Masami Sato – Founder of Buy1GIVE1 (B1G1)

When you make your mission the mission of others, people have a greater interest in helping grow what you have as their own.”

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.

Masami’s approach to life is very different. She brings a new, almost upside-down strategy to everything she does. And she also radiates it through her writing and speaking. She has authored four books including, ‘JOY – The gift of acceptance, trust and love’, ‘GIVING BUSINESS – Creating the maximum impact in the meaning-driven world’ and ‘Better Business, Better Life, Better World’.

Masami’s career has followed her diverse talent and skills having been a teacher, translator, natural food chef (and a farmer!), author and award-winning entrepreneur as well as a mother of two teenage children. She is a two-time TEDx speaker, finalist for the Inspired Leadership Award, winner of the Sustainable Business Award (B1G1), and frequently invited to international events, podcasts, TV and radio interviews.

Where did the idea for B1G1 come from?

As I travelled around the works in my early twenties, I saw so much poverty in many countries. I didn’t know how to deal with the fact that even young children were living on the streets or in extreme poverty without a chance to complete basic education.

So, when I became a mother, I decided to start a business with a partner instead of just working for a company because I wanted to make a difference and dedicate my life towards something that helped more than just my own family. I loved food and I used to work as a chef, so we started a food business. I vowed to give the profits away to help feed and educate street children.

But years later, as the business expanded, I found that I was still too busy and did not have a lot to give. We kept putting all the funds back into the business to keep growing. It was then that I realised that we would just be in the same situation in 10 years if we kept going like that – chasing success. In a spontaneous moment, the idea of B1G1 landed in my head: what if we gave just one meal for every meal we sold…?

This simple realisation changed everything. With this understanding, we no longer needed to wait for great success to make a difference. Suddenly, giving became possible right then. It cost just 25 cents to do it. I recognised ‘the power of small’ – the small things we do today can be more powerful than what we hope to do one day.

After that, I kept imagining what if all kind of businesses around the world could give back in their own unique ways. Several months later, we sold the business and moved to Singapore to start B1G1, the global business giving initiative. Today, more than 2,000 small businesses have worked with us, creating more than 120 million giving impacts in the world.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m a mother of two teenage children. My life revolves around being a mother and managing my social business in Singapore. Most days, I get up at 5:30am to do some exercise then send off my kids to school before catching a train to work (we don’t need to own a car here in Singapore because of the efficient public transport, how nice!)

Being a business person makes you easily distracted by the many things you need to do everyday, especially when you try to do everything other people say you should. It’s good to be spontaneous and responsive, but if we are always dictated by external distractions, we can never get important things done!

So, we have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual team goal setting, review and planning processes that help us establish better balance between things we should be responsive to and the things we aim to accomplish with clear strategic intention without distractions.

Everything is changing quickly in the business space. Many things we did last year are no longer needed, can be automated or replaced by a system, or done by freelancers. The more in tune we are with changes and becoming better managers, the more we can accomplish through leverage.

I also have a natural tendency to want to DO everything myself. Letting others take over the things I enjoy doing is often a challenge for me. But the reward that comes from seeing the team enjoy the work with great synergy and accomplishing greater result is really worth the difficult ‘letting go’.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First, visualise and conceptualise the idea, question the pros and cons and why this idea is important more than other ideas. Then, I pitch to some of my team members to see their reactions.

Once I get support and momentum, I create simple processes or ‘wireframe’ that can be used for further discussions. At this point, we might get feedback from our network’s members or external individuals. Once we decide to execute, I invite the team to volunteer to execute the project. I guide the team through timelines and challenges faced. We document things each time we execute an idea so we can use the foundation for greater ideas in the future.

We keep an idea list too, so that we always have good ideas to consider. Sometimes we might not take action on an idea immediately but it might lead to a different future project later on.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The meaning-driven movement. Now, more and more people are becoming aware that is it not just WHAT we do and HOW we do what we do that really matters. It is WHY we do it that really matters.
The more people become conscious about the WHY, the more change we see in people’s choices in buying products and services. How people choose to work for a company will change too. When our actions become more driven by intention and extra meaning beyond the cheapest price, biggest size, fastest speed and the temporary pleasure, the world becomes more purpose-driven and we can think longer-term together.

