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Leadership Network member helping businesses to thrive ethically

James Bushell reckons you can sell lots of yum things to eat and drink, and save the world while you do it.

James Bushell climbing up a rocky mountainside

The Leadership Network member is founder and director of MOTIF, an organisation that helps businesses grow while providing environmental and social benefits through their trading.

While being socially and environmentally responsible is important, saying a business should ‘just do good’ is not compelling enough, he says. 

“Businesses still need to be product-led.”

Take the Wellington Chocolate Factory, one of MOTIF’s clients, for example.

They claim to make some of the world’s best chocolate, and they are able to do that by putting energy into social and environmental outcomes, he says.

“We invest in the community, so we get a better product. Workers are paid fairly, so we get better productivity.”

Ethics and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive, and the Wellington Chocolate Factory has adopted strategies that utilise ethics to help them outcompete, he explains.

James’ watershed moment came while travelling and working in Southeast Asia.

He found himself trekking with local militia in Laos, and his eyes were opened to how the other half lives, he says.

“People lived with basically nothing.”

On the same trip, he worked with his brother and another business partner to set up a vineyard in Thailand, growing table grapes for the domestic Thai market.

He ended up establishing a school.

On the payroll at the vineyard were predominantly female workers, and after discovering the woeful levels of education in the community, James and his cohorts went about setting up a free school for the workers’ children.

“We started with four children, after a couple of weeks this grew to 10. Before we knew it, this had grown to 200 children within the space of a couple of months.

“It changed my life quite profoundly.”

He’s now fuelled by a desire to see a more equitable and sustainable world, he says, and business can be used as a tool to achieve that.

He also seems fuelled by a sense of adventure.

Recently, in the name of promoting sustainable shipping practices, improving facilities for cocoa farmers in Bougainville, and giving the finger to steep fuel tariffs imposed on said cocoa farmers by Papua New Guinean authorities, James joined a crew sailing a wooden waka from Fiji to New Zealand via Vanuatu, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

“It was a bit of a wild trip actually. I was told it would take under a month, it took more than three.”

They sailed 10,000-plus nautical miles, and spent a 29-day stretch without touching land, using traditional navigation techniques to do it.

There’s no doubt he’s a big ideas man, but with it comes a knack for turning a vision into something actionable and tangible. And, luckily, he doesn’t get seasick.

By Kim Bowden

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14 December 2017