Staying nimble helps social entrepreneurs navigate Covid

Tesh Randall, co-founder of dairy free coconut yoghurt brand Raglan Food Co, was one of a group social entrepreneurs who the Foundation brought together in Martinborough recently to share ideas and their experiences of navigating a turbulent 2020. In this article, Tesh describes the event and what she took away from it.
The group posing for a photo on a field with green hills behind

The group were united in their desire to build businesses that put social, cultural and/or environmental issues at the forefront of what they do

Last month, entrepreneurs from all around New Zealand travelled the winding road from Wellington to Martinborough, not for the scenic views and world-renowned wine (although they certainly added to the experience!), but for the promise of connecting with other social enterprise leaders and learning how like-minded movers and shakers had been coping with the challenges that the past Covid-affected months presented.

After learning about each other’s backgrounds and stories, the group, which was made up of entrepreneurs from industries as diverse as F&B, technology and education, deep-dived into sharing the challenges faced over the past year.

Flossie Van Dyke, from Chia Sisters, shared how the company lost over 70 percent of their sales almost overnight when lockdown was announced, leading to some radical pivots in how they did business – growing their online direct-to-customer sales platform and launching a brand new product, freshly baked muesli.

Radical pivots was a theme of the event. As people with heads for problem solving and a focus on finding solutions to social issues, the group were well positioned to not only realign their businesses in the face of the Covid challenge, but also contribute to the pandemic response.

Kaye-Maree Dunn from Āhau redirected her attention from building her platform for storing indigenous knowledge to safeguarding her local Māori community over lockdown – collaborating with iwi in the Far North to transform marae into hospitals and distribute food packages to those in need.

Eric Chuah from The Cookie Project was brought to tears recalling the heartbreak of losing access to their cookie making facility. He knocked on every possible door until Eden Park opened up their kitchens so his team of bakers with disabilities could continue to be provided with meaningful, paid employment.

The entrepreneurs listening to Patsy Kodaka who Zoomed in from Thailand

Patsy Kodaka from Folkcharm Zoomed in from Thailand to share her experiences of running a social enterprise during the Covid pandemic

The entrepreneurs also benefited from hearing stories from further afield – two Thai entrepreneurs, who had visited New Zealand as part of the Foundation's ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, joined the group via Zoom to offer their insights into what has been happening in Thailand over recent months.

Founder and managing director of Folkcharm Patsy Kodaka and Dao Pattraporn, co-founder of Sal Forest, have been busy women in 2020.

Patsy swiftly redirected her local craftswomen sewing resources into making sustainable cotton face masks, and managed to generate three to four months of revenue in only one month of sales, which allowed her enterprise to survive in a time when retail shops lost all foot traffic.

Dao has been working harder than ever to accelerate sustainable solutions for companies across Thailand to do business better. The Kiwi YBLIs were inspired by their stories and their resilience in spite of the many difficulties they faced.

A dinner at the local historic Martinborough Hotel rounded off an action-packed day, and networking continued well into the evening. 

The final day began with an Ask and Offer session led by Sharee Wilkinson from Moka Lashes. It was heartening to see many problems entrepreneurs were facing being solved on the spot by others in the room.

For example, Tesh Randall from Raglan Food Co helped Lucy from Bennetto Natural Foods with defining her recruitment process for her first full-time team member. Dr Angela Lim, who is CEO and co-founder of Clearhead, an online platform that helps people get mental health advice and assistance, arranged some valuable introductions to help Michael Watson from Study Spy put together an advisory board.

The vineyard owner talking to the group on a gravel driveway

Escarpment Vineyards owner Larry McKenna talks to the group about his vineyard's business philosophy

Feeling refreshed and invigorated by such a productive problem-solving session, the group went for a tour of Escarpment Vineyards, an organic-certified wine producer that is now exporting from Martinborough around the globe.

The founder, Larry McKenna, was very hospitable and shared the process from grape to barrel to glass with the group of attentive listeners (and sippers!).

Then it was time for goodbye photos and farewells; with new friendships formed, old ones deepened, and plenty of fresh inspiration to continue making a positive impact. Everyone agreed that in challenging times, having a strong local and international community to lean on makes a world of difference.

Top tips from the day 

  • Great entrepreneurs have lots of people who want to support them – this is a time to gratefully take that help.
  • Be upfront with your customers – don't hide from them that times are tough
  • As an entrepreneur – and someone who is more used to the ups and downs of business – you are actually well equipped to deal with a crisis.
  • Keep perspective – this is a tough time for lots of people not just business owners.
  • Think and support local, but don’t forget the importance of global links and connections.

The ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative is a key part of the New Zealand Government’s ASEAN Strategy.  The Asia New Zealand Foundation has been managing the initiative since 2012 on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, running sector-specific programmes for Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in New Zealand, and New Zealand entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia.