Jon Khoo

On Purpose London January 2012 Fellow, the Innovation Partner at Interface, now Regional Sustainability Manager (UKIME & Nordics) at Interface

Jon Khoo (Photo credit: Hey Tuesday)

“In the last couple of weeks, I was invited by The Body Shop to share what I do with all their employees globally; I had to pinch myself because, when I was younger, Anita Roddick was a massive hero.” Jon Khoo, On Purpose Fellow, January ’12 cohort

Eight years ago, Jon had just returned to his Solicitor job in London, following a sabbatical volunteering with a marine conservation organisation called Blue Ventures in Fiji. What he had seen and learned there prompted a sense in him that there were “bigger problems that needed solving” than those he encountered day to day in his work. He spotted the — then new — On Purpose Associate Programme online, and was drawn to the vision behind it, the approach it took and the breadth of placements being offered. After meeting some of the On Purpose team, he decided to take a “leap of faith” into a year of exploring, learning and experiencing a new way of doing business.

Jon’s first placement was at HCT Group (a transport social enterprise) which immediately thrust him into a number of completely new experiences, from exploring the company’s values, to producing a promotional video on a shoestring, to joining the Hackney Caribbean Elders Group for their weekly exercise class!

Jon’s second placement was at Interface — a carpet manufacturer who were just about to pilot a pioneering new programme called Net-Works. The idea was to engage impoverished coastal communities in the Philippines to gather discarded fishing nets; an extra source of income for them and a reduction in coastal waste which caused damage to marine wildlife. These nets would then be recycled into yarn and used by Interface to make its carpet tiles (AKA “dolphin-friendly carpet” as a colleague at Interface joked at the time).

During his six-month placement, Jon was set on a steep learning curve, helping develop and nurture the partnerships on which Net-Works would be built and working out the commercial feasibility of the programme. He was fascinated by the need to find a balance between cause and business — “I had to learn to speak carpet and I had to learn to speak conservation” — and this represented a key turning point, confirming for Jon that this was something he wanted to do “for the long haul”.

Five years on Jon is still at Interface (now as their Innovation Partner) and Net-Works continues to go from strength to strength. In fact to date the programme has not only recycled over 125 metric tonnes of waste fishing nets, but also given over 900 impoverished families access to extra income and grass roots savings and loans groups.

Community bank members with Interface’s Human Nature collection (Photo credit: Interface/ZSL)

Jon loves his work, and is constantly delighted by the opportunities his role at Interface affords, not least the chance to share the Net-Works story with other companies seeking to make a better impact on the world around them — from the aforementioned Body Shop conference, to writing an article on social business for the Guardian, to swapping ideas with Facebook’s sustainability team in Palo Alto.

Jon also feels none of it would have been possible without the On Purpose Associate Programme and community. He asserts that before On Purpose, “if I [had looked] for the job I have now a) I wouldn’t have found it and b) I wouldn’t have been ready to take it on”. On Purpose’s training gave Jon a toolkit to delve into and apply as he developed the Net-Works programme, and — crucially — a community of others from whom to seek advice, expertise and support. The rich breadth of skills represented in Jon’s cohort — from actuarial to racing yacht manufacturing, and many more in between — has provided a rich basis for knowledge sharing, not to mention a network of lasting friendships which now spans the globe.

Nets being sold into the Net-Works supply chain (Photo credit: Interface/ZSL)

One of Jon’s proudest moments to date remains meeting and sitting with a community in the Philippines who had been economically empowered by the Net-Works programme, seeing with his own eyes the difference his work is making not only to the coastline, but to many lives. He has found himself in a place where he really can seek to address some of the “bigger problems” this world faces, and he credits On Purpose for enabling him “not just to enter another world but to build a career in it.”

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Find out how the On Purpose Associate Programme shapes the journey of the people we work with

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Our mission is to create an economy that works for all— one that is fair & sustainable in the long-term. We run programmes developing leadership for this future

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