Oct. 5, 2021

13. Masami Sato


Hear from Masami Sato, entrepreneur, author, CEO and Founder of B1G1, a global giving initiative. In this episode, we learn how growing up in Japan, and then travelling the world led Masami to discover the significance of giving both as an individual and a business. Be sure to listen to the very end for bonus material.

You can find out more about Masami and B1G1 here:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/masamisato/
Website:
https://b1g1.com/
Books:
https://www.masamisato.com/books

A transcription of each episode, as well as guest profiles and much more, is available on our website www.sondership.com

Credits
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Transcript

Masami:

I think businesses have kind of forgotten about that key to creating eternal abundance in a sustainable way. So that's why I see that when we can all do something small, but do it every day, we really can transform things together.

Danny:

Welcome to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host, Danny Attias. The Sondership podcast is all about hearing inspiring stories from people with purpose and today's person with purpose is Masami Sato. Masami is a two times TEDx speaker, Amazon bestselling author winner of a sustainable business award and the founder of a global giving movement, B1G1. Masami was born in Japan, but her desire to expand her horizons, took her on a global journey. She became deeply concerned about the inequalities and other challenges that existed in the world. Since then, she has endeavored to create real win-win connections across all cultures, people, and organizations, to realize a different world. She has been a serial entrepreneur since 2001 starting and running several commercial enterprises, all aiming to transform the way businesses are operated today. And by taking a completely new look at the power of giving, she founded B1G1, buy one, give one in 2007. Masami, welcome to the Sondership podcast.

Masami:

Thank you Danny for having me today.

Danny:

And you're joining us from Singapore. Is that right?

Masami:

Yes. Correct.

Danny:

Fantastic. Masami I'm just going to start and open with the same question that I always open these, podcast recordings with, and that is about sonder. So you may be aware that sonder is that realization that your story isn't the only story that's happening. It's that realization that everyone has their own story, and that as we become aware of other people's stories, we then start to think about how other people experience life. And, hopefully that drives us to want to have more of a social impact for those other people, the people that, you know, as well as the people that you don't know. So Masami, are you able to share with us one of your earliest or most memorable Sonder moments.

Masami:

I think, um, when I started to travel around the world as a young person in the backpacking, uh, that was the time I probably experienced, you know, more of the Sonder moments. And so, um, just as an example, uh, at that time, I didn't know a lot about, what was happening, but then as I traveled and meeting and connecting with so many different people from different culture background, it was just like so amazing. But then at the same time I started to see something that I couldn't quite understand, which was like why, uh, there was such extreme poverty in the world, for example, because I came from Japan. And so even though I came from like a middle class family, I still could eat food and we had a shelter and, but I, you know, realized that there were lots of people who didn't even have a safe place to be. Or enough food to feed their own children or kids while working, uh, on the field or begging on the streets because they couldn't, you know, they had to work and they couldn't go to school. So I started to experience these things, and I used to feel like really guilty about myself, even though I also had little as a backpacker. I didn't have a lot of money, so I thought like, you know, we should be the one to be actually helping and fixing those issues. And then I realized that when, uh, people are coming to me, for example, begging, I used to feel very guilty to turn them down. But then what happened was, as I started to travel and connect with people, I realized that initially I felt really uncomfortable to receive things like, you know, the family inviting me to come and then stay with them and eat food with them. I used to go like, no, no, I can't receive, I can't eat your food because you, you have so little and you don't know whether you have enough food for tomorrow for your own kids. And so I used to feel very, very guilty, but then, what I started to realise was that actually when I was able to just receive such as, you know, simply being interested in what they were cooking and then taste the things together or helping in the kitchen and cook together and ask the questions in simple ways. That was when, I felt the greatest sense of connection and how people felt so proud of showing me how they would do certain things and sharing me like, you know, their food and seeing me be amazed, like, wow, that's so tasty. And so that's kind of my, uh, many of the sonder moments where I realized that so often we come with a certain perception, like, oh yeah, people who don't have a lot, you know, they're living in poverty or, but then I realized that, perception of poverty is often created in our own mind and that when we overcome it we can see the richness in others in so many different ways. So that's kind of like one example of probably my earlier sonder moment.

