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Q & A with i=Change Founder: Jeremy Meltzer

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Q & A with i=Change Founder: Jeremy Meltzer

The Founder of i=Change is Jeremy Meltzer who is a social entrepreneur with a vision to make Giving Back easy. He has an inspiring voice for women’s rights globally and created i=Change to help accelerate the impact of extraordinary development projects, focused on empowering women and girls.

As a young man, Jeremy was moved to action while living in Cuba. He was shocked at how violence against women seemed accepted and was even considered 'normal' across Latin America. This left him with a burning question... Why is such abuse so common in some communities while abhorrent in others?

Fast forward to today where i=Change has raised over $1,330,000 AUD for charities with almost 100 retail brands. COVE being one of them. 

Natalie and Jeremy met in early 2018 in a small coffee shop near Wynyard and met again at industry events and COVE officially launched with i=Change this month. 

We recorded a podcast episode with Jeremy earlier in the year, in July but the audio has some technical issues on it sadly. We have lifted what we can from the catch up here in a Q&A instead...

COVE: What is i=Change?

Jeremy: We made a technology platform that makes it simple for retailers to give back. We integrate in to websites. It's a platform that allows a brand to commit a donation with every sale, $1, to women and girls' empowerment - women and girls development projects. We built this to create a new funding stream for them - in Australia and around the world. 

We flipped the model though so the CUSTOMER can choose where the money goes - to one of three development projects mostly with a focus on empowering women and girls. We enable brands to do that with 100% transparency. Each brand gets a LIVE page in real time you can see how much they are raising and where it is going.

C: and ALL of that $1 goes to the charity - I think its really important to highlight that

J: 100% of that $1 

C: It is really easy to trace and understand

J: The genesis was, I was living in Latin America and saw a lot of violence against women and girls and I was really disturbed... and now what excites me is there is a movement, alongside climate change at the moment, one of the defining movements of our time and that is unlocking the potential of womens and girls and reducing violence against them. Its embedded in cultures, religion, our unconscious masculinity and its complex and going to take time to change but people are starting to get it... there are now good people out there starting to make a difference...

C: You're one of them

J: Well thank you but I am just trying to do my bit... I started meeting NGOs around the world and incredible impact leaders doing incredible things and they needed more money. In the developing world you don't need a lot of money to accelerate change and impact communities. We started off slowly and are now working across 14 countries and we are passionate about making sure the money has the greatest impact. We do the due diligence to onboard these charities to make it easy for retailers to chose their charities, and trust that we have done that body of work. They have confidence in us.

C: You have made it really easy for the brand and then obviously the customer its really easy too. The industry really needed someone to come in and do that for us, and streamline all of it...

J: Look in this increasingly complex world - we all want things to be simpler right? I intuited that this hadn't been done well before, it hadn't been done in a simple way and it hadn't been done transparently.

C: Yes

J: Like a lot of brands with good intentions, like we are going to give 1% of profits or "we support" wyz, but no-one knows what that means. 

C: We talked about this - and how doing "one offs" events and then it's all hidden. Give me a number. Make it easy. And how do you do that? $1. Everyone knows what $1 is. It's $1. 

J: Yes. And to your point there has been this evolution of this "we support" hidden on the back pages of the website somewhere

C: Brands weren't really proud of it.  

J: Yeah they just thought it was something they didn't need or want to talk about. But now this is being driven by consumers who want to know what brands stand for. So there is every reason to be extremely proud when a brand makes a commitment like this and to engage customers with every single transaction. So, we built i=Change to make it really simple. It's a little platform we customise for the brands and we build a thankyou page and ... you're smiling because you know how it all works.

C: Yes

J: and thank you so much for coming on board with COVE

C: Finally!! I know it's been like a year in the works... 

J: Well all in good time. These things start with conversations and it's all about timing. But we are honoured to have you on board. 

