’s degree in International Business at Macquarie University at the time.
Living in a first-world country such as Australia, we often overlook the fact that many parents around the world cannot afford clean clothes or shows for their children, or even access to fresh water to clean the clothes with.
“But this is the stark reality that afflicts so many people, and for me, I want to change that,” says Mahendran.
Inspired by TOM’s Shoes ‘One For One’ giving model launched by Blake Mycoskie in 2006, Mahendran decided to implement a Buy One, Give One Initiative where one item of baby clothing is donated to a child in need for each one it sells.
He stresses, however, that BabyGives is not a charity; it’s a for-profit enterprise and its business model is designed as such that it can have a greater impact than non-for-profit organisations.
“Generating steady cash-flow and revenue allows us to devote more resources and energy towards charitable donations,” says Mahendran.
“If we were a company dependent solely on donations, we would have to limit our social giving to that, whereas with a for-profit model, like TOM’s Shoes, there is no limit to how far we may grow.”
From idea conception to business reality
The initial response to his idea, he says, was astounding, with family, friends and the wider community showing wholehearted support.
“Almost immediately after telling family and friends about our idea, we got a rush of orders and emails about what a great concept we had, and how much they loved the fact that we were giving one item to a needy child for each one we sell,” says Mahendran.
Funding from his own hip pocket with additional financial contributions from family members, he says BabyGives was launched on “a real shoe-string budget”, and he’s made sure to keep costs as low as possible during the start-up phase.
With that in mind, Mahendran had to be creative in his marketing strategies to ensure the brand and its social purpose reaches its target audience.
“Our best strategy at the moment is simply word-of-mouth marketing. Getting our story and our social-giving model out there for moms and parents to hear about is crucial,” he says.
“Whether it be sending press releases to parenting magazines and blogs, or gaining more likes and subscribers to our newsletter and Facebook page, we want to keep getting the word out about the BabyGives social model, allowing our social-giving model to tell its own story.”
The business has also received enthusiastic responses from early-bird customers following its May launch.
New mother Sriyanthi Narayanan from Beecroft, Sydney, says, “My baby girl loves her new pajamas and hats, all embroidered with her name, and it’s awesome knowing that BabyGives will give a new item to a baby in need. Truly inspirational.”
Every year, the BabyGives team will visit one poverty-stricken country in the South Asian region – including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, among others – and will collaborate with local charities and children’s organisations to ensure clothing items such as bodysuits, t-shirts, socks, shoes, hats and robes are reaching children who are suffering the effects of poverty the most.
“At the end of 2013, we plan to travel to Nepal and personally hand out each piece of clothing or pair of baby shoes to children all over the country. We plan to make this an annual project,” says BabyGives employee, Imeka Madurawe.
Customers can also personalise BabyGives’ clothing items with their baby’s name, birthdate, or special message such as ‘Kelly Loves Mommy.’
“This allows parents and friends to give baby gifts that are truly one-of-a-kind and unique. Every parent knows how special and beautiful their child is, so giving personalised clothing makes for amazing presents that they will treasure as they get older,” explains Mahendran.
Social entrepreneurs can ‘change the world’
Helping social causes has become widespread in the past few decades; and the concept of helping a fellow human being has seen a real emergence around the globe.
“Now is the time that social entrepreneurs will truly emerge as a driving force for change. Entrepreneurs are revolutionaries after all,” says Mahendran.
“Social entrepreneurship made such a connection to my morales and beliefs, that it pulled and pulled me towards it, inspiring me to do some good in this world.”
He believes social entrepreneurship “should never be viewed as a job” – but rather, “a calling”.
“If we were to solely think about making money, there are tons of other businesses and jobs we could shoot for. But as a social entrepreneur, we have the opportunity to be a part of something great, to do something that may one day affect positively in the lives of billions,” says Mahendran.
“If you want to make lots of money, start a casino; if you want to change the world, become a social entrepreneur.”
One of his most ambitious goals yet is to inspire the world. It’s the very idea of pursuing the greater good that he wants to instil in budding young entrepreneurs.
“If the BabyGives story leads to a thousand new entrepreneurs starting a social enterprise that aims to help others, or even a single person, I would be immensely pleased,” he Mahendran.
“There is no limit to how much we can change in the world. Hopefully I can inspire others the way Blake MyCoskie and TOM’s Shoes have inspired me.”
The future of the business
Mahendran plans to launch recurring sales deals with Scoopon and the Catch Group to gain brand exposure and new customers.
His wife, who has a Nepalese background, is also helping reach out to family and friends in Nepal to get editorial coverage in local Nepali newspapers.
“As we are planning to travel to Kathmandu in the end of 2013 to give thousands of items of clothing to children and babies living in poverty, the story spread very fast and we got many emails and calls saying how supportive they were of that we are doing,” he says.
“In the future, we plan to partner with Australian retail stores to get our products sold in their shops, as well as wholesaling our range across various channels.”
Once the business starts experiencing substantial growth, Mahendran’s plan is to expand operations to New Zealand, the UK and the US, hopefully by 2015.
The BabyGives website is currently in beta mode, and will launch officially on August 1, so be sure to keep an eye on it and spread the message.