5 ways your spending habits can change the world

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Teresa

Ever wonder what we can do to change the world when so many of our waking hours are already accounted for?

World leaders have been making some big promises over the past six months, with the UN declaring they aim to end extreme poverty around the world by 2030. Such an amazing goal can only be achieved if every Australian worker and business leader takes this challenge personally.

Thankfully, you don’t always have to put in your own hours to achieve change. As Olivia Wilde, actress and cofounder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say, “Your dollar is your vote.”

Young generations forging a world-changing path

Multiple studies like this one and this one have found that Gen Y (those of us currently aged 18-34) are more willing than older generations to spend extra money on goods and services if it supports a good cause. We’re also more likely to look into a company’s ethical business practices before working with them or buying from them.

As for the latest generation entering the workforce, marketing agency Sparks&Honey reports Gen Z (born after 1990 and currently aged 13-26) is even more “cause-oriented”. 60% of them want to have an impact on the world (compared to 39% of Gen Y/Millennials), and 1 in 4 are involved in volunteer activities.

Everyone knows about buying FairTrade food items by now, we hope, but how else can we pressure companies into acting more ethically? Well, the answer is pretty much everywhere.

Here are 4 easy ways you can change the world with your spending choices.

1. FairTrade clothing

One of the reasons I no longer shop at the various bargain basement clothing chains in my area is that some of the items are sourced from Bangladeshi and Chinese sweat shops that don’t pay their workers a fair wage. You shouldn’t be able to buy a cardigan for under $30 if the manufacturer is doing the right thing by its workers.

Instead, when I need to save money I love op shopping because all the proceeds go to charity. And when you need shoes, it’s hard to go past TOMS, where they donate one pair of shoes to poor communities for every pair you buy for yourself.

2. Meaningful gift-giving

I love buying birthday presents and other gifts from poverty-fighting warrior organisations such as the Oxfam Shop, World Vision Gifts, UNICEF, and emerging heroes such as Indego Africa and Krochet Kids International.

There are typically two choices for a gift of this type. First, there are great gifts for your friends, such as handmade homewares, clothing, notebooks, and other beautiful things. Alternatively, you can buy a gift card that represents a community development project such as a goat or a pig to provide a sustainable means of income for a family or a healthcare project such as immunisations for children.

Best of all, it’s a tax deduction – now that’s what I call a win-win.

3. Invest in microfinance or ethical investment

Research shows that doing simple acts of kindness and generosity doesn’t just give you positive feelings – it also lowers your blood pressure by releasing the hormone oxytocin and its chemical buddy, nitric oxide. When it comes to finance, we often just think of opening our wallets to donate to one thing or another. But there are two more direct ways we can make a difference.

For the average Kiwi worker, with our relatively high incomes compared to the rest of the world, it’s not impossible to find a little spare cash to invest in microfinance. Microfinance is a loan that you give to a budding entrepreneur. In the developing world, this means so much more than just a hand-out – it’s a real hand up to families trying to pull themselves out of poverty.

Online microfinance sites that you can try out include:

  • KIVA Gift Cards lets you give micro-loans to people in need in developing nations, for education, business equipment, and the like. KIVA says these loans are paid back 99% of the time, and the loan money is then free for you to reinvest in another micro-loan.
  • Take a look at P2P lenders and see whether any of the micro-loans on offer seem like worthy causes.

If you’re not sure how much to give, try using Professor Peter Singer’s progressive giving scale to see how much he recommends budgeting for your level of income.

The founder of Grameen Bank and the “inventor” of microfinance and micro-credit lending, Muhammud Yunus, won the Nobel Prize in 2006. Definitely an everyday inspiration, Yunus started with just $27 worth of loans distributed to 42 people in his own community in Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations on Earth.

Yunus helped thousands obtain long-term business loans without collateral before his retirement. Grameen Bank carried on his legacy, issuing loans to 7.4 million by 1997.

You can also make a big difference by choosing ethical investment options in your Kiwisaver, investments, or business dealings. Ethical investment is when investment funds use different filters to screen in sustainable companies and screen out unethical companies.

4. Partner your business with a charity

We should always know who we’re doing business with, and choose ethical partners – much in the same way that as an everyday consumer I’ve chosen not to purchase unethical brands.

But you can take it a step further by choosing your favourite charity and regularly donating volunteer time or donating a percentage of your proceeds to them. You can do this in either a charitable giving, sponsorship, or partnership model, so it’s easy to choose the method that suits your business best.

You could even turn your own business into a not-for-profit (a.k.a. non-profit or “public benefit corporation” overseas). After all, the massively successful founders of Kickstarter did.

5. Savings goals

This one may sound a little more difficult, but if I can do it you can do it. While maintaining our own worthy savings goals (new car, home deposit, GoPro drone), we can add one more that’s not about us: The Mission Fund.

In my house, we have a savings account that is dedicated to our mission of making the world a better place. It’s the account we dip into when we want to donate to the Salvation Army or Christian Blind Mission. It’s the account I used when one of the Youth Group girls I mentor was raising funds to go on a volunteering trip to a village in Nepal.

The best part of our account is that it we set it up with a regular incoming payment from our main bank account. When my pay comes in every fortnight, a small percentage goes straight to the Mission Fund.

Free Bonus: Social media

You can make more of an impact than you think – in terms of raising awareness and even raising funds – by getting on the dreaded Facebook or Twitter and sharing links about the cause you care about.

Tag your local and federal government representatives in your posts to put the heat on them to change the parts of our world they’re responsible for.

You could even make your message go viral on the internet by clicking on “Share: Public” instead of just “Share with Friends”.

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