Rich Brubaker of Collective Responsibility explains the variety of work he does in both for-profit and non-profit spaces. He teases that even after 12 years of marriage his wife still asks what he does. Rich’s portfolio is versatile, but to describe him he is one of Asia’s most recognized authorities on sustainability, innovation and responsible leadership. Portions of his work include being the managing director of Collective Responsibility, the executive volunteer of HandsOn China and as an adjunct professor of sustainability and social innovation at Southern Methodist University, Richard has a career focused on helping develop businesses to address economic, environmental, and social hurdles.
Among the projects Rich takes on, he finds himself assisting brands like Nike and Adidas with changing the way they impact communities. Most large brands come to Rich knowing how to describe their issue, or what they are aiming to do, but they require suggestions on strategy. Rich explained that there’s more to look at beyond the brand itself: “… a lot of times what I find is, the knowledge gap also extends to who is being impacted, who is relevant and who has the power to affect this change.” Communicating the issues is not enough to understand the systems that are creating a positive or less desirable impact.
Knowing the problem and the aspects contributing to the concern can be developed by engaging with the issue and people related to the issue. Rich suggested that anyone lacking experience in a field should focus on learning about the field first. Whether the person chooses to volunteer, get a job, or pursue academic study related to a specific field, be more involved with the concern by interacting with the system and people attached to the concern. Then, you can consider what you learned to put together a solution.
Rich described it as: “You’ve got to go swim with the turtles to see where the plastic’s coming from.” While interacting with the concern, Rich explained that you should be observing without labeling everything you see at first glance. Since multiple people are participating in a “system that’s fundamentally flawed”, someone being a stakeholder in the system doesn’t mean they are complicit.
We discussed the need for processes as an initiative finds a rhythm to providing their solution. Rich gave insights on which processes help keep initiatives steady, such as hiring a good team, market research, project execution. To illustrate that point, Rich later gives examples of systems scaling up in sustainability from his time in China. He expressed the differences, and similarities, in trends around developing society between the US, Europe, and China.
Rich Works extensively with students, and shared how he connects students with large companies like Target and Jaguar. Students get together to work on a specified concern the brands provide based on real issues within the company. Rich expressed how involved both sides get into the projects, and how these kinds of interactions can fuel change.
Adam: [00:00:00] Welcome to People Helping People, the podcast inspired, greater social change and give you ideas on how to take action. I'm your host, Adam Morris. Today. I am delighted to have Rich Brubaker on our podcast today. One of Asia's most recognized authorities on sustainability, innovation and responsible leadership.
As the managing director of Collective Responsibility, the executive volunteer of Hands-on China and as an adjunct professor of sustainability and social innovation at Southern Methodist University, Richard has a career focused on helping develop businesses to address economic, environmental, and social hurdles.
So without further ado, let's dive right in. Rich. Welcome on the podcast.
Rich: [00:00:38] Hey, thanks for having me great to be here.
Adam: [00:00:40] Can you start off, can you just give us an overview of your background and what you do in sustainability?
Rich: [00:00:46] Ooh, how long has this? Alright I'll preface this by saying I've been married to my lovely wife for 12 years and she still has no idea what I do. I've been in China almost for 20 years now. Came over here to be a standard consultant M&A helping brands, in China expand over the course of time, I started a few charities.
I started a few for-profit social enterprises, basically addressing the urban challenges. That I've been seeing blow up in this region of the world. My real history all draws back to high school and one of my teachers asking if I'd like a day off and some extra credit, if I were to volunteer for the special Olympics, I put up my hand.
And about 10 years later, I started a large volunteer network in Shanghai. That's now about 15,000 strong. So I, I don't really have a career. I don't really have a focus. I don't really have advice on how to do either one of those, except to say that I just keep seeing issues. I keep building platforms around it, and that includes a for-profit a non-for-profit academic.
And then I have my podcast slash YouTube channel as well.
Adam: [00:01:46] And now you're based in, Shanghai.
Rich: [00:01:48] Based in Shanghai, and up until about a, what, 15 months ago, I would be traveling probably once or twice a month around the region, if not around China meeting with entrepreneurs, delivering projects for large brands. And then just generally doing research around the region.
Adam: [00:02:05] I'm curious to hear just a little bit about what a social impact you've been able to create in the community in Shanghai, through your social enterprises.
Rich: [00:02:15] It's a good question. And I think, the charity has been going now for almost 17 years , as an organization, about 14 of that. And every year we put up about 35 to 50,000 hours of volunteering connecting with 25 to 50,000 people, cleaning up, 15 to 20,000 kg of trash every year out of the ocean.
