By Lisa Ellwood, Growth Programmes Lead
What is your ikigai? Your purpose in life? And how will you know when you’ve found it?
I’m writing this blog fortunate to have experienced over 20 years of valuable learning: leading and working in and with startups, large organisations, government and non-profits means that I’ve been able to collaborate with thousands of talented, purpose-led humans committed to positive impact. At Belu, I’m building on that work, launching and leading on the long-term innovation of systems, processes and ideas whilst also driving continuous business improvements to create efficient growth and change transformation.
However, even back when I was in school, this question about a purpose-full life, what it meant and what it looked like was something that I was asking myself. I loved storytelling, learning new things and knew that I really cared about nature, human rights and tackling injustice wherever I encountered it. For a long time, I thought I would become a human rights lawyer but decided at the last minute, I would prefer to go into radio and publishing which freed me up to study something that encouraged curiosity: philosophy.
I loved the discussions and seeing the world from different perspectives, but I have always been a do-er as well as a thinker.
I don’t just thrive when talking about ideas and concepts, I like taking action and learning by doing. So, it’s probably no surprise that soon after leaving uni, I went straight into start-ups with an initial focus on the hospitality industry. I thrived taking an idea from concept to reality and scaling it, working with so many passionate people who not only embraced innovation and doing things differently, they were as excited by it as I am.
I first heard about Belu during that period and immediately wanted to learn more about social enterprises. I was fascinated about how Belu was using business for good – proof that you didn’t have to wait until you had sold a business to invest in your purpose.
Ten years later, when I was leaving behind running a startup, I discovered that what I had intuitively been using as a framework when it came to work and life was the concept of ikigai – your life’s purpose.
Do what you love
Do what you’re good at
Do what the world needs
Do what you can be rewarded for
I spent the next decade doing that: through supporting other startups and organisations that wanted to use business to create positive impact for people and planet, regularly using Belu as an example and inspiration for other innovators. Then, the full circle moment, when an opportunity to join Belu leading Growth Programmes came about. Possibly, the ultimate ikigai, given how firmly committed everyone at Belu is to changing the way the world sees water. I couldn’t be more grateful for the past seven months and am sure that will continue to be the case.
From a first month dedicated to learning and getting to know each team and how we all work together (easily the best onboarding experience I’ve had), to discovering first-hand how passionate every team member is about our purpose and partnership with WaterAid. An ongoing partnership, 100% of Belu’s net profits are given to our impact partner, WaterAid, amounting to £5.5 million to date.
Meeting Ernest, one of WaterAid’s photographers, and hearing first-hand both heartbreaking and hopeful stories has only strengthened my resolve to do all that I can in my role and working with the rest of the team to achieve our big audacious goals. I am grateful that we have a phenomenal team of talented people at Belu and that the same goes for our partners and customers who are aligned with our values and purpose.
I’m writing this the day after the publication of the 2023 IPCC report and the day before this year’s World Water Day. There couldn’t be a more urgent need for better business and I’m grateful that every single day at Belu, I get to work with people who truly care: people who don’t just say yes but ask, how can we go further? What would create more positive impact? And then there’s the day-to-day of getting stuff done. Having come from a startup background, it’s refreshing that everyone here gets stuck in to make things happen.
Sustainability is a priority at Belu and I’m proud to work for an organisation that has always been pioneering and continues to lead the way. From recycled green glass for our bottled mixers to being the first to produce 100% recycled and recyclable plastic bottles that support circular design, to championing filtered still and sparkling water on tap in the UK and Hong Kong. It’s reassuring to know that together we will always make the most planet-friendly decision and transparently share our decision making, research and impact throughout the year as well as in our annual impact reports.
It isn’t just the work, it’s the way that we work too. I love that intentional work over busy work is something that Belu’s Co-CEOs champion and that we’re encouraged to take time for thinking each week, not only on Fridays (an org-wide meeting-free day) but whenever a walk on the beach, in a green space, reading to spark thinking or listening to a podcast will help get to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ far faster than hours spent in meetings.
And then there’s the fact that transparency, kindness and staying true to our values really matters at Belu. Greenwashing doesn’t exist. We already partner with Provenance and we’ll be doing so even more in the future. Corporate politics and cliques don’t exist either. It’s something that our Co-CEOs Nat and Charlotte take very seriously when it comes to hiring and maintaining a collaborative and caring culture. All things that are really aligned with my values too.
I feel very fortunate to be leading Growth Programmes across our four pillars: Purpose, People, Products and Profit. It combines my passions for innovation, sustainability, social equity, business for good and collaboration. Working to scale intentionally, both together as a team and with our customers, partners and supporters, our goals are audacious but so are we.
Which brings me back full circle…
What’s my personal ikigai? To use my energy and talents to benefit people and planet. That’s why Belu.