Share and care – How social consumption works

Author: Aileen Singhof |
Photo: Gene Glover
A cloudy evening in Duisburg. Before the train arrives, a quick side trip to the dm store. A bottle of water, a nut bar – oh, right, and shower gel for tomorrow morning would also be good. A small purchase, behind which there is a big idea: consumption becomes social. Also thanks to the support of the Haniel Foundation.

Social consumption? Sounds paradoxical at first – but the social brand share proves that it works. Hygiene, food, water: It was launched in March 2018 with ten products in these categories. For every product sold, share finances an equivalent product in a crisis region. Purchase of a bottle of water donates one day of drinking water, by funding the building of wells; a nut bar, a meal; a bottle of shower gel, a bar of soap. “We have an optimistic message: Everyone can do something. But also: Everyone must do something. And we want to approach those who are not yet doing it and reach them in their everyday lives, in the supermarket,” explains founder Iris Braun. The social enterprise is now active in eight countries, has distributed 10 million products, and features 35 products in its product line – available in around 5,000 stores, including dm and Rewe. And the goals remain ambitious: “We want to manage to build one well a day. To achieve this, we have to cover 0.1 per cent of the water market. At the moment, though, it is more than one well a week.”


Iris Braun has worked in development aid, and as a consultant at the World Bank and at various food corporations. The development economist now heads the Product and Social Projects division at share.




How do you make the world better?

Iris Braun wants to make a difference – and not just in terms of numbers, but also for people. Thanks to a scholarship from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and the Haniel Foundation, she got her master’s degree in development economics at the Harvard Kennedy School. Later, at the UN’s World Food Programme, she met Sebastian Stricker, founder of ShareTheMeal, the world’s largest donation app. Although they both ended up in different parts of the world afterwards, they always kept in touch. They have always been united by the urge to take action against inequality in the world: “I live in abundance, while next door people are suffering – this contrast is painful,” says Braun. When it finally came to the concrete planning of share, the first question was social impact. “Only in the second step did we consider which products to offer – this is probably the most unusual way a consumer-goods company has ever been founded.” The company itself does not manufacture the products, but it makes sure that commodity traders and manufacturers have the important certifications: “Since our portfolio is diversified, I can’t be the world expert on every ingredient. But I can honestly say that I work with the world experts.”

Iris Braun in a video interview: From scholarship holder to social entrepreneur

Who benefits?

The scanned QR code on the product leads to the home page. Here, thanks to a tracking code on the packaging, the consumer can see exactly what the donation is being used for, and where. In an “impact profile”, shoppers rise to higher “karma levels” and can track how many good deeds they have done with their social purchasing decisions.

In order to ensure that the aid arrives where it is most urgently needed, share works together with well-known organisations – such as the World Food Programme of the United Nations and Germany’s Welthungerhilfe (“World Hunger Aid”). “These, in turn, interface with local organisations,” explains Braun. “Whole villages are mapped. This enables us to reach at-risk groups, such as breastfeeding mothers, or small children. We also ensure a certain degree of sustainability – for example, by showing the community how to maintain their well.” For Braun, providing people with food is the contribution to a much larger change: “Regular meals may not make a child an engineer – but if that child is hungry all the time, he or she will not even go to school.


Since 2002, Haniel Foundation, together with the McCloy Academic Scholarship Program, has been promoting transatlantic dialogue between the United States and Europe. The scholarship recipients study for two years at the renowned Harvard University. Each year, up to six scholarships are awarded, to students in all disciplines.

Can consumption make the world better?

A look at the register receipt shows that the purchase was no more expensive than usual: 0.55 euro for the bottle of water, 1.55 euros for the vegan, organic nut bar, and 2.95 euros for the shower gel.

“We’re like a big one-euro store that donates. This is only possible if the world of commerce supports us with fair prices,” says Braun, explaining share’s pricing policy. “We’re not making a profit yet, but the goal is to get there this year or next.” The main savings are realised in marketing: share’s creators rely on word of mouth. And they have good arguments for their cause: worldwide, one person in nine suffers from hunger. At the same time, a third of all food is wasted – which costs the global economy around 750 billion US dollars annually. “So it’s not about taking something away, but rather about doing better at managing what is there,” Braun emphasises. And she remains optimistic: “There are always setbacks in political and economic development, but even so, we should not lose hope – we have to keep fighting.” This also means that Braun and her team share good ideas with other entrepreneurs. When they launched the first plastic bottle made from 100 per cent recycled material last year, share received a wave of enquiries – from social start-ups to corporations, everyone wanted to know how they did it. “We are happy to provide information. After all, there is enough room for everyone to make the world a better place.”