Ethical Buisness: Ethical Life. Vol 4.

EBEL logoThis month we meet Paula from Fossbox. Fossbox is a non-profit social enterprise that specializes in what I suppose you could call “ethical computing.” They work with universities, museums, non-profits, cooperatives and social enterprises and specialize in “open source web-based software including e-publishing, open access information management and collaborative communities.” This computer stuff may be an area of ethical living that you are totally unfamiliar with, but still, read on… it may all start to sound very familiar!

When did you start your ethical business and why?

I wanted to be independent and to be able to prioritize loving what I do over profit. Of course, I need to make a living – but in a way which is consistent with my own values. I started the business in my early 50s so I’d done quite a lot before, at the time I was working on a project to help charities use technology better. The prejudice and opposition towards Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) in the sector in general, and the organizations I worked for in particular, was extremely frustrating. So, I decided to bypass it by setting up Fossbox – I got support from Technology and Social Action and something called ‘Designing for the 21st Century’ ESRC collaboration funding. Other than T&SA, the entire world informed me I couldn’t make a social enterprise based solely on FLOSS work in the UK – but so far we’ve survived 4 years, a triple-dip recession and neo-cons taking a scythe to the voluntary and public sectors.

How long was it till you got your first sale?

I had sales lined up before I launched.

How much money did you have to start off with?

I started off with a £4k commission and turned over £20k in the first year. We were building on that nicely but the recession hit us and then the funding cuts in 2011/2012 halved our income overnight (because we work with non-profits). We’re regrouping and actually expanding now, but the past couple of years have been very tough.

Describe an average day in the life of you.

I don’t have an average day

Ok – gotcha! So, do you have other jobs too? Do you have a family/hobbies/pets? Do you have a conventional or unusual life style? What things do you do every day, sometimes, or never?

No other jobs. I have a cat, and my lifestyle is generally considered to be rather unconventional. Things I do every day pretty much boils down to having breakfast and coffee, then brushing my teeth… after that, I don’t really remember most days 😉 I don’t have time or inclination for hobbies. Possibly I should mention that I’m gay.

fossbox logoWhat are your ethical principles?

People before profit. I started my own business because I couldn’t get done what I wanted to get done any other way (and because I was tired of the contemporary obsession with HR). We advocate Free and Open Source Software and support more women to get involved in technology. The former based on the general principle of people before profit: software should be developed independently and collaboratively to fit human purpose rather than warping it. The latter because I don’t want younger women to experience the hell that my generation of independent women had to deal with. I’d like to be more upbeat but it’s been a tough couple of years.

Any words of wisdom?

You can’t please all the people all the time so please yourself.

Favorite quote?

It is easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing, that’s the Lord’s test — Mahalia Jackson.


I did everything he did, but backwards and in high heels — Ginger Rogers

Things you would share with the next generation of people like you

Imagine you’re descended from a long line of mystical female warriors and don’t take any crap unless you’re feeling kind and can afford it 😉

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