Gamechanger: How Terra Education is Shaping Global Citizens & Impacting Communities

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Gamechanger: How Terra Education is Shaping Global Citizens & Impacting Communities

The B Corps community is full of individuals and companies who truly believe in using business as a force for good. In connecting and working with this community, we’re continually reminded that aligning our work with our values is what leads to deep and sustainable impact. Lately, when we’ve come across a B Corp with a mission we think is unique or particularly inspiring, we’ve asked them to sit down with us so we can learn more about their models and impact.

One such B Corp is Terra Education, a company that offers international service-learning programs to students of all ages, with a focus on helping them acquire the skills and perspective necessary to become effective global citizens. We love that their programs emphasize long-term, sustainable impact on destination communities, as well as a thought-provoking and enriching experience for program participants. They offer experiences that are impact and community-focused, but that also align with their volunteers’ passions, such as animal and wildlife conservation trips to destinations like Thailand and Galapagos, and sports-oriented service trips to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

We had the opportunity to connect with Terra Education’s Founder and Director Andrew Motiwalla to learn more about their work and impact – here’s what he had to say:

What sets Terra Education apart from other service-learning programs? 

Terra Education offers two international travel programs: Global Leadership Adventures (service-learning trips for teens) and Discover Corps (volunteer vacations for adults). What sets us apart from other programs is our fanatical emphasis on identifying high-quality non-profit partners around the world. This allows us to connect our travelers to meaningful grassroots projects. Unlike some organizations that invent unneeded projects or simply make participants do any manual task as a quick way to add a volunteer component to their program, we have a team of people around the world dedicated to identifying sustainable projects and responsible NGOs that we can partner with.

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

We love your guiding principles of compassion, cultural sensitivity, innovation and integrity. What was your process for selecting these values? 

Core values have a danger of becoming clichés. Our team was wary of inventing values that might seem like they were intended to make us sound good. So, we met as a staff and discussed what truly sets us apart from our other professions’ experiences. For almost everyone, these were values that we had not seen reflected to such a large extent at any of our other past jobs. Then, we tried to come up with scenarios where we might have to make the choice to compromise on these values – and the ones which we knew would never compromise are the ones we knew would hold true.

Speaking of putting your values to the test, can you explain how you use them in practice? For example, perhaps there's a time that stands out when you referenced your values to make a particular decision or overcome a particular obstacle? 

Compassion is witnessed on a daily basis here. The fact that many staff members feel like Terra is a family is evidenced by the way we treat each other and our clients. For most of our clients, it is nerve-wracking to put your life in the hands of a company and fly to a developing country and hope for a good experience. We realize this. Instead of getting upset by anxious clients who ask tons of questions, we put ourselves in their shoes and consider the emotions they are feeling, and then answer the questions from that mental state. There are inherent risks in traveling abroad, and people have a right to ask tough questions and demand honest and thorough answers.

Cultural sensitivity is also critical in our work. All of our programs occur outside the United States, and therefore require a certain level of sensitivity to understand how things work in other countries. But it’s most important when doing any sort of project with a community. When designing our volunteer projects, the experience cannot be driven by us. Otherwise, it will be inauthentic, or worse, possibly damaging to the community. This requires a heightened sense of cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural competency.

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

As we understand it, program participants volunteer with community-based organizations. How do you select these partners? 

When vetting a partner, we visit them to understand how they engage a community, and how they design their projects to be sustainable. Whether they're adult volunteers on a Discover Corps trip, or high school students with Global Leadership Adventures, our travelers are only in-country for a couple of weeks, and therefore it’s important that they be a link in a chain of volunteers that is working towards a larger vision.  

Sometimes, partners are overly optimistic about how much foreign volunteers can actually contribute, and then we work with them to set expectations properly. Just because someone is an accountant from the United States doesn't mean that they can join a team to implement an accounting system for a NGO in another country in a week.  

Do you regularly report on and/or review your impact? If so, has this had an effect on how your business has developed?

We definitely review our impact when it’s time to renew our certification, but we would like to do it more frequently. We are forming a new internal committee to look at more ways we can increase our impact in a more structured way. In the past, many of our efforts were ad hoc, but as we grow we would like to be more strategic about our impact. We hope to specifically look at areas where we can really boost our scores.  

 

One of our favorite things about Terra Education is how they aim to have a positive impact both on the destination communities in which they work, as well as on the individuals who participate in their programs. These participants are called “gamechangers”, and you can learn more about their experiences here – we highly recommend that you check them out.

To follow along with Terra Education’s work or learn more about their service-learning programs, visit their website for adult programs: Discover Corps  or their website for teen programs: Global Leadership Adventures.

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United By Blue is Cleaning Our Waterways, One Garment at a Time

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United By Blue is Cleaning Our Waterways, One Garment at a Time

As social impact strategists, we have the amazing opportunity to connect with and learn from leaders who are changing the world every day. When we became a Certified B Corps last year, that opportunity expanded even further, as we joined a community that truly believes in harnessing business as a force for good.

We want to make sure you know about some of the amazing work that is coming out of the B Corps community, so we’ve been connecting with leaders from some of our favorite companies so we can share their stories with you. One of them is United By Blue, an organic clothing and accessories line that for every product purchased, removes a pound of trash from oceans and waterways through community cleanups they host. And, let us tell you, they really do impact right.

photo via United By Blue

photo via United By Blue

We had to the chance to connect with Brian Linton, United By Blue’s Founder and CEO, to talk about their work—here’s what he had to say: 

We love that you started United by Blue in an effort to create tangible change in an area that you’re passionate about. Which came first: The idea to start an outdoor apparel company, or the idea that you wanted to create a business that would positively affect the environment?

The idea came hand-in-hand: We hosted our first cleanup the same week that we sold our first T-shirt. I founded United By Blue with the idea that a for-profit business can have a meaningful impact on water conservation. As an outdoor apparel company, it’s important that we preserve the place where we play — and for us, that means both using sustainable materials to craft our clothing and picking up a pound of trash for every product sold.

For every garment purchased, UBB removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through community cleanups. How did you land on this specific model?

We weren’t satisfied with the idea of writing checks or collecting donations: It’s really hard to see where the money is going and to understand the exact impact of your efforts. We wanted to do something more tangible, which is why we decided to roll up our sleeves and pick up the trash ourselves. We have a dedicated cleanups team who scouts sites and rallies volunteers, partners, and the UBB team