Danny:

That's a really lovely moment, and it's so picturesque, and one of the things I think about as you described that story, is how sometimes it's difficult for us to receive and how we don't feel comfortable receiving, some people feel more comfortable giving than they do receiving. But also how we have this perception that sometimes, charity starts at home. I.e. you have to look after yourself before you need to give to anyone else. But actually it's often people who have the least who are most willing to share. And the scenario that you described, I've come across many times as well, and you just, you don't feel comfortable, but then actually it's more offensive to refuse and, better to immerse yourself in that environment and learn more That's a really lovely story, Masami. Thank you so much for starting with that. So how would you describe B1G1 to someone who's hearing about it for the first time?

Masami:

Okay. So if you imagine a world where everything makes a difference, you know, just like imagine if every time you have a cup of coffee, a child receives access to lifesaving, clean water, or every time you download a book, and learn something life-changing for you, then a tree gets planted or every time you go to a gym, the beach gets cleaned of plastic trash, or every time you go to a doctor, somebody else receives, access to healthcare. So that's the kind of idea of B1G1 and the world of B1G1. So today B1G1 works with thousands of businesses and those businesses have together created more than 250 million giving impacts by innovating and giving in what they do in their own unique ways. So that's B1G1.

Danny:

That's amazing. That's that's really, that's, that's really exciting. Um, and is that, it's a global initiative?

Masami:

Yes it is. And you mentioned earlier, Tom's example you know, sometimes the people, uh, remember Tom's and go like, oh, so that sounds like Tom's. And the difference between the model of giving where businesses will give their own products or even services like Tom's case was buy a pair of shoes and they will give another pair to a child in need. So that was the kind of idea of Tom's giving. But in B1G1, we don't facilitate businesses actually giving away their own products or services.

Danny:

Yeah.

Masami:

It's primarily and fundamentally based on the particular area of needs in the world where, we can list a project and we have more than 450 projects today. So that any business can say every time we have a business activity or something to celebrate, they will give a small amount to those projects and then create their own unique giving stories. And that's B1G1. So it's not coming from what businesses want to give. Like, you know, we want to give our product, to actually, what can really create an impact on the ground, on the lives of people around the world. And then we make those opportunities available for businesses to choose.

Danny:

I love that. That's really, that's really exciting. And, um, and you've been doing this since 2007.

Masami:

Yes.

Danny:

What age were you when you left Japan originally?

Masami:

I think I was 20, around 20, 21. After finishing school in Japan.

Danny:

Was that the start of your global adventure or did you come back to Japan a few times after that?

Masami:

I did go back to Japan, but, probably that was the beginning because even when I went back to Japan, my mind said what really, like, learning everything out of curiosity. So I was traveling in Japan and living with different people, and so, yeah. So I think that seems, uh, I was like around 20, I have been kind of moving around and learning from uh, so many amazing people around the world.

Danny:

That's great Masami, so tell me, you left Japan. You're now in Singapore. Did you live in many other countries on the way?

Masami:

Yes, um, its been nearly, 27 years since I left Japan. So I have been to many places. Uh, the first time I left Japan was actually, you know, before then, like when I was studying, um, and I was studying architecture in Japan. I had a chance to travel to Europe and visit um, I think I visited seven countries or something like that to see many different, um, buildings like famous architectural sites and so on. So that was my first exposure to international kind of culture. And that really changed my, world. And I realized that I was living in such a small place being in Japan, growing up there the entire life. So that took me to be curious and then to decide to travel around the world. So the first place I lived was Canada and I spent about two years, like, uh, learning English, because until then, I couldn't speak English. So I went to there first to study. Then I eventually started to, do some work and moving around. And then, after that I spent some time traveling in central America, uh, lived in Guatemala for a few months studying Spanish, because I was like really loving the fact that the language opened up so many doors. And I was able to connect with people I would never be able to connect to before. So that was like really liberating, and then eventually I went back to Japan because by then I was starting to feel that something was going wrong, to my perspective, which was that people like my parents, they worked so hard in their life, trying to have a better life, you know, for their own family, for their children, but they were like stressed and, Um, didn't seem to be very, very happy at home. And, but then at the same time, when I was in places like Guatemala or Costa Rica, I saw so many kids like who don't have a proper opportunity to study, like even do primary school education. So, then I started to think, like maybe the, the world that something is wrong with this world, maybe consumerism is a part of the problem. So then I decided that I would actively take time, to learn about how to create a more sustainable life. So I felt that, that maybe consumerism and the business is about creating all the problems in the world. And we were trying to, you know, all of us are trying to get more stuff, which didn't make us feel fulfilled. And so that was how I felt. So I decided to move to a countryside in Japan and then lived with farmers, to try to learn, how to create a more sustainable and self sufficient life. So I didn't have to buy things for myself. So that's what I did. But after a while, about a couple of years living in nature, I realized that actually, like I was wrong to judge the world. And actually even when we were living in the countryside, we still exchange the things, we still needed to buy things. So I realized that judging the world and trying to reject everything was not the answer. So after that, I went on to travel again. And this time I visited many other countries and, also lived in, Australia, New Zealand, and that was when I accidentally became a parent