It's interesting - a comment was made yesterday by a much smaller brand and she was on the panel and speaking to Clarins, and she said one of the great things is whether you are a "Clarins" or an "us" everyone is giving a dollar. It's great to hear this feedback from the brands right. And it kind of democratises the ... you know it just doesn't matter. The dollars are going up at different rates [the rates at which the brands give the $1] but a dollar is a dollar. 
I was up at the clinic on the border and for $25, what you and I would spend having lunch together right, goes to saving a mother in childbirth. 

And these dollars are adding up really quickly now to save women's lives, educate girls, prevent violence, provide funding for shelter, make sure girls stay in school,

C: We support that one! And the Fred Hollows eye sight one...

J: Yeah it's fantastic and that is also $25 to restore someone's sight! 

These two worlds of "not for profits" and the corporate world have so much value they can bring to each other. It's just about bringing them together in a way that is simple and accelerates that aim.

C: It's fantastic. I'd love to talk about your achievements so far. I know you have hit some big milestones recently with how much you have actually raised... let's talk about that. Let's talk about some of the great work you have actually now done.

J: Well we reached a million dollars [Australian] raised at the end of January [2019].

C: Let's take a moment now - 5 years ago. You're trying to get the meetings you're trying to get this off the ground... like if someone had told you fast forward...

J: No I can't. I'd be like you're nuts or something... [laughing] or YES but I have no idea when this will happen.

C: It's a huge, huge achievement.

J: Thank you.

C: It's incredible 

J: Thank you. Look...

C: It's only going to snowball more now. It's wonderful and you've got to celebrate the wins because you know, I know how hard it is on this journey of getting there.

J: It really is and a million dollars is definitely a lot of money but what excites me is the impact. We know that money has impacted the lives of 290,000 women and girls in Australia and 14 other countries, where are partners are working. So I travel to these places as much as I can and we gather stories and we vet and make sure the money is having the greatest impact 

C: It's great you actually get to see...

J: We get to see and that's really where it makes sense for me. Like a million dollars in the corporate world isn't a lot of money but when we are talking about 100's and 1,000's of lives impacted and changed for the better. That's what really gets me up each day. We have a great little team now and they are doing so much amazing work.

C: Yes - shoutout to Catherine - who has helped me a lot!

J: Catherine is amazing! And Camilla has just come on board too with us and helping the brands build up the messages across their sites. 

C: It would be great if you could get the brands - the ones that could afford to - to go and see where their money is making a difference. Just thinking outside the box here... 

J: Yeah no it's a good idea and brands have expressed interest actually wanting to go 

C: Yeah I want to come and see and then be able to show back to the customers and say you guys ultimately have helped us do this - you chose where the money has gone and it'd be great to actually show them. Because that is the real story, isn't it? That is what it's all about.

J: and they are very moved by that and it actually embeds their commitments even deeper by having that emotional experience. And at the end of the day I see this quite simply, we are... this is a movement towards humanising business. It's a movement towards wanting businesses to reflect the world which we wish to see, wanting businesses to reflect the world we want to create with our purchases and I can't help but feel we are reaching a point where the illusions of glamour are being seen for just that and just like in our personal relationships we want an authentic connection. We demand authenticity from our personal relationships - why aren't we demanding authenticity and deep integrity from the brands we are in relationships with. 

C: Yes!

J: and I feel that is the next great leap. It's like there is this great lack of trust that consumers have of business. Literally we always expect business to try and screw us. That they are just trying to do whatever they can to maximise profits - and it't no longer enough or it's no longer working. It is working less and less is what I would say. And I think brands with the same toolkit over the last... say 50 years ... largely since the advent of PR, which happened after World War 1 sorry World War 2...

C: There's a free history lesson here guys as well!!

J: Yeah well there is 

[We go off on a tangent about the origins of PR and smoking in the USA]

J: ... the last 50 years. Before that we were living communally, making products by hand, we were caring for the things that were made of quality. My grandfather had three pairs of shoes which he polished and you know, just a couple of pairs of suits and pants... you didn't go shopping 

C: They were probably tailored made for him

J: They were and he was always very elegantly dressed. You didn't go shopping on the weekend for clothes. It just wasn't a thing you did. You went out and had coffee and cake with your friends and you went for walks with your friends. It wasn't a "leisure" activity.

