Masami Sato is a diminutive woman with big dreams and massive results. Her travels to 30 countries across five continents inspired her to do more, give more, and help create B1G1—the original buy one, give one enterprise. Since its founding in 2007, B1G1 has teamed with over 1,300 business partners to facilitate more than 68 million “giving impacts” in over 70 countries. Read on to learn how the idea came about and where the future of giving is headed.
What’s the change (social, environmental or other) you’re trying to make in the world?
We aim to transform the way businesses operate by empowering them to create their own unique "giving stories” and support high-impact projects they care about in a habitual, sustainable way.
You were early on to the “buy one, give one” concept. How did the idea come to you?
When I gave birth to my first child, I realized she was no different from all the disadvantaged children I met during my younger travelling days. I decided to go into business and do something more than just take care of my family. We chose the food business because I was passionate about food and had previously worked as a chef. We thought it would be fantastic to use the profits to build a soup kitchen and help feed underprivileged children.
Years later, we were distributing packaged, healthy meals to over 140 stores in Australia, but we realized we were no closer to our dream. We were too busy, we were spending money to grow our business, and we weren’t making the profits to do the things we wanted to do.
Then in 2007, we accidentally came up with the “buy one, give one” idea while participating in a business event (we’d never heard of TOMS or any other one-for-one businesses before). We realized we could simply give a small amount of money to feed a child for each meal we sold. With this approach, the giving was no longer just about what we did. Our giving was made possible by our team members and our customers working together. Several months later, we launched Buy1GIVE1 (B1G1) to enable businesses around the world to get involved.
What’s the biggest hurdle in your mission to “create a world that’s full of giving?”
Our co-founders all knew how to run a business and sell products and services, but none of us knew how to run an initiative like B1G1. Suddenly, we were trying to sell an idea to businesses that makes them give away their hard-earned money.
We didn’t want B1G1 to be a “charity” where people donate to support our operation. We wanted people to pay for the value we provided and ensure we could forward 100 percent of funds to the selected causes rather than taking a percentage. So we made it a business “movement” which harnessed the power of small-business transactions to make great change while giving members a chance to enhance their business.
Today, we work with more than a thousand businesses and together have more than 68 million giving impacts. But if you look at the number of businesses in our world and the number of people we want to reach, we have a lot of work to do!
You’re targeting the small-business segment of the market. Why?
We find small businesses are generally more heart-centered. They’re usually run by key decision-makers with personal ideas and beliefs, so they make decisions quickly.
We believe that by adding impactful and meaningful giving to their everyday activities, we can enhance the connection to their business mission, their team members, and their customers. When larger businesses start to see this kind of value, we’ll start working with them, too.
Some people view “buy one, give one” as a marketing gimmick. We’re betting you’ve got a different take, yes?
I think it’s the intention of giving that matters. We didn’t start B1G1 thinking it would be the next big trend, we just believed in the idea and the model.
If a business implements giving because they want to make more money or attract more customers, then it can backfire. And if a big company gives a huge amount of money to a charity as a one-off, the charity has to spend it all just to utilize the funds rather than doing things that actually create long-term benefits. This is another reason why we focus on small-business giving and smaller charity organizations.
B1G1 is a nonprofit “social enterprise.” What’s your definition of social enterprise and why did you elect nonprofit rather than for-profit status?
To me, “social enterprise” means a business with a purpose to create positive social change. It also uses its profits to make that positive change rather than benefiting its shareholders.
We’re a social enterprise because we wanted to be a business rather than a charity. At the same time, we wanted the values/assets of B1G1 to “belong” to the community itself. The focus is to be sustainable and growth-oriented, but not be impacted by any particular financial interests.
You’ve got an international perspective on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Is its star rising around the globe? Falling? Leveling off?
We’re seeing more and more businesses talking about giving back and the causes they support, so this trend will probably grow steadily. I feel the international CSR direction will either grow or fall directed by the desire of the public—everyday people like us.
I think the more important factor is the rise of the “desire to care and give” among the general public. If more of us wanted to do business with companies that cared in the way we cared, more businesses will start putting higher priority in doing good.
What’s the biggest change you’ve made in your professional life?
Getting my hands dirty and learning new things, and dealing with challenges without making excuses.
Being a business owner, I learned to accept and deal with everything, to learn from people with different views and then go out and do better things with that knowledge and insight.
And in your personal life?
Becoming a parent, accepting the seemingly imperfect examples of my parents and letting go of my own imperfection. I’m better now at accepting things, trusting gut feelings, and then enjoying everything.
If you could change one thing in the world right now, what would it be?
Good question. I think if everyone in the world realized that having a giving focus is more meaningful and rewarding than having a getting focus, everything else would change.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To be more consistently open-minded. I can easily become too stubborn with my own ideas.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Fruit smoothie with spirulina and coconut oil.
Do you have any pets?
No. I love animals and I don’t really want to see them confined. The only pets we have are our kids and ourselves (who are trained to take care of themselves).
Any guilty pleasures?
Maybe getting addicted to watching Japanese anime programs with my kids?
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What are you reading right now?
A John Grisham novel I got from the library. I like to read stories on different worlds, different professions, cultures, etc., so that I learn new perspectives and new English vocabulary.
Various documentaries. I also love David Attenborough series. He’s amazing.
Who inspires you?
People who have very little and yet are willing to share what they have.
Rock, paper, or scissors (and why)?
Rock—it’s the only natural material with no human processing.
What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself—and answer?
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?—The same thing.