Peter Thum is the definition of social entrepreneur. After starting the charity bottled water brand Ethos and selling it to Starbucks, he co-founded Fonderie 47, which takes conflict weapons from Africa, breaks them down, and turns them into jewelry.
“If you think someone else is going to do it you’re probably wrong.”
Peter Thum is one of the quintessential social innovators of the last decade. He has bridged the gap between brand awareness and humanitarian action, first by creating the Ethos brand of water to get clean water to children, and now as CEO of Fonderie 47, which takes AK-47s from the Congo, dismantles and then turns them into jewelry and accessories.
Thum came up with the idea of Ethos, in 2000 while he was working at Mckinsey & Company in South Africa. There he saw the inconvenience and hazard added to people’s lives without easy access to clean water. Back in America, Thum worked on a project for a beverage company. In his research, Thum found that bottled water brands relied on forging emotional connections with consumers. As he told the webstite BigThink, his insight was to “use a consumer behavior to tackle a social issue,” and Ethos water was born. The company was bought by Starbucks in 2005, and has generated over $6 million for water programs, and helped over 400,000 people globally.
Thum’s next venture was inspired by another grave social problem: gun violence in Africa. Along with John Zapolski, he founded Fonderie 47. The company funds the removal of assault rifles from conflict zones, and transforms the scrap into high-end jewelry, supporting youth programs in the process. So far, they’ve taken over 3,000 guns out of conflict zones.
In a recent TEDx talk, Thum talked about another piece of his work: angel investing. Thum thinks it’s the missing piece to getting more social ventures off the ground. By relying on a personal investor’s interest and contact network, rather than immediate investment payoff, Thum sees angel investing as an ideal way to promote cause oriented business. “If you think someone else is going to do it,” he says, “you’re probably wrong.”