One of the reasons we decided to launch Collective Futures is to give voice to changemakers, so they could tell their stories on a more personal note. This space filled with inspirational paths like Marina’s can hopefully provide our readers with the calming sense of unity, that notion of no matter where we are and how we do it, we all work for a better collective future. Marina and I first connected through CISL (Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership) network more than a year ago, and although we never met personally, we have been following and supporting each other’s professional journey even when we had an Atlantic Ocean between us. Her consultancy Bemari is one that I warmly recommend to anyone looking for a reliable sustainability advice, whether it comes to sustainable procurement processes or a thorough material footprinting, she will deliver with good faith and positive energy.
Let’s find out how social and environmental responsibility became the centre of Marina’s life and work, shall we?
Marina, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you start your impact journey? What has brought you to the area of social impact?
I started my career in the corporate world and had the opportunity to work with organizations all over the world which offered me unparalleled exposure and perspective – I have worked in 19 countries, lived in 4 and hope to keep counting. The first project that took me abroad was in Mongolia. I really enjoyed learning more about the different culture and way of life, and also seeing some very different challenges to the ones that existed where I come from or where I lived. The following year I ended up living in Lagos, Nigeria for 7 months on a project, and then went to volunteer with a Microfinance organization in Namibia.
That is where I learned about the notion of social enterprise and from there, the idea of business that does not exist purely for making money stuck with me, and I started exploring what that might look like and where I can contribute.
So that is how you came to set-up Bemari, could you share the story of this important milestone in your career?
I started Bemari over 4 years ago, and the motivation behind it was really to be able to do interesting and meaningful work without the challenges that come with a larger organisation. My career up until that point had been quite varied – large and small organisations, fantastic people and I have been very lucky to have worked with a range of different organisations. I have always been curious and wanted to explore different industries, areas, and opportunities and I often ended up with a bunch of side projects and initiatives, which technically did not fit into my job description – I knew this was not going to change, but what I could change was my job description.
So I decided to build a portfolio of work that was interesting and important to me that I could do independently of my location and that could fit around my schedule.
As part of your diverse expertise, I know one of your main focuses is sustainable procurement. Can you tell us about all the services you offer today?
My main focus on promoting and enabling sustainable procurement and consumption, resource efficiency, waste reduction and management and impact business models. I offer a range of services including sustainable and circular procurement, sustainability assessment and strategies, including carbon and materials footprinting and circularity strategies. I also offer support with B-Corp certification and design of Environmental management systems, and some niche services around impact programme design where I partner with particular experts.
Although I am based in London, I work internationally and my clients are based anywhere between the UK, Canada, Kenya and South Africa. My clients include development funds, corporates across diverse sectors and some NGOs.
How does Bemari’s work impact the world?
In simple terms, I try to help organisations buy better stuff and in a better way – providing the tools and principles of how to go about it. As a result, the impact may be less easy to quantify, but is likely to be greater than the one project, as the new ways of approaching the problem becomes business as usual.
When I work with organisations that want to improve their environmental performance, it is about helping them get better at understanding what their environmental footprint is, and help with putting together measures to reduce it – be it carbon or waste. Where I work with projects that have social impact at their core, the impact I aim to make is to help them deliver their impact quicker, more effectively and in a way that optimizes the social impact for the money that they spend on delivering it. For example, last year I trained over 50 government officials (UK and abroad) on sustainable procurement, and supported 3 programmes (combines fund value of about £60m) working across climate resilience, infrastructure and sustainable manufacturing with design of their procurement processes, with sustainability embedded within it.
You mentioned a new kind of ‘business as usual’, how do you think collectivism can support that shift?
Collectivism and collaboration are at the heart of moving positive change forward. Meeting and collaborating with others who bring diverse experiences and expertise to the table, can help amplify the impact and see more solutions to the current environmental challenges becoming business as usual.
What do you think is your biggest challenge today to get to your mission?
My biggest challenge today is finding the right balance between the day to day demands and a more strategic perspective. Like for any small business, it is a journey where there are many hats to be worn on a small number of heads.
To close on an inspirational note, can you please share with us what is the vision of the future that you aspire to?
I’d like to see a future where we do not “conquer” the nature and the bounds of what is possible, but where we have found a balance between development, advancements, human nature and the boundaries of the world around us. I would like to see the future where people are curious, connected and do not focus on leading and winning, but on co-existing and co-creating.
Inspiring vision, indeed. Thank you Marina, not just for the time and sharing your experience, but for all the great and impactful work you have been doing. A last note for those who want to be closer to Marina’s work: sign up for [Un]seen newsletter, a monthly content on the latest under-covered sustainability updates from different segments of the world.