There's nothing wrong with shopping, it just we have to increasingly raise our consciousness around the implications of our choices. 

The implications of the things that we buy, and the externalities cannot be outsourced for the next generations forever and we are coming up against the limitations of that now and social limitations, environmental limitations 

C: I mean this is our, COVE's, whole ethos right. You know we only want to support conscious brands

J: I love what you are doing and I think its so great and the more that we normalise this ecosystem the more brands start realising this is it and I think it's really important at the same time that we, like we speak to a lot of big brands and they are realising right we must do something but often, and I understand, they don't know where to start. 

C: It is overwhelming and I understand. Coming from retail, I absolutely get it, I talk to these brands and they go "help us". They do not have time, money, they don't have the knowledge. Like where do you start? Do you start with fabrics? Do you start with Supply Chain and change your factories? None of that can be done overnight. So it's really tough, the bigger they are, the harder it actually is change direction but you know you just have to start somewhere. And we [COVE] don't want to be considered and "Ethical Marketplace" we just want to be a Fashion Marketplace. We want sustainability to become the norm. We don't even want that word around - it's just businesses learn how to do better and then they become certified and trusted. It will, I mean, hopefully get to that stage. 

J: As you were saying before, brands that are on that journey access some extraordinary content about their impact, the good work they are doing, the peoples lives they are changing. We built i=Change to drive businesses to access those benefits of doing good. We believe in being pragmatic. Great organisations, committed to communities using best practice ...

People do talk about where do you start, and it's a little like a deer in the headlamps and then nothing happens. There are a lot of great people running retail - there is a lot of passion, making beautiful products. But beautiful products at what cost?

C: EXACTLY!

J: Now it is about the journey and it's about starting

C: Just start somewhere

J: Say these are our values, these are what we are committed to, we are going to make mistakes 

C: It might take us 5 or 10 years maybe... but ... we are going to do it

J: Yeah and that is a wonderful message. It is very powerful message to consumers and you know we are very good at not owning up to our mistakes and in the startup world [laughing] that we are all in there are even "F*ckup Nights" where we should all celebrate our mistakes more [laughing]. Brands - instead of - there is an opportunity to be really brave to "we made a mistake" and you know what we are sorry and brands that have done that really authentically and have shown their vulnerability, than tried to hide it, they earn so much more good will from the customers. 

C: They almost become ambassadors for them 

J: Yeah. It almost taps into Brené Brown

C: I literally LOVE HER and just watched one of her ... what a hero [her talk called The Call To Courage on Netflix. If you haven't seen open another tab and get it ready to watch after reading this!]

J: Yeah she's great. It's just another expression of that and vulnerability and honesty. We care about the world we live in. You know I said at this talk yesterday, guys we all care deeply about something and then we get up and go to work and we have been conditioned to work within the system where it's about profit - at almost any cost, the impacts of which at second best or a long way away...

C: It is starting to change and businesses are becoming more transparent about their purpose. Their "why".

J: Yeah

C: I wanted to touch on the "F*ckup Nights"... have you got any big learnings, have you had any key things that made you pivot or that were devastating at the time... [for example] have you had any big clients leave you or any charities that you couldn't help... anything like that, that was a hard obstacle to overcome? 

J: Look it's been a long, long journey ... when I look back at the first version of this platform ... I laugh [laughter] it looks like a cartoon character you know and I can't believe a brand put that on their website [laughter] but a couple of brands did

C: They are the heros - the early adopters

J: Now that you raise that - they were such like, so much love for them, like oh my god you put that on your website - you're amazing. It's kind of embarrassing. I think some of the most challenging moments have been around ... because what we have built is new I think brands haven't known what to expect and so I have always felt we have never been able to offer enough value. And we have been focussed on growing because growth means raising more funds for more projects.

