Models of Impact Conversations: A Chat with Anthony Allen of Formata
This is the first in a new series where we will be sitting down with some of the brightest minds who are just as obsessed with Social Business Model research as we are. First up, we have Anthony Allen of Formata. I first met Anthony over an email exchange about Models of Impact. Next, we grabbed a great cup of coffee at Blue Bottle here in the Arts District where we nerded out for about an hour on the various models emerging in this space. In this interview, Anthony shares with us a glimpse into his current research, favorite business models, and an exciting new project Formata has been hard at work on!
Tell us about your current work and research! How did you get into the social enterprise world?
Two words: Muhammad Yunus. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, look him up and read his books. When I was a student at Quinnipiac University, he came to visit our school. At the time, I was planning to graduate, do my MBA, and take a job in human resources. Then I heard Prof. Yunus speak about social business, and how people across the globe were beginning to use business as a means of addressing social ills. I was hooked.
Years later, Formata was born. We are a social enterprise consultancy focused on supporting the growth of the ecosystem as a whole by helping entrepreneurs and CEOs strike a sustainable balance between income and impact. From ideation to creation, all the way to scaling — we help social entrepreneurs find the right business and impact models and execute strategies for long-term growth and monumental impact.
As part of our mission to support the ecosystem, Formata is also conducting original research into what social impact really means to consumers and how they respond to it. This is in early stages, but the results have been intriguing — we look forward to sharing insights as we gain them!
What was the biggest takeaway you’ve had since beginning this research into social enterprise?
That this is only the beginning, and we don’t yet know the limits of this thing we call social enterprise — I believe we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. I am inspired every day by the ways social entrepreneurs are solving some of the biggest problems facing our world. As individuals everywhere continue to demand more and more from the companies they buy from, our ecosystem will continue to grow, and no industry will be beyond reinvention. We must be willing to pivot though — the future is uncertain, and social enterprise as a solution must remain nimble and adaptable.
Why is it crucial for designers to engage with models of impact — business models that can cultivate social impact?
Designers — like all artists — have a unique way of looking at the world. This vision allows them to frame problems differently, and to convey world-changing ideas and solutions in accessible, understandable ways. We NEED fresh perspectives and creative ways of addressing the world’s most intractable problems. Gone are the days of pigeonholed professions; artists, designers, musicians, philosophers, historians — we are in desperate need of more cross-pollination of ideas and thought processes. The business models that will change the future are being created now… by anyone and everyone.
What is a social enterprise that is currently on your radar? Can you tell us about their model?
The THX Co. is a great new social enterprise based in Miami, FL. Their model appears to be transparency on a new level, and their products — fragrances and coffee — are an unlikely pairing. THX has distinguished itself from other social enterprises by introducing impact as an add-on. Whatever it costs the company to produce its coffee and perfume is precisely what the customer pays. On top of that cost, the customer has the freedom to choose from a list of non-profits and tack a donation onto the price of their order.
In other words, instead of tying its impact to profits, sales, or any other internal measure, THX has chosen to tie it directly to the heart of the customer. It will be interesting to see how this works for them going forward.
What is your favorite model listed on the Models of Impact map, and why?
I’ll give you one product-based and one service-based model. On the product side, my favorite model from the map is the company that sells badly needed products to low-income communities in developing countries. The founders of these companies are the pinnacle of what it means to rethink a business model. These social entrepreneurs listen to those who say “I do not have _______ because I cannot afford it,” and they invent solutions. This model is perhaps the most direct of any on the product side, since many times the products are little things that can help an individual lift him or herself out of poverty.
On the service side of the map, I am in love with the sharing economy. Concepts like AirBnB, Relay Rides, Task Rabbit, and others are brilliant at reducing waste in our “economy of stuff.” The future looks much more efficient, both materially and in terms of human time and space, because of these models.
What are you working on right now?
There is a LOT going on right now at Formata. The major effort right now, however, is only indirectly tied to the consultancy. We are about one month away from launch on a new social enterprise of our own creation, called Arttn: Gallery.
Arttn: is an online-only art gallery which sells limited edition, signed work by some of the world’s best artists. The impact is both educational and tangible. The work we will feature in our exhibits is intentionally evocative and thought-provoking, meant to juxtapose truth and beauty in a way that demands us to act. With the sale of each piece, some percentage of the sale price will go directly to an impact partner (non-profit) whose work is aligned with the subject of the exhibit.
The inaugural exhibit of Arttn: Gallery, entitled “Free to Be,” will feature work by some of the world’s best photographers, and 25% of each sale will go towards providing help to women and children exiting a life of human trafficking in Romania through the San Francisco-based Not For Sale campaign. Look for this exhibit in late September at www.arttngallery.com.
Thanks for the great conversation, Anthony! If you would like to be featured on our Models of Impact conversation series, get in touch via twitter (@verynicetweets), and tell us a bit about your research in 140 characters or less!