There's just a lot of things happening. Through my MBA experience, I was teaching MBAs, what is now probably a top 10 business school in the world to 220 MBAs on average a year.
And we do 36 live projects every year with brands, with entrepreneurs, with NGOs and just, you can imagine all the stuff that came out of there. Like one of the projects that I remember is we rewired the IBM global volunteer strategy and I don't know how to even define some of that stuff.
And then my consulting practice, we work with large brands to help them basically identify and address an issue That's within their value chain somewhere. And so for Target the major retailer, we help them with connecting families where the mother or father, or maybe both are in factories and the children are 3000 miles away, going to school and living with grandma and grandpa. And we try and help bridge those ties, but I've also worked with furniture companies to help them decarbonize and dematerialize, the chemicals in their process and working with groups like Adidas and Nike to close the loop on their plastic waste, being it, literally like plastic bags and the supply chain, or it could be the textiles that we wear and run around on bringing that in, closing the loop and hopefully helping them.
Achieve a better future. So it's everywhere. And I think that's the fun of being here is I have no focus. I don't really focus on measuring impact. It's up to, to look back constantly and say look forward? Are we going in the right way, looking back going, are we going the right way?
It's the way I do it.
Adam: [00:04:01] Now I always get confused when it comes to sustainability, because it's a word that's used to describe a lot of different activities. It's just it's a very broad word.
Rich: [00:04:11] Yeah.
Adam: [00:04:12] Like how do you approach sustainability or how would you break that down into more clear buckets of here's what this actually means.
Rich: [00:04:19] So I actually didn't come at this from the polar bear carbon solar panel equation. Like I don't look at it like carbon is going to kill us and it's evil and we just need to save the polar bears like that wasn't my approach into it. Although I had an environmental bias, from when I was young, I think the way that I really define it now is, we're going to have seven to 8 billion people in cities.
And for us, when you move someone out of the rural environment, that could be a farm that could be a village that could be a suburb into the core of an urban city. As I know it in Asia you know, significantly, increase the size of their impact and their footprint, be it from energy, water, food, the draw in the healthcare education, whatever.
And you need cities to serve their function, which is to bring people in to jobs, provide security, provide an upward mobility and you need all these things to work. So when I look at sustainability, I look at the footprints of urban consumers against the scaling up of those numbers, to where we have 8 billion people and what resources are required to make a city function at that time. So you need jobs, you need healthcare, you need education, you need clean air, you need clean water needs the food, you need properties. Like you, you need all these things. And that for me is sustainability. And I know it's broader than most, but that's also, when I look at what are the human needs.
That we face, it all comes back down to that part. Now I'm not saying that people who live outside of cities don't count. I that's not the intention. It's just the systems that we are building, scaling and see fail are being built for the city. The rural off-grid the village, sustenance farmers.
Like they're not the ones who are seeing or participating in this ramp up for energy demand or ramp up for food. They're living a very similar life that we did maybe 50 years ago or, even more than that it's the urban lifestyle. And so I really just constantly figure out like, how can you improve that?
Be it delivering food more efficiently, or increased healthcare, quality at a reduced cost or, education, future jobs. Like all these issues are super important to people and that makes them super important to me.
Adam: [00:06:33] When you're working with a large brand like Nike what's that approach of going in there and identifying, here's what the biggest problem is that you can solve and identifying a need that fits with their business model.
Rich: [00:06:46] Yeah. For the most part, If I'm and most of the brands I'm working with, including say Nike Adidas, whoever I'm working with. Most of them actually, they're very clear on what their challenges are. In terms of the infrastructure in terms of the externality or what's breaking down or now that they've maybe fixed something, what the next step is that they need to work on?
I think most companies globally are pretty aware of like where they've got an issue and what they need to do. What I come in and do is try and figure out how to get that done sometimes. Or what's the timeline, what's the strategy. But a lot of times what I find is. The knowledge gap also extends to who is being impacted, who is relevant and who has power to affect this change.
And then what are the catalyst for change? So if you think about any of the fast fashion brands, you think about any of the big food brands. The role of government, the role of NGO, the role of media, the role of citizens. It all changes. And then at some point it all interplays when something bad happens.
And I think a lot of brands either take a defensive strategy, which is, what are the regulations going to look like? And what can I do just to stay right above that waterline. And then you have groups like Patagonia and others who, and I'm going to use names that you know, I'm not going to confuse it anymore, but you know, you take a Patagonia, like they've said, look or Interface Flooring.