Danny:

Yeah,

Masami:

and I had my daughter. so my daughter was born in New Zealand. And at that time, after all that, like traveling and connecting and learning from everybody, that was the point of time I for the first time I realized that I wanted to do something. And that's when I started my very first business and became an entrepreneur. And that was 20 years ago, and then, you know, the journey continued to day.

Danny:

That's really lovely. I can really relate to your feeling and your observation around consumerism. So you look at the consumerism and you just go, you know, selling and buying and consuming and disposing is just terrible, but going and living on a farm and, and consuming nothing is just not, it's not viable. It's not viable for the scale of the population and the kind of city-based lifestyle that we have, and it's a, and I'm sure we'll hear more from your own story. It's how do you find that balance? How do you be a good global citizen and you minimize your impact, and you consume reasonably so, I'm really interested in, in that. And also the experiences that you've had that have allowed you to form an opinion form, uh, an understanding of how different people work in different societies and looking at those extremes. So, tell us about your first business. What was that first thing as an entrepreneur

Masami:

Yeah. So my first business was a food business and the reason why I wanted to start a food business was because I was really passionate about food. And when I talked about my earlier days of traveling, and I've mentioned to you that when I first left Japan, I couldn't speak English, like any other languages other than Japanese. So, being in that position, what I realized was that the food was one thing that allowed me to connect with everybody wherever I went. Right. Like, if I could cook, then I could share that with anybody and expressing interest in their food, in their different locations. Then everybody accepted me and we shared a great time together. So food was the way to bring people together for me. And then also I believe that everybody deserves to have a nourishing food and share that with their family and loved ones. So I really realized that the food was so important to me. And then as a first business I chose food business. So that's how I first went into food. It was really tough, food business is actually very tough. I think one of the hardest to run. So, yeah. Um, but you know, I had a great learning. Uh, initially, because we didn't have a lot of a startup capital. So my entry into food business was to find a struggling food company, business, and then buy the business and move in and improve the business. And try to, build the business so that we could sell the business and buy another one. So that was like kind of, first, entry point into the food business.

Danny:

And what was that first food business?

Masami:

In New Zealand, we had a fast food take away food bar. So that was a struggling business, but then, uh, in, in older kind of factory workers or truck drivers might stop for lunch, and I wasn't expert of fast food by the way, because I, I was very much into natural food and organic food and things like that because, you know, I spent two years in Japan on the farm, right, growing food. So I believe in healthy eating, but when we bought into the take away food bar, then I would make burgers and hot dogs and chips, and then cooking with the truck drivers, and, uh, you know, people from the nearby factories, I just really started to enjoy this connection with people, you know, everyday people who are doing all sorts of different things. And we improved the food, started to put a little bit more vegetables in a burger as like sneaky having better options for ladies working in the other main section of those factories. And then the business started to become very popular. And part of it was probably because those truck drivers wanted to come to see my daughter who was on my back all the time. Because, you know, I was running this business with my baby on my back. Um, and then eventually, like, we started to have like huge queues out of the door during lunchtime jams in front of our shop and yeah that took us to buy another food outlet. And, um, then we sold those businesses then moved to Australia for bigger markets. And at that time, uh, the plan was to have. You know, finally healthy food establishment to provide, uh, healthy eating options, to busy working families. And that was kind of second business before B1G1.

