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Corporate social responsibility is the herald of a new corporate age. Today, global consumers unequivocally expect big conglomerates and budding entrepreneurs alike to fulfill a greater social and environmental purpose than to just improve bottom lines.

In the 2015 Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, sixty-six percent of global consumers interviewed said that they would pay more for products and services from businesses that advance social and environmental causes. More businesses are acknowledging this fact and are built on the very premise that doing good and running a business do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive ideals.

With the rise of peer-to-peer marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber, people are increasingly turning towards online marketplaces to run their business. While online marketplaces provide the digitization capability for many traditional forms of marketplaces such as wet markets, auction houses and trade shows, will they be harder to manoeuver when a business model focuses more on sustainability than profit? Not necessarily.

“Many traditional marketplaces were created for collective buying as a form of utility to benefit the greater good, not merely to generate profit”, said Arcadier’s co-founder Kenneth Low. Social causes such as poverty alleviation, women empowerment, fair trade and healthcare access are but only some ideas which can be incorporated into a sustainable marketplace. Let’s take a look at how some marketplaces do this.  

1. Artisan & Fox

On a mission to empower artisans across the developing world, Artisan & Fox brings the global market to the doorsteps of talented silversmiths, weavers and craftsmen in countries like Nepal, Kenya, Guatemala, Mexico and Afghanistan.

Displaying intricately designed earrings, chokers, shawls and other artisanal products on its online marketplace, Artisan and Fox provides these artisans access to the outside world, hitherto unavailable. This reduces the chances of them being exploited or extorted by factories and middlemen.

Naturally, high fashion accessories can be sold at a higher price. With the amalgamation of ethical fashion and extraordinary craftsmanship as its guiding vision, the Singapore and London-based social enterprise also works alongside artisan entrepreneurs to improve their products’ quality, capacity of production and contemporary designs. This in turn allows these artisans to set a higher retail price for their products. With personal stories posted on the site, buyers can also see how earnings directly impact artisans’ lives, thereby encouraging greater sales contribution.

Fifty percent of the profit received from products sold is then given back to these artisans, helping them maintain a sustainable livelihood. With the artisan industry being the second largest employer in the developing world, Artisan and Fox believes that there are more artisans out there whom they can make a difference to, and it is certainly making progress slowly but surely.

2. Lendor

Officially launched in July 2017, Lendor is a mobile marketplace – labelled to be the “Airbnb of Things” – where people can borrow and lend things that they do not use often to others in their proximity. ‘Lendors’ can choose to charge a nominal fee, or lend their items out for free.

With the aim to reduce post-consumer wastage, the brainchild of Singaporean husband-and-wife team Chuan Wei Zhang and Pauline Lim allows users to breathe new life into products which are rarely or never used after purchase. Top traded products currently include equipment for short-term use such as clutches, strollers, photography equipment and costumes.

Also read: Stop making excuses; Here are 3 ways to establish social impact today

As the mobile lending marketplace operates via proximity, it also seeks to revive the traditional kampong (‘community’ in Malay) spirit that many Singaporeans have complained the lack thereof within modern communities today. Decluttering living spaces also creates healthier living environments for city-dwellers who are increasingly boxed up in small, clustered apartments.

These perks are exactly what a sharing economy entails – the pooling of loose resources to meet emerging demands, bringing around increased convenience, improved resource utilization and greater quality of life for all. 

3. ImpactUs

ImpactUs is a Washington, D.C.-based platform which connects cash-strapped social entrepreneurs with impact investors who are seeking out worthy projects to invest in.

The project-based marketplace operates on a three-pronged approach:

  1. Mission-driven institutions trying to raise capital first list their project specifications on the marketplace
  2. Investors visit the invitation-only marketplace for exclusive access to quality investment opportunities before deciding which ones are worth undertaking
  3. Industry experts provide their expertise using the platform’s sophisticated infrastructure and reporting capabilities

Imagine people exchanging name cards at trade shows and association meetings, or spending the whole day listening intently at industry seminars, before having to manually follow up on the leads generated? Thankfully, ImpactUs does away with all that, removing the costly, inefficient game of cat-and-mouse.

Instead, investors and social entrepreneurs can now connect with a few clicks on the Internet, allowing time and money which were previously used to source for one another be allocated to more important things like project planning and execution. Doing good cannot be any faster or more cost-efficient in this day and age.

Also read: Rise of the social entrepreneur: Will doing good be good business?

Social Entrepreneurship x Marketplaces

You might not have noticed this, but the different forms of marketplaces listed above – B2B (ImpactUs), B2C (Artisan & Fox) and C2C (Lendor) – all have a salient similarity: the ambition to make the world a better place.

With e-commerce moving towards a marketplace-based approach, let’s not discount the potential of marketplaces to do good, regardless of whether they are for environmental conservation, inclusive growth, animal welfare or any other social causes. As how a marketplace’s success depends on its congregation of buyers and sellers, the world’s progress also relies on our collectiveness and commitment as one united people.


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