#002 - Daniel Flynn, Founder of Thankyou: On Eradicating Poverty, Creating Change & Finding Hope
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
We caught up with the inspirational Daniel Flynn for the Live Wide Awake podcast. Here’s a sneaky insight into what keeps him motivated, the power of taking little steps, and whether businesses can be a positive force driving change.
We live in a world of two extremes; at one end there’s extreme poverty and at the other, there’s extreme overconsumption. But imagine if businesses could eradicate some of the world’s most pressing issues. Imagine if we could balance the scales; could we save humanity and the planet in the process? So when we had the chance to chat with Daniel Flynn, co-founder of Thankyou (a social enterprise producing personal care products for the sole purpose of funding life-changing projects), we knew these were just some of the big questions we wanted to dive into.
We’ve always been big believers that small steps make a big impact. And it was little steps by a group of university students in 2008 which proved to be the catalyst behind Thankyou. Subsequently, it has morphed into a movement of millions of people taking small steps to create big change. To date, Thankyou has raised over AUD$17 million for impact partners serving the world’s poorest populations, helping over 857,000 people across 22 countries. You may have even seen its most recent audacious global campaign asking Unilever and Procter and Gamble if they want to join for the ride.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Daniel is switched on, grounded and an inspirational leader. Here are 9 questions (with insightful answers) extracted from our lengthier chat. You can listen to the full dialogue via our Live Wide Awake podcast; it’s a cracker.
It started with a question – how do we live in a world where poverty still exists?
Pre-pandemic there were 736 million people living in extreme poverty. And on the same planet that we call home, we collectively spend $63 trillion on stuff. How can we spend that much on stuff when people don’t even have basic human rights, or water or food? One world, two extremes. We started to imagine a world where the products we chose ended something that shouldn’t exist. We naively went into this thinking we could change everything, and we’ve spent the last 12 years chasing down that mission.
Is not truly understanding the system a prerequisite for creating change?
Our competitors like what we do, but at a commercial level, it’s been the battle of our lives going head to head with the system. When we started, we were pretty naive, and that naivety is something we’ve tried to hold onto. At Thankyou our secret weapon is learning. We Google, we listen, we sit down with people, we try and understand, but we approach it with that beginner’s mindset. And I think that’s a real key for all of us.
Can we re-engineer capitalism so business is a force for change and not darkness?
If we go back in the day to when business actually started out, it was created to serve employees, your community and your shareholders. But then business started to take a darker turn and became all about shareholder value and view at all costs. And people made a lot of money off the pain of a lot of others. This is the deep darkness of humanity in my personal view. Having money is not the issue, it is how you use it that’s the challenge. But now with the resurgence of social business and movements like B Corp, people are going back to kind of the way it was meant to be. And that is what we are doing at Thankyou; re-engineering parts of the system that make the biggest difference.
Are you in it for the long game?
People often ask us “did you ever think Thankyou would ever get this big?” On the one hand, we’re truly grateful and appreciate how remarkable it is. On the other hand, we thought we’d be here after year one. So that is our wrestle, but we really are here to play the long game. And the long game is a long game. It’s about making really good decisions and being here tomorrow, not just for a few minutes today. Now they sound like really nice sentences but they’re very hard to live out. But we’re not going anywhere, we’re all in.
Is purpose the paint someone’s trying to paint the outside of something, or is it the fuel on the inside?
We’re 12 years into our story and if you followed us with a GoPro camera the whole time, you’d think ‘oh wow, these guys are very human’. They tried to quit this thing too many times, but they’ve got resolve. But on the inside, we’ve had moments of complete burnout, of feeling like we’re not enough, or don’t have enough energy to get up and go again. But when you truly know your purpose or why you do something, and even if you can’t put the perfect sentence to it, when you know what it is, it’s like oxygen. And that is the fuel that keeps you going. I would sum it up as trying to live a life for others.
Have you gone deep on the soft stuff? Because it helps with the hard stuff.
I feel like one of the biggest keys to everyone’s own journey is to go deep on the soft stuff on the inside. I had a fear of what I thought was failure. But it turns out it was rejection. I cared so much about what other people thought and their happiness. But now I am not affected by what others think, and it allows me to stand up to the world with our idea – no small plan. And while the future is unknown, it is what we make it. Instead of holding onto everything now, invest a little bit more in yourself today. I say to myself I am going to invest a little today because I know that if I can go deep on what I am and why I’m here, that’s going to be a huge weight moving forward.
‘I bought the book. I listened to the podcast. I’ve asked the questions. I still don’t know, am I a failure?’
No, you’re on the journey. Congratulations! Some people don’t figure it out until their fifties or sixties or seventies, but the day they do, it’s incredible. We have to take the pressure off. Don’t listen to the podcast and be like, they got it figured out when they were 19, I’m older. Realise we’re each uniquely on our own journey and that hope is the antidote to uncertainty. Hope is a soft word concept, but it has its light and darkness. Find hope.
Can you give yourself a blue sky day?
In our hyper-connected age, we’ve lost the art of grey space to think. A little step is to create more space in our life to think, to allow more space for thought. I have a day a fortnight I call my blue sky day where I read, write, think, dream – it’s a place of spirituality. And by creating space, I get some of the best ideas and think about problems differently. Yes, we run a social enterprise, and yes it’s busy. But for me, those little steps do equal big change.
What drives you? What makes you angry in the world?
Go all-in on what is moving you and driving you and then create space for what others are doing. Sometimes we debate with others about what is more important – humanitarian, environmental etc. But what we should really be focusing on is what we are really passionate about or upsets us and focus on that, and find the crossover with others. Let’s back each other and unite instead of pitting against one another.
Feeling inspired? Download Live Wide Awake and listen to the whole conversation, and follow along with Thankyou on their journey to eradicate poverty.