C: Mmm hmmm

J: We have lost some brands over the years and it was always so devastating for me.

C: That's baffling. I don't understand why - I can't imagine why they would...

J: Sometimes I took it so personally I would ... I mean once I ended up in the foetal position and thinking why when we lost a really big brand? and what could we have done? 

C: Aw Jeremy! 

J: And sometimes what a brand will say, and I haven't seen a compelling example of anyone doing it, is "we are going to go off and do our own thing"

C: Yeah I don't think I've seen any... 

J: Like they say it, and I'm like great, good luck umm but I haven't seen them do it. And I wish they had, because then money would be being raised. But then I think... are we just not adding enough value... brands are giving away $1 and we charge a little fee on top of that, so that we CAN give away 100% of that $1. Our little fee is tax deductible - so it's costing them $1 or less roughly, per transaction. What more should we be doing? And we are a tiny team - like its been me for the first few years and now there is Catherine and Camilla is on board so no one really knows that because we have these amazing brands on board and [the website] it looks like very shiny on the outside 

C: I hear ya!

J: You know what it's like [laughing] So I thought, how can we possibly do more with the limits of 12hrs a day... and you've got to try and eat, and exercise and stay sane...

C: Yes [laughing]

J: Should we be stopping growth and making sure all the brands are happy and rather than ... you know you can grow too fast and get in to trouble, we have heard those startup stories. Or should we take those core customers and go "hey guys how do we add more value" and they'll become ambassadors. Now growth is starting to happen organically and we have started to focus on, there are about 100 brands now, and we are building tools to help messaging across their funnels and seeing how that can increase conversions or loyalty for them. Really working with them.

But yeah there have definitely been moments where I have been in tears, working so hard and then we lost a key customer which was 1/4 of all the donation funds, or even more about 30-35% and I thought what more can I physically do... but then you realise you are dealing with human beings and people have their own wishes 

C: I guess you don't know what is going on [on the other side] You don't know what's happening

J: in someone's life... 

C: I guess... It has happened to us, god knows how many [times], but I guess it just gives you fire in your belly to keep going... in a weird way, go and get some bigger brands on and say... I don't know how you operate but with us we always say 'look door is always open', I don't always know what has happened for you to make this decision but come back when it is right and that's all you can do right?

J: That's all you can do. Exactly. And believe that you are building something ...

C:  Everyone else sees your value and the value that you can add so focus on that I guess 

J: I meditate a lot. I try and see it as opportunity to grow and learn but it is hard not to take it personally.

C: Yes. 100% but that is just your ego though... 

J: Well yes and no - I have been to these places and seen the impact... and this one brand was like $5000 [AUD] a month

C: Ok

J: And from memory it was going to a project in Cambodia for girls who had been victims of sexual slavery who were now living in a refuge, and I had been there and I knew how that place was struggling and knew how they were relying on the funds. So my first thought was "what about those young women!" but to your point, and I appreciate that, you never know what is happening internally ...

C: It is hard not to take these things personally 

J: It is 

C: These are your babies [of sorts] and you have put your life on the line for them. I understand. 

Ok... I'd like to talk now a bit about what is involved for a brand. What does a brand need to do in order to be on i=Change?

J: We try to make that as simple as possible. Contact us, let us know you are interested and we will send a little deck explaining how it all works, a partnership agreement. There is a small one off charge to integrate. We use an external tech team, and this covers their time to integrate, whether you are [operating] on Shopify, Magento...  it takes about 10 minutes.

C: I'd say 5 actually. I mean they log on and do all the hard work for you and it is really really easy. 

J: and then it appears on every sale. On the "Thank you Page" and "Order Confirmation" Page is where the platform appears. It's a surprise and delight for customers to choose where the money goes. We also give the brands some tools to make this as valuable as possible.