Like those two, everyone usually knows about them. And they're like, look, where are we so far above? And then what they do is they over communicate the problems. Like you go to both of their websites interface or to Patagonia, and they're telling you every single problem they have and. I generally work with a group like that because they know what it is and they're invested in fixing those challenges.
Now, does that make them more or less sustainable? Does that make them a sustainable company? Does that make them better? I'm not judging that. I'm just trying to figure what is the system that, they're struggling with and what are the ways that we can make investments in people?
Process, product materials. To make an improvement. And generally I'd say that my clients overall are growing more and more open to making deeper and deeper, more valuable investments in time, resources.
Adam: [00:09:02] Now do you find that's something that needs to be baked into the company's DNA, like Patagonia, where that is part of who they are. Or is it something that, companies are like if there's a financial incentive sure but otherwise , is there any common driver behind what brings people to say? Yeah, I want to be more sustainable. Yeah.
Rich: [00:09:21] You can learn a lot about fire by putting your hand on the, in the oven, right? No, I don't think you need to have people that are naturally inclined, like a Yvon Chouinard who just generally look, this is my mission. Or, if you look at the interface story, Ray Anderson, he had what he calls a spear in the chest moment where, the mid nineties she's like.
Holy shit. I am. I'm going to go to jail. People like me are gonna go to jail and I better do something. I think you can have it all. I think it can come from anybody. And in general, we did a piece of research. We called sustainable ambassadors. And yes at the top, I think it makes it easier if you have an entrepreneur led or family led organization that is smaller that's non-public Patagonia would be one of those Yvon Chouinard is still at the helm or he's still the visionary that people rely upon whether or not he's running the organization.
Day-to-day. He can throw out those ideas and people will genuinely follow him because he's also built a culture over years by who he hired, who he trusted and then how he set up the mission values of the organization. But Paul Pullman came into Unilever well into Unilever's history of being, what many would say is a bad actor and said, I'm going to do something.
And it took, many years of his tenure there before he left to. Rewire the organization, rehire, the talent required, restructure the processes and the suppliers and the materials and the design and the customer experience to make progress. Did he get, as far as a Ray Anderson or Yvon Chouinard, would.
It's difficult to say, but he made progress even though he himself wasn't a rabbit environmentalist and he was not leading an organization that started with it at the core. I think you can definitely learn over time to make those changes in short
Adam: [00:11:18] Now, how does that differ? To somebody who's just starting out, who's, maybe a sole entrepreneur who's getting off the ground and they have, maybe they are making a social impact on some other way. But part of their own DNA is like, Hey, I care about sustainability. What do they need to know in order to get the right footing?
Rich: [00:11:39] Look, my question would be, are they starting what I would call a mission-driven organization? Are they a mission-driven entrepreneur? Because if they are, they need to have a clear focus on the problem that they want to solve. And I don't mean it. Like I want to save the polar bears or I wanna fix water.
Okay. There are a thousand threats to polar bears And there are a thousand reasons why California is running out of water. Which one do you want to focus on? And then how well do you know it? Are you are you someone who comes from that background where you, were you someone who spent 20 years in a nonprofit, focused on that issue or that topic?
Or are you a completely fresh grad? Who's I just want to save the world, or a 15 year old and in school thing, I'm going to get my Fridays and go do something. I think it all depends upon the person, because if you're coming out of 20 years of this organ of this working like, God, it's so broken, I have the answer.
It's much easier to build your solution and you have a network, who the stakeholders are. You know how to pitch it. Great. So you got your problem. You got your solution. Now you gotta go build the organization, build a team, get some funding. Then the next pieces, the younger groups, and let's just broadly stereotype this between 18 and say 25, they either did or did not go to college and they do or do not have any experience at all.
Maybe they have a year or two, but they're not necessarily specialists in the field of the. What they want to solve. They don't really know a whole lot. My first advice to them would be go get a job at a non-profit and a for-profit, whatever, academic, whatever suit, whatever floats your boat, whatever medium you think you can learn the most from on that specific issue and do not stay in the office, go be a field researcher, go talk to people.
Don't be a pitch person. Make sure you learn about everything that you can about what the problem is. Where its roots are, who's involved, what are the solutions and what will it really take to solve the problem and then create your pitch, your business plan, your marketing campaign, whatever it may be afterwards.
And what I found is that's what the most successful people do in the space. They really know the problem.
Adam: [00:13:57] And they're doing that by going out and having those conversations and making the connections with the people where they can learn the most.
Rich: [00:14:05] I think a lot of people feel like they can learn everything off the internet. And the reality is you've got to go swim with the turtles to see where the plastic's coming from and you got to go, live in a tree to figure out who's trying to cut it down. Like you, you need to be on the ground and you can't label everyone.
