Is the BrandAID Project a for-profit business or a social cause? The initiative, which gives modern marketing power to artisans in the world's poorest countries, is both, says its co-founder.
"Don't be confused," says Tony Pigott, who is also president and chief executive officer of JWT, a communications and advertising agency in Toronto. "We're still in the startup stage, but BrandAID is a for-profit business, just one with a social conscience. Making a profit is essential to our future sustainability."
With hooks like 'Poverty needs marketing,' BrandAID uses disruptive ideas to attract attention and recruit investors. "There's a huge market for beautiful artisan goods, such as fashion, art and decor, but there's also a huge barrier for the artisans," says Mr. Pigott. "They have no name, no brand."
Artisans don't want a handout, they want to make a living for themselves
BrandAID makes money by selling the works - which have been pre-purchased at the artisans' asking price - online, at events and to major retailers. Profit is shared between the artisan partners, investors and the BrandAID Foundation. The artisans receive 35 per cent of the profit from the sale of the art, with 10 per cent of that amount channelled back to the artisans' community through the foundation.
Being market driven is not only important to investors but also to the artisans themselves, who want to do business, not ask for a handout, says Mr. Pigott.
He established BrandAID in 2008 with co-founders Cameron Brohman, a development expert who lived in Haiti for 25 years, New York film maker David Belle and Academy Award-winning Canadian screenwriter, producer and director Paul Haggis. Josh Brolin and Diane Lane are among the Hollywood celebrities who have helped spread the word about BrandAID.
Two Haitian communities served as tests for the business model: Croix de Bouquets, with its metal artists, and Jacmel and its papier mâché crafters. Today the focus in Haiti is on rebuilding those communities, which were hit hard by the recent earthquake.
"We have only worked in Haiti to date but the impact has been substantial," says Mr. Pigott, who hopes to expand the programs to other developing countries.
Funding comes from investors "who want to make a difference with their investments while making some money," says Mr. Pigott. "The pipeline of artisans making gorgeous, marketable things is almost unending."
According to Mr. Pigott, UNESCO has identified 450 master-led, community-based artisan communities around the world and given them an award of excellence for the beauty, authenticity and marketability of their goods.
"For poor countries, making money is the most important thing," says Mr. Pigott. "It's estimated that one artist supports 20 people."
Sustainability of the business also depends on stirring interest among consumers. One key aspect of BrandAID's business model is recruiting ad and marketing professionals to volunteer their services as a way of giving back.
"People who hear about the project are universally interested in taking part," says Mr. Pigott. "If we can get that tough, cynical crowd asking to help, we know we've got something."