Innovation Blog

Buy a Fish, Give a Fishing Pole

Social math, e.g. One for One, gives customers a clear and simple way to understand their personal social impact at every purchase. By allowing customers to see exactly what theyre donating, one-for-one companies create a sense of personal connection to the cause. TOMS was one of the first companies to tap into cause marketing to turn customers into agents of change; supporting a cause literally became as easy as buying a pair of shoes. Yet something that is often overlooked in existing one-for-one models and has drawn criticism from international development experts is the potentially limited capacity of one-for-ones to create sustainable, systemic change. Companies must keep in mind the potential impact their models could have on the economic development in the communities they seek to serve.
At the end of the day, it comes down to one simple question: does social math empower those it seeks to help, or does it empower the customer? These are not mutually exclusive, as the best social math equations do both, but the former cannot be sacrificed for the sake of the later.
What is truly needed is a bottom-up approach that treats the population served as customers with economic buying power who are accountable for their own future, not individuals in need of handouts. Thats why, for the past year, weve been brainstorming how to innovate beyond the basic one-for-one framework.

An R4H Catchment Tank, Kerala, India

One day when we were discussing the size of our future brewhouse, our solution came: One batch, One project. Once a week, well brew a 40 barrel batch of beer (80 kegs or 2200 six-packs) and the sale of this batch will generate enough money to build one community water project through our current on-the-ground partner, Rainwater for Humanity (R4H). R4H builds rainwater catchment tanks in the Kerala region of India. These tanks cost under $800 to install and last for about 20 years. So what this means is that every purchase contributes towards the construction of long-term infrastructure that would be impossible to finance with the purchase of just a single beer.
For us, its not as easy as telling our customers For every pint of beer you drink, we donate one pint to a person in need, because access to clean water is a structural problem that cant and wont be fixed with hand-outs.
The most important piece of the One project equation is the vending model that R4H uses, which requires families to pay the cost of the tank over time, allowing them to outright own the tank by year 10. This vending model is just one example of how wateraid organizations are beginning to bring microfinance to the water and sanitation sector. Microfinance is development strategy that provides low-income individuals with access to low-interest loans, credit and other financial services in an attempt to bring purchasing power to the most disadvantaged sectors of society. While microfinance has been employed for small business loans and other development initiatives in the past, it has just recently come to the water and sanitation sector, primarily because of the pioneering work of organizations like R4H and Water.orgs WaterCredit program. These organization give their customers agency in the development of their own communities by endowing them with the financial responsibility to pay back their loans.
We guess the easiest way to think about social math and social enterprise is in terms of the old adage about teaching a man to fish: social math shouldnt be about buying a fish to give a fish, it should be about buying a fish to give a fishing pole.
Founded in 2012 by two best friends from college, Cape Commons is a mission driven beer company that brews beer to invest in clean water. Right now, they’re refining their recipe on a small-batch pilot system in Denver, and looking to build a brewery in Brooklyn to get the beer kegged, canned and in your hand by this time next year. For more information, check out

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