Who's part of the problem as evil either. Yeah, there's a lot of people for various reasons are participating in a system that's fundamentally flawed and resulting in the failure that you're seeing that you're trying to address that doesn't make them evil. It doesn't make them complicit. It's an organ, it's a group.
It's an organization is a technology that you have the opportunity to engage with. And hopefully. Over time flipped around. Now you may learn that they are truly evil. That's one thing, but to go into it saying they're all stupid, they're all evil. You're just going to get nowhere. You have to start with a a place of intellectual honesty learn things and try to respect as much as you can.
All the players in the field so that you can find out the best ways to engage them as you're building out your solution.
Adam: [00:15:13] got it now for a company that's established that says, Hey, I want to be more sustainable. What are some of the roadblocks that they face and actually realizing that sustainability
Rich: [00:15:24] Ooh, that's a good question. Depends upon what layer the organization. Because I've worked with some very large organizations at the global level, and I would say the biggest challenge for them is they're near retirement and they don't want to, that's not to say if they're old and they don't know what to do.
What I'm saying is they spent 40 years of their life building an organization or a process or a product. And you're telling them in the last five years they did all wrong and that they've got to go backwards. You know that's hard and you're not going to get very far. If you start with confrontationally so you have to find ways to pull them in.
And I think that this way is to tell them all, Hey, a government's going to come in and they're going to tax you out of business, or they're going to pass a regulation, or they're going to kick you out of the backyard. Okay. Everyone we're speaking to that because the chief legal officer will come in and say, Hey, Bob, we got to do this now.
Otherwise there's a big fine. That's the easiest way. The second easiest way is to actually show them what customers want and how the future of their company, their personal legacy, their whatever lies in helping people solve that need. And I think most marketers, most product developers, most executives, they want to meet the market's needs.
What you need to do is help them understand how the market wants different things. And I think if you look at big food, you look at big ag, you look at big energy, look at all these things that the fastest growing companies in the world right now are not traditional energy. They are not traditional food.
They are not traditional mobility. They're the new players. And so they're really trying to learn to really trying to win obviously. And you can help them with that. And. Along the way you help them understand that the reason why they're failing is because they're inefficient, they're exploitative.
They are, doing the wrong thing.
Adam: [00:17:12] If you're listening to this podcast, Rich Brubaker has a great YouTube channel with hundreds of videos around sustainability, answering different questions. One thing that I've heard in those videos that comes up a lot is that you have a really strong focus on process and developing good processes.
How does that help with sustainability?
Rich: [00:17:32] So as an entrepreneur, let me address that from a couple. Angles one is as an entrepreneur and my YouTube channels, largely me interviewing entrepreneurs just as you're interviewing me. And what I find is when you, as an entrepreneur, start to develop process. Around the delivery of your product service, whatever you start to take, the first jumps in your organization and the management of your organization, the people involved in the development of your future.
It gets much easier when able to nail down a bunch of big bowls of jello. And I call entrepreneurship nailing bowls of jello to the wall because that's what it is. You get something up there and you're like, ah, damn it's fallen down. But if you can solidify one of those things in the freezer, that's what I call process.
It just keeps up there longer. You could do more with it, your whole HR process changes because you're not hiring people who are all entrepreneurs and all trying to build, but, program managers and engineers, and they're able to. Constantly do the same thing over and over, which means they can improve on it much easier.
It means selling it as easier, which means funding. It is easier. It just makes the whole process easier. Sustainability in general process is very important. The delivery of food needs to be a process that is consistent, right? It's organic. It is regenerative. It is, it's not, if I look at it, Asia, many of the farms are very small plots.
They all plant very different things. There's no scale to anything. That's not going to work in a system where you have 8 billion people, you need systems. And the other thing about systems that I really like and why I find B2B firms do sustainability?
In quotes better than B to C companies is because they invest in the backend processes, the pipes, the foundations, the wiring for.
What the seas are doing. If you look at what Coca Cola does every year, and I don't care, if you think they're good, bad, whatever, but just respect the fact that every year their customers are asking them for a brand new something all the time. This issue water's important to us. No, it's this one biodiversity.
No. It's this one plastic. So their campaigns go up and down and up and down and up because they're responding to the market. But if you're there bottle manufacturer, the only thing you care about is making sure that you're using the least amount of plastic possible and you're bringing in as much recycling as possible.
And then you invest into a process of machinery people. To make that happen, supply chain to make that happen. And that's why that's much more stable than what Coke is trying to do. And again, I'm not saying Coke is good, bad or otherwise, but if you respect the challenges and the fact that process really helps just nail things down, you can forget about it.
