Tea Talk celebrated it’s 1st Anniversary on 10th April 2013. It was a memorable moment. Many friends from all over the world wrote to congratulate Tea Talk for its success. This sets me thinking: How does one measure success? For that matter, has Tea Talk been successful?
Tea Talk is a social enterprise. It is a business enterprise that places a high value on its social mission. In other words, Tea Talk is 1) profit driven, 2) socially conscious and 3) people first.
So how does Tea Talk measure up with these three criteria?
Profit! The age-old equation of high price and low cost does not serve the Tea Talk model very well. As a business, we believe in providing quality goods and services at affordable prices. Furthermore, Tea Talk’s aim is to reach out to young persons with psychosocial-educational programs. The majority of them are university students with low purchasing power. Not surprisingly, Tea Talk suffered a loss of around US$24,000 during its first year of operation. So, in the profit department, did Tea Talk successfully make the mark?
Socially conscious! Tea Talk’s events, whether they be recreational, educational, environmental or social work have gained much interest not only among the Hanoi community but also among communities in Singapore, the Philippines, Russia and USA. Within Vietnam, Tea Talk has been invited by some provincial authorities to start similar cafes in their respective areas. A group of master’s and PhD students from the Philippines made a study trip to Vietnam and made Tea Talk one of their stops. A talk show, “20 Years Old and their Crises” attracted 94 people. “Silent Night”, an event to create awareness of the challenges faced by people with hearing loss attracted 64 participants. The list goes on. Over the past 12 months, Tea Talk has initiated and sponsored numerous activities and events that are beneficial to the community. So, as far as social impact is concerned, has Tea Talk experienced a respectable degree of success?
People first! What do we mean by people first? Sharing with a group of students from the Academy of Finance, a shy but bright girl asked me the question, “Is Tea Talk successful?” This question struck at the core of my heart. I reasoned in my mind how to answer this genuine question honestly and honorably. Is some respects, Tea Talk has not been successful. In short, we could reasonably conclude: “No money = no Tea Talk”. Tea Talk cannot continue to make losses. There is a time to call it quits and cut losses. And yet, at the same time, the events and invitations to start other Tea Talks in other places does not make sense. Tea Talk has yet to prove the business model works. So what if 94 people came to the Talk Show? How do I truly measure the social impact? How many lives must Tea Talk touch to say that Tea Talk has been successful? A student in the class suggested 1,000. Another suggested 10,000. Really! How many is enough?
I remembered a story that described a girl running up and down the shoreline, bending over and stretching her hands towards the horizon. From afar, you couldn’t really tell what she was doing. You would most likely think she was simply having fun.
However, it turns out that the tide was low and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind. With the sun rising quickly, the starfish would die if left on the beach's dry sand.
Onto the scene came an old man who walked up to the little girl and asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm saving the starfish," the girl replied.
“There are so many of them. You can’t save them all. Why waste your time?” asked the old man.
Without hesitation, the girl picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water saying, "It matters to this one".
Tea Talk has not helped 10,000, not even to say a thousand. Like the little girl, even if Tea Talk has only helped ONE person, I think it is enough.