Cecilia Crossley on building a social enterprise: “We don’t want to compete for charities’ income – we want to add to it.”
Cecilia Crossley worked in a Big Four accountancy firm and the third sector before founding From Babies With Love. She was recently nominated for the Veuve Clicquot Social Purpose Award, an award which celebrates women who put social purpose before profit.
From Babies With Love is an ethical children’s clothing company which donates all its profits to orphaned and abandoned children around the world.
From Babies With Love recently hit the £100,000 donations milestone. BLM spoke to Cecilia about her path to build a purpose-led brand.
What was your background prior to founding From Babies With Love?
My mum is from Brazil, and every few years we’d visit my Gran and family, so as a child myself, I saw children living on the streets of Rio. This has always stayed with me, and ever since I began my career I’ve been drawn to working with or for charities.
After University I became a Chartered Accountant in the City, where I kept finding myself in the CSR department. So I moved to International Development charities, where I worked all over the world and learned about what NGOs do to help address global issues. Through this work experience, I learned about Social Enterprise – businesses that exist to help solve social or environmental problems.
What is the organisation’s purpose? What problems do you want to help solve?
From Babies with Love is the baby brand that donates 100% of its profits to orphaned and abandoned children. Our purpose is to prevent and alleviate poverty for vulnerable children.
A key part of our business is our Parental Leave Gift Service, which helps our clients to engage and retain working parents.
For many companies, the attrition of working parents, an experienced talent pool, is costly. Not only in the cost of replacement but also in the wider impact on gender imbalance at senior levels.
We send ethically sourced baby gifts to our clients’ employees when they take parental leave. As well as the products, our gift bundles tell the story of the vulnerable children the employer’s gift is helping.
Can you explain what is meant when From Babies With Love is called a “non-traditional charity”?
The idea of products that donate money to charity has existed for a long time, for examples in cause-related marketing and donated goods sold in charity shops. Many Social Enterprise models incorporate this.
Why did you decide to start a social enterprise rather than a traditional charity or a commercial business?
There are incredible children’s charities doing vital work around the world. I saw an opportunity to increase the funding that enables their work, by generating income in a new way – we don’t want to compete with existing sources of income those charities already have – we want to add to it.
How do you decide where to donate the profits? How do you measure their impact?
Our Board makes the decisions on where to donate our profits. We are guided by frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and UN policy briefs, and we select partner charities based on various criteria. We then ask our partners to tell us where the needs are, of which they have expert understanding.
We measure impact quantitatively by counting the children our profits support, and qualitatively with case studies and stories of how the children are growing up. We receive photos, letters, reports, Christmas cards; it’s incredibly rewarding, and we report our impact to our clients in our Social Impact Reports.
What makes a purpose-led brand? How can commercial businesses learn from your model?
A purpose-led brand has its purpose written into its legal governing documents, therefore at its core. So if that brand is sold, or if there’s a change in management, there is no change in purpose.
Purpose-led brands are commercial companies; I don’t distinguish between them. I think more about how all companies can design products and services that give them a competitive advantage and at the same time solve problems that the market has either created, not been able to solve, or both. With growing demand from citizens around the world, I expect companies that think this way will outperform those that don’t.
What are your aims for From Babies With Love over the next few years?
So far we support over 4,000 children around the world. We’re building on this to help more children – our next project will be to support girls in Musahar communities in Nepal. Just 4% of Musahar children are in school after the age of 6, and the literacy rate for women and girls is a mere 3.8%.
What are some of the most pressing concerns for social enterprises like yours currently?
The scale of the issues social enterprises are tackling can feel insurmountable and weigh heavily. But we are all working together in a broader theme of shifting the role and impacts of commerce in society, and whilst the speed at which we need to do this is a concern, being one small part of the innovation and impact social enterprises are creating is something I find extremely exciting.
What advice would you give to others trying to set up a social enterprise?
There are several places to get support and start-up funding that I would recommend reaching out to. Social Enterprise UK’s website is a great place to start learning what’s available and itself has many helpful resources.