ByAlister Wynn
08/12/2011
5 min read

Can you afford to make your work socially responsible?

The idea of making a living by contributing something positive to society or the planet is all very romantic but is it realistic? We explore how you can make your ethical dreams a reality.

What with the Occupy protests up and down the country at the moment, there are a lot of people out there looking towards a more ethical, sustainable society. Society is a collection of people and it is important to realise that the biggest change that we as individuals can bring to a society is through what we do with our time and our money. This is the most valuable thing you can do to influence positive change.

We started Yoke because we wanted to get away from designing for businesses and corporations that we were not passionate about supporting. We are now making a living through working on projects that are making a real positive change in the world. We have made what was once a dream into a reality and we’d like to share with you some ideas on how you can do the same.

Your work is valuable

Many people have the misconception that they’d have to retrain or change job in order to this. Not necessarily. Whatever your profession, be it retail, marketing or web design, your skills are valuable. There are a huge number of not-for-profit organisations and charities out there that require the skills and expertise from virtually every corner of the work place catalogue. You could be working in marketing for a corporation, helping them to make their millions but how about using these valuable skills in marketing for an organisation that is doing something really positive with the money?

Through making a change in who you decide to support with your skills can make a huge difference for you as well as the world around you. We all want to enjoy what we do and a large part of job satisfaction comes from really believing in what you’re doing / who you’re supporting.

Since starting Yoke, we’re not only more passionate about the projects we’re engaging with but we’re also enjoying working with likeminded individuals, helping them achieve their goals which are about positive change rather than financial targets. It makes us happy anyway!

 

We recently came across an interesting article on The Social Role of the Designer. This highlights how the role of the designer in a sustainable society is just as important as it is now in our ‘consumer society’. Every one of us, from every discipline, is capable of using their skills and experience to do something positive.

 

Starting up and how to make it work financially

May be there’s an entrepreneur within you that wants to start-up your own ethical business…if so, great! It’s the concept of money that can often make the whole thing a bit daunting.

It’s great to support worthy causes through your work but you have to make it financially viable.  ‘Good causes’ often don’t have a lot of money kicking around and yet you still need to earn your keep. Here at Yoke, we’re currently working with organisations that often have brilliant ideas for a project but approach us with little or no budget available. Because we believe in what they do and want to support them we advise them of where they can look for funding.

Creative money

Corporate sponsorship is often what helps projects like these get off the ground but in addition, there are also a lot of creative funding initiatives such as Crowd Funding. This works by first creating a project proposal which is then broadcast to their huge online community which make financial contributions to fund the project in return for small rewards. Peoplefund.it is a recently launched crowdfunding platform which is specifically set up to help positive change projects get off the ground.

A screen grab of PeopleFund.it Homepage

A couple of examples of successful PeopleFund It projects include Sustaination – an online service which makes it easy and profitable for local food businesses to connect and trade; and The Bicycle Academy – a new enterprise that provides people with the skills and facilities to design and make their own bikes. To date, The Bicycle Academy project have already exceeded their fundraising target and have raised a whopping £41, 560…and they’ve still got 5 days remaining! It’s amazing what a little contribution from many people can achieve! There are many other examples of crowdfunders including Kickstarter, RocketHub and Sponsume.

These avenues can also be explored to help you finance starting up your own business. Take a look at this BBC article on how two American design students raised £8,000 through Kickstarter to start their own printing and design company.

If there’s a project you’d love to work on but the client can’t quite reach the budget then how about offering a creative payment scheme? Is there any service that they could provide for you in return for a reduced cost? Perhaps they have good connections and could promote your work? This can be worth its weight in gold. Ah, the good old days of bartering!

Bootstrapping

Financing a business venture yourself can often be an expensive process with hundreds of pounds being spent before you get your first pay cheque. This is often why it is often nicknamed ‘bootstrapping’ as it can be considered as impossible a feat, as pulling yourself by your bootstraps. Do not fear though! It’s good to be realistic but don’t let money fears hinder your progress too much. You’re business venture is more than possible with a little monetary caution here and there.

We’ve picked out two great articles, one over at blog.guykawasaki.com and another at entrepreneur.com which give advice on the art of bootstrapping.

One thing that we found helpful whilst starting up Yoke is to adopt a more frugal lifestyle. Although it might sound an obvious way of saving money in the short-term, it can have a lasting impact. Through buying second-hand instead of new or by simply consuming less, you quickly come to appreciate that you don’t actually need so much after all and end up saving the world’s resources in the meantime (as well as saving a lot of money!). 

Illustration of computer

Open source

If you’re thinking of starting up a web design company then you can keep your costs down by using open-source software. If you decide not to hire an office, your only outgoing will be a computer, which you probably already have. WordPress or Joomla can be used for a content management system and the Ubuntu Studio creative suite can be used as an open source alternative to the expensive PhotoShop suite.

This kind of open source software is only possible through the amazing collaboration of a handful of very talented individuals who believe in sharing. Make sure to show your appreciation by donating.

Enjoy yourself!

All of us want to enjoy our work and after all, work is such a huge part of our lives that it seems crazy not to! We hope that this article has gone some way in inspiring you to make a difference with your working life. Do it for yourself as much as anything. Although making a change can seem very daunting at first, if you’re passionate about what you’re doing then you are bound to succeed.

Feel free to get in touch if you want any more advice. We’re happy to help.