Origin Story Interview W/ Louisa Burman, Sustainability & B Corp Consultant

Origin Story Interview W/ Louisa Burman, Sustainability & B Corp Consultant

Brighter Future

 / 

Nov 16, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #SocialImpact #ImpactMeasurement #ChangeMakers #PositiveImpact #Leadership

Brighter Future

Today, we're thrilled to be joined by Louisa Burman. Louisa started her business to support businesses with their social impact in any way possible, big or small.

Hi Louisa, Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We are so excited to hear more about the work you carry out, but before we do, could you start by telling us about you and your business?

Hi there! I'm Louisa, and I support small and medium size businesses to better understand and improve their impact. This typically revolves around measuring and reporting impact, whether internal, external or both. It often includes implementing and embedding new impact-focused policies and procedures. This can involve frameworks such as B Corp and the UN Sustainable Development Goals or creating a bespoke approach, particularly, for example, for those companies at the beginning of their journey.

I specialise in social impact, and by collaborating with peers, I enable my clients to incorporate environmental and social impact into their strategies, approach and reporting.

That's really interesting. Where did your drive to improve social impact come from?

Over the last 13 years or so, I've worked with a vast array of businesses, from small director-run businesses with no employees to multi-billion pound listed and private companies. I specialise in risk management and process improvement, giving me an amazing opportunity to lift the lid on different areas of an organisation to understand how they work and what 'optimal' means for that area of the business. The objectives of a finance department are very different from those of logistics or buying.

By working with different teams across a variety of businesses, I've had the joy of working with so many different people and learning what makes them tick, from the people on the ground to executive decision-makers. It's been a brilliant way to learn more about culture as well as business.

You are clearly very passionate about people and making a difference. What led you to take the plunge and develop your own business?

I started my own business because I can truly see the potential in business as a force for good, particularly when creating social impact. I was also becoming increasingly frustrated with the sustainability-based lip service and box ticking I saw some big businesses taking part in.

I wanted to take the time to learn more about the potential social impact has on reshaping our economy and provide pro bono support for pro-social organisations, for example, in non-executive director roles.

I also hoped by starting my business that, I would be able to provide my services and expertise to businesses that want to do more for society, enabling them to grow the social impact they generate more efficiently and effectively.

You obviously have an immense desire to make a positive impact. If you had to narrow it down, what part of your work is most fulfilling to you?

I take a huge amount of energy from other people's ideas and enthusiasm. I love listening to and bouncing off people who are reimagining systems and dare to think outside the box.

In many businesses I've worked for in the past, creativity has been stifled by phrases like 'we've never done it like that.' or 'that's not how the industry works.'. You're encouraged to keep doing the same thing, to sell more and increase margins. So I find it a breath of fresh air now working with businesses keen to lead by example and rewrite our systems for more equal and sustainable outcomes.

Demand and need for your service is evident, but could you explain perhaps who exactly you are doing this for and why they should care?

In all honesty, I'm doing this for myself; I need hope. Working with and supporting businesses whose values align with mine gives me hope. I want our world to be a fair and just place. I believe every person on this planet deserves that as a minimum, but we have a long way to go.

We love the whole ethos behind your motivation, and the idea of hope is one we all need for a brighter future. Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to do something differently or take a new direction in your life and work?

I left my graduate job in Manchester in my early twenties and went back to living with my parents. In the year following, I felt quite directionless, and although it was difficult at the time, it gave me space to reflect and start to change how I was thinking. So I began setting myself yearly 'challenges'; one of the first ones I did was in 2018, which included a commitment to the community. I explored and questioned more about what community meant and how it shows up in our day-to-day lives.

As a result of this challenge and reflection, I started a micro-funding event, Liverpool SOUP, which crowdfunds money from attendees. It gives a platform for local grassroots projects to pitch on the night, and all the funds raised are awarded to the project that earns the most votes. As a bonus, we also get to eat soup and listen to live music, making for a wholesome evening.

The first event I ran was in June 2019. I'm proud to say that at our most recent event in July 2022, we raised £1,765 for the winning project. We now have a wonderful Committee of volunteers who support the running of the events.

Leading on from Liverpool SOUP and learning more about the SOUP and micro-funding movement got me thinking more about social impact and the value of having a connected society that supports the community's needs. The value of which I felt was lost in the big, corporate companies I was working in.

I knew I wanted to start my own business at some point, but seeing the increase in inequalities during the global pandemic gave me more of a sense of urgency, and it caused my priorities to realign. So I left my job in mid-2021 and haven't looked back since!

Soup and music sound like a fantastic night, and what a great way to support local projects. Leaving Manchester and starting again was quite a leap of faith. What life experience gave you the perspective and confidence to know you can come up with something different (or better) than what was currently out there?

To be frank, the most effective thing that's built my confidence over my career has been working with many bullshitters and reading about gender inequality and subconscious bias. It's opened my eyes to perception versus reality, giving me the confidence to put my ideas out there more assertively and take some criticisms with a pinch of salt. It also drives me to support and empower other women and minorities on their journeys.

