Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.
What is your name and title?
Masami Sato, Founder and CEO at B1G1 (BUY1GIVE1).
Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.
I am the founder and CEO of B1G1, a social enterprise and a global giving initiative that helps businesses around the world integrate effective giving into their everyday activities and create great impacts in the world. Founded in 2007, B1G1 has worked with thousands of businesses and those businesses have created more than 200 million giving impacts to date.
How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.
20 years ago, I became an entrepreneur. Travelling around the world, being touched by the spirit of people, and discovering the joy of sharing food with others, I decided to start a food business. My first business was a fast-food takeaway shop in Christchurch, New Zealand. And over the next 2 years, I managed to purchase another food business, improved those two businesses, sold them and moved to Australia to start a new business. I wanted to have a food company that made a positive difference in the world. My food company in Australia eventually became a wholesale frozen meal producer, and we were distributing packaged frozen meals to over 150 stores in three states. But as an owner of a growing business, I had no time or sufficient funds to do what I really wanted to do — to help feed and educate disadvantaged children. We wanted to build a soup kitchen when we become more ‘successful’.
One day, a simple idea came to me: “What if we just gave one meal for every meal sold?” I discovered that it costs only about 25 cents to give a meal through a school lunch program through an experienced NGO in India (India was one of the countries I used to backpack in and was confronted by the fact there were so many street children). With this approach, we could start making a difference every day instead of waiting for a grand success in the future. Several months later, we decided to sell our food business and move to Singapore to start B1G1 (which stood for the idea of “buy 1 give 1”). We imagine a world where everything businesses did make a difference.
It’s been more than 13 years since then. And today, the world of B1G1 is no longer just an imagination. We have coffee shops that give access to life-saving clean water or nourishing meals for every drink and food they serve. We have accounting firms, consultants and coaches that help educate children, support social entrepreneurs or help women start their own businesses. We have health practitioners who provide access to life-saving medication or access to good hygiene for every patient they care for. And these are just examples. The real stories are endless.
We see this as the ‘power of small’. We cannot change the world alone. But together small businesses can help transform many things in the world.
In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?
Realising that I don’t have to do it alone. Instead of always trying to do big things (what’s not achievable for a long time), we can start something small today and do it everyday. Having a big goal can be important but appreciating our everyday progress is also very important. At the end of the day, we never know what will happen tomorrow.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?
Evolving quickly whenever circumstance challenges us to change. It’s important to have clear plans. But sometimes, our plans don’t work out as expected. So, balancing between having great goals, good strategy and solid plans with being flexible and adaptable is important (and critical too).
What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?
I don’t think I experienced much discrimination or disadvantage because of being a woman. If anything, I think I somewhat benefitted from the fact that I’m a woman. But this is probably because of the industry I’m in (‘giving’ industry ?), the countries I’ve lived in and the type of companies we’ve worked with. If anything, being a mum while running a business created more challenges for me. Juggling these two major responsibilities can be very challenging for many women who have children.
Do you have any mentors? What does mentorship mean to you?
Yes. I used to think I didn’t really need a mentor (or a coach) and I thought I just needed to keep learning from every experience, mistakes and lessons. But in the past few years, I started to actively reach out to people I really admire and look up to, and asked them to mentor me or be an advisor to our initiative. Since I started that, the pace of progress became much faster because these advisors and mentors helped me question my own thinking and approach. And it’s not so much about receiving specific input for the challenges we face. But it’s more about creating a new level of accountability – to keep growing to become a better leader by learning from all different positions, perspectives and unique experiences.
What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?
If a new entrepreneur tried to do everything alone, it can be really overwhelming. Until you have a team, you really need to wear so many hats in your business and it can be stressful. There are days you feel lost, discouraged and defeated. So, breaking down your goals into small steps and setting priorities matters. And it is also good to operate with a sense of joy and gratitude everyday (rather than frustration and guilt) no matter where you are at in your journey.
If you can appreciate your everyday small progress, the entire journey can be much more meaningful and rewarding. Knowing that you are on the right path makes you feel ok about failures and unexpected challenges.
What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?
I think it’s good for businesses to understand the real value of having female leaders. Many companies today try appointing more female leaders because of the fear of being criticised. But I think more businesses would naturally create diversity in their workforce if they simply understood the value people with different backgrounds and circumstances bring to the mission of the company. And it’s not just about gender diversity. Having diverse perspectives and contributions from people with different cultural backgrounds, personalities, experiences, and circumstances are very important in holistic business development. In order for that to work, we need to create a culture of understanding, open-mindedness and empathy. This is the way companies can also create long-term sustainability within their own business AND in the world. And perhaps female leaders can bring more of these perspectives naturally because of the background of being ‘nurturers’ in their families and communities.
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the next year?
We have worked with 3,000 businesses so far and these businesses have created more than 200 million giving impacts together. While this is a great feat, we are looking at scaling our work much more over the next decade. Our goal is to reach 1 million businesses by the end of 2030 and make a big dent toward all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In this coming year, we are looking at some important partnership development, working with various businesses networks and establishing specific regional models.
Is there a cause that is particularly close to you? If so, why this cause and how did you get involved?
Initially, I wanted to ensure that all the children in the world have access to resources like nourishing food, medical care, education and opportunities to thrive. And fundamentally, that’s how I got into business.
I also deeply care about the bio-diversity and the eco-system of the environment. But there are so many issues I care about too. I think that the level of trust and caring in our communities really matter. I believe that there is nothing we cannot achieve together if we felt connected and came together to help each other. And I’m sure everyone cares about something. Working on B1G1 is a perfect way I can help every business and every person in the world to be part of the solution for many important issues in the world.
When did your company join Pledge 1%? What does your impact program mean to you?
We already allocate a budget to give to different causes for every business activity we have. For example, every book we publish (even as a digital book) plants trees or helps educate disadvantaged children. We work on carbon offset for our activities and want to make these things easy for other businesses to do. We also engage our team in important debates and giving activities. We talk about how to improve our own business activities and resource management so that we can make our company more socially responsible and environmental too. Being part of other social movements is important for us to keep improving our standards. And we look forward to connecting many more like-minded businesses and causes in the world through that.
After all, we cannot do it all alone. But together we can make a huge impact.
What do you like to do outside of the office? Any interesting (or unique) habits or interests?
I love running. So, I run every day. I particularly love running in nature. It gives me time to connect with the surrounding and I get lots of ideas while running. I also do things like growing hydrophobic herbs and veggies inside the house because I love nature (I used to do farming in Japan) and we cannot have a house with a garden in Singapore. My hobby changes over time too because I’m not really attached to anything specific. I enjoy life quite simply. 🙂
Are you reading/listening to anything interesting at the moment? Please share your most recent favorite book or podcast!
At the moment, I’m reading Jim Collin’s “BE 2.0 – Turing Your Business into an Enduring Great Company” and it’s great.
What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?
Having a group of new mentors and also taking on a business degree in Leadership. Last year, our team worked remotely most of the time (and we saved our travelling time), so I actually had more time to work on my own personal development. It was GREAT.