Captain Sustainability: An Interview with Melanie Richards, Founder of CSR Solutions
Akosua Edwards talks to Melanie Richards about CSR Solutions, a Caribbean based business focused on Sustainability and Social Responsibility and the importance of these issues in both Business and Society.
Captain Sustainability to the rescue……
Melanie Richards is the founder and principal consultant of CSR Solutions Limited. A business, based in Trinidad and Tobago, which specializes in social responsibility and sustainability. CSR Solutions Limited must be one of the first of its kind within the Caribbean region, seeking to help organisations to be more socially and environmentally responsible, and to understand and address the important role that they play in society.
I chat with Melanie about CSR Solutions Limited and the courage and persistence required to start and run such an unorthodox company within the Caribbean.
Melanie is passionate and persistent; she follows her own path and has the tales to tell due to the choices she has made.
“ I don’t see this role from a purely altruistic perspective; I used to be an accountant (in my past life) so I understand the importance of profitability, however this profitability is also dependent on the structure and stability of a properly functioning society so the private sector has a vested interest in this. They depend on a properly functioning and stable society for their very existence and the traditional roles of the state are changing, societal governance structures are changing and responsibilities are changing.”
Melanie’s motivation to start CSR Solutions Limited, what one may call an unconventional business, came from her studies in Tourism Management and learning about the concept of sustainable tourism.
Melanie was exposed to organisations that were viable yet worked in harmony with both society and ecological environment, changing her view on the role of businesses in society.
“My early experiences were in conducting Social Impact Assessments and trying to understand and balance the impact that projects would have on societies.
I realized that this provided an opportunity to understand communities and take this “on the ground” understanding back to the private sector, showing in an objective manner of how their activities affected the communities both positively and negatively and what could be done to both mitigate the negative impacts and enhance positive outcomes.”
Having made what would seem to be an unconventional decision to start a business in an area not very well known and in some areas not completely understood came with its fair share of comments and detractors, however, Melanie notes that it has spurred her along to succeed as she is 100% certain that this is what she was born to do.
“Sometimes it sounds like an oxymoron when I put the words responsible and business together, but my motto is “making the Caribbean more socially responsible, one organization at a time” so I’m not giving up….it’s a long road but we’ll get there someday. Maybe not in my lifetime but someday”
I asked Melanie if she believed that women entrepreneurs in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean face any particular challenges in starting a growing business. She talks about how the major challenges are financial, similar to many other small business owners.
“I think that it is ironic sometimes that the people who least want to see you succeed are other women…..we can be our own worst enemies.”
According to Melanie, success is relative. She presses on, staying at it no matter what!
It is this type of determination and dedication that sees her many years later as a pioneer in her field
“For me so far it has been more like survival than success, but I’m not giving up, no matter how little faith my bankers have in me (hahahaha). So one day I will see the success I’m looking for, and it’s not going to be measured in monetary terms….although my bankers would like that.”
What’s next for Melanie and CSR Solutions?
“CSR Solutions is going to change the way business is done. We are going to challenge old traditional structures of capitalism and make business more socially and environmentally responsible….sounds like a superhero talking….yeah CSR Solutions …Captain Sustainability…hahaha”.
“This whole CSR Solutions…it not about me, Melanie Richards, it's about the work we do and the impact we have.”
Akosua Edwards is the founder of the Enabling Enterprise Project in Trinidad and Tobago, her native country, targeting women entrepreneurs. The Project aims to assist women and young adults to start and grow businesses. The project has also recently launched NiNa, a youth entrepreneurship programme in Trinidad and Tobago.
She is currently working in Uganda to produce and implement a Gender & Entrepreneurship Policy within the Agricultural Sector in the conflict areas in the north of the country, with a leading female-founded seed company. She has been selected as the Caribbean’s representative of the World Network of Young Leaders and Entrepreneurs (WNYLE).
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