One of Canada’s leading social entrepreneurs

One of Canada’s leading social entrepreneurs

Andreas Souvaliotis, was the founder of Green Rewards, the world’s first eco-points program and co-founder of AIR MILES for Social Change, a program which rewards millions of citizens with their favourite loyalty points each time they made healthier or greener shopping choices. He has since co-founded and is now leading Social Change Rewards, a similar social venture with a global focus.

His achievements in influencing and rewarding behaviour change on a mass scale have been recognized by social responsibility leaders around the world.

Souvaliotis is also a well-known writer and public speaker and an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization.

He is the author of the book “Misfit: Changemaker with an Edge”.

He is a leading Canadian advocate for climate change awareness and health promotion as well as for innovative approaches to social change.

Souvaliotis was born in Athens, Greece.

He was born with remarkable math skills and abilities beyond his age. Before his teens he was performing piano recitals in concert halls, competing with much older and more well-trained pianists of his time.

Souvaliotis holds an MBA degree from McMaster University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Brandon University.

“I have been a misfit all my life. I was born gay, raised in a homophobic society (in Greece), blessed with some Asperger’s genes that pushed me to the fringes of mainstream society as a math savant and a music prodigy and escaped on my own to Canada as a teenager. I managed to build a life and a reputation as an unconventional, disruptive and energised immigrant in my chosen new country. Canada was my kind of home – inclusive, diverse, progressive, cool and always embracing young minds and new ways of thinking.

My early career choices were only influenced by my extreme skills in certain areas (I studied Computer Science and began to work as a systems analyst) and it took a while before I could focus on what I truly wanted to do in life. Eventually I got an MBA and built a career as a business executive,” he said.

“ In 2007, at the peak of the hype around climate change and all things “green”, I became an accidental inventor. Having always used the study of weather and climate as a hobby to satisfy my numerically hyper-charged brain, I suddenly found myself one tiny step ahead of all my marketing executive peers around the world… I set out to create the world’s first eco-points loyalty programme. I knew a lot about how consumers respond to incentives, so the idea was to create a new kind of points system – instead of just giving people points every time they shopped, why not give them points every time they shopped (or behaved) responsibly? And why not also allow them to redeem those points for rewards that are truly eco-responsible, instead of always encouraging them to redeem for free flights? With so many millions (perhaps even billions) of consumers around the world “hooked” on collecting points, the impact of such a change could be very significant…I was blessed with a co-founder and investor who believed in disrupting a space of well-established giants, so our takeoff in Canada was incredibly fast and aggressive. By being so different and so new, we were able to attract an amazing amount of media attention right from the first day – and we were quickly defined by many as “the ones to watch”. We kept hiring some of the better known players in the Canadian loyalty industry, we were advancing relationships with some of the best known retailers and credit card providers in the country and we had truly become the talk of the town – all in the span of just months!” he added.

Eighteen months later his company was bought by the largest loyalty player in America.

“By combining forces with AIR MILES and by riding on the back of the most powerful and influential player in the industry, we’d be touching the lives and influencing the decisions of tens of millions of consumers right away! It was a beautiful vision and we were all so inspired by that deal,” he noted.

Within a year or two of that, Canadian government agencies began to call him as they had noticed the newfound power of “eco-incentives”, in the form of loyalty points, and they began to ask if they could also try using them, instead of only relying on their traditional tools.

“We were stunned – and a tiny bit embarrassed that we hadn’t come up with that idea first! – but we quickly responded, got to work, set up the world’s first company that built responsible-behaviour incentive programs exclusively for governments (we called it “AIR MILES for Social Change”) and the whole thing started to snowball fast. Within a year we were running dozens of programmes across Canada, rewarding our fellow citizens with points each time they conserved electricity or gas, or recycled their hazardous waste or simply got on a bus or a train…Our health promotion business exploded even faster and our entire venture became a perfect example of the new and very powerful “Shared Value Model,” he said.

When he thinks about his journey and what he taught through it, Souvaliotis said “misfits like me can take one of two routes in life: we can either suppress our uniqueness and work really hard at “fitting in”, as society always teaches us to do, or we can harness our unique minds creatively and become true changemakers for the world. It took me a long time to figure out the second option and I spent the majority of my adult life trying (unsuccessfully) to fit in… but now that I’ve tasted the awesome power of being a changemaker and an effective disruptor, now I know exactly how to harness my brain and soul for even bigger things in the future.”