Once I started to work through those insecurities, many of which were a symptom of our current society, I found it easier to question the status quo and seek solutions to some of the issues I saw around me. Nothing feels certain or predictable, but I know that we need to change and rethink the role of business, so I'm really glad to be part of constructive conversations making that happen.

That's brilliant, and it's clear to see where you get your motivation and confidence from. Starting out initially, you must have had an idea of what you hoped to achieve and where you would end up. Were there times that you took a different direction than originally planned?

When I look back, there are several times when I took a different direction than originally planned. On occasions, this was liberating, but at other times it's felt quite daunting.

I consider myself fortunate not to have ever had a clear 'vision' for my life. When taking a slightly different direction, I've never had to give myself space to grieve for the future I had my heart set upon. I've just been putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I step a little off-centre, and sometimes the step is shorter than I thought it would be, but I generally leave myself open to opportunities as they arise.

That's a great perspective to have and such a positive way to look forward. So what were the biggest challenges you faced when you started your journey, and what did they teach you?

My biggest challenge is conquering the 'fear of missing out.' I want to know everything, but there simply aren't enough hours in the day! Plus, the more you understand, the more there is to learn as topics expand in front of you. I find it hard to narrow my focus, but over the years, I have improved at prioritising the things I'm really interested in and accepting that I simply don't have the time to read everything.

There really isn't enough time in the day. It's great that you have learnt to focus and prioritise your interests. Has this led to any great 'aha' moments?  

For me, the greatest 'aha' moments come either when I stop actively thinking, for example, when I'm out walking or just about to fall asleep, or when I have a pen in my hand, and I'm able to write down my thoughts, mapping them out. Both of these require me to step away from my computer, which can feel counter-intuitive, especially when a deadline is looming, but I find taking the time to think and not think to be so valuable.

Are there any books, movies, speeches, or people that have inspired you most on your journey?

This is hard to answer because so many things inspire me in many different ways. I always try to listen to various points of view to help me consider things from different perspectives. For example, reading articles, listening to podcasts, watching short videos, or simply chatting with the person sitting next to me on the bus. The brilliant pro-social businesses we have here in Liverpool and in the North West of England inspire me daily. But the person I probably reference the most is Brené Brown for her work on shame, vulnerability and leadership. The concept of 'power with' as opposed to 'power over' really resonates with me.

It's so important to have different perspectives in life. What are the biggest sacrifices you made to get to where you are now?

The biggest sacrifices I've had to make are around mindsets. It's so difficult to shake that vision of success that's drilled into you as you grow up, the idea that you need lots of material things, holidays abroad, and a bigger salary to be considered successful. There are still many people close to me with that mindset. While financial security is important in this day and age, I feel really grateful to be able to question this mindset now and think more collectively than individualistically. I feel happier and more connected because of it.

It must have been challenging changing your mindset in this way, but also very liberating. It must be very difficult to change ideas that are so deeply ingrained within us. We are currently undergoing a period of great change; how do you envision the new normal in the future?

I guess there are two answers to that question; what we want the new normal to be and what the new normal will actually be.

I would love for the future to be more inherently equal; I don't just think this is the 'right' thing to do, but I also think it makes for a stronger and more resilient economy. Unfortunately, significant changes in mindset and power are required to enable this to happen across the globe.

That being said, I am optimistic about the rise of businesses as a force for good. As this movement grows, putting all key stakeholders at the heart of decision-making, I believe other businesses will have to take note to attract and retain people. It's just so frustrating how painstaking this whole progress is.

Optimism is key. The more awareness around these topics, the more likely change will happen. So, when you are no longer here on this earth, how do you want close friends and family to look back upon you and your journey?

I'd want my close friends and family to look back, knowing that I always gave it my best shot and approached challenges with compassion, taking the time to learn different points of view. It's been an interesting and winding journey so far, and I hope there are many more years to come!

Looking back on your journey to where you are now, what advice would you give your younger self or a young entrepreneur starting out?

Ask questions; ask all the questions, and when you're unsure where to find the answer find someone who can help you find it.

Don't be afraid to make decisions and always be at peace with your choices. I used to be an 'over thinker'… and I do still think a lot, but I've found that having the courage of your convictions is a really healthy way to be able to free up your mind to be ready for the next challenge.

That's amazing. Positivity, optimism and hope are all powerful concepts and seem to be your driving force. If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Don't underestimate the little things, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and a bit helpless as an individual, but it's in the interactions we have – the smiles we share with strangers – that we build relationships from which we can change minds and influence cultures.

Thank you, Louisa, for taking the time to talk to us today and sharing your experiences, supporting businesses with their social impact in ever changing and challenging times. We wish you all the best for your continued success in the future.

If you would like to find out more about Louisa and the work she is doing, you can find her at: www.louisaburman.co.uk.

To stay up to date with our latest content and interviews with amazing people like Louisa, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

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