Making a whole world of difference


You might ask what on earth Queenstown and Madagascar have got in common. Local couple Sophie Stevens and Pete Oswald tell Philip Chandler how their social enterprise benefits one of the world’s most undeveloped countries

A Queenstown couple selling paper products are also in the business of saving an impoverished country.

Through a reforestation charity, Sophie Stevens and Pete Oswald fund the planting of one tree in Madagascar for every card, calendar, notebook or art print they sell.

Sales to date have contributed to the planting of more than 25,000 trees on the island nation off southeast Africa – recently hit by an outbreak of plague.

The couple call their business Little Difference, but the plant-ing makes a huge difference to Madagascar’s economy and environment.

About 90 per cent of its native forests have been chopped down, leaving the country almost barren.

Top soil also erodes into rivers, depleting fish stocks.

Eden Reforestation Projects is employing hundreds of Malagasy people to plant millions of trees.

Not only does that bring back indigenous birds and wildlife, it also gives locals a livelihood.

Oswald: “By paying them a fair wage, they now earn more by planting trees, running nurseries or collecting seeds to plant trees than they would earn by cutting down the forests.”

The couple started Little Difference early last year, employing Stevens’ talent as an illustrator.

By using recycled paper and biodegradable packaging, you might argue they’re doing enough to be environmentally friendly.

But for them it wasn’t enough.

Stevens: “After doing a lot of travelling and spending lots of time outdoors and appreciating nature, we saw the importance of protecting it.

“We’ve both grown up in pretty privileged countries [she’s English, he’s a Kiwi], so we felt like we can afford to give something back.”

Oswald adds: “I wanted to feel proud about the stuff we did produce and the business we built.

“As we grew as a business, we didn’t want any growth to have any negative impact.”

The couple chose the Madagascar charity as it’s not only reputable, but making a big difference.

They visited the country in May, which they found to be an incredible experience, and joined locals planting trees.

Stevens says it’s in everyone’s interest that the country survives.

“If it becomes so desolate that you can’t grow anything and you can’t eat, people are going to leave and it becomes the world’s problem.”

Oswald says they’d ideally like to get their recycled paper products printed in New Zealand, rather than in England.

“We’ve tried for months to get something happening in NZ, but it’s not viable to make them here.”

He explains they’d have to charge $25 for a card, and they’d therefore not have a business, and not be funding tree planting.

They’re hopeful that will change in time, but meantime Stevens says their business is still carbon-positive.

To increase new product sales, a crowdfunding campaign on the UpEffect platform is aimed at raising £10,000 [$NZ18,500].

    • Local outlets for Little Difference products include Queenstown’s Bound bookstore and Kapa, at the airport.