Danny:

Okay, amazing. that's exciting. And, and I'm, I've been plant-based for nearly a decade now and, I'm really excited and influenced by Japanese cooking as well. So what was your next business, now that you're in Australia?

Masami:

So the next business was, healthy food home delivery business at first. So that was the idea. And, we wanted to deliver freshly cooked organic meals to, people's homes, and take online orders. But that was I think, like 18 years ago. So you can probably imagine, yes, nobody was placing online order to, you know, get their meals delivered. So, we were just too, early at that time. So, even though we had a nice commercial kitchen, we were really struggling at the start, and then what happened was out of those struggles, I used to take those, leftover food, but you know, the, because we cook the food in larger batches we can't sell all of those. So I packed those things into trays and froze them and took the frozen meals to weekend market, out of struggle to pay bills and pay rent. And what happened was those, the frozen meals became extremely popular and people are buying so many, right. Like to stock up their freezer for the week. So we then started to realize, Okay, well, there isn't, enough demand for, home delivered food, but there was a demand for frozen meals. So we shifted to actually wholesale concept. And then we started to distribute to the frozen meals through all different kinds of outlet. So at one point we had about 150 stores selling our product. So that's where we got to, and then interestingly, what happened was that was then I suddenly had this realisation, because five years earlier I started that business in New Zealand because I wanted to do something for the children in the world, who didn't have parents like me, who could take care of my own daughter and children. So I've almost forgotten that we were doing this, you know, the whole thing and working hard for, um, making a difference, but then on the day-to-day we were so busy and I kept telling myself, like, we weren't ready to do anything yet. So that was that reality at that time. And then I realized that if I kept telling that story to myself, you know, I wasn't ready yet. Then maybe like 10 or 20 years time, I would still doing the same thing and telling myself the same story with just a little bit bigger business.

Danny:

I love this story because this is why we have the Sondership podcast. I want people to hear these stories like your own and say, what am I waiting for? And you think, well, when I get a chance later on in life, maybe when I'm retired, I'll do these things. And it's sometimes saying, do them now do them now, where are you putting your energy, its your energy? And you've got to choose what you do with that energy. So that's really great timing. And, and I also like how you said that when you had your daughter, that was your moment of realization that you see all these children around the world who don't necessarily have education, have enough food, and it's that trigger and that connection. The bringing together of those things is, is really fantastic. So now you're a successful frozen, healthy food business in Australia. But this light bulb goes on or this bell rings. And you say to yourself, uh, hold on. What am I doing here? So what, what comes next?

Masami:

So that was the time when this very simple idea came to me. And then I thought what if instead of trying to do something big in the future, what if we could do something today and did that every day? And so, in my own company, because I was passionate about helping the children have access to nourishing food and then also access to education. So we were looking for the way to do it. I discovered that just by allocating something like 25% per meal, we could help feed and educate a child to come to school and receive a free meal. And so that, that will encourage them to continue to go to school and finish primary school education. So I thought, oh my gosh, like I could do this now. And you know, it's like adding another sticker on the food packaging or adding one more ingredient. So at that time, I realized that the giving and caring can be a part of ingredients of our product if we embed it in that way. So that was just really transformative. And that was the origin of B1G1, which was the buy one, give one concept. But then about seven months later after we implemented that in our own business, there was another moment of realization for me. And at that time, what I actually realized, was that it wasn't just me, you know, I met many amazing business people, my suppliers or friends who are also entrepreneurs and business owners who cared about others and who cared about our community and the world and different issues in the world. So I thought. What if, we could all do this and do this easily. Like if we made it so easy to embed giving in our everyday act, then every person involved can participate in this, you know, making a positive impact in the world. So that's when I eventually decided to sell my food company in Australia and then moved to Singapore to start B1G1, as a global giving initiative. And that was in 2007. So it's been 14 years.