You can grow off it, you can measure it, you can report on it. That's why it's important. And. It just, I've just found for an entrepreneur. If you've got 50 people, all doing different things when 25 should be doing the exact same thing, you want the ladder?
Adam: [00:20:40] Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense that, if people have a clear system to follow, then you can measure the effectiveness of that system and you can refine it and you can look for ways to actually improve that system because you know it, and it's something that you can develop.
Rich: [00:20:54] Yeah.
Adam: [00:20:56] That's great. I think that shift and take a look at collective responsibility a bit, and some of the events that you do.
Can you describe a little bit about events that you use and how they pull people into this sustainability ecosystem?
Rich: [00:21:11] Sure. So when I started collective I had my charity, I was a professor at the tone of your business school, not SMU at 10, your business school. And. I had been growing a business, but I've been growing a platform where I was as an external consultant to some companies. And what I started to realize, it was like, there's these huge knowledge gaps, both of them, the people that I'm talking to from a client base, but also within the community.
And this is going back about not quite 10 years, let's say it's seven to eight years. And the other thing that I realized at the same time was like, sustainability. For the global messaging that's presented us. It's a very local topic. So what I did was I developed a series of events where I would actually unsustainably fraught fly from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore between the three every other month or every quarter.
And I would host luncheons for executives during the day. And because I had free time university students and young professionals at night in the same city. So I was doing six events, every, quarter roughly. And the reason why I did that was because I wanted to help to localize the language, but I also wanted to learn.
What are the topics that are important to people. And then I want to bring in the leading practitioners, I don't really care about the people who have a nice PowerPoint deck from their CML at the global level. I wanna know what project are you doing here? How's it going? Or the challenges?
How can you inspire and equipped others? That's all I care about. So you think about every two to three months I had. No three times since I had 18 to 25 speakers going on, I'm building my network. I'm learning a lot. But the other thing I was doing is I was saving a lot of money on coffees because instead of buying 45 separate coffees in each city, I would have 45 to 120 people coming to my event and paying for it.
So I was accomplishing a lot and actually that helps set up my brand of collective responsibility, which we really try to be in the center of the stakeholders. We're not advocates. We're not just business. We are trying to find that commercial balance. And we're trying to be a platform where stakeholders can come together and not just learn from each other, but also engaged.
And so I would also say it like all my events. The last thing I want you to say is that was a nice event. Great coffee. And I got a couple business cards. I want you to walk away and on Monday, know who to call about how to take another step forward. And so they're very action oriented. And all that did was it led to the development of communities that were much more action oriented.
We closed a lot of gaps. We brawl on that works together. And actually the impact of that was I saw a lot of commercial deals coming out of it, which was great. And that commercial deal could be business, the business, the NGO, whatever. And that's what the platform was. And I've just carried that forward.
I do a lot of research, which I put freely available on collective responsibility and we do all these events. For to attend it's about 10 bucks us, not because I'm trying to make money, but because I realized if I make it free, I lose half the people. Like I'll have 50 RSVPs and it'll show up.
But if I make it five bucks, I'll be at 95% because people, once they pay, they show and that was the only reason. And all that money actually just goes into speakers gifts. Accomplishes a lot for me. Like I get to build a community, I get to learn a lot. I also get to help facilitate, which I just love doing.
And it just constantly keeps the, and when I'm designing them, the other thing I do is I am building a year long calendar. Every year. And then that way I can really tie the topics together. And at the very end of it, I load them all up freely available on YouTube as well. So that way people outside of China or outside of Asia can learn about what's happening here and who are the leading actors in this, because there's a huge divides happening right now.
So that's how I approach it. And that's my reason for doing it.
Adam: [00:25:06] that's great. When you say huge divides are happening what, what are those looking like?
Rich: [00:25:10] Honestly, the U S in Europe, this have no idea what's happening in Asia and they have no idea what's happening in China. And I'm sorry. China right now is the most interesting place to be in the world when it comes to sustainability. Not just because the systems are failing faster than anywhere else, because there's scaling fascinating.
What else? Me think they took four or 500 million people in the last 30 years out of poverty. It's incredible. And they urbanized them and they went from. A continent of local brands to national brands. They went, it's just the amount of buildings, the amount of food supply, like everything's scaled up here.
And that also means that the stakeholders here, when there are failures act faster than anywhere else in the world, the amount of innovation entrepreneurs, the government's focus and framework. I It's stunning. And so there's a lot of lessons to be learned here. And I think that's a big piece of it.
Adam: [00:26:07] Oh, that's fantastic. I, you've been there for 20 years. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen happen since.
