A task that formerly took one of Naomi Vowels’ clients almost eight months to do, and even then it was not fully complete, is something that can be done by Vowels’ company in less than four seconds.
“It’s a pretty spectacular operational efficiency that we’ve found for businesses,” says Vowels, who with her sister Frances Atkins, co-founded Givvable in 2020, a platform that uses AI and machine learning to allow companies to vet and review suppliers, vendors and partners for their sustainability and ESG credentials so that they can build impact into their value chains.
Givvable is not the sisters' first entrepreneurial venture together. Vowels had been working as a diplomat and Atkins as a banker when they happened upon the idea for Red Shoe Stories, fully customisable picture books where your child becomes the lead character in the story, both in name and physical attributes.
“Kids love to see themselves in things and have that relatability. Frances and I come from a mixed background, and seeing ourselves in a story is something we hadn’t had growing up. It was always blond-haired children, so being able to personalise that and see different types of children in a book was important to us,” says Vowels, who worked with a graphic designer to create 150 different permutations of the lead character for the book.
Red Shoe Stories was a creative outlet for the sisters, but also turned out to be a stepping stone. Both Vowels and Atkins had thought they would return to their government and corporate careers respectively after setting up the venture, but interest from business clients who wanted to use the books for marketing purposes started to grow. This increased the impact Red Shoe Stories was having, because the sisters were donating one book to children’s literacy charity Room To Read for every book purchased, consumer or corporate.
“We started to get these larger orders and we thought, 'Isn’t this great?'. This company is making an impact through their normal business function. It’s not going through their CSR or through a foundation, but through marketing. And that got us thinking, why don’t businesses do this all the time?” says Vowels. It was the seed for what would become Givvable.
“We started to think about how we could turn this around so we could support organisations and corporates in environmental and social governance,” says Atkins. The sisters wanted to activate the purchasing power of these corporates. “Procurement is the second largest expense of corporates after staffing costs, which means that you have an incredible opportunity to have impact through making better purchasing decisions.”
By identifying the impact of suppliers, vendors and partners, companies would be able to make more responsible, sustainable spending choices. Enter Givvable, which captures a range of attributes and initiatives of businesses that companies and governments engage with, ranging from certifications, accreditations and commitments, to the initiatives that businesses are signatories on and their membership of organisations that are supporting a particular agenda. Givvable currently covers more than 250,000 companies around the world, and aggregates data from across a thousand different sources in collaboration with Microsoft’s AI and machine learning technologies, structuring and mapping the information to tell a corporate what it means in terms of impact.
Givvable’s clients span a range of industries. “The reality is that any business needs to make purchasing decisions and it has a choice about what those look like and what impact they could potentially have,” says Atkins, who is based in Givvable’s Sydney headquarters, while Vowels works in Singapore. “Ultimately, all businesses can make better purchasing decisions.”