Recently the team at Impact Boom interviewed me about SwapU and how swapping can help the circular economy. Link directly to the interview on their website here.
WHY WOULD A ONE TIME CHEF WHO WORKED FOR CIRQUE DU SOLEIL AND THEN BECAME A TEACHER DECIDE TO CREATE THE IMPOSSIBLE BUSINESS? THE STORY, STONE SOUP.
It’s a story about how a traveller teaches a town in famine that when we are alone, we starve but when we are together we feast. It is a folk story which showed how swapping and sharing are very much the same. People have enough “stuff”, so why not swap something you have for something you want or need? If we had a better way of redistributing what we have to who needs it, then there would be less waste and decreased pollution. Swapping is perhaps the best example of the circular economy in practice.
Nicholas Robertson is the Founder of SwapU. SwapU redistributes unwanted and unused goods to the people and places where they are needed. Using a unique swapping chain algorithm and existing logistics networks, SwapU finds matches between the needs and wants of users. The app can measure carbon emissions and cash savings, adding value to the customer and providing business for delivery partners.
NICHOLAS DISCUSSES CIRCULAR ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES, ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH SOCIAL IMPACT, AND HOW THE APP IS REVOLUTIONISING RECYCLING AND EXCHANGING VALUE.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE INTERVIEW (LISTEN TO THE PODCAST FOR FULL DETAILS)
[Indio Myles] – Could you please share a bit about your background and experience in the social enterprise sector?
[Nicholas Robertson] – It’s something I would say I fell into. ‘Social enterprise’ as a term is relatively new, but charities and people using business to do good have been around for a long time and we’ve got a label now. But for myself it all started with that story Stone Soup. Being a teacher, I use some of the ideas of Stone Soup in my professional development network.
For those people who are new to Stone Soup, the idea is basically that a young boy goes into a town, he’s hungry and he asks for food, but nobody wants to share or give him any food. He convinces the people in the town that if they pool all their ingredients together, then the whole town can have a feast; a big bowl of soup rather than everybody just having their own little bits. My idea as a teacher and a chef (which is probably why I was inspired by the food element of Stone Soup) was to get everybody to pool their skills and resources. I looked at everybody as a ‘recipe’, and everybody as a recipe has different ingredients. My ingredients will be different to yours as far as we have a different family, education background and social life. All of those things make us up as a meal or as a recipe, and what I thought was if we change the ingredients of ourselves as a recipe, then we can change who we are as far as our professional lives go. I broke down everybody into their parts, whether it was their skills or what they did, and then connected those people to others who would add their recipe and ingredients.
That was the start of SwapU, in that swapping and sharing are very similar. Essentially what we’re doing is sharing something we have. With swapping it’s only a little different as you swap one thing for another thing.
BUT, IF THOSE TWO PEOPLE AREN’T USING THE ITEM THAT THEY’RE SWAPPING, THEN THERE’S AN OPPORTUNITY TO INCREASE EXPERIENCES AND GET MORE FROM WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY CIRCULATING IN OUR ECONOMY.
WHEN I WAS WORKING WITH THE IMPACT BOOM ACCELERATOR, WE LOOKED FOR THE CONNECTIONS THAT WE COULD MAKE UP AND DOWN THE CHAIN FROM THE SWAP ITSELF.
We looked at the fact that if people swap more, they’re less likely to suffer from poverty because they’re not going to spend money on things they don’t need and they’re going to have more money. There is going to be less wastage and pollution. We looked at those ideas, but the progress that came from working with Tom Allen and Impact Boom was the ability to look at the business model and ways of partnering with people who could see the value in what we were doing. Businesses could then partner to help swapping occur, which allows people to save money and decrease waste.
What changes have you observed in the circular economy and where are there opportunities for people to move away from the linear disposable product(s) economy?