Rich: [00:26:14] You go back to 2014 and 15. When you saw the air pollution pictures in China, like we got blue skies every day. Like it's, they have fixed just amazing number of systems. We talk about, plastic waste, if you read the most Western reports. Okay. China's the biggest contributor of plastics to the ocean.
Really? They used to take 60% of the recyclables from urban. Us and EU cities and they would process it over here. They are very efficient with their waste management systems and that's from installing thousands of incinerators to having a very active manufacturing base that can take up all these pro all these materials.
The quality of healthcare and education has really risen, but just, the biggest one is just the quality of life. The wealth effect that the average Chinese has. Has, experienced the last 30 years. It's stunning to see how people, how their whole lives have changed.
Like everything we talk about in the west about what we want to accomplish for our people, they're doing it here. And I'm not going to say that. They're better or worse. I'm not saying that I agree with everything that the government has done here for God. I'm not saying that, they've got this vision and they execute on it and you can see the results.
Now will it be sustainable is a great question. What's it gonna look like in 15, 20, 50 years? Of course we need to see that. But what we see in the last third is just, it's just a, it's an amazing experiment. In a very different part of the world with a very different application, like very different kind of approach and.
So far it's worked and then the next round was supposed to be Southeast Asia and they were really coming up. I It was so exciting to see these very poor areas, like really seeing a growth. Then the people like feeling pride in what's been accomplished and, the government having the resources to then fix air, water, food challenges that they faced.
Unfortunately COVID sucked a bunch of them back down in the black hole. So we'll see, it might take another 10 or 20 years for the recover.
The way I look at it, there's, every one of these crises, there's an amazing opportunity to build. Yeah. And going back to you don't want to your first question what's the advice that you give? There are no, there's no lack of problems in the world.
I don't care where you are. I don't care if you're in, if you're in the U S if you're in the EU, if you're in Asia, There are problems everywhere to be solved of social, economic, and environment. I just see them scaling up here faster, but honestly, the last 15 years of the U S obviously we've seen other issues, it could be gun violence.
It could be, the urban environment, the urban decay. It could be the imbalance of wealth. There's thousands of challenges. The key that I've been finding is. COVID just exacerbated a lot of these things. It exposed, which governments had a few more tools at the bank, but it also exposed the need for individuals to stop complaining and to do something.
And I think that's why I'm seeing a lot more people interested in the work that we're doing is. Social entrepreneurs. I They don't want to be necessarily non-profit social entrepreneurs. I'm seeing more people interested in for-profits social entrepreneurship, which is fine for me. I don't really care how, what structure you want, but I think it's going to be a very exciting time.
Unfortunately, we have to go through this to get through these exciting moments where people are like, no, our job, our mission in life is to solve a human problem and develop a business around that. And no matter where you are in the world, I think now's a great opportunity for that.
Adam: [00:29:31] I love that. And I think something about that, there's a certain resistance to change, right? So if you're comfortable in how your life is working, it's very easy for you to overlook, Issues or problems that you might otherwise fix. And so when you're hit with a pandemic and it totally messes with you, then it's a really a great chance to step back and say, all right, what can I fix about this situation?
What can I change? You're already in the midst of that change, we're naturally very adaptive as a species.
Rich: [00:30:00] yeah, I think so. And I think, if you look at like the last 10 to 15 years in the states and in Europe, there's been a lot of conversation about problems and I can't believe no one's fixed this. And COVID basically said, no, now's the time to do it. Even if you don't have the resources right now, but a lot of people reset their mind and said, look, I'm going to do something.
I, I've got limited time. They finally figured it out and I want to focus on this stuff now. And I think if I were to like, just grossly stereotype, the difference between what I've seen in China and what I've seen in other places is that the Chinese had that 40 years ago. With the worst parts of the revolution and the great leap forward.
They still remember poverty. They still remember hunger. They still remember all those things. And so the U S and EU broadly, stereotypically speaking, haven't experienced that for a long time. And so maybe this will catalyze people to think a little bit more about solving real problems.
I think that's part of it.
Adam: [00:30:54] Now, one of the other things that you do is you run hackathons. So you're almost bringing in new blood in a sense to understand entrepreneurship and social impact. Can you tell me just a little bit about what these hackathons look like and what you've seen come out of that?
Rich: [00:31:09] Oh my God. They're a blast. So I don't run the hackathon where, a bunch of people go in and. twelve hours later come out with a t-shirt and like no actionable ideas. We structure ours very differently. We'll spend probably three to four months in planning. And then the hackers themselves generally come from master's programs at Chinese or Asian universities.
