Manila | Philippines
Impact Hub is one of the first places we drop by in any country we visit. Usually, there you meet a lot of changemakers. Sometimes we get their contacts, sometimes we just catch them directly while they are working on their projects. That was the case with Mark Rivera from Minka, which we met in Impact Hub Manila.
I’ve always been a businessman, I had my own businesses. I started with dentist supplies, my customers were dentists, because in fact my mum was a dentist. I was dealing with thousands of products from that industry. But that didn’t last for long, I was really young when I started. But I wanted to start a business with a product that makes a real impact. I started to ask myself… Why don’t I sell toothbrushes from bamboo? You should replace your toothbrush every three months as recommended by dentists. It’s a lot of plastic. Changing it for bamboo would be definitely good for the environment. It took me some months to complete that idea. I took a trip to Africa, I was there for a couple of months travelling around. In one community I saw posters saying to not give money to begging children, as it keeps them on the street. And not give sweets, because there are no dentists. It was the moment it clicked in my mind: what if besides having an ecological toothbrush, we use profits to create a toothbrush movement. That’s how the whole idea of social enterprise started. I not only sell a product but do also dental care and educational events related to that topic for communities around the Philippines.
People appreciate the idea of bamboo toothbrush, as well as the toothbrush movement. Mark spoke about it in many events and university lectures, always gaining interest and support. Although he still has to struggle with getting regular clients.
Bamboo toothbrush is a new concept for everyone. People are used to plastic, they don’t know if they want to put a piece of bamboo in their mouth. A big percent of people who actually buy our toothbrush are those who are just curious about it, but how to make them buy it again?
We tried bamboo toothbrushes ourselves and indeed, the first impression is quite weird. But after a while you get used to it and can appreciate your ecological toothbrush. We would love to use it longer, but after a few months, when time for replacement came, we couldn’t find any alternative for plastic. Neither in shops, nor in hotels.
I need more big clients, like hotels for example. I try to convince some of them to go green. They throw away so much plastic every day considering the toothbrushes their customers use. For a hotel with 200 rooms… It's really a lot of plastic per month. I try to explain to them that, give numbers, show the impact on the environment. I already have few clients in the hotel industry, but I want to reach out more.
Slowly, but steadily Minka is developing. For sure in the time of growing awareness social enterprises like this one have more and more chances to grow. So if you have any social business idea, it’s the best time to put it into action.
It’s not for everybody, doing business for good. But it works. I enjoy it. If you enjoy it as well, go for it. Don’t listen to anybody else and just make it happen. There will be a lot of people telling you that what you are doing will not work. Don’t listen, just go for it. A lot of people asked me why toothbrush. And I answered: why not?
More about Minka: minka.com.ph