Danny:

Wow. Okay. So you're, I mean, you're seriously ahead of your time with everything that you're doing Masami. I liked the way that you've kind of built layer upon layer where you, you say, what difference can I make and making a direct impact layer and then looking at other people and saying, well, how can I enable other people and creating with effectively a platform or a concept for other people to do the same thing, to use your experience in your learning to be able to make that happen. So this is amazing. So 2007 you're in Singapore, and you're starting to develop this concept of B1G1.

Masami:

And so when we first came to Singapore, we had really no idea about how to make it work. Only thing we had was this idea, and we believed in this idea that something like this can really transform our world. And to me, like all the dots were connected, because all that time I was traveling around the world and seeing, and you know really listening to people and their aspiration and. desire. Well, all the problems that I saw, like everything could connect through this concept. And so, another thing that I realized was very important was that actually like, what was missing in the business world, but not about the ability to make a difference because businesses already have a great ability to make a difference. But perhaps, just the connections that those were the things missing to really channel our ability to make a difference into tangible impacts in the world. Initially we didn't know how to make it work. took the, many years for us to gradually figure out how to select the right charity organizations, and projects to bring into B1G1 or how to convey this idea to business owners so that they will go like, oh, this makes sense. You know, we want to implement giving in our business.

Danny:

When I, think of, the concept of buy one, get one, I think of Tom's shoes, who, when you buy a pair of Toms shoes, they donate a pair to children in developing countries, but I think that concept even further behind, and I can't remember the name of the guy, who worked on that concept, that he went on to develop B Corp, uh, B corporations and, and that concept. Is that something that you're a part of, uh, are B1G1 registered as a B Corp.

Masami:

So B1G1 is a social enterprise, which, and also social giving initiative. But we have a two entities under the B1G1 initiative, one is the social enterprise, the company, and then another, um, is the, the B1G1 giving, which is the registered charity. So the business part of B1G1 is a registered B corp. So as a social enterprise and a business, we not only, um, have a mission to create a social impact as a business, but also embody many things, um, in our business practice. So that we are actually continuously challenging the status quo to think about how to implement everything in our business in such a way that actually has a positive impact in all levels.

Danny:

Which is perfect. I'm a real big fan of B corps and the, and the ideology behind it and getting organizations to think about profit as well as purpose and planet and people. So you've also written a couple of books. Tell us about your books.

Masami:

Yeah. So, um, my, one of my main books is called Giving Business. And so Giving Business, uh, talks about the concept and the power of giving, because we sometimes think, you know, giving, or social giving, or charitable donation as a something that we should do because we have to, or, you know, as a part of CSR or because we feel guilty when we are asked to donate and we refuse. So sometimes like giving may not be done in the best possible way. So, when we go deeper into the idea of giving, what we've realized is that giving is actually a very profound and powerful for our own wellbeing and wellbeing for the world. And, Giving Business talk about some of the, background, why there's just so much power in small things that we could do So that's one of the books I've written.

Danny:

Incredible. And I, I like, you've come back to this a couple of times about making a small and direct impact. So rather than focusing on the big initiative or the big change, which of course we need and we need governments and, such like to do those things, it's really about how can you make a small and direct impact, that's making a difference? I really like the fact that you've taken something like consumerism and turned it around and made it, a kind of a force for good, where you're linking the consumption with the benefit that's being delivered. So Masami, this sounds very, almost fairy tale-like, where were the hard bits? Where were the struggles on this journey?

Masami:

