The Earth Group is a social enterprise that exists to feed and educate children around the world.
This month, the Social Entrepreneur Podcast is focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger. So far, we’ve been talking about ways to help people achieve livelihood, so that relief aid is not needed. But, until that is achieved, the world is filled with hungry people, especially children. According to the World Food Programme:
- 794 million people do not have enough food to live a healthy life.
- 1 million children die each year because of poor nutrition. That’s 8,493 children dying per day.
- 66 million primary-school aged children attend classes hungry, across the developing world.
- The World Food Programme estimates that $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach the 66 million hungry school-aged children.
Where does this money come from? Much of it comes from governments, non-government organizations, religious organizations and private philanthropy. Another source of funds is from social enterprises such as The Earth Group.
Buy Items You Are Already Buying = Feed and Educate Children
The Earth Group sells items you consume every day, such as bottled water, coffee and tea. They donate 100% of net profit to the World Food Programme. Their theory of change is ambitious, but straightforward. As co-founder Kori Chilibeck says “If everybody who lives in a G7 country bought 20 of our products in a year, we would solve world hunger.”
Their products are easy to spot because they are the only products to bear the World Food Programme logo.
Breaking the Bubble
Matt Moreau grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Matt’s parents were medical professionals and took annual medical mission trips to Latin America. When Matt was around 20 years old, he accompanied his parents on the trip and, for the first time was confronted with extreme poverty. When Matt returned from the trip, he knew that he wanted to do more. He was working in a ski shop and his co-worker was Kori Chilibeck.
Kori, who was also from Edmonton had a similar experience while he was traveling in Nepal. Nepal is the third poorest country in the world. While Kori was on a Mount Everest base-camp expedition he met a man who was carrying a large basket. Though Kori was dressed in heavy down jacket, the old man had no shoes and no coat. After speaking to the man through his interpreter, Kori found that the man was 73 years old. The man was being paid 25 cents per day to carry this heavy load to base camp. After looking in the basket, Kori saw that the man was carrying nothing but cans of cola.
“At that point,” Kori told me, “I realized that either directly or indirectly some of the biggest companies in the world were making money, literally off the backs of some of the poorest people on the planet.” He thought “Why can’t I come up with a company that can compete with some of the biggest companies in the world, have a great product, have a great company, hire the best and the brightest, pay everyone fair wages, but at the end of the day, give the money back to the people who needed it?”
How Do you Start to Feed and Educate 1 Million Children?
Kori and Matt started in 2005 by selling bottled water out of the back of a van. Because Kori was a student, they wanted to sell on the campus, but an exclusive contract with a major bottling company prevented them from doing so. So, they set up a hand-made stand on a busy street and sold the water.
To move into their first store, they convinced a store owner to stock their bottled water. With that first store placement, Matt and Kori made an important decision. They called the press to let them know about their new product in the store. Several major media outlets picked up their story. Soon, they were in a handful of other stores. Then they were in 10 stores. And then more. Their story of feeding the hungry became an important differentiator for their brand.
It Wasn’t Always Easy
Around 2009, The Earth Group moved into the United States This was at the beginning of a major recession. While The Earth Group’s growth was healthy, they ran into several business challenges. First their east-coast bottler went bankrupt. Then their west-coast bottler also went bankrupt. The warehouse that was storing their products sold their water for cash and went bankrupt. This series of catastrophes left The Earth Group holding $750 of debt, with no products to sell. To make matters worse, in Canada their manufacturer had a problem that caused Kori and Matt to recall their products and to return them to the manufacturer. That manufacturer also went bankrupt.
Kori and Matt decided to ride out the storm. They laid-off their staff and moved out of their office. They each took second jobs. They made a list of their challenges and started taking them on one at a time. They rented a van and hit the road to see their customers. They didn’t have money for a hotel, so they would sleep in the van. They would buy an inexpensive meal at Ikea. They would brush their teeth and check their email at a Starbucks. But little by little, they recovered from their businesses challenges. Customers started coming back and re-engaging. The company started to gain traction.
In 2014, they sold enough products to provide 100,000 meals through the World Food Programme. In 2015, they provided 250,000 meals. In 2016 they reached the 400,000 meal mark. The goal for 2017 is to provide 1 million meals.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Matt Moreau and Kori Chilibeck
“Kori put up with my phone calls for a few months as I was begging him for a job.” Matt Moreau
“We’ve had four of the best years the company has ever had.” Kori Chilibeck
“Consumers are looking for more than a product. They want a product with a story.” Kori Chilibeck
“You’re just trying to make enough money to pay the cell phone bill.” Matt Moreau
‘This is something that can change the world, and you can be part of that story.’ Matt Moreau
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- The Earth Group: http://earthgroup.org
- The Earth Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheEarthGroup
- The Earth Group on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theearthgroup
- The Earth Group on Twitter: https://twitter.com/theearthgroup
More Stories of Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger
In 2017, we’re emphasizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In February, we are focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger. You can read more about Sustainable Development Goal 1 here, Sustainable Development Goal 2 here, or learn about the Sustainable Development Goals here.