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Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Melanie: I believe we can make things happen if we want to. And I believe also in people. I think we are inherently good.
Author Melanie van de Velde, Ph.D., has spent her career helping big businesses do business better, especially in terms of social impact. She shares insights to double or even quintuple results in her book Leak Like a Genius, due out in January. She is also the CEO of Big Tree Global.
She notes that a lot of noble, high-impact nonprofit work focuses on fixing problems created directly or indirectly by business. She likens it to mopping up the water from an overflowing tub while the faucet is still running–it is neverending.
She suggests instead that implementing structural changes in business to eliminate the problems caused and instead become part of the solution. This is how to shut off the flow of water and simultaneously help to mop it up.
She offers a critical observation and an example to make the point:
When secondhand donations ramped up in Africa, for example, over 50% of people in the local textile industries lost their jobs as a consequence. It can disrupt local economies, but it can also create adverse psychological impacts such as depression, despair, lack of self-esteem and things like that.
So, if you compare it to a whole different example called soleRebels, it's Africa's fastest-growing footwear brand, founded by an Ethiopian businesswoman called Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu. She rightly asks, “If you give a child a pair of shoes and it grows out of it, or it wears out, then what does it have? But if you give the parents a job, the whole family will always have shoes.”
That's exactly what she does. She has opened manufacturing facilities in Ethiopia areas that need economic generation development. She pays their staff over three times the industry average wage. So, it's a much more structural solution.
If you think about poverty, if you think about inequality, essentially, if we want to tackle the root cause, it takes two things. The first being empowering people to contribute their talents, their skills to make a living.
The second part is what I call just payments. That doesn't mean paying everyone the same. For market incentives to work, it's good to recognize different contributing factors such as taking more effort, more risk, bringing more talent, more skill and working harder, but paying people just prices, reflecting the contributions that are made.
If we do that, and that is essentially a real role of business, we would tackle poverty, rising inequality, and social exclusion at its root.
Her example makes clear that business not only can be an essential part of the solution to poverty, but it must be!
Throughout her career, Melanie has employed her superpower, believing that we can make change and that people are inherently good.
AI Episode Summary
The guest on the show is Melanie van de Velde, CEO and founder of Big Tree Global and author of Lead Like a Genius.
Melanie's background is in business, but she has always been passionate about addressing poverty in the world.
She ran an impact enterprise in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, which taught her about the challenges of balancing commercial sense and making a difference.
Melanie spent years researching projects and companies that make a difference and wanted to share everything she learned, leading to her book, Lead Like a Genius.
Businesses have a role to play in solving the world's problems by addressing the root causes rather than dealing with symptoms.
Examples include the TOMS buy one give one model, which alleviates poverty-related issues but doesn't fix the root cause, and SoleRebels, an African footwear brand that provides jobs and addresses poverty structurally.
Business models that have a strong commercial sense while pursuing an impact mission are more successful in driving change.
An example is the Brigade Bar and Bistro in London, which provides an excellent dining experience while training and empowering apprentices facing homelessness or mental health challenges.
Melanie's superpower is her belief in the inherent goodness of people and their ability to make a positive impact on the world.
To learn more about Melanie and her work, her book Lead Like a Genius is available on Lulu.com and Amazon, and she can be reached on LinkedIn or through the website Big Tree Global.
How to Develop Belief in Change and the Goodness of People As a Superpower
Melanie’s beliefs empower her work. She cuts quickly to the point, saying, “I think if I didn't believe that we could make things different and that people are inherently good, I don't think I would have even pursued this path or stayed on this path because it's not definitely not been the easiest one.”
Melanie offers a few tips for increasing your faith in humanity.
Her first tip is to consider the news cautiously and include choices like Superpowers for Good in your news inputs.
Second, she suggests focusing on inspiring examples of good people. Though seldom covered in the news, they are all around us and easy to find.
Third, she encourages people to infuse their organizations with these examples, including the insights in her book and from her consulting and other work. She adds that your business will benefit just by getting a portion of the organization on board to start.
By following Melanie’s example and advice, you can increase your belief in the goodness of humanity and our collective ability to change things. In time, you may make this a superpower that empowers you to do more good in the world.
Melanie van de Velde (she/her): Founder & Author, Big Tree Global Ltd
About Big Tree Global Ltd: Author of LEAD LIKE A GENIUS: How to Outgrow the Competition & Transform Our World (to be published January ‘24); Supporting business leaders and MBA students to create a 200-400% better impact return in tackling our key global issues, as well as improved business growth, productivity and brand value. Services offered: Board sessions, Workshops/ Impact Labs, Masterclasses, Immersive Impact Trips.
The 9-year-old Melanie van de Velde was asked what problem she would like to solve when she grew up. She answered that she wanted to help people who were living in poverty. At the time, she had yet to see severe deprivation first-hand. But in the years since, she’s traveled extensively. The suffering she’s witnessed has only strengthened her ambition in childhood.
Dr Van de Velde was awarded the Adam Smith Prize for PhD Excellence at the University of Glasgow. Nominated for the prize by the Research Director at the Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge University, her thesis was the source of many insights in this book.
Her other academic achievements include an MBA with Distinction at the Adam Smith Business School and an MSc in Industrial Engineering.
With an unusually diverse CV, Dr. Van de Velde has managed Asia Pacific markets at a multi-billion dollar tech company. She’s worked in senior management at IT start-ups. And she’s run a fashion business to empower young women without an education in a Nairobi slum.
With Big Tree Global Ltd, she helps business leaders with the tools and insights to create effective impact strategies that lead to business growth and genuinely transform our world for the better.
Raised in a small town in the Netherlands, she now lives with her partner and children in Scotland’s largest city.
Instagram Handle: @melanie.vandevelde.btg
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