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Idealog's Guide to Wellington: City of Giving

It takes a generous soul to run a business where profit is not the main goal. Having a thriving social enterprise sector, it seems many of those souls are congregating in Wellington.

They say giving is the greatest gift, a sentiment Wellington businesses and consumers seem to embrace. The startup culture supporting these values has grown rapidly in recent years and has infiltrated some of the larger employers, including the government. But why have those in the capital gravitated to this charitable way of doing business?

Community culture

Ben Gleisner of Conscious Consumers says it comes down to having a population that really cares about its community and the environment.

“The city is small enough that people want to work together to improve the lives of others. Being close to central government also helps,” Gleisner says. “It fosters a culture of doing good for people and the planet. I also think the local government over the last few years have been really supportive of the sector.”

Conscious Consumers is a world-first technology platform that connects customers with businesses that share their values, such as where locally-made clothing stores are, or the best place to find fair trade coffee and free range eggs.

It has supported more than 100 businesses to change to more ethical and sustainable business practices, including helping 42 to start composting or recycling and 18 to use free range eggs and meat.

Wellington mixes the best of the Kiwi 'number-8 wire' spirit with top class ideas, technology and a want-to-do-good attitude, Gleisner says.

“There is a real sense of community in Wellington – businesses are wanting others to succeed, and they are willing to offer help to make that happen.”

Ease of business

Dave Allison of the Akina Foundation, a charity that supports social enterprise, agrees that the size of the city bolsters social enterprise.

Akina moved to Wellington with Pricewaterhouse Coopers and is now in year 14 of what was supposed to be a two-year stay. Allison says the ease of access and close connections in Wellington are something few cities can compete with.

The personal networking and ability to have six meetings in a working day “each one in a different wonderful café” without being late, creates productivity and more adventurous behaviour.

Dave Allison.

“All those things make doing business easy. Our scale means everyone thinks about making friends not enemies and you’re working with the same people time and time again on multiple types of projects.”

Allison also runs an angel investment club, where he says commercial investment and social enterprise aren’t separate groups, and all members are interested in exploring social impact deals.

“There’s a real willingness here to give things a shot.”

Using the old New Zealand-ism Allison says; “In Auckland they ask where you live, in Christchurch they ask what school you went to and in Wellington they ask what you’re working on.”

And that attitude helps grease the wheels of social enterprise.

A growing startup mentality

Creative HQ, which was founded in 2003, is at the helm of Wellington’s growing startup culture. It has helped countless local entrepreneurs hit the ground running through its incubation, acceleration and innovation services. In fact, it runs more acceleration programmes than any other place in the South Pacific.

Creative HQ head of business development Alan Hucks says all businesses should be seeking positive impact with a sustainable business model.

“The mantra shouldn’t just be ‘make money’, it should be ‘do good and be sustainable’,” he says.

Head of acceleration Brett Holland says Wellington has the advantage of having the activity and opportunity of a large city but the access and connectedness of a smaller town.

“We have that rare combination of government, corporates and startups that are all working together on innovation and impact,” he says.

Creative HQ sits in the middle of these, breaking down the silos and connecting big business with the startup mentality.

“That connection helps the startups gain better insights and market access, and helps big business and government experience innovation in their sectors firsthand,” Hucks says.

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