The refugee and the leather bags

A story about the social licence to operate

The other day I was having lunch with my close friend Ingrid. A few years ago she had the idea to design a bag-in-bag system to help professional women like me manage the ‘busyness’ of our daily lives. The bags are produced in Italy using the highest quality leather and suede.

But producing handbags is not easy. Her company Von Rechtenthal is a small enterprise, so their production orders are very small. Naturally, her manufacturer prefers to fill in large orders first, so Ingrid’s bags are usually produced last, causing a large back order. Not only that, but with her manufacturer in Italy, she has no design expert who can help her brainstorm, create prototypes or solve some of the myriad problems that crop up every day at her home base.

“I’m so excited; I think I found someone to help me,” she told me with glowing eyes as we dug into our salads. “I met a young man from Syria at a refugee event last Sunday. You’ll never believe this! He is a professional leather worker, expert a sewing luxury handbags like mine. He is alone here in Germany with no job and no prospects, but his family is setting up a small shop in Turkey to make leather goods. If I invest in just one industrial sewing machine, he could make some of the bags right here in my studio at home, and we could fill special orders through his family shop in Turkey as well. Every day for weeks I’ve been driving by the refugee camp thinking to myself, if only there was someone in there who can work with leather bags. And there was! Of course we still need to settle some legal formalities, first.”

“Amazing. There he was sitting inside as you drove by every day, thinking if only I could find a job doing what I love to do. This is a great story for your website,” I told her. “It’s about your social licence to operate.”

The social licence to operate

Good business is not just about selling bags or cars or cosmetics profitably. It’s about doing it in a responsible way. Thanks to instant access to information, nowadays consumers are more aware of the power of their purchase and are even willing to spend more money if they know their purchase is having a positive social or environmental impact.

According to Alan VanderMolen a renowned PR expert at WE Communications, doing good is good for business. If your company generates even one new job, the ripple effect can spread from individual to family to communities across borders. For large corporations, the strategic implementation of socially responsible ways of sourcing, producing and distributing goods can have enormous impact.

There are many examples of companies with impressive programmes: for example, Unilever is at the forefront of gender discrimination, and SAP is creating the workforce of the future with its Africa Code Week project. If the efforts of companies, large and small, are coupled with public programmes like the ones sponsored by The World Economic Forum that aim to solve big problems in society like feeding the world or creating jobs, we can indeed change the world.

Almost everyone wants to do the right thing when they make business or purchase decisions. But they need the right information. That’s why it’s vital for you to share stories about your business that go straight to the heart of the matter!

A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.


Judith Magyar

Judith Magyar is director strategic content development at SAP. As a member of the SAP Global Content team, she is responsible for developing and producing corporate content using a disruptive, digital approach to communication. The team’s mission is to become a truly 21st century newsroom.  Previously, she managed integrated communications for various SAP leaders including Executive Board members and regional presidents. An American based at the company’s headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, Judith grew up in Brazil and frequently visits family in Budapest. Judith blogs on a variety of topics such as disruptive technology and strategic communications.