Trevor Noah and the 2016 finalists

Driving a global conversation around business as a force for good; Chivas Regal’s The Venture

A few highlights from the campaign . . .

  • Mainstream press coverage across CNN, Sky news, Forbes, The Huffington Post, amongst others.
  • It became a reality TV show in South Africa.
  • Thousands of applications. 27 finalists.
  • Hundreds of thousands of votes, views, comments, mentions of the competition and the finalists.
  • It trended on Twitter in South Africa.
  • The prime minister of Estonia tweeted about it.
  • A sprinkling of star firepower. Lily Cole spoke at the accelerator week panel. The final was hosted by Trevor Noah and judged by Eva Longoria.
  • Outside of all the glitz, the glamour and the press, by far the biggest achievement was an incredibly huge, co-ordinated global team singing from the same hymn sheet. (actually far less ecclesiastical toolkits, guidelines, briefings, work flows etc etc)


Long story short, we were handed the strategic and creative responsibilities for Chivas Regal’s The Venture. I had the pleasure of developing the strategy for years 2 and 3 with a fighting fit cross-discipline team. (this post is just about year 2). Hats off in particular to Pangolin PR, who are absolutely brilliant and were instrumental in securing the lion’s share of press coverage. Further hats off to the 27 participating countries; they threw their collective might behind not only their finalists, but the campaign as a whole.

Why and what

Chivas’ principle brand belief is the we should win the right way; that profit and purpose should go hand in hand together. The Venture is their vehicle through which this is activated, connecting them with an audience of young professionals globally. (It was originally conceived by Analog Folk and Havas)

The Venture judges. Eva Longoria, Joe Huff, Alex Ricard and Sonal Shah

The Venture is a little bit like a global Eurovision for social entrepreneurs. But instead of singing, each entrant has an early stage start-up that is tackling a social problem, usually in their country of origin. Each country selects their finalist, who then compete in a programme that runs for about 9 months with funding rounds, mini-documentaries, accelerator weeks, PR, big pitch events etc etc. The main prize is US $1 million in funding (no equity), 250K of which is awarded through a public vote.

The problem

There are thousands of whisky brands and single malts are winning over blends. Give people young professionals a reason to choose Chivas.

The research

We conducted, watched and reviewed various research pieces. Not only do we live in age of transparency, but there is a seismic shift in what people expect of businesses. In the last few years the notion of ‘shareholder value comes first at all costs’ is becoming increasingly antiquated.

From one of the research projects . . . 
“Of the 11,349 people across 10 countries surveyed, three quarters of those expect big businesses to tackle the world problems of the future. As well as being accountable for solving future problems, the research found that 95% of young professionals look to brands and companies to solve today’s world problems.

Founding Executive Director of the Beeck Center For Social Impact & Innovation, Sonal Shah (more from her later) commented on the research, saying: “The results from the Chivas research highlight a number of trends that have surfaced in our work here at the Beeck Center. It shows that Millennials and Gen Z are hungry, motivated and inspired to positively impact the world. Second, young people believe that business also has a social responsibility not just government. As the world continues to become increasingly networked and collaborative, we have an opportunity to shape it — building cross-sector solutions to our most pressing social and environmental challenges.”

The insight (s)

More than any previous generation, today’s young people believe business has a responsibility to make positive impact.

Creative strategy

Show that Chivas shares their values: Lead the “business as a force for good” movement and give people a way to contribute.

And a structural evolution from last year.

This year we focused on activating the networks of countries, the competitors and individuals (rather than activating centrally). Without going into tonnes of detail, creating the right guidelines and incentives for the different players in the network is the only way to bring something of this scale to life with a relatively slim central team.

1/5: Starting out. Showcasing the real world impact via The Venture alumni

Since this is the second year, we could show the impact that we were having out in the world. Algramo, started by Jose Manuel Moller is “a company that aims to lower the price of food in poorer areas of Latin America by cutting out the costly marketing and packaging process used by chain supermarkets, which make up 70 percent of the market in Chile, and have increased food prices across the country.” The company uses vending machines deliberately located in some of the poorest areas of Chile to do this. A Forbes press trip showed the human benefit the company was facilitating.

