We’re thrilled to be launching our new GOSO Justice Transformer of the Month series, which will recognize individuals from our community who are working to create a more equitable and vibrant world.
Our inaugural Justice Transformer of the Month for January 2021 is Viveka Hulyalkar. Viveka is a dedicated member of GOSO’s Action Board and co-founder of Beam, an app and integration that allows customers to donate 1% of what they spend at mission-led brands to a values-aligned nonprofit of their choice. She is devoted to helping brands big and small harness their customers’ purchasing power for greater social good and her team’s efforts recently landed her on Forbes’ 2021 30 Under 30 List. Viveka is just getting started — read our interview with her below to learn more about her story and her ideas for how we can each take action toward change, every day. Then, download the Beam app and #GetBeaming!
How did you come up with the idea for Beam? What inspired you to create this app for social good?
We are a social impact tech company on a mission to serve $10 billion to high-impact nonprofits like GOSO. How we do that is we let customers donate 1% of what they spend across our network of mission-driven brands to a nonprofit of their choice, from a curated set of options reflecting the brand’s values and business practices. There’s no cost to customers and they track their impact towards goals with every purchase, like funding professional attire for 5 justice-involved young men going on job interviews. It creates the dynamic where customers visit our partners more and more to see their impact grow, and as they develop a deeper understanding of what the brand stands for.
My background was as a nonprofit founder and I was also a retail consultant, and what Beam does is at the intersection of retail innovation and the social sector. Young people are anxious to make a bigger impact. One way that we all can every day is by spending our dollars at places that align with what we stand for. And while there are so many brands out there that are really thoughtful about how they source, operate, hire, donate, and use their voice, 89% of consumers say they have no idea if any of the brands they support are having a positive impact by giving back. We realized that if we could let customers participate directly in brands’ values with every purchase to drive stronger loyalty, we’d not only make the most mission-driven brands win; we’d also set up the forces for consumers to drive all brands to give more and better.
People often feel powerless, that their small actions don’t matter. Beam suggests that the opposite is true. How do you think people can change their perspective and take action each day to effect change?
Before we started Beam, we interviewed about 800 young people, aged 18-34. We asked them: “How do you feel about the impact you are making?” and every single person said ‘I never feel like I’m doing enough’ and the reason I don’t is that I don’t have the time or money and posting on social doesn’t feel like enough of an impact. What we realized is that there is a type of power we use everyday, which is our spending power.
Sometimes we hear from people “This is just 1%. How much does that actually do?” But when you show people real feedback, that every single day you are working towards funding PPE disbursement for justice-involved individuals or funding the protection of half an acre of rainforest, things near and far, that you can really make a difference. And we see that with feedback, 70% of users actually go on to do more, they want to volunteer their time, money, and voice.
Where do you see the work of Beam going in 2021 and beyond? Where do you see it fitting into greater social change?
We are going to be growing our network of brands to help people swap out more of the things they buy for more impactful options. We already have community goal setting, but we would also be goal setting with friends to hold them accountable to start making a difference.
Another thing is continuing to present more content to our users because how they spend their dollars is just one lever that people can pull and we want to continue to get better at leveling people up to do more for the causes that matter to them. We want to be a resource on that journey: serving more petitions for everyday actions that people can take, volunteer events, and promoting content from our nonprofit partners to provide an array of actions people can take to make an impact everyday. We want to be an everyday source of optimism for people.
What advice would you give to other change-makers in the digital space?
Set attainable and repeatable goals and understand you can’t do everything all the time. Figure out the things you can commit to doing frequently. Focusing on the tangible things you can do every day, week, quarter, along with giving yourself a starting point you can grow from. Starting with small things can guide people to feeling more invested in the issues.
How has the pandemic shifted or changed Beam’s operations and/or goals?
It has definitely been challenging leading a team through the pandemic. Going into the pandemic we worked mainly with restaurants who were hard-hit, but that enabled us to accelerate the new products we were working on which was e-commerce integration. It enabled us to expand into new verticals and ultimately we’ve been reaching so many more people. I’m proud we can be part of the solution right now.
How does Beam work to be inclusive and work towards a more equitable society for all?
Our core premise is that anything a company wants externally, it has to do internally. Our work is driving toward a more equitable and just world and that has to start with us. My co-founder and I are both women, and we both believe deeply in building diversity and inclusion into our company’s DNA from Day 1. In addition to focusing on recruiting beyond just our networks, which often leads to a lack of diversity for startups that’s difficult to overcome later on, we also continuously stay up to date on D&I best practices and listen to our team. As a couple examples, we added a day of required PTO for mental health and processing after the incidents of police brutality this summer, and 3 days of PTO for activism and volunteering every year.
In what ways can the tech industry work to be more inclusive and socially responsible?
There are a lot of areas for growth, I think there have been some massive strides, but more work needs to be done. There’s a lot of discussion on the role of investors in terms of deciding which communities get funded and what cultural values they are promoting on their team. There needs to be accountability from boards and investors who expect more from their teams. Historically, there was a lot of permissibility around “tech bro” culture and I think the biggest changes can come from who gets funded.
We are in a difficult financial moment for many and that will remain to be the case in the coming year, how does Beam help those with less buying power on hand make more impactful shopping decisions?
We’re not trying to get anyone to spend more, we want to give people options to make a bigger impact with what they’re already buying. So if you have to buy something, here’s a more impactful shopping alternative. We’ve definitely been thinking about this product in terms of “How do we build a catalyst to inspire people to do more?” We want to progressively lay in triggers to guide people to do more if they can do more.
You started your career at a young age, is it important to you to make an impact on young people who might share similar experiences to you?
Everyone has their own journey, there’s no time that’s too early or late, but one thing I love is how motivated young people are about making a difference. It’s really valuable for people who can to start exploring their interests and to start converting their interests into intent through things like internships and volunteering. My general advice is always to ask questions of the people around you.
Do you have a motto that guides you in your daily life and work? What motivates you when you need to overcome a challenge?
“Trust the process”. While building Beam over the last three years, I’ve learned that sometimes the challenges that feel like major setbacks are actually making room for bigger opportunities. I’m also someone who does a lot of contingency planning, but I’ve learned that it’s also important to know that a path will emerge even when it’s not apparent yet.