Spare Capacity: When Landfill Becomes Life Saving

2015-07-27-1438034684-9865366-war_on_greed_web.jpgPhoto credit:

I've just arrived in the Motherland on a 14 week mission 'solving poverty saves wildlife'. Saving Africa's elephants and rhinos from extinction is as much about humans as it is about animals. This is a war on greed and blood-lust status symbols, but the weakest link is in fact poverty. This man made affliction will continue to drive poaching and conflict until the world wakes up and starts investing in both people and planet.

As the official storyteller for TEDxAuckland, I'm very lucky to spend time with people that are literally outsmarting poverty. Working with Janette Searle, founder of Take my Hands, the plan is to launch a Saving the Wild 'spare capacity' initiative, sending over shipping containers or freight to rural African communities living near wildlife, starting with desperately needed medical supplies.

Check out Janette's excellent TEDx talk from a few weeks back discussing the 'spare capacity' business model.

Janette worked out that between the 21 district health boards in New Zealand, 180 medical equipment manufacturers, and more than 3500 specialist health providers, collectively the equivalent of around 60 000 boxes of used medical equipment was ending up in landfills.

"We sent 1500 kilos of useable equipment from 30 different equipment providers, helping 150 people in three different countries - and it cost us just $200," said Janette, describing their 'spare capacity' pilot project.

Children that had lost legs were given prosthetics and went back to school, adults were able to work again, and the value of the impact on those people was close to a million dollars. But the real magic in the spare capacity platform that Janette and her team has developed is that the model can be, and is being replicated by other organisations, such as food distribution to low decile schools, and equipment collection for emergency natural disasters.

2015-07-27-1438035151-6494027-JanetteSearle_620x311.jpgPhoto credit: TEDxAuckland

Q&A with Janette Searle, Founder of Take my Hands

You have created a system and a model that can be replicated. Can you explain how this works?

The model has four parts to it -

1 - Partnerships and networks that we have created and have among the team that contribute to the work - so that means partnerships across the transport, logistics and warehousing, networks in the social enterprise/business/IT sectors, equipment providers, service providers (medical and other) and recipient organisations, government and NGOs.

2 - Knowledge, which is sort of linked to the above, but starts with the knowledge we have through doing this kind of work, and the knowledge we have access to through our team, advisory board and network.

3 - IT - inventory management and relationship management systems which we are constantly developing and improving. We worked out a while ago that to make the whole work flow easier to manage with spare time and volunteers we needed to have a system that provided information easily to the right people at the right time, no matter how experienced that person was with our work, and that would allow us to tap into all kinds of spare time. Also we know that being able to track every item is important - for quality management and also for our story telling.

4 - Stories - these are our gold really. The stories about the impact the work we do is having, and the outcomes we help enable. So capturing those and sharing them is important. We're working on how we tell those stories and improving that all the time too.

So the whole system can be replicated - either by ourselves supporting other projects and organisations, or by anyone with the time and motivation to do it. None of what we do is rocket science, we've just taken the time to work it out and put it all together in a way that works.


If there are initiatives that want to tap into this spare capacity model, is it a matter of them doing it themselves, or is Take my Hands still involved in the process?

It can be both. So for example we're supporting a range of different organisations in a number of different ways - for one we just did the introductions and put them together with those in our network that we knew could help them, and then they've taken it from there. For others we're mentoring them through a process of development so our support is largely through advice and connections, but we're also providing templates, practical involvement in helping them make their projects work. And then at the other extreme we're managing the whole process for them so basically we're doing it for them.

The spare capacity side of it - spare capacity exists in a lot of different places - through normal business, and personal spare capacity - so it could be space, time, resource, and in some cases money. We've been tapping into it through transport and warehousing and thankfully thanks to TedX and a couple of radio interviews our network of partners with spare capacity to offer in transport, logistics etc is growing. My grand vision I guess is to shift the power that money has had in our mindsets and see it as just another form of 'capacity' that can be used to make great things happen and one form of measuring 'value'. Acknowledge that different people have different values on different things and all are valid .... e.g. With spare warehouse space the options for using it are: leave it empty - which means it creates no added value and no return, offer it at a lower price for commercial purposes which lowers its value and provides a small financial , or provide it to for project like ours where its used to contribute to impacts which have a far greater social, environmental and financial 'return' for a larger number of people than any of the other options - for the business providing the spare warehouse space there is the potential to use the stories created through their involvement in the project for internal and external PR - the outcomes potentially being - increased morale and motivation of staff through the feel good factor, perception by the market of being 'ethical' or 'taking social responsibility'. Which in turn have a financial return. I know there's a lot of 'could be' in this scenario, but it's not too hard to see this kind of scenario being reality, hence the growth of Corporate Social Responsibility in the business world. There are others far more knowledgeable about this whole area than I am of course.

As a result of the growth of Take My Hands and another research project I've involved in I've become really interested in the idea of cross sector collaboration. This is a model that is being developed through our work with Friends of the Pacific which is developing partnership between government, business, not for profit and community using social enterprise as the vehicle. The research project I'm involved in at the moment is a collective impact research project which is framework for cross sector collaboration around a social outcome. So there is alignment between the work. The potential benefit all round is really interesting to me and it's an area I'm looking at exploring further.

Watch this space!