Social entrepreneur, Sam Marwood, didn’t need to look too far afield to find his first target audience for Edge Pledge, the online fundraising platform and challenge generator that raises funds for the environment.
“I’ve worked to protect the environment my whole life, but I realised a couple of years ago that none of my friends or I had ever done a challenge for charity.
“I wondered what it would be like if we made a challenge generator that pretty much held your hand and came up with the ideas which your supporters, instead of just handing money over, could vote on to decide what your challenge should be.”
And, voila. The seed that would spawn Edge Pledge began to germinate.
Edge Pledge launched in August 2016 and Sam Marwood recently spoke with Generosity about the challenges of measuring impact, creating hope and connections, and achieving enduring environmental transformation.
NR: Can you talk a little about your background and why the environment is a cause that’s so important to you?
SM: I grew up on a dairy farm in Central Victoria. I remember back in the late 80s that my Mum would go for these long walks, taking a tree that we’d grown from seed with her and planting it at the end of the property.
She had this deep love for the environment and was really connected to the land and I was inspired by that. Eventually, I took over growing the trees, and even though we sold the farm 15 years ago, I still love driving back and seeing the trees growing bigger and bigger. It really brought home the fact that you can create habitat and that habitat creates life.
I went on to study environmental science and then worked for government for 12 years. Two years ago I helped write a threatened species strategy for Victoria but nothing much became of it and I realised the whole environment industry is reliant on government funding—nothing much happens without that funding. It really hit me that we can’t afford to be relying on government handouts—we have to take things into our own hands and have a crack.
I guess I was lucky in that having worked in environmental management I already had connections with many of our charitable partners that are doing the conservation work on the ground and that really helped get people to sign up and it’s given us the credibility to move forward.
Fundraising is a tough space. What is it about Edge Pledge that sets it apart?
We want to make a real difference by building a social movement that makes it fun and exciting to help the environment.
When you talk about climate change, it’s overwhelming and people often tune out and get a bit depressed, so with Edge Pledge I really wanted to build something that creates hope and connections between friends.
A lot of the work we support is about protecting habitats and by focusing the story on the animals that live in those habitats, it makes it easier for people to grasp the impact of their support and reduces barriers to getting involved by telling a simple story.
We want to have a higher focus and bigger vision to keep us inspired as well as having some fun and raising awareness of the issues impacting our environment.
How will you measure your impact? And what does your goal of creating “an enduring environmental transformation” actually look like?
Luckily for me, I’ve spent most of my career in monitoring and evaluation, and priority setting and strategy, so I love this sort of stuff!
We reckon our enduring transformation will be around awareness and making it interesting for people to think about the environment and open doors for them to consider the issue.
We’ve got Rove dressed up as a bilby and six other comedians saying funny things and that opens the door for people to get involved. Our aim is to get millions of people’s attentions and get some laughs and break through to the people who wouldn’t normally give the environment a second thought.
Also, it’s a licence to have some fun!
In terms of other impacts, obviously we’ll be looking at the challenges and dollars raised and how that contributes to environmental change where animals are breeding and able to survive without human intervention.
On top of that, we’re also working with the University of Melbourne to unpack how we can best support our 10 environmental partner organisations to have consistent measures.
You’ve collaborated with celebs and had mentoring support from Atlassian and Google already. How important is collaboration to Edge Pledge?
Collaboration is massive. Building an app and fundraising was completely new for all of us at Edge Pledge.
I did an accelerator program with the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), and that opened doors to great organisations that also wanted to help out and that led us to Atlassian and Google. Every month I’d call them up and we’d chat about what to do and what not to do from a tech perspective. They helped us pull everything apart and gave us tips that helped with our direction and we’ve ended up with an app that actually works.
What’s been the most challenging part of your journey so far?
Knowing when to go all in. I had a pretty well paid long-term secure job in the area I love, environmental management, and I was all set for the next 10-20 years. Then of course, I had the idea for Edge Pledge and the question was ‘Which one do I choose?’
This has been the biggest ongoing challenge—it’s the realities of life without a secure income and launching a social enterprise that you’re not sure is going to work. But, I know that if I didn’t go all in, I wouldn’t have launched it. If I were still in my cushy government job, I don’t think anyone would’ve believed in us enough to invest in us.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it– it’s just the annoying thing of needing money.
What sort of social enterprise structure did you choose?
We’ve got a hybrid structure with a not-for-profit and a for-profit side working in tandem.
We needed access to funds to get off the ground and we’ve got an impact investor on board who told us ‘I love what you’re doing, but I don’t want this to be a hand out. I want you to work hard and generate income.’
The not-for-profit is focused on the marketing side of things and getting more people involved—a bit like the STREAT model.
What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs who are getting ready to launch their ideas out into the world?
Make sure you’ve got an income coming in before you quit your day job because if you can’t survive, the business can’t survive.
Also, realise what you have is a vision that opens doors to anyone you want because you’re creating a business that has a social purpose at heart, and that gives you an incredible ability to open doors to anyone you think you need.
I’ve been able to talk to some amazing people because I’m doing something interesting and exciting for the environment which intrigues people. If this were a standard for profit business, I wouldn’t be able to chat with them, but because it’s a social enterprise and it’s helping the world, people love it and are so encouraging and want to help. So it’s important to realise that you’ve got something of value and be aware of that.
Learn more about Edge Pledge by checking out the website, or get social on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Budding social entrepreneurs keen to have a chat or compare notes with Edge Pledge founder Sam Marwood are welcome to drop him a line at: sam(at)edgepledge(dot)com