Why haven't you spent the money yet?

Speaking to a man at a recent humanitarian conference in London, he told me a story of when he was providing disaster relief aid by mapping outcomes according to needs assessment data. The role is clearly a crucial one at a time when there are huge migratory populations putting strain on resources like shelter, water and sanitation. He described his project bosses scrutinising his work one day in a skype meeting.

‘Why haven’t you spent the money yet?’ was the take home question to him. They explained they had a budget to spend according to their country’s aid budget for this and it hadn’t been spent, WHY?! They were furious it had not been spent. He explained the goalposts had moved on the original mission plan and that the money, with proper consideration and time, could be far better spent on mapping locations of protracted problems like capacity of facilities versus projected populations. This would map the future concerns and, potentially, help the local people by planning for development where it was going to be needed.

‘That's no current concern to us when we have budgets to align and next year’s grant proposals to worry about'.

A lot of money is spent in Africa to appease western country politicians or leaders who want to be able to quote figures of millions donated to specific causes on the evening news or on their company’s ‘CSR webpage’. However, western society now is seeing a growing portion of those asking the important questions about outcomes. They will question people going to Africa for ‘humanitarian work’, whether military personnel, NGO staff or private companies (perhaps most infamously the extractive industries companies).

I have seen businesses state they have a CSR budget, don’t really care what it is spent on as long as it is spent. So… impressive budget new buildings go up, CSR web pages get updated with high resolution photos and no local change in economy or health indicators actually follows.

This is also a challenge within Origin and it's a principal we never forget. Time and time again, after a person who is genuinely interested asks important questions to us, they come round to the fact that Origin is going about it the hard way, the slow way and the responsible way. 

I used to think many people were asking penetrating questions about Origin to uncover some sort of corruption or alternative motivation that we had. Actually, I am seeing an interested cohort of people inspired and engaged with providing real change not to be thanked today or tomorrow, but to genuinely set up a brighter future for people in need and for the planet we live on.

We could have arrived in Ethiopia with last Christmas’ profits, built a beautiful new village latrine facility, received thanks from the locals, put it on the website and skewed public health data to claim a certain number of lives would be saved per year as a result of it. This happens, public health statistics are easy to dress up to tell whatever story the writer wants. Instead, we wanted to set up a business that would create jobs, entrench a culture of improving sanitation and commit to long term change that would actually bring about improved health for those local people living there.


So we invested in a prototype testing phase to build the crucial part of the latrine which will form the cornerstone of the business. There is necessary detail in the plan and this is often the downfall of Origin at a time when the beautiful-in-its-simplicity Tom’s model of one-for-one has done so incredibly well. We spent days discussing the project principals with many local contacts to see who understands it and who is committed to the social impact goals as well as capable to making this enterprise work with us. I am not criticising Tom’s in any way because they are massively helping popularise a responsible purchasing movement and for that, they deserve the utmost praise (I would criticise the extractive industries companies putting phoney data on their pseudo-CSR web pages but let’s park that).

The consumer of fashion can make a difference with every purchase they make. More and more people don’t go to Primark and throw their boardies in the bin on sunday night. They increasingly take 10 minutes to consider the purchase and find something so much more meaningful and far less harmful to the maker. There are lots of brands out there doing good things. You might find boardies for twice the price with a real story, a social impact that you are proud to speak about and a product to wear more than twice the number of times you would have worn the Primark boardies that the maker got 10p for a hour’s work to create. P.s. Here’s a quick affordable list of recommendations: If you’re looking for jewelry, try Tribeoflambs.com; Dog Collars & other cool accessories, try Rhimani.co.uk (Jeff has one of their dog collars...yep!); Coffee, try changeplease.org; Earth Conscious casual clothes try stanleystella.com; Beanies, try Loveyourmelon.com.

So, in our work at Origin, we are seeing an increasing number of people willing to listen to the depth of the story to see its true worth in terms of improving quality of life for people and the planet. This is happening at music festivals, pop up shops and from retailers who want to be behind us and similar brands. So, to all those who have thus far listened to the depth of the story and why it is not aid, thank you!

Lastly for Origin and its social purpose, we hope that spells out a bright future not just for the brand but for the people we are trying to provide opportunities for this year and ongoing in Ethiopia, Mali and the Gambia.