Katherine Sparkes finds herself building huts in Thailand the one day and meeting with corporate clients in London the other.
Talk about variety. Katherine is the founder of an interesting business—basically she helps companies do some good in the world. At one end Katherine and her team at Flamingo Creative are involved in numerous community development projects and have an extensive network in NGO circles. Their business proposition is to match those projects with companies who are looking to develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. For example, Flamingo organised Project Fair Play for Orchid Pubs in the UK (200 participating pubs), a campaign that collected 20,000 football shirts for children in South African townships.
Following the campaign, 8 Orchid managers travelled to Cape Town to meet the communities and see firsthand the initiative that their pubs and customers supported. Other recent campaigns include The Suit Amnesty (re-gifting suits to homeless jobseekers), Bra Bank (providing 20,000 bras to help women in developing countries start their own businesses), Once Upon A Time (child friendly reading corners to promote literacy) and Project Welly (collecting outgrown children’s wellies for UK City Farm projects).
Hello Katherine, how did you make the leap to independent entrepreneurship?
At 22 with a head full of ideas I decided to ‘go it alone’ and set up my business. The freedom and flexibility appealed - we’re now in our 10th year and I’ve never looked back.
What is a typical day like for you?
Anything from attending client meetings in the City to building a mud hut in Thailand with a load of children. No day is typical and every day usually brings something unexpected.
Do you enjoy your work? Why?
I love my work. I get to travel where people don’t often visit, meet all kinds of different characters but most of all, make things a little bit better – often in places that really need a bit of hope and help. It’s hugely rewarding.
Tell us about the approach?
We start with a need, and then work backwards to see how that can match up with a potential client.
For example, we were working with various music therapy projects that all needed new instruments. As a result, we launched ‘The Big Noise’ a re-gifting project funded by a client who owned a chain of kids’ Funhouses. We collected hundreds of music makers which were distributed right across the world and the project culminated with a Skype Orchestra on World Music Day with all the children playing their new instruments together. Have a look at the video below:
What sort of skills do you need to do your work?
The most essential skill is a ‘can-do’ attitude. I am constantly being told our projects are impossible or too ambitious!
Are you looking for people to join you?
We’re always looking for people who can make things happen. Having a creative skill (such as copywriting, marketing experience, photography or filmmaking) is an advantage as is project management. The most important thing is a real love for the job – unpredictable and antisocial hours, having to work independently or at times, with large teams, but above all, having limitless energy even after long days and night flights!
Do you have one tip for other aspirant entrepreneurs?
Contribute to your community – become a trustee for a local charity, join a volunteering programme or mentor at your local school. You’ll learn as much as you give and it’ll enrich you professional life and help keep you grounded.