I’ve seen a lot more instances of corporations actually adopting the circular economy. I’ve seen a lot more corporates actually saying, “We’re going to look into this idea.” Sometimes you look at what corporates are doing and need to ask if it is greenwashing? I guess from my own perspective, I’d love to be able to physically see it happening. I think we’re probably too early on for regular people to actually be able to say, “this is what the circular economy is, here’s an example of it in my life.”
THAT’S WHAT I THINK WE SHOULD AIM FOR; A FUTURE WHERE WE CAN LOOK AT ALL THE WAYS OF KEEPING PRODUCTS WITHIN A CIRCULAR SYSTEM RATHER THAN LETTING THEM BECOME WASTE. I’D LOVE FOR EVERYBODY TO KNOW WHAT THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY IS AND FOR EVERYBODY TO EXPERIENCE IT IN THEIR LIFE.
People would be able to point at where it’s evident in their life, and that would be a great way for us to connect and know what the circular economy is. I think we’ve got a long way to go, but when you think about it, we’re only really getting started. We’re working towards that and I think we’re not too far off from achieving some real impact.
What inspiring projects or initiatives have you come across that are creating a positive social change?
One enterprise I like and am inspired by (being a bit of a technology geek) is what Brett Leavy is doing with Virtual Songlines. I love how you can go to South Bank, pull out your phone, hold it up and see what South Bank looked like the day before colonisation. I think those concepts reach out and touch people in a way that is unique. It really helps people see the story, the scars and the challenges that Indigenous Australians face, and it helps you imagine having an entire society wiped out in the space of a day. Using technology in that way is something very emotional. I think if I could just offer one idea, it would be that there’s so many people out there who are doing good things, but they’re all siloed off from each other. Many people are working in the same area. Just like the Stone Soup idea…
IF EVERYBODY WAS TO WORK TOGETHER AND HAVE MORE OF A COORDINATED EFFORT RATHER THAN TAKING THEIR OWN LITTLE PIECE OF THE PIE, MORE PROGRESS COULD BE MADE.
OFTEN, I’LL SEE ORGANISATIONS WHO ARE SO CLOSELY ALIGNED, BUT EVERYBODY IS DOING SOMETHING SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT. BUT, IF THEY JUST WORKED TOGETHER, THEN I COULD SEE A LOT MORE IMPACT BEING MADE.
Impact Boom does that well actually (as far as connecting people). There’s been so many meetings I’ve gone to with Impact Boom where we get together and say, “have you spoken to this person?” The ability to have that connection is quite great, and I always go to as many meetings as I can.
To finish off, what books or resources would you recommend to our listeners?
I’m a bit of a start-up scene nut. I stumbled upon it, and as you progress through life you find these things that capture your interest. I’m so glad I found the start-up world. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries I would definitely recommend. Also, there’s a whole bunch of other start-up books to read. The All In Startup, is an interesting book. It’s fictional, but it’s also got good pointers as the author goes through explaining that. There are lean methods books as well, which usually are partner books to The Lean Startup by different authors. It has a really strong description about all the things you should be looking to measure in your business. I’ve also used a book that seems to be designed for evil for good instead. It’s called Hooked and it’s all about user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX). It describes the tools which big technology companies use to engage people. It has the four processes that all online businesses use to bring people back, but I’m using that knowledge for good.
My next process will use this information, because I’m looking at getting as many people as possible to use the product we’re building.
KNOWING SOME HUMAN BEHAVIOUR AROUND BUILDING PRODUCTS IS IMPORTANT, AS LONG AS IT’S USED FOR GOOD OF COURSE.
As well as those books, I like regular authors. I like Tom Robbins, and I’m also reading a book about The Foo Fighters by Dave Grohl. He’s fun and he’s interesting.
Finally, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is a book written from the perspective of a seagull. It was really big in the sixties, and it talks about a seagull who teaches himself how to fly outside of its flock. It’s a tiny book, so it takes half an hour to read. It’s a bit of fun if you want to know about what seagulls do!