A young customer
A shop owner with Algramo machines
The positive impact of Algramo can already be seen in the suburbs of Santiago, and in Barranquilla in Colombia, where Algramo are also operating. Alongside Moller I visited a few shops in the area of Recoleta and spoke to store owners who were proud to have Algramo vending machines in their shops, with many creating hand-written Algramo Sold Here signs to place outside their businesses.
‘People like them’, the owner of Manolito store told me, ‘They look good and people enjoy getting the products. The machines are very easy to use too.’ Another shop owner explained how her shop had increased the footfall in her store, and upped her profile locally and even encouraged her to re-paint the front of the shop pink.

2/5: Finding the best early stage social enterprise in each country and telling their story

At the tail end of 2015, each country is briefed on finding its best social enterprise. The countries selected and activated in various ways, from a light touch process — through to nation wide campaigns. Here’s a write up in the Huffington Post of the Australian process and the US final wrap up video below.

400K views US final video.

The businesses themselves are startlingly brilliant. A couple of my favourites . . . .

WeFarm (the UK finalist) “is a free peer-to-peer service that enables farmers to share information via SMS, without the internet and without having to leave their farm. Farmers can ask questions on farming and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers around the world in minutes.” See some of their case studies.

“Kepha lives in Baringo, Kenya and recently his chickens fell sick. After receiving advice on WeFarm about which medicine to use, Kepha managed to save 27 of the 52 chickens that he owned.”

Conceptos Plásticos (The Columbian finalist) is a “two birds one stone” idea. It creates construction material out of discarded plastic that people with no building experience can use to assemble a house. To get a sense of the two sides to the problem “In Latin America, Africa and Asia 40% of people don’t have access to formal housing. In Bogota alone 750 tonnes of plastic is sent to landfill every day. It can take up to 500 years for plastic to biodegrade and 75% of plastic produced globally is either sent to landfill or not formally disposed of and so is left to pollute the environment.” (source)

Assembling a house with the lego style bricks

From there, each country created a succinct pitch film to showcase their winner (we developed tight guidelines and references to achieve consistency, you can watch them all here).

The Conceptos Plásticos finalist edit
Eye Control is a system for locked in patients to interact with a computer

3/5: Leading the debate on business as a force for good (accelerator week and debate)

Once the finalists have been selected, they’re brought together for the first time at a week long accelerator programme at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford. There were a week of lectures and sessions from the leading thinkers in the field, which culminated in a panel debate in London. The question that was discussed “Can social enterprise ever be big enough to save the world?” There’s a write up of the event in Pioneers Post,

The 2016 finalists at the Skoll Centre, Oxford
Lily Cole at The Venture debate at London’s Natural History Museum.

Following the debate, Sonal Shah spoke to prime time Sky News about social conscience in business.
“Two things have generally happened when we look at social enterprise. On one hand we do business, and on the other we give away money. Now we’re saying why not mix the two things.” Sonal Shah

4/5: Giving people a way to contribute: turning tweets and Facebook posts into real investment

250K of the 1 million was open to a public vote. The contestants created elevator pitch films, which were supported by markets to encourage their nation to get behind their finalist.

This year, we really dialed up the pay-with-a-tweet style voting, so that for the first time, your virtue signaling was actually having a tangible effect!

Voting with a pleasantly malfunctioning preview image

The voting went well, really well. Over 200,000 people from all over the world got behind their favourite ideas. So drum roll . . . ..

In 3rd place with 21,000 votes and $26,500: Wakami, the start-up from Guatemala which designs and sells fashion accessories whilst providing education to rural families.

In 2nd place with 24,000 votes and $32,000: EyeControl, the startup from Israel that is helping “locked-in” patients communicate with society through their affordable, mobile and screen-free communication device.

In 1st place, with over 64,000 votes and $53,000: Conceptos Plásticos, that we spoke about above, by far and away stole the show.

5/5 It’ll be right on the night; the final pitch and announcement of winners.

How did it all pan out in the end? I think I’ve typed enough so check out the edit below.

The Venture finals
Trevor Noah selfie

The final went smoothly, and is covered comprehensively in TechCrunch

Finally, The Venture for year 3 is now open

There are even more countries getting involved in this year and from a strategist’s point of view, it has a refreshed, more populist focus. I can’t go into that in much detail, but have a look at the new site and it’ll become pretty clear. This year, the excellent South African team exploded the elevator pitch idea into a reality TV show; you can watch the final below.

From a personal point of view, it was the last strategy I worked on before leaving Work Club / Havas and I’m thrilled to bits to see it coming to life.

So please, spread the word, follow The Venture on Twitter and get involved.