I think because, as I said, when we started, we didn't know how exactly to do this. So to make something as simple as a B1G1 work is actually not so simple, it's actually quite complex. And that's why we always had to deal with all the obstacles and the unknown questions and, move forward step-by-step, probably in the earlier times, because there wasn't enough businesses, looking out for these kind of opportunities, then, you know, it was not straight forward to convey this idea to business audience, because everybody else was talking about how to make more money and maximize the profit, or, you know, have a better marketing. So there was enough audience, but those kinds of business topics, but nobody was actively looking out for, how to give away their hard earned money to do something else. That may or may not benefit your business directly. So that was the initial challenge. And then, at that time, one way for us to do it was to travel and meet with people, actually talk with people and tell their story. We appeared at many different business events and the, you know, the people coming to those events who are never looking for ways to give, would listen to that story and go like, Yeah. I resonated with this. I be part of this. And that was when we didn't have all the smart features that we have today, we have, uh, today, uh, impact counting live widget that you can embed on your website. So we have all these things, but then at that time we didn't have much of a benefit to give to the businesses, but there were enough people who would listen and, support the idea. So that, that was how we kept going. And then recent times, I think now, like things were changing and more and more businesses are starting to really think about, why they are doing what they're doing and what they have to do to make sure that they contribute toward creating sustainable world together. So it's a new time. In B1G1 we love using the metaphor to really convey the idea to people and it, it works very well. So one of the metaphors we use is, metaphor of bees. So when we think about the consumerism and our day to day actions like having a cup of coffee or reading a book or businesses serving a new customer, creating new clients, those are the bees every day pollination activities like in our world interpretation, because bees are doing what they're doing as a part of who they are. So that's why everyday they go out and collect the nectar, but at the same time, they pollinate the flowers, so that happens at the same time. When they receive, they are giving. But then in the business world, I think over many, many decades businesses started to be too profit focused and short-term focused. So what happened was a business leaders were evaluated for short-term gains on the quarterly performance.

Danny:

Mm.

Masami:

And if you do try to maximize the short-term profit and the financial performance only. Then of course, we will all end up with long-term issues because we are avoiding this very, very important activity to actually pollinate the flowers and to make sure there is sustainability around our business to support our long-term success. So I see like things like B1G1, is a way to bring back that natural pollination back into business. Because we were doing it before in our family businesses long time ago that those old businesses are taking care of community and the people around them creating trust and making sure that farmers are taking care of the soil to have the abundance next year or to go with the nature and natural cycles.

Danny:

I really like that metaphor, and, the way you describe it reminds me of certainly the older way of Japanese investments and economy, and when I say older, I mean the eighties, nineties, and historically Japanese businesses were very focused on long-term growth and not on short-term shareholder dividends and rewards and a big part of the Japanese economic miracle during the sixties, seventies, eighties was as a result of that approach. Thank you, Masami. How can people get in contact with you or find out more about B1G1?

Masami:

Hmm. So, anybody can simply go to B1G1.com and find out about our initiative. If you forget the naming, forget the naming, because it's hard to remember B1G1, so, then you can type buy one, give one on Google and we will come up. And another place you can find me as a person is probably LinkedIn. And so yeah, you can search Masami Sato and you can connect with me or follow me. So,

Danny:

Well wonderful, we'll put the links in the description for the podcast as well. Masami, thank you so much for taking the time to, to share your story and thank you for being on the Sondership podcast.

Masami:

Thank you. Thank you for having me, Danny. If you look at all the businesses in the world that are more than I believe, a hundred, or 200 years old, more than 50% of those like the longest living businesses are Japanese businesses in the

Danny:

Woah,

Masami:

And Japan only has about 5% of the world's population. So it's not a massive country, even though it's a big economy. So when we think about this and how, like, there are so many, long-lasting businesses in Japan, one of the secrets, even though there are many reasons why, but one of the, reasons for that is it because those Japanese long lasting businesses are family business. Family owned. And so they have a family thinking ingrained in business and they do the decision making. So, nowadays businesses are not necessarily family owned anymore, but one of the ways for us to really think about how to create real lasting business is to think like family perhaps, and then to make the decisions as if we are taking care of the family and creating a family legacy through our businesses.

Masami Sato

Founder and CEO

Masami is a 2-time TEDx speaker, Amazon Best-selling author, winner of Sustainable Business Award and the founder of a global giving movement B1G1. Masami was born in Japan but her desire to expand her horizons took her on a global journey. She became deeply concerned about the inequalities and other challenges that existed in the world. Since then, she has endeavoured to create real WIN-WIN connections across all cultures, people and organisations to realise a different world.

She has been a serial entrepreneur since 2001, starting and running several commercial enterprises all aiming to transform the way businesses are operated today. And by taking a completely new look at the power of giving, she founded B1G1 (Buy1GIVE1) in 2007.