We run these round Asia and actually I ran one of the states right before COVID in Minneapolis. We will do a ton of prep work research. We provide training to the hackers upfront and the hack is on a business problem that is faced. And that could be, if you look at my website, you'll see that we've done these for Target, we've done them for Exxon. We've done them for buyer pharmaceutical, which a lot of people will know as for the headache medicine. We've we worked with Jaguar Land Rover, nice cars. And basically they will come to us and say, look, we have this challenge. This specific challenge, you want to work on this thing and we want to engage these teams of students on it.
And Kohler was a great example. They wanted to develop a new bathtub for the elderly. Now a lot of these things are they're cumbersome. They're ugly, and Kohler likes, a nice product. Like they, they go for the upper middle class kind of target, obviously, a little bit higher at times a little bit lower at times, but they want, for a lot of their customers, they want to go into a bathroom.
And look at something that doesn't look like a hospital. Set up where you got to a chair jammed into the bathtub. And they engaged a bunch of students. We had eight teams of six, seven, and they did a technical briefing. They did a design briefing. We had just IDEO designers. It was phenomenal. And they produce a product that is on the market and it has a swing door, which is quite standard.
But then the. You pushed down the base in the back and a seat comes up and then it goes back down. It's just a phenomenal idea. And a lot of times we're just trying to solve things like that. Jaguar land Rover was the future of mobility. Will people buy cars or will they be members?
What will it be? And then how does it change everything about the car itself, the footprint, the driving, the parking, what accessories you have? It's just all linked back to sustainability. And what comes out of this is one you get between six and eight ideas that are, not all of good quality, but I always find one is usually pretty damn phenomenal.
Two to three needed like another week, right? You're like, oh my God, they're so close. And then one or two are like, you really thought that you didn't have to work that hard. Oops, you missed it. But for the companies, besides getting the ideas, one of the biggest things that they get is they inspire the hell out of their people because we assign mentors from inside the company to work with these teams for a month.
And what they end up doing is they start hiring them for interns. They start hiring them for projects and they, you get a bunch of people that have been in the company for eight to 10 years. And you're like, man, that was so much, I can't wait to go to work on Monday and, solve something for this company again.
And that's the other benefit. And yeah, I it's just, it's a very specific outcome. Focused approach. And it's amazing. I, on my website I have hackathon videos. We do one for every one of them, and it's just, we try to make sure that everyone walks away with something and the students themselves.
Besides the ideas they come up with, what they learn is they will present, like in the case of. Kohler, the global head of HR, Jaguar Lambert, the head of innovation and the head of HR globally were there. And they were just blown away. Like you think like the person who's designing Jaguars and land rovers sitting in front, a bunch of students going, what is your idea about this?
Please give me more detail, like firing at them. And these students like, oh, we got this. That's awesome for them.
Adam: [00:34:51] that's a great collaboration just in bringing ideas, but also teaching, students that they are empowered and they actually have a lot to contribute.
Rich: [00:35:00] I just say the way that I designed it to begin with was to make sure that the students one. No matter what happened, their takeaway from that event comes first. Their learning experience comes first and second was what's the quality of the ideas and the outcome. Because if I get that, then the third one, which is my client's experience is number three, I want them trying this all the time internally. Because it's a great way to generate ideas, but we came to this, like if the students are in appreciating this experience, they'll pour their hearts into it. And I would say like for the last couple hackathons, I would actually say you guys know, cause they sleep overnight.
Like you guys know sleep is the devil. And I realized like half of them would not sleep because I said that. And so I had to stop saying it because there's, so they give it their all and kids crying because they want and crying because they lost. And it's just, it's a phenomenal experience.
And I feel like that's where we started. So going back to square one, like what's the problem you're trying to solve. I'm trying to make sure students. See, the companies view this as important and invest in them. So they come up with their best ideas. So they inspire the companies, these old people that don't want to be inspired and to change their business habits.
And I think if you get that a hackathon hackathons, a great little medium for change.
Adam: [00:36:18] So what's coming up for collective responsibility over the next few months, few years.
Rich: [00:36:24] More.
Adam: [00:36:25] Well,
Rich: [00:36:27] so that's a good question. I, and I apologize, the listeners who've been listening to me just gap away. This isn't really like a podcast where we're going back and forth like Joe Rogan does. Ideally pre COVID. My idea was really to build a, an Asia. Asia wide agency, I didn't want to be China.
I didn't want to be global. I knew that the lessons I learned in China will be scalable to Asia. And I really want to follow that path. There's nothing more fun for me sometimes than to follow. Informal trash, dumpster divers down the street to figure out what they're doing and to see where it's going and ask them questions.
