Charles-Antoine Bodson of The Skateroom on Promoting Social Change Through Art
The Skateroom's CEO and Founder on "Art for Social Impact," what it means to be a B Corp, and much more.
One of the many unique solutions we’ve discovered through our partnership with the annual ChangeNOW summit is The Skateroom — a social entrepreneurship based in Brussels that collaborates with acclaimed artists and art foundations to drive an “Art for Social Impact” premise.
This results in responsibly made skateboards that double as works of art. Through its “5:25” business model, The Skateroom donates 5 per cent of the turnover, or 25 per cent of the profit from every sale — whichever number is greater — toward social projects around the world. This is one key factor in The Skateroom earning Certified B Corporation status.
We spoke with its CEO and Founder, Charles-Antoine Bodson, to learn more about where the idea for The Skateroom came from, what it means to be a B Corp, and much more.
1. Where did the original idea for The Skateroom come from?
The idea actually started very organically. At the time, I had my art gallery here in Brussels and a private collection of skateboard decks. I had around 4.000 decks in total and at some point, I met Oliver Percovich (the founder of Skateistan) in Paris. He told me about his project and that he was looking for funding to build his second skate school. I then decided to sell a part of my deck collection in order to help him. I donated around $50,000 to Oliver and he was able to build his second skate park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
A few months later, I had the opportunity to see the results and the reality struck me hard. I was like “Oh my god, this is what I want to do.” It was an inspiring experience. The interaction and trust between Skateistan and those children were just amazing. After I went to the opening, the idea of going back to my art gallery just did not make sense anymore. I could not reconcile who I was with what I had just experienced. My mind was set on doing more of this, and that’s basically where The Skateroom started.
2. What was your background prior to this, and how did that shape your work with The Skateroom?
While I studied Marketing, my professional career eventually drove me in the financial services industry where I worked for firms such as Prudential Bache and Raymond James. After five years in the sector, I co-founded Bongo/Weekendesk, a company that became successful by offering travel and experience themed gift vouchers. I sold the company in 2010 to pursue my passion for art by opening a gallery, and that eventually led me to found The Skateroom.
In a way, The Skateroom is a fusion of all those different experiences – art and business cemented together by the desire to create a positive impact at the heart of the company. Of course, using skateboards as the medium to create art editions was strongly linked to The Skateroom’s history. It was the starting point, and skateboards are an ideal canvas because they are affordable, mobile, and usable. Skateboards represent freedom and have the power to break social barriers. They essentially embody the core idea that drives The Skateroom forward – Art of Social Impact.
3. What change does The Skateroom want to facilitate?
I would describe the Skateroom as a social entrepreneurship project with two focal points. The most obvious is to act as a facilitator for our NGO partners. Through our business model, we donate a percentage of every sale to support social projects that use skateboarding and education to empower youth around the world. NGO’s often devote a considerable amount of time looking for funding. By ensuring their funding needs are met, we can take away that stress and allow them to focus on running their projects instead.
Our second focal point is to be a part of a conversation where we question the role of businesses based on the needs of the modern world. We do this by promoting a different way of consuming products on the one hand, and a different way to operate as a business on the other. By that, I mean the production, the way we travel, even the way we send out packages. That’s why we have compensated for our yearly carbon emissions since 2016 and proudly carry the carbon-neutral label. It’s also the reason we pursued B Corp Certification – to challenge ourselves, understand our weaknesses, and improve on them.
I want this company to be inspiring. Our business model shows people that there are better ways to consume while conserving our planet, and that profit should only be considered after the fact – not serve as the driving factor. Basically, we want to facilitate that conversation taking place and show that doing better is not a possibility, but a necessity.
4. Through your work so far, are you seeing a genuine paradigm shift in how purpose-driven initiatives like yours are being received?
I believe the human conscience is evolving to a point where concepts such as engaged consumption and responsible product manufacturing is slowly becoming a norm. There is a growing awareness about our relationship to the world around us, both on an ecological and an ethical level. There is a growing demand for sustainable and responsibly made products, and support for purpose-driven initiatives. We have been operating since 2014, and over that time we have seen the business landscape slowly shift, and our model is definitely getting more and more attention.
For-profit companies will have to adjust and drastically change their philosophies, even if it means lowering their margins if they want to stay relevant and appeal to their customers. We’re even having companies approach us now to do collaborations on social projects. For us, that means the possibility of much greater impact and awareness, and we’re all for it.
5. What has been your proudest moment thus far?
There are so many moments that stand out to me as I reflect on this question. For me, one aspect I truly love is collaborating with artists who really get the importance of what we’re doing, and want to engage and interact with the kids at the projects we support. The impact of our project is what gives meaning to everything we do and brings it full circle. Roger Ballen, a South African photographic artist, really got that and was fully committed to the social aspect of our collaboration. A few months ago, he even returned to South Africa to give Skateistan students a photography workshop. What more could you possibly ask for from such a world-renowned artist?
Another great example of this is when we teamed up with André Saraiva. I remember taking the entire team to Paris for the release party being held at André’s hotel, Hotel Amour. The entire evening was filled with positive energy and togetherness. The boards sold out almost immediately, and the result of it all? We funded the construction of Angola’s first skate park in Luanda, through the fantastic work of the non-profit, Concrete Jungle Foundation.
Today, that skate park offers a safe space to more than 135 youth, 40 of which are from an orphanage. These kids can now express themselves freely while also developing life skills, such as perseverance, to succeed and seek out a better life.
Every moment where something we do benefits the life of someone else is a moment we should be proud of.
6. What are your thoughts on being a B Corp-Certified company? Have you found that it has made a difference and would you recommend other purpose-driven companies consider the certification process?
Since the beginning, The Skateroom’s philosophy is doing business in a way that has a positive impact on the world. Conducting business in a way that isn’t harmful is no longer enough – we all have a responsibility to step up and truly tackle the challenges we face as humans. With that mindset, becoming a B Corp was a logical decision for us. It was a clear way for us to make our intentions clear to our community and publicly make a commitment to better ourselves.
The process of becoming a certified B Corp is very rigorous and quite challenging. There is a 200-question survey that covers 5 key aspects of a company’s social impact (governance, environment, customers, employees, and community). To pass you have to receive a minimum score of 80 points, and of the 80,000 applicants only about 4 per cent were accepted! For a company like ours, to pass that certification is a huge achievement for which we are very proud. One of the greatest benefits of the certification is that it helps identify your strengths and weaknesses as a company. That way you know exactly where to focus your efforts in order to improve and can create a roadmap based on your objectives.
All of this does make a difference, and so yes, I would definitely recommend for any company to consider the process. As an added incentive, we’re even starting to notice more partners that only want to work with B Corp certified companies.
13th August 2021