C: Yeah it was fantastic - you sent across 2 particular PDFs that have pages of how other brands have done it which can stimulate ideas which is great. There is a wealth of help of how you can bring this to life for your particular brand. 

J: We really want brands to make it their own. We just want to power it. And now brands are seeing this is such a powerful and beneficial message they are putting it on their homepage, in their footers, 

C: On the bottom of all their EDMs

J: Yeah across their checkouts, their baskets. We actually got some data this week that brands that are putting messaging of Giving Back in their EDMs are seeing up to 260% increases of open rates 

C: 260!!! [stunned]

J: Yes compared to product only EDMs.

C: That's massive! 

J: It gets better. Let's say what this provides is - if a customer chooses to "End trafficking" you now know what that customer cares about - so you can go back to them and personalise communication to them and brands that are starting to do this are seeing a 370% increase in open rate. When they go back to their customer, based on the project they selected to support, knowing what their emotional drivers are, 

C: and now imagine that brand goes over to that [refuge] camp or that charity... they can do a targeted campaign or video just to the customers [that donated to that] and show this is where the money you chose us to spend, this is what you've helped us do. That's huge. 

J: and it really embeds in the customers mind. It really engages them. Especially on socials which is all about storytelling, the brands commitment to giving back, being a community. This is us, come on the journey with us. What we are seeing is that increases in open rates, acquisitions, click throughs and hopefully conversions. We want to prove that Giving Back can be a net driver of unlocking new revenue and that will be really exciting.

People have typically seen donations as being "a cost" to a business. And we are excited to prove that we can help them grow - the business gets more money, the charities make more money and it's a really great solution.

C: You've got some interesting stats on abandoned carts as well...

J: Yes we had some data previously on up to a 6% reduction on abandoned carts. 

C: I'd like to talk on our charities. Actually this is what took the time for us to onboard with you - I had a spreadsheet and it is just so hard to choose which charity ... I wanted to support them all. I get why you narrow it down to only three charities but honestly... I am such an emotional person at the best of times but this was hard. I emailed Catherine and was like 'how do you choose?" 
We support Fred Hollows as I am passionate about eyesight - my family has rather bad eyes and I am terrified of going blind myself... and we do the Girls Going to School.

But there is one other charity I am very personally passionate about and recently volunteered with them and did a "beach clean up" in my local park [Rushcutters Bay, Sydney] and that charity is called "take3forthesea". Their ethos is to take 3 pieces of trash you see lying about when you are at the beach [or out and about] and put it in the bin to stop it from going into the ocean. With the view if you dispose of it properly [in the bins, or recycling bins] it will keep its way out of the waterways.

J: Yeah fantastic.

C: They are just an example of a Charity I love, Tim if you are listening [reading] would love to record a podcast episode with you! [Tim is the Founder of take3forthesea]. How do you choose your charities for i=Change and would you be open to exploring... I know your ethos is all about women and girls but I wondered if there was opportunity to explore other charities? Or if other brands have expressed particular passion projects? 

J: It's a great question. It's been a ... we built this to create a new funding stream for women and girls empowerment because of a very personal journey from seeing the enormous levels of abuse... and we know that when we invest in women and girls you get the highest philanthropic return for you dollar. You lift up entire communities. Women will invest up to 90% of what they earn back in to their families, their daughters education. Men, in the developing world mostly, invest between 40-50% the same way... they tend to spend the rest on themselves statistically and so we know when women are educated they have smaller families, they stay in school longer, they have power over their reproductive health, get married later, they contribute more and the health of themselves, families and communities can increase.  

You cannot have a functioning society, hoping for the best economic and social returns without the full inclusion of women and girls.

There are currently 65 million girls not in school, 1 in 3 women have been abused in their lifetime. In this #metoo world and more consciousness around this issue than ever before... but we have hell of a lot of work to do. It's not a men's movement it's not a women's movement, it's a human movement, about working together. 

Look I mean we are happy to look at environmental projects but our focus is women and girls... 