And I realized so much about these cities, like that's where it's going. Now with COVID. The reality is like we can't get back on those aluminum tubes so easily. So it's very difficult for me to build an Asia business and I had an office that was supposed to open in Bangkok. About a year and two months ago and that got kerfluffle.
So what my focus now is just trying to figure out how do I, create effective bridges where part of my business has to be virtual now. And part of it has to be physical. And for some like my education stuff, when I was working with universities, bringing their students to China, showing them for two weeks about social innovation or sustainability or whatever, Now we're developing a virtual platform where universities can click in, get the content, just virtually, but then we're taking, 360 cameras through a solar factory and we're going to show them like how a solar panels made with all the noise and all.
And then the CEO will give his, give the tour just like they would, but it's just a little bit different, but we're starting to learn like how to manage the process a little bit different. So you overcome some of these things and then. I think what will be interesting is as we're recovering from COVID like just the other thing I'm looking at doing is just figuring out ways to hold more events. And develop more research in a way that could be more widely consumed. Honestly, if anyone has followed us for this long in this conversation, they're likely to go and check out my YouTube channel. And that's another, those are 30 to 45 minutes of just conversation, which isn't necessarily what gen Z is looking for.
But what I find is if you can get through those conversations, You're going to be more inclined to really want to do something. And that's what I really want is I want to constantly find platforms that where the information we consumed, where it can inspire people where they can figure out like, this is a hammer, this is a screwdriver, this is a drill.
I'm going to go and do what I can and okay. Then I'll work out how to level up my tools from there.
Adam: [00:38:54] If people go in and search for Richard, brubaker on YouTube the information there is very informative, which is nice. There's a lot of answers on a lot of different dimensions into what's possible.
Rich: [00:39:06] It's not the most I'm not Casey Neistat. That's for sure, but I'm definitely trying to provide the, if you really want to start something, whether you're in a company or whatever, like you're going to get real information through these because it's through the other entrepreneurs.
It's not even through me, it's just through the other entrepreneurs. One after another and all of these people, only two in all those hundred that have interviewed, have failed, have closed up shop and gone and done something else. One of them just, he's gone from five people to 600 in the last five years I've known him. It's incredible what some of these people are doing. And yeah.
but you got to sit there and listen to them for 20 minutes. Talk about the process and learn through that.
Adam: [00:39:44] that's fantastic. How did people find out about Collective Responsibility? Where did they go? How did they get involved?
Rich: [00:39:50] Co-responsibility dot com or just Google my name. And I think all the stuff's going to come up one form or another I think the YouTube channel is just for entrepreneurs, but co-responsibility is all about what brands are doing, what issues are facing China? I do some videos over there as well.
He's doing one called the collective and I have a sustainable ambassadors series over there , the head of sustainability for Target and the head of the CEO of Bayer which is now Monsanto, which some people be like, wow, that's controversial. But, I interviewed these people because they have a lot of lessons and they reflect and they're trying to learn as well.
And yeah, I think just between those, or just Google my name and go down the rabbit hole of the internet, just like we used to.
Adam: [00:40:28] Rich, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I felt like we covered a lot just around what sustainability is, how to think about it. What are different ways people get involved, even some of the common roadblocks that people face when trying to implement sustainability in their own companies.
So thank you for all of that.
Rich: [00:40:46] no, my pleasure. Thank you very much for the time. And look forward to keeping this conversation going.
Adam: [00:40:51] I think my other big takeaway is that there's just so much great stuff going on in China, that there's just a wealth of knowledge there and experience that we can all learn from.
Rich: [00:41:00] Actually, I will say, look, I need to also make sure That's globally. When I got stuck in the States, I put together a list of a hundred entrepreneurs that I want to meet when I was in the states. I nearly bought an RV and went on the road because there are so many people, to be inspired by, and I'm from St. Louis originally. So not too far from you and the urban wealth gap the racial disparity, the friction, there's amazing entrepreneurs down there on the job trying to figure out how do I take this community forward through entrepreneurship? And then you have people looking at, regenerative agriculture, all over the states and all over Europe.
There's just so many things happening. I've got 500 entrepreneurs just for us and Europe that I want to meet someday. So if you're listening to this, don't think I'm just all about China and don't think the opportunity is only here. It's global now.
Adam: [00:41:45] Thanks again. Thanks so much.
Rich: [00:41:47] No, thank you.
Adam: [00:41:48] And if you're listening, thank you so much for tuning in until next time.
Rich: [00:41:53] Till next time.
Stay engaged people.