Profits and Purpose at Mahamosa | by Alicia Anderson
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What is a social entrepreneur? A business leader who is focused equally on profits and purpose. They use business to create social value, and they are reaching into every sector of the economy.
Raju is an energetic guy with a Master’s degree in Public Health and a law degree. He practiced as an intellectual property attorney, but wanted to go out on his own to use his skills to do something positive in the world. His partner in the business is his wife, a graphic designer with extensive design and illustration experience. He says he’s always been a highly-focused idealist – “maybe being an only child has something to do with it – having more time to develop those ideals,” laughs Raju.
They combined their skills and launched Mahamosa as an online business in May, 2011. The company sells loose leaf teas, spices, gifts and wares, along with gifts such as teapots, infusers, chocolates, honey sticks, and 100% organic cotton shirts.
They are committed to donating 50% of their profits to charity. Asked where this drive to contribute comes from, Raju says “It’s time for society to start thinking long-term, not short-term, about business impact. Businesses need to play a stronger role in having positive impacts AND mitigating negative impacts like pollution, climate change and declining public health.”
What charities does Mahamosa support? Raju’s background in public health led him to organizations like water.org, Oxfam, Save the Children, and other groups who focus on humanitarian issues. They don’t yet have direct partner relationship with the charities – “Organizations of this size prefer to establish partnerships with larger business than ours,” he says. Perhaps charities are missing an opportunity here? For now, the relationship is informal; Raju makes a donation once a year to the charity of choice.
They have wisely branded their charitable efforts with the “Being in the World” trademark, thus establishing a community that is set somewhat apart from the business itself.
The brand’s online manifesto states:
We chose the phrase “Being in the World” because it describes not only our individual being but also our inseparable situation, connection and continuity with the world around us. We explore, think about, appreciate and embrace internationalism/globalism, diversity, and multiculturalism. We connect with and help people connect and be in the world. The Being in the World community has no boundaries. Our business is an experiment in socially and environmentally responsible capitalism. We believe people, including consumers, are motivated not solely by individual concerns but also by social and worldly concerns or causes beyond the individual self. Taking this conviction to the retailing world, we believe consumers inform their purchasing decisions not only by cost but also a true concern for the world around them.
Raju also helps mitigate negative impacts in his business by using only 100% biodegradable wheat straw cups and 100% recycled paper for everything from business cards to register tape.
The business made a major growth step in October, 2011, when they opened retail kiosks in two Atlanta malls. The Rajus are new to retail, so there has been a learning curve, but the exposure has been valuable to the young company, and they have been able to provide jobs as a result.
Raju says the company’s focus for 2012 is marketing. They have experimented with group discount sites (such as Living Social) and found success in driving business to the retail locations. “It’s not for everyone,” Raju says of the group discount promotions, “but it gave us valuable insights about our buyers and lots of visibility, so it worked for us.” They plan to expand their retail footprint by evaluating how they can get their products into large grocery stores, like Whole Foods.
Boosting online traffic is a major goal for 2012. They are active on social media, and have experimented with search optimization on their website, but the competition for eyeballs online is tough.
They know their market – Raju’s research tells him his buyers are consumers who are new to tea drinking, and are overwhelmingly young women, 18 to 35 years old. He notes that while in the US, only around 10% of people are tea drinkers, tea is the number two beverage worldwide second only to water. He acknowledges the wide variety of competition his company faces – grocery store teas, retail tea outlets, and other beverages, including coffee. But he believes in the quality of his product and a growing national focus on individual health will help boost the popularity of his teas.
Visit the company at www.mahamosa.com.
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