From the Financial Post
It’s the essence of business innovation to apply one business concept to another, completely different, business field. It’s also becoming increasingly common; just about every business model has been copied by someone launching a venture in a different venue.
There is perhaps no more iconic career advice than that offered by protagonist Benjamin in The Graduate: plastics. Due to its environmental challenges, the material has lost its sheen but the Plastic Bank may help change that. It is among a new crop of innovative social entrepreneurial ventures proving that, with consumer demand on your side, waste can be re-born as a valuable commodity.
But it’s markedly different in the charity world. There, solicited donation is the most common form of fund generation, with some exceptions.
Vancouver real-estate marketers Peter Dupuis and Sid Landolt have created World Housing, the world’s first 1-for-1 real-estate gifting model, which builds housing for third-world communities in garbage dumps. The partners in S&P Real Estate Corp. are adapting a principle developed by U.S. retailer Toms Shoes, which donates shoes, water, sight repair services and birth kits to the world’s poor for every pair of shoes and other apparel it sells on its website or in its stores.
During their 32-year career, Dupuis and Landolt have designed, marketed and sold more than 20,000 condos, hotel-residences, and other premium real estate worth more than $5 billion. But in 2008 when the B.C. real estate industry fell into a lull, Dupuis decided to get his masters degree by studying housing for Canada’s urban poor.
One day on a plane, he and Landolt found themselves sitting next to Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, who told them about his 1-for-1 charitable concept. Hooked, Dupuis returned home to research problems in the area he knew best — housing. He discovered that thousands of the world’s poorest people lived in garbage dumps, earning less than $1 a day and often in shacks jerry-built from castoff materials in the dumps.
At 51, Dupuis abandoned his study focus and began studying this new, larger problem. Then he met Scott Neeson, ex-president of 20th Century Fox film studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, who had left it all to form a social agency called Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF), which worked with residents of Steung Meanchey, a massive garbage dump outside the Cambodian capital of Phom Penh.
Dupuis and Landolt had found a new focus. They quickly formed Canada’s first CCC, or Community Contribution Corporation, a legal business structure created in B.C. in 2013 and aimed at socially inspired business that measured profit by how many homes were given. The new CCC, World Housing, was formed by Dupuis “phoning a few guys” who agreed to back the new corporation.
The new venture would align with Neeson’s Cambodian fund. The strategy was to use the 1-for-1 model to provide housing for the Steung Meanchy slum. The partners’ bold plan? They would get Canadian developers to donate one house in Cambodia for every housing unit they built at home.
Granted, signing up supporters didn’t happen without a few glitches. “A lot of people said we were crazy,” Dupuis observed. “Sometimes they would roll their eyes and say ‘well, we really haven’t done anything like this before.’ But we’re used to people saying ‘it won’t work.’”
Undaunted, the partners went to their friend and sometimes-partner Ian Gillespie, the socially-active founder and president of Vancouver’s Westbank Projects Corp., which has built or is building $12-billion worth of projects in Canada, including Shangri-la luxury hotels in Vancouver and Toronto and the new Vancouver House, an art-inspired signature condominium building in Vancouver.
Gillespie recruited other developers by pointing out that condo buyers would be impressed by a builder who engaged in social activism. “It’s important for developers to do local philanthropic work,” Dupuis said. With that in mind, it was an easy step to convince them that funding could come out of their marketing budgets. Very quickly, the founders raised $1 million in seed funding and could begin to take action.
The new charitable corporation has put almost 2,000 people in 325 small — albeit luxurious to their tenants — homes in the Cambodian garbage slum. It plans to build 700 to 800 more next year. It also plans to begin building homes in a garbage dump slum near Manila that houses 400,000 people.
Dupuis will continue to market condominiums from Vancouver, but is looking forward to expanding his charity. He’s also looking forward to more study now he has been accepted in a PhD program on social entrepreneurship.