Generation Inspiration - The Changing Face of Role Models

21/10/2012 22:36 BST | Updated 21/12/2012 10:12 GMT

"Do as you would be done by". As mottos for life go, there are plenty worse. It's a phrase that's echoed in my head since childhood - but more than that, I think it's pretty much shaped my life - and my business: Green & Black's, the UK's first Fairtrade-marked chocolate, through which I've been able to see first-hand the amazing difference that a 'social enterprise' can make to individuals' lives, doing good as well as doing business. (As my much-missed mentor Anita Roddick so eloquently used to put it...)

Eighteen years on from the launch of Maya Gold (the UK's first Fairtrade-marked product), a whole generation of Belizean children now attends secondary school, farmers have concrete floors instead of mud in their homes (not an insignificant life-enhancement, in a rainforest), and there's money to spend on healthcare. Result.

But I've long been aware that although Faitrade can make a massive difference to communities in the developing world, social responsibility starts at home - or at least, closer to it than the tropical rainforest. And fundamentally (front page news stories about evil and wrongdoing notwithstanding), I do believe that people want to make a difference.

Which is why I'm looking forward to reading the entries for Britain's Top Real Role Model, a scheme backed by Amway to offer a juicy £10,000 to a 'social entrepreneur' with a vision for a project that can make a real difference to their community.

Actually, on my doorstep, there are several 'social enterprises' I take my (various) hats off to. (Which sadly probably disqualifies them from entering, but there are no doubt thousands of others, equally commendable, around the UK.) First, the Bexhill & Hastings Wood Recycling Project - a so-simple, so-effective idea, offering long-term unemployed locals the chance to train in woodwork and carpentry, taking 'waste' wood (pallets, reclaimed panelling, etc.), and transforming it into stunning kitchens, cabinetry, shop-fittings. (Oh, and my outdoor dining table).

And the not-for-profit Community Fruit & Veg project: a bunch of motivated individuals who realised that for many families (and solo, ageing householders) don't always have ready access to their five-a-day - and so make it that bit easier, sourcing mostly local, seasonal fruit and vegetables (and nowadays, some other essentials, like bread) through a truly affordable regular delivery service, with access to recipes, both as leaflets and on their website (

The individuals behind these social ventures, surely, are the real role models our children need, if we're to build a better tomorrow - something that's certainly reflected in a recent survey (sponsored by Amway), which revealed that 80% of us feel there just aren't enough of those role models, in today's society.

Meanwhile, although green shoots still seem pretty invisible, there's no question that more and more people today want to set up their own business. (50% of graduates, it transpires, feel positively about doing just that.) But a revelation from that same survey I find truly heartening is that 88% of individuals would rather have a job that benefits their local community, allows them to work locally and gives satisfaction, than earn double the salary in an unfulfilling job. So my fellow independent judge - Melanie Bryan OBE - and I look forward to reading about entrants' dreams and schemes to make their communities a better place.

Yes, the entrants need to show some previous business experience - and have a track record running a social project. And a great idea, of course. But £10,000 can go a long way towards making a difference, especially since the winner will have access to training courses from the Amway Academy, which supports business start-ups. What's more, Melanie and I will each offer a personal mentoring session to the winner, sharing elements of our business experience that can perhaps help that cash go even further, or be even more effective. (At any one time, I find myself mentoring three or four entrepreneurs - generally in the food or organic beauty businesses - and I think it's the single most important way an individual can 'give back', once they've achieved a certain level of success.)

Without wishing to sound the least like Pollyanna (although I've never thought there was anything wrong with relentless positivity, personally), I truly believe that right now we have a fantastic chance to build on the incredible, positive energy that's been generated in the UK through the Jubilee and the Olympics, and help to build a better, more supportive community throughout the land. For me, Britain's Top Real Role Model is a tangible example of doing just that.

And I might even throw in an organic t-shirt emblazoned with 'Do As You Would Be Done By', as an extra prize. Because the winner will have been there, done that... And surely deserves the t-shirt to prove it.