Investing with a Social Conscience

Barb Stegemann appeared on CBC earlier this week, showing that smart business can go along with social responsibility. Presenting herself as a savvy entrepreneur, she demonstrated that good business sense can also better the world we live in – and make a lot of money along the way.

The 7 Virtues based out of Halifax is a perfume manufacturer, with a twist. Rather than look for easy sources of flower extracts to form the basis of the perfumes, Barb targeted Afghanistan, where the orange nectar needed for the perfume could provide an alternative to the other cash crop in the region – poppies. Paying competitive prices for the nectar (the estimated cost of a liter of nectar is $8,000), she gave farmers a lucrative, legal option for their fields. Additionally, this source of legal funds would result in hundreds of jobs, creating a boost to the regional economy.

To some degree, Barb was overpaying for the supplies – with the caveat that it provided her with a good marketing line for the business, which would make it even easier to sell her product. Additionally, with the high margins perfumes are able to manage, Barb had some room for flexibility in her purchasing prices.

As her presentation proceeded, Barb demonstrated her business acumen – she managed to break even within her first month of operations, and was unable to keep up with demand. While social conscience played a role in her business, Barb was quite clear: The 7 Virtues was not a charity.

Running a business based on social responsibility can have many benefits, and it does not need to be mutually exclusive with being profitable. With the right person in charge, the business can end like Barb’s – with an investment from Arlene Dickinson, Brett Wilson, and Jim Treliving.