Fundamentally, we all care about our own well-being, our family and friends. We have taken action based on short-term gains, compromising our real lasting wellbeing and fulfilment. Now, things are changing. And this is exciting, because this is the time that businesses with empathy and care will thrive.
With the increasing speed of technological advances, the positive change we can create together is exponential. There has never been a time like this.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Frankly, I do not think I’m the most productive person as a business owner. I get distracted by many things, daydream easily, and jump from one thing to the other quite a lot. In terms of productivity, I think my team members can do things far better than me. But I don’t think my role is necessarily about being the fastest or most efficient person to do the job. I like thinking about how things can be done better, faster or more effectively. But that doesn’t mean I’m the best at executing those things.

To combat my own distractions without limiting my freedom to daydream and imagine, I use technology to create better structures. Setting reminder and utilising project management systems help me deliver on promises made without worrying too much about remembering things. If I can get better at delegating and empowering others, it will make me even more productive. It’s work in progress.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be nicer to your parents.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The things we judge others about is usually part of our own behaviours. The easiest way to change something is to change ourselves instead of trying to change others (but it’s the hardest thing to do!)

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be transparent and clear. Take time to understand the need of others and explain things fully to everyone involved in the communication, even if it is time-consuming. Because trust (and clarity) is the greatest asset you can have in your business in the long run. Always do your best to create win-win partnerships since that is the only way to create sustainability.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

There is only so much you can do to grow what you have if you are the only one to ‘own’ it.
When you make your mission the mission of others (whether it’s your team, partners or customers), people have a greater interest in helping grow what you have as their own.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Once, my company culture suffered negativity because I didn’t stand with clear values as I was trying not to confront anyone. I learned a lot from that time. Being modest and indirect to avoid uncomfortable situations comes with a price to pay later. I used to be concerned about hurting other people’s feelings and tried not to say anything that might upset others. While I’m still someone who does not tend to complain or criticise people easily, I learnt when to speak up, when to challenge myself and others with genuine care, and when to disrupt a pattern.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Weekly, wardrobe delivery. I don’t like going clothes shopping and I don’t need to own clothes. I wished someone gave me clothes to wear that fit nicely comfortably everyday – without me even thinking about it. I want someone to give me week’s worth of clothes with the right style and size, and then collect them at the end of the week while bringing the next set.

I guess there are other people like me. They just want comfortable and nicely fitting clothes that they do not need to choose. For fashion-conscious people, not needing to ‘own’ clothes takes away the challenge of trying to dress differently each day.

This business can evolve with artificial intelligence – making your clothing choice more and more ‘you’ by rating what you receive each time and refining your preferences. For trend-conscious people, they can follow specific celebrities for their styles. This business will save everyone from doing laundry individually. They can also make the process of production, maintenance and recycling of fashion items more environmental, ethical and sustainable.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I remember sending $100 as a gift to our IT developer in India on a special occasion – when his first child was born. I asked him to use it for the things he needed for his child. It was not expected as we were just his employer’s client.

Even though he was just a contractor working remotely on our system under an IT company, we treated him as an important team member through our interactions on Skype. He was working on our initiative’s system to facilitate charitable giving. Although it was just a job for him, he was genuinely interested in his work and really cared about our system. He decided to ‘give back’ some of the money he received as a baby gift, and gave it to a giving project via our system.

That experience somehow opened up many things for him. He started looking out for more opportunities to give. On his own birthday the following year, he gave a financially struggling friend an electric tool so his friend could start his own business. He said, “I really get the joy of giving now.” He also asked me for a charity organisation who needed a good website. He said he wanted to volunteer his time to help more people.

I love the work we do at B1G1. With $100, you can give so many amazing things via our initiative. $100 can give 10,000 days of access to life-saving clean water, or can plant 25+ trees in rainforest, contributing to environmental sustainability. And when you help awaken the real spirit of giving and generosity in people, that can keep giving even more.

Sometimes, monetary giving (especially guilt-based giving) can create negative feelings and dependency. But a genuine spirit of giving and well-managed impactful giving can really transform lives. Just $100 can change many people’s lives and keep giving more. I do not think there was any $100 I’ve spent on myself that was ever as impactful or meaningful.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I don’t think I can name just one… Project management systems like Asana or Trello help us get organised. Zapier helps us automate tasks in so many ways… I’d be interested in learning what everyone else is doing!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“The Power of Habit“: I’m fascinated by the mechanisms of how people behave in certain ways. By understanding these hidden patterns, we can design our life to be more effective and purposeful.

What is your favorite quote?

All time favourite: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Key Learnings:

  • Small is powerful
  • We do not need to wait for great success to make a difference; we can make a difference right now
  • Do things with great care, always do your best to create win-win partnerships as it’s the only way to create sustainability


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