Meaningful Spaces: a conversation with Natalie Campbell

For this month's Meaningful Space series, and in recognition of World Water Day, we sit down with the co-CEO of Belu Water, Natalie Campbell. A social entrepreneur, Natalie is committed to disrupting business and using it as a force for good. She co-founded A Very Good Company, a global social innovation agency that worked with the likes of Virgin Media, Marks & Spencer and Channel 4, and is board member for a number of social-led enterprises. In 2020, she was appointed CEO of Belu Water, the social enterprise water brand that donates 100% of its profits to WaterAid. And somehow, amidst all this, she is also a Harper Collins author and co-hosted the weekly radio show and podcast “Badass Women’s Hour.” Among her numerous accolades, Natalie has received an MBE for services to entrepreneurship and we can hardly think of anyone more deserving.

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In this interview, Natalie talks about the shift as businesses start to embrace using business for positive change and the importance of collaboration in order to achieve this. She also talks about her recent move to Hove, the idyllic lifestyle she has adopted there and shares with the AKOJO community her favourite local restaurant.

In the recent years, we’ve seen a shift as some businesses embrace business with purpose. What was it like before hand – when there was a clear distinction between “business” and Corporate Social Responsibility – and how has this evolving landscape helped with your work?

Being sceptical, I can say that many companies take action when under pressure from their board and shareholders. However, there are now many companies that also believe they should be doing good, and at the very top (between CEO to CEO anyway) there is much alignment on environmental goals. One of these leaders is Paul Pollman, formerly Unilever, who is inspiring peers to think about doing things differently, for big business.  

Some are still doing the bare minimum, donating 1% to a cause. This is superficial, and to see if something is a truly embedded practice you need to see how companies look after their teams, what they are doing to understand their carbon footprint, what their slave labour and EDI action plan is, whether they are transparent about paying taxes. You need to see if they care about the things that the customer will never see.  

With Belu, I have an amazing opportunity to push things further, as I inherited a company that was born good. All net profit – over GBP 5.2 mill – has been given to WaterAid. It has shown me you can make different decisions and be profitable.

Your partnership with WaterAid – which has had a huge impact on individuals and communities previously living without clean water and sanitation – is an ideal collaboration. Is collaboration and working with aligned organisations the key to success as a social enterprise?

Collaboration, and pushing each other to be bold and think differently. What conversations can we have? What thought leadership can we put out there? 

Anyone doing the right thing wants to collaborate, share and open source their work, so that you can collectively do better. There should be no secrecy in this. 

Also key is changing the company articles to deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – specifically 6, 12 and 13 (clean water & sanitation, responsible production & consumption, and climate action respectively). The business reason for being i.e. our purpose, is key to our operating model and this should be reflected in the governing documents.

"With Belu, I have an amazing opportunity to push things further, as I inherited a company that was born good... It has shown me you can make different decisions and be profitable. "

Photo © belu.org
Photo © belu.org

What guidance can you offer to young female business founders starting up at this time?

Know yourself, be yourself, look after yourself. It’s all solvable if you look after yourself. If you show up as you truly are, thenyou’ll have confidence.

Where in the world do you love to travel to and do you have any tips for that place?

I love travelling and am committed to live every day like I am on holiday. I moved to Hove and living by the sea I can wake up and run or walk by the fresh sea air – a very Californian lifestyle.  

My favourite restaurant in Hove is Botanique. It’s all vegan, totally sustainable and they have a Hydroponic farm. 

"Know yourself, be yourself, look after yourself... If you show up as you truly are, then you’ll have confidence."

What top three products would you choose from AKOJO MARKET, to gift or of course keep for yourself?