[We discuss the dark and complex topic of domestic violence]

We are spoilt for choice on some incredible organisations [charities] out there. 

I think there is a real double standard going on at the moment, and we are only now just beginning to question how much executives earn, and where our products are actually made and the impact that is having and it's still early days ...

C: Interestingly enough - about 2 weeks ago it was announced the Founder of Zara and that group just took top spot from Jeff Bezos from Amazon and Microsoft [Bill Gates] as the richest man in the world. [It has probably since changed since writing this up] and [to be blunt] it was a bit disheartening for me with everything we are trying to do at COVE and ethical fashion, seeing someone with a fast fashion brand taking first place, the richest MAN ... the most powerful... and fast fashion is this obstacle we still have to overcome and deal with and I wanted to know how you feel about fast fashion - and if you would partner with fast fashion brands... because obviously there are impacts there in their Supply Chains against women and its how do you navigate ... obviously you want support for your charities so how do you work with that?

J: Yeah... we get asked this more and more... to be honest the jury is out if we would partner with a "Zara"... part of me thinks the amount of money we could raise would be extraordinary but I think we need to challenge our own narrative around this. Why do any of us work with any of the businesses... there's always opportunity to move them in a better direction. I think if we maintain this "them" and "us" narrative and nothing bloody changes. 

C:  That's true

J: We are really pragmatic and we go - let's use the leaders to ... and work with them to... ultimately these aren't evil people these are just people who are doing their best they just happen to be people working for a fast fashion brand. Ok well this industry didn't exist 10 years ago... I know a lot of these brands are looking to become more sustainable, they are looking to adopt and the bigger the ship the harder it is to turn. You know if Zara came to us and said we want to partner...[pause] we would engage in conversation 

C: Zara are you listening?

J: People say oh they're not sustainable how can you work with them and I think well what WE [i=Change] are doing is just a piece of the puzzle 

C: That's the thing. You [i=Change] are not here to 

J: We are not trying to make brands sustainable

C: No [but COVE is!!]

J: It's not in our remit, it's not what we do. There's B Corp and sets of certifications that can help brands get on that complex journey 

C: I am not challenging you on [making brands being sustainable] to be clear 

J: No and it's a great questions [would i=Change work with a fast fashion brand]. People have a visceral reaction of 'how can you help a brand give back, when we don't know about their supply chain'... well really? [to us] they are different

C: [Working with you/i=Change] is helping them get one step closer as well 

J: i=Change is actually becoming the first step on these brands journeys and once they see the benefits it brings their brand, they often say what else can we do. And then we go get BCorp, come on board with COVE! [laughing]

C: Yes! Come on board

J: This is not going away. There's a tidal wave beneath this revolt. 

C: Thank you for making it so easy. If each brand had to think about what charities they wanted and then go and build the tech - it doesn't work... it's not collective. You don't get those big milestones, and big movement [in silos]. You've offered people [a way to Give Back] who might not even be thinking about this... 

J: Yeah oh look this is affordable 

C: Let's make it happen. It is collective power, community and collaboration - that's kind of everything to me and my ethos really. You are powerful when you work with other people. If you do everything in silos it gets lost. 

J: Yes it's about social movement and meaningful long term change. By shifting the gear enough and quick enough with enough critical mass it becomes the new normal and everyone's like sh*t we better get on board!

The power of business is what keeps us going and we are honoured to do this work and humbled. Doing anything well is bloody hell so you better know why you're doing it. [Laughter] Making money is not enough.

So thank you, thank you so much for what you're doing and your commitment to building a community.

C: Well trying! 

J: It's really beautiful, let us know if we can help. It's really remarkable to see people like you putting a stake in the ground and saying "this is what I want to do with my time", "this is the difference I want to make". I can see the light in your eyes and it's wonderful. Good on you. 

C: Thank you so much for the incredibly kind words. We are in this together now! I would love the next time to embark on going to see and meet the charities we support to see our impact.

J: I'd love to make that happen. 

C: Watch this space. 

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