Since founding her ethical and social investment company, Forming Circles, Renata Cooper has passionately launched ideas, supported dreams and changed the way people do business, writes Simone Henderson-Smart.
Described by her peers as a woman who works tirelessly, has a huge heart and is passionate about changing people’s lives and the way they do business, Renata Cooper is one of those rare entrepreneurs who defines her own success by the achievements of those she enables.
The idea for her business, Forming Circles, came after Renata and her husband lost a small fortune in the stock market crash of 2010, which wiped out billions of dollars worldwide in a week.
Renata’s husband was somewhat philosophical about the loss, saying, “You win some, you lose some,” she recalls. “But I thought that if a small portion of what’s lost in the markets is provided to people and projects that need it, we can make a positive difference and change lives.
“The bottom line is the same, except with my option there are many happy and inspired people who I help to move forward. Hopefully, with the butterfly effect, they will help others just like I did and together we will make the world a better place for everyone.”
The name of her company, Forming Circles, reflects the theory of the butterfly effect that inspires Renata. For her, the idea of networking is not merely a way for her to personally get ahead, but also a way of connecting with like-minded people who will go on to help others. She hopes that when directly helping one person, the knock-on effect will create ever- increasing circles of people helping one another, so one simple, generous act can indirectly produce positive change for thousands.
In just over a year Renata has given $300,000 to a variety of projects to help them blossom and grow. She has also invested another $60,000 in the short film A Cautionary Tail, getting involved with its talented team through a Kickstarter campaign. Renata considers this a true way of doing business in the 21st century. Astonishingly, this money doesn’t come from sponsors, but from Renata herself.
“We are not a charity,” she explains, “Forming Circles is a registered company and I’m an investor. The only sponsorship we got last year was for the Written Portraits project and that was $2,000. That was all I received last year.
“All of the other funding comes from our private investments – I’m a market trader – so we are basically investing our private wealth. I try to stop counting when I get to about $200,000 because I just have to keep going – the message is more important than the money.”
Renata prefers the term ‘investing’ rather than ‘giving’ or ‘donating’ as she usually requires some effort on the part of the recipients to learn and grow. She is trying to educate them to build a better, more socially conscious business and offers financial incentive to the best achiever. In return, Renata gets nothing more than the enormous satisfaction of helping people out and spreading joy in the community.
Her favourite moment in the past year was the launch of Written Portraits, an anthology of short stories written by Australian teenagers, which grew from the idea to start a writing competition for teenagers. Not only would they have the chance to be published, they could also win prizes for themselves and their schools.
She believed the competition would benefit teenagers by increasing their confidence, encouraging them to dream big and giving them a voice during what can be an emotional and difficult time in their life. Renata wanted to honour their voices and share their stories as a way of helping everyone to understand and connect with teenagers.
“I got in touch with a new business contact, Caroline Webber, director of Green Olive Press, and because I’m an ideas person I said, ‘What about doing a writing competition for teenagers?’ and she said, ‘Great!’ I’d never organised a writing competition before, and going from that initial thought to being at a point where we had a room full of people – students, teachers, parents and those amazing kids who were part of a published book – was an amazing moment.
“The whole experience of them being there, and thanking us for creating the opportunity for them, made me realise I’m here to do this kind of thing. I’m here to inspire and provide opportunities, not just for young people but also mums at home with small kids trying to return to work and other start-up businesses. Completing Written Portraits was the biggest buzz I’d ever had!”
Renata’s own kids are a key motivation for her to continue helping others; quite simply, she wants to create a better world for her children. She hopes for a world in which people are a lot more supported on a human level – a far cry from the ’80s ‘greed is good’ money-driven philosophy she grew up with.
“Now, 30 years later, you can see the result of that philosophy,” she says. “There are crises left, right and centre.
“As parents we have the responsibility to prepare the world for our children, especially the little ones. They need to have a better value system and understand that helping others is so important.”
Renata knows better than anyone the true value of helping others, having been helped when she arrived in Australia after spending a couple of months in camps as a 19-year-old refugee with no English, no friends, no family and just $20 to her name. The help she received back then gave her the opportunity to become the woman she is today and she would like to give that opportunity to as many people as possible.
“The Forming Circles motto is ‘Inspiring change in the way we do business in the 21st century,’” said Ainslie Fitzsimons after receiving the Forming Circles Father’s Day Giveaway of a family holiday package valued at $4,500, which honoured the importance of spending quality time with loved ones. “In reality, however, Forming Circles is much more than that. Perhaps a more apt description and mission statement would be ‘Inspiring change in the way we do community in the 21st century.’
“Forming Circles has reshaped the way my family views community. We believed that good old-fashioned community spirit was dying. In fact, we discussed that on Sunday over Father’s Day lunch. Now we believe that if everybody had a little bit of the Forming Circles community spirit within them and utilised it, the world would be in much better shape. Forming Circles generates hope.”
This article was originally published in OUTthere Magazine Issue 107 pp 107-109