Putting purpose over profit via Steward Ownership

About Sumthing
Published on
July 30, 2023

Sumthing is a social enterprise with one, clear purpose: to make a massive positive impact on nature.

We've set out on a mission to make nature restoration accessible, engaging and meaningful for everyone. We're achieving this with our digital platform that connects businesses and individuals to a curated selection of nature restoration projects across the globe, visualising the impact made with each donation using a variety of technologies.

Like any digital platform, reaching scale is crucial to success. Fortunately, scaling up is precisely what nature requires. According to the landmark COP15 agreement, we need to mobilise 3 times as much annual funding for nature by 2030.

Purpose over profit

Looking at that challenge, we quickly decided that operating as a commercial business is key to achieving our ambitious goals, in time. It provides us with focus on providing value to our clients AND the planet, enables us to stay agile, and helps attract investments for our early years.

Staying true to our purpose is critical, both now and in the future. That's why we explored different ways to structure Sumthing and found Steward Ownership: a system that safeguards our mission, while leveraging commercial strength.

Steward Ownership centers around two principles:

  • Self-governance: people involved in the company hold the voting rights, which cannot be sold or traded. 
  • Mission-driven profit: Investors and founders receive fair compensation within set limits, and any additional profits are reinvested in alignment with our company's mission.

This concept ensures profit always serves as a means to fulfill our purpose, and never becomes a goal in itself. Unlike many startups that start with idealistic goals, but face pressure to maximize profits for a big exit, we prioritize staying true to our mission, by locking it forever. Did we mention the business cannot be sold? 

We are proud to join a set of pioneering companies, like Patagonia, Ecosia and Signal, adopting this model and re-envisioning the nature of corporate ownership. Steward Ownership is pioneering the new economy and shifting from value-extraction and short-termism towards stewardship, independence, and long-term purpose. 


So, what does this look like? Together with WeAreStewards, we created our corporate structure. At the base of the structure is a typical start-up structure with an operating company and a holding company. The trick to steward ownership lies in the different types of shares, and how they're distributed: 

First there's the owners of shares with ruling voting rights but no economic rights:

  • The Sumthing Foundation, led by mission-aligned stewards, ensures Sumthing stays true to its purpose.
  • The Golden Share Foundation, an independent organization, has the sole purpose of safeguarding Sumthing's (and other member companies’) steward-owned structure indefinitely.

And then there's owners of shares with (capped) economic rights:

  • Investors, brought together in a STAK (Stichting Administratiekantoor), a foundation that holds the shares collectively.
  • Founders, each in their personal holdings.

The Sumthing Foundation has the authority to make major business decisions, while the Golden Share Foundation holds the veto right to any decision that concerns our steward-ownership structure or purpose. Check out this article to dive deeper into our governance. 

At the end of each year, the stewards look into the financial results and in case of a positive bottom line, determine what percentage of profits can be allocated to economically entitled shareholders without jeopardizing Sumthing’s financial health, which can maximally be 50% of all profits.

Once founders and investors been paid out their capped economic rights, the Sumthing Foundation will receive all economic rights, so it can use profits to further accelerate nature’s comeback by investing in initiatives that align with our mission.

Want to learn more?

Our structure is a big deal to us, and we want to be fully transparent about it. If you want to know more, just ask – we're an open book and happy to share all the details. Reach out, and we'll gladly guide you through it.

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