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My Social Enterprise Journey

Cass Business School News.

RiyaWe went for a chat with Riya Pabari (Investment Management MSc 2009) of Do Nation about social enterprise, and how you can make a difference, just by making small changes to your life.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I went straight from my Undergraduate degree in Economics at Cambridge to my MSc in Investment Management from 2008-2009. I enjoyed portfolio theory, had an entertaining derivatives course, and I really loved behavioural economics. It’s fascinating why people do stuff, as well as why the government and corporations allocate their resources in the way they do.

What did you do next?

After graduating, I went into the City for five years as a portfolio manager. I really enjoyed it, particularly in the last two years, as I got to do lots of travelling to Asian countries like South Korea, Japan and Singapore, looking at their macroeconomic policies trying to work out an investment thesis around their currencies.

I enjoyed the learning aspect of this and getting to know different cultures at a policy level. This led to me thinking a lot about how the global economy works, and how that sits alongside increased social tensions and increased environmental degradation and I began to think there must be a different way. Our current system doesn’t account for how much we create and destroy the communities and environment around us.

In fact, I just read a piece of research by the UN that said that if environmental costs were taken into account, there would be barely any industries that were profitable.

How did you go from that to where you are today?

In January 2015 I decided to change careers and applied to a one year leadership programme called “On Purpose”. It’s for young professionals who want to harness their commercial expertise for good. The year entails two six-month placements plus weekly training on a Friday afternoon, mentorship and career coaching. I’m currently doing a placement at Do Nation, a social tech startup.

I remember being excited by the tech-for-good space when I watched my first ever TED talk. It was by Luis von Ahn, the Guatemalan founder of Duolingo. He said that before the internet, the biggest projects in the world like the pyramids, landing on the moon, the Suez Canal, involved a maximum of about 150,000 people. Post-internet, collaborations can be up to 750million people! I think we are only just beginning to understand the power of the collaboration. If harnessed for good, it could revolutionise healthcare, education and our ability to live sustainably.

I’d love to live in a world where ‘social business’ becomes a tautology because social business is just business as usual. With the rise of the B Corp movement, it’s already happening. Businesses are starting to consider a wider set of stakeholders, like the environment and their local communities. In fact, enlightened self-interest is a good first step; for example Coca Cola, a purely profit-driven business, has started to invest heavily in water security, to make sure that they can keep making their products in the long run. I’m really passionate about introducing these concepts in schools, to capture kids in their early years. After all, they are the business leaders of tomorrow.

What does Do Nation do?

It’s an online platform that offers individuals, universities, and businesses the opportunity to set up personalised campaigns to inspire friends, students, and employees to adopt simple energy-saving, carbon-cutting, sustainable behaviours – Do Actions. Anything from cycling to work, to becoming part-time vegan, to switching energy supplier. Our goal is to make sustainable living mainstream, by making it fun and social.

Have you made any lifestyle changes?

I’ve pledged #AllMadeUp which is to make gifts rather than buy them, and #PassionFashion which is about building a sustainable wardrobe. There are so many great designers putting the circular economy into practice by turning waste materials into fashion items. I recently discovered a company called Tread & Pedals who basically create jewellery and artworks using up-cycled bicycle bits. As a cyclist, I just love the idea of earrings made out of recycled inner tube!

What’s been your coolest project?

At Do Nation, we primarily work with businesses, helping them engage their employees in sustainability. However, the really cool part of what we do is the B2C part, what we call The Free Tier. For example, if you’re running a marathon, you can use Do Nation to raise support through actions, rather than cash. Actually, I’ve just finished doing my own pledge drive – we cycled to Paris for the COP 21 Climate Conference. In order to raise awareness for climate change, we asked our friends and family to support us with pledges. We’d like to show people that together our actions can add up to make a big difference!

So, Do Nation is your second placement? What was your first?

My first placement was at RBS, I was the Programmes Manager for their Inspiring Social Enterprise Initiative, part of their CSR drive. That’s the great thing about On Purpose, you can have two very contrasting experiences within the space of a year.

Do you go to many alumni events?

I must admit I don’t go to many, which is a shame, I’d like to go to more. However, I do have a group of Cass alumni friends from my course that I regularly draw upon as my peer network for advice and ideas. In fact, at last Friday’s On Purpose training, we did an exercise looking at our own personal boardroom – the network of people that you go to for advice, expertise and support, and there are a couple of Cass alumni on that list!

What do you do in a typical week?

It can be quite varied, a mix of financial modelling, evaluating and measuring the social / environmental impact of programmes, meeting potential clients, making my own pledges, and perhaps even a spot of lunchtime ping-pong. And as a team, we tend to attend quite a lot of sustainable industry events after work. We’re quite a small team – only 6 – but we share our office space with other start-ups which makes for quite a fun office environment.

How can we get involved?

If anyone works at or knows an organisation that they think would like to run a Do Nation campaign, then we’d love to hear from them. Alternatively, if you’re planning a marathon, a mud run, or anything of the sort and are tired of asking your friends for money, you can create a Free Tier campaign and as them for pledges instead. In fact, a couple once used Do Nation as an alternative to a wedding gift list! Genius!

Finally, the quick fire question round:
Favourite place in London: I love the buzz of the Sunday upmarket in the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane
Favourite holiday destination: I recently went on an eco-friendly yoga and surf camp in Portugal called Tipi Valley where there were solar-powered showers, and everything cooked was grown onsite.
Must-check every day website: My campaign page for my Cycle to COP21 to see how many pledges I’ve received, of course. I’m second on the leaderboard now! [Editor – this campaign is now finished, Riya finished second on the leaderboard]
Dream travel destination: I’ve wanted to go trekking in Manali for a long time (Himalayan foothills) – I’ve visited lots of India as it’s my heritage but this one’s still on the bucket list.
Cheese or chocolate? Well I’m marrying a Frenchman so I guess it’s got to be cheese!

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