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Social Change Champion: Benjamin Korff

Benjamin Korff is a geographer with expertise in environmental impact monitoring. Ben, along with co-founder and civil engineer Lily Yap, started a social enterprise called Viva la Cup to slash waste generation from takeaway disposable cups. Viva la Cup recently launched Victoria’s first reusable coffee cup network. The network allows customers to take away a reusable cup for a deposit-fee and return it to any participating café or restaurant across the city. Viva la Cup has pledged to donate 50% of its profits to waste-reduction initiatives across Asia and the Pacific. Five cafes in Melbourne’s CBD have already signed up to Viva la Cup, including Basement Café, Jungle Juice, Kape, Kings & Knaves, and La Kuaizi, supported by Melbourne City’s Single Use Waste Reduction Fund. We sat down with Ben to find out more.

What is your social enterprise elevator pitch?

Viva la Cup is fighting waste from disposable cups: We offer a convenient reusable solution that does not require you to bring your own.

What are your biggest personal and/or professional challenges as a social entrepreneur in Australia?

  1. Convincing people that there are good alternatives to business-as-usual. People are often stuck doing things the way they have always done them, without looking left or right, or asking if there are alternatives that are better suited for their business, their community, the environment or all of them together.
  2. Creating the support network needed to gain traction. It is impossible to get a social enterprise rolling without a lot of support from others. But finding the right people to work with is not always easy, and takes a long time for a new social enterprise.
  3. Not losing faith. It takes tremendous amounts of energy and will to start a successful social enterprise. We had to learn to cope with setbacks and things moving a lot slower than expected, and sometimes to keep things on a low flame in order to sustain motivation.”

What’s the best piece of advice you have received so far since starting your own social enterprise?

Just do it (not from Nike…). Don’t spend years trying to figure things out perfectly, but get a minimum viable product out asap, and then build on small successes.

If you were to start over, is there anything you would do differently?

Not really. I am actually convinced that we have taken all the right decisions throughout the process. Small mistakes happen all the time of course, but that is fine, and helps us to learn. Key is to recover from set-backs and try again or find a different way. Rather than doing everything differently, it is important to find a way to sustain the energy to push on. There is no perfect way to do things, there are many options that could work, so select one and then review and adjust to ensure it will.

Where do you see the future of social enterprise in Australia?

I am actually really excited to see how many social enterprises are out there, successfully running. I am fully convinced that social enterprises ARE the future. The way our economy is currently still structured, it gives too little regard to environmental and social concerns. I believe that restructuring needs to be done towards a more sustainable and value-guided economy, in Australia but also across the world. I believe social enterprises are one key tool in that change. Social entrepreneurs are already taking steps to action, so I am hopeful that Australia can be at the forefront of a new and more sustainable economy. Let’s stop to have more and more, and instead focus on making things better, for ourselves and the environment.

What appeals most to you about Social Change Central?

One of the difficulties in starting a social enterprise is to generate the support network. That is exactly where Social Change Central comes in. Social Change Central does not only keep us up to date for funding and exposure opportunities but has actually connected us to its wide-network, allowing us to gain more traction for our initiative. Many social entrepreneurs are newcomers in their domain, and yet have to develop the professional network necessary for success, Social Change Central can kickstart that process.

The Social Change Central changemaker community is growing at a fast rate. How can our members learn more about you and help support your organisation (e.g. are you looking for funding, PR, marketing support, volunteers, interns)?

A first step of course would be to visit our website and to follow us on facebook and Instagram. If you have questions just message us there and we will come back to you. If you know the owners or managers of an environmentally conscious café, talk to them about us and put us in touch. If you think you speak the same language and share similar values, please do get in touch, as we are always looking to link-up, get to know the community, and partner up to increase our impact.

And finally, what would you do if you found a lottery ticket that ended up winning $10 million?

I really believe that single-use plastics are causing a large-scale environmental crisis. With $10 million we could go a long way in finding sustainable alternatives that will help us sustain our environment. Maybe investing that money to set up a fund providing financial support to promising environmental initiatives and the circular economy would be a good start. First though, I would probably take a good holiday, because starting a social enterprise is hard work…

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