I contribute £2 to WaterAid by direct debit. I have been doing this for some years and the trigger came about when I was looking into desalination technologies, given that scarcity of fresh water is one of the greatest threats that mankind faces. Every month £2 leaves my account, and that is about the extent of the connection that I have with this organisation. Yes, every now-and-then an envelope drops through my letterbox asking that I give more, but to be honest it joins the pile of post that I’ll get to “later” and ultimately lands up in the recycling bin. (My other nod to “doing my bit” for the planet, although it’s more likely the fine that I’ll get from the council that keeps it full to the brim!)
That’s pretty piss poor when you think about it. I am a privileged member of society living a great life in one of the most expensive cities on the planet and that is the extent of my “social impact”: putting the recycling bin out on a Wednesday morning and 24 bucks a year to charity.
And it’s been bugging me. I’m not the sort that’s going to paddle board down the Amazon in the name of saving the forest or cross the Sahara desert on roller blades (now that would be a challenge) in the name of climate change. I will leave the adventures to those who like to be permanently uncomfortable; for me there must be another way that I can “make a difference” and have a hot bath every evening!
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner hosted by Ben and Jonathan. There were all these entrepreneurial types in attendance and I felt like a bit of an imposter given that I am not an entrepreneur and have just left my job after nearly 15 years in real estate finance. What ingredient could a grey Chartered Accountant with many “life-hours” lost to tinkering with Excel spreadsheets possibly add to this cauldron of creative buzz and energy?
I heard boats mentioned (I breathed an inward sigh of relief as Ben meant it figuratively!); mobilising enthusiastic millennials who “want-to-change-the-world” to man the decks, building relationships with corporates as the “ship builders” and roping in experienced individuals from industry to steer the vessels by acting as mentors or providing skills - all with the aim of navigating towards solving some of society’s problems and making a few bob at the same time.
If I look past the boating analogy, for me the crux of Oxygen is to provide a platform for businesses to be launched that have two interlinked objectives: positive social impact and making a profit.
And this can only be achieved if Oxygen is able to forge real connections across a varied group of stakeholders from the young gun who has the idea; to the corporate who has some cash to fund it; to the “older generation” who has the skills set to nurture it; and ultimately to those less fortunate than ourselves who will benefit once the boats arrive onshore.
It’s the nature of the connection that is important to me. It’s not about receiving a newsletter from a charity once a quarter that lands up in the bin. By being part of Oxygen I will have the opportunity to actively engage in those projects that resonate with me whether it be by deploying my skills set; contributing some funding; or even just sitting on the harbour wall shouting some encouragement!
And, who knows, it might be one that solves the world’s fresh water crisis.
Chris Hodson is more than a "grey Chartered Accountant". He collaborates with business leaders, purpose led senior talent, and energetic millennials to make positive change in the world through Oxygen.
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