PUTTING PEN TO PAPER
Written on the 15 May 2015 by Laura Daquino
SOCIAL entrepreneur Lauren Shuttleworth likes her quotes short and the impact of them, on the contrary, to be as far-reaching as possible.
The Brisbane entrepreneur behind eco-friendly stationery label Words With Heart is aspiring to change our conversation with consumer products, starting with ones we use every day, like notepads and journals.
In our throwaway society, she wants her products to have a lasting impact. The goal is to sell enough of them to fund one million education days for girls in developing nations by 2017.
She has more than achieved the first step of putting pen to paper, seeing a payoff through funding at least 10,000 education days already. Waking up to the simple daily affirmation 'you've got this' seems to be keeping her on the right page.
"The way our model works is that every product sold funds a certain number of education days. For example, a notebook pack of two funds a week's worth of education for a girl in Cambodia," says Shuttleworth.
"We think it's really meaningful and easy to understand for our customers. Corporate clients and stockists can feel satisfied knowing they have instantly purchased something like 1000 education days, which we are noticing is translating well as more and more come on board."
At the heart of Shuttleworth's work is meaning, something which she actively started seeking following her mother's death in 2011.
"Her passing raised a lot of questions for me about where my passion was, and to clear my head I ended up taking a couple of months off to work at a school in Kenya," says Shuttleworth.
"I found a real passion for girls' education, and knew I couldn't just chalk my time there up to experience and rather had to reassess my path. I looked into setting up a charity in Australia, falling into social enterprise instead, falling in love with the merging of charity and business."
Words With Heart stationary is printed in Australia to minimise carbon footprint, and accessories like laptop bags are produced by partners in India, which Shuttleworth says are carefully selected due to operating like "mini social enterprises" in regards to their company culture.
At the crux of its business, the social enterprise also has two charity partners, Care Australia and One Girl.
Through Care Australia, the social enterprise is supporting a primary education project in Cambodia, and One Girl is working exclusively in Sierra Leone at the moment and expanding into other parts of West Africa.
"These projects involve traditional scholarships for primary and high school girls, and also things like the Business Brains program which teaches girls about running a business," says Shuttleworth.
"We are talking about a new project with Care in Malawi which funds financial literacy training as well.
"It's a tricky balance because we want to support more projects but don't want to spread ourselves too thin."
Speaking of support, Shuttleworth says she is fortunate that the market is increasingly moving towards social enterprise, with movements like Who Gives A Crap and Thankyou Group perceived as fully-fledged brands.
She says that Words With Heart originally set out to target those who identified as feminist, but is now finding the social aspect of the brand is overriding this.
"Banks such as NAB are recognising the scalable impact and seeing the payoff when it comes to investing in our types of businesses," she says.
"There are a lot of direct synergies with corporate partners for us too, like a girl's school here can buy books for their school, and know they are funding books for another school in a developing community.
"I would connect it back to noticing the inherent value in teaching a man to fish, rather than just giving a man fish."
Shuttleworth says 'let's go big' is a phrase that's currently circling over her, but it's tricky to make the jump as a small business serving a huge cause.
"The investment space is scary and our biggest challenge is scale and building the brand - we know we are going big, but it's hard to know how to get there," she says.
Seeing the forest from the trees, Shuttleworth says Words With Heart has enormous growth potential, especially in the digital space. This speaks to the uptake of technology in developing nations as well.
"Stationery blends into homewares at a certain point," says Shuttleworth, hinting of another avenue.
"We will be getting into custom digital invitations so international markets are accessible to us at an earlier stage, and have also just developed a digital stationery range encompassing tablet and laptop cases.
"The big picture is going into app development."