As AIESEC volunteers, Gelaine and Jérôme have always been involved in the non-profit sector, although their personal career paths (corporate and IT) were not exactly aligned. It wasn’t until a trip to the Philippines in 2012 did the idea for ChooseSocial first occur.
A passion project
“We wanted an online directory of social enterprises in the Philippines,” Jérôme says.The idea was to create a hub of information and be a resource for anyone who wanted to learn about social enterprises. They wanted to encourage people to choose social, and be helpful to other social enterprises. Having attended a Next Day Better event, and seeing how large an eco-system of social enterprises the Philippines has (in line with what they saw during their own trip to the country), they decided to start with the Philippines.
After a year and a half, a significant amount of traction, requests for interviews left and right, and an audience that wanted to know where in North America they could support and/or buy the products of these enterprises, they decided to take the next step, and in October of 2015, they launched Cambio Market, an online marketplace for social enterprise brands.
Taking the leap
They started with a small group of two partners, one from Canada and one from Philippines, but six months into the marketplace, and the numbers are growing. They now have a total of nine partners from around the world, including India, Uganda, and Peru.
“Usually social enterprises are small scale and very grass roots, and email communication is challenging!” Gelaine says. Which led to the ever-present challenge of keeping products in stock. They admit that they are still balancing the orders they make (often requiring quite a bit of lead time) and the orders they fulfill to their own market.
One Christmas season and one pop-up shop in Toronto under their belts, the past six months have been busy, fulfilling, and—most importantly—quite successful.
“We were happy with Christmas sales,” Jérôme says. “Right now it’s about getting the word out.”
In the meantime, they are preparing to add new products, figure out product niches, and test their audience further in order to have more targeted branding and marketing.
Coming full circle
“The real challenge was the definition,” Gelaine explains. “There is no standard definition. “By the Cambio Market definition, a social enterprise is a business that is focused on social good, one with a social mission or impact that they are trying to achieve. They wanted enterprises that operate as businesses, but also have a social impact in almost every aspect of their operations. One example is Olivia and Diego, a business that not only sells upcycled jewelry, but also employs women from vulnerable backgrounds.
On the Cambio Market website, every product page has little logos that explain various criteria and what the product contributes to society. Something they proudly pointed out when they stood and gave a talk at a Next Day Better event, just one year after their initial attendance to the series.
“It was really great for us to have been sitting in the audience one year, and find ourselves on the stage the next year,” Jérôme says.
“It was a good sign to keep going,” Gelaine added. “And we hope to really get the word out. We want to encourage change in the way traditional business is done, not just with profit in mind, but also keeping an important perspective on the market.
“We also want to help everyone become more socially responsible. Everything you do, though a small decision, has a larger impact, and it says a lot about who you are as a person and what you value. What you wear, what you buy, etc.) We want to sell this mindset of a socially conscious lifestyle, and help people see that it is not so hard. Small decisions can really help people”