When I met Abi at one of the ‘Diversity and Inclusion Design Days’ at adidas, one of my initial thoughts was “Why are they doing yoga on a chair?”

If you’re reading this article, the chances are you want to build something with meaning. You want to give something back. Perhaps you’ve experienced injustice or struggled yourself, or you’re lucky enough to have access to tools that can improve your life. It’s what pushes you to find purpose in building your business.

Abi Nolan is someone who has already done that. With her business Supply Yoga, Abi has turned her purpose into a business that is both profitable and socially impacts communities in need.

Abi Nolan in a yoga mat. GamePlanA
Abi founded Yoga Supply convinced of the benefits yoga and mindfulness would bring to her community.

These are the steps she took which you can apply to build a business with purpose:

1. Understand your purpose

Meaning, impact, purpose. Terms which appear so big and unattainable that simply reflecting on them seems to push us into feeling stuck. But finding your purpose, especially in business, is more straightforward than you might think.

Especially social entrepreneurs feed off of their purpose when times get tough. By definition, “a social entrepreneur is a person who pursues novel applications that have the potential to solve community-based problems. These individuals are willing to take on the risk and effort to create positive changes in society through their initiatives.”

Finding purpose is about understanding what kind of problem you want to solve. What change do you want to bring?

2. Apply your purpose to drive positive change

It needs to come from a place of seeing injustice or seeing a gap.

Abi’s work with Supply Yoga started from a concern and frustration that the wellness world – specifically yoga and meditative practices – seemed restricted to only certain types of people. She recalls: “Though universally beneficial, those practices are available to and represented by only a very narrow archetype of person, usually white, usually wealthy. Especially in cities like London and New York, where I trained, it seems to have become a luxury to look after yourself, to take time to slow down, move or consciously rest.”

Regardless of financial access, yoga is usually only accessed by people with high social capital. The ‘social capital’ Abi refers to is people’s confidence and willingness to be in a space and be looked at. “It takes capital to have your body looked at and move in a way that perhaps you hadn’t moved before.”

The gap between those who can and those who cannot enter wellness space inspired Supply Yoga. The diversity of our world isn’t necessarily represented in the industry. We try to make yoga and meditation accessible.

Woman relaxing in yoga supply studio. GamePlanA, Business with purpose
From the lesson titles to the instructors and design of the studio, Supply Yoga aims to create safe-to-practice yoga and meditation.
Toys displayed in the Yoga Supply studio. GamePlanA, Business with Purpose
To create true accessibility, Supply Yoga is a family-friendly studio.
Group of women smiling at the camera after a Yoga session in Aby Nolan's studio.
To create a business with purpose, you have to create with the right people, as Abi believes.
Woman doing a Yoga posture. GamePlanA, BusinessWithPurpose
Abi believes everyone can and should be able to benefit from the positive impact of yoga.
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As people are becoming more aware of mental health, and yoga has become more and more accepted by healthcare professionals, it has opened up space to become a legitimate option for people dealing with health struggles.

Putting the purpose of making wellness spaces more accessible into action, Abi aimed to remove barriers for people. Both on the studio side and the social and community side of the business.

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The studio

As a yoga entrepreneur, Abi created accessibility not only by making yoga affordable (her studio rates are 20-50% cheaper than other studios in London), but by creating an open space which made it comfortable for people to join classes.

The business uses very plain language on their website and in class as well. So instead of intimidating yoga terminology, classes are called cool things like ‘strong and slow’ or ‘rest and restore’.

“Simple things make a difference, for instance when you come into the studio the mats are already laid out when people arrive. This helps to remove the discomfort of not knowing how it all works’ for nervous newcomers.”

The community

To make wellness offers more accessible, half of the business is dedicated to the social and community aspect.

Supply Yoga works with groups who experience psycho-social isolation. It might be due to experiencing homelessness, because of long-term health conditions, or people at risk of poor mental health. It could be a displaced community, local migrant centers, cancer or HIV support services, hospitals, teen mental health units and others.

With their work, the team doesn’t only provide generic yoga lessons. They are conscious about the different capabilities of people, and the diverse ways in which movement, meditation and breathing practices can help them to deal with life practically.

“My job is to change people’s minds about what meditative practices can be and show that we’re all able to participate, without access to money and space. My classes are often taught seated in chairs so that people with low mobility or energy can sustain a way to look after themselves during everyday life.”

Group practicing seated yoga. GamePlanA, BusinessWithPurpose
At the Diversity and Inclusion Design Days at adidas, Abi Nolan demonstrated the powerful impact yoga and meditation has, even if practiced on chairs.

To connect and serve the audience you want to impact positively with your business, you must understand what they need in their specific situation. It’s not about what you believe is best for everybody, but what is practical, applicable and truly makes a difference to them.

Working within communities, Supply Yoga makes sure to cover key elements. “We rely on the infrastructure of our partner organizations to provide safe spaces, because the feeling of familiarity and safety is much more appropriate than a conventional ‘wellness’ studio space that is understandably intimidating to those that don’t feel represented in or targeted by the wellness industry.”

Also, the instructors teach people methods that they can apply wherever and whenever they need them, and their lessons are clearly structured to give people a feeling of security and make it easier for them to commit.

3. Choose your business model

When you choose to create a business with purpose, “the million-dollar question is: How do you balance purpose and social impact with commercial viability and success?”

What most of us think of when talking about a purpose-driven business is a non-profit, a charity or a fund-raising organization. The world is however changing dramatically towards entrepreneurs who build for-profit businesses which enable social impact.

Supply Yoga doesn’t rely on volunteers to teach their classes. The business covers all costs and fair wages and then takes the profits to spend it on sending a mindful movement and meditation practitioner out into the community to work with different support service groups that are already in existence.

Signage in Supply Yoga studio. Business with Purpose, GamePlanA
As a social business, Supply Yoga aims for both profits and purposeful impact.

“I think social business is the future. Innovating to bridge wealth disparity during times of austerity is essential for community cohesion,” says Abi, anticipating for more businesses which are not in existence to only make profit or only raise funds, but to make a difference by balancing both.

This business model can support entrepreneurs to maximize the amount of impact they have, while figuring out a way to grow the business sustainably. Because the larger the business, the more impact you can have.

To enable such balance, you rely on collaboration. Team up according to values and goals. Understanding which partners can bring your business and its purpose further.  

4. Start locally

People tend to look outside their immediate surroundings, aiming for remote locations to explore how they can fill a gap. But, more often than not, communities in your immediate environment could benefit from the change you can bring.

Abi had a similar experience when one day someone invited her to join a project in Central Africa which was using yoga as a therapeutic intervention for women who are HIV positive.

Instead, she looked at her local neighborhood in London, found an HIV support service group that existed there. She forgot about yoga for a few years and got stuck in learning about the social determinants of health, and non-clinical interventions for very complicated diagnoses. The idea of integrating her learnings on yoga and meditation to support marginalized communities came only after some time. The time she needed to truly get to know the communities right at her doorstep.

Every one of us can have enormous impact through our purpose, when we start locally. Whether that is physically near us or in the immediate communities we belong to, you can do much more than you think by starting where you already are.

Who are the purpose-driven entrepreneurs you admire for their contribution to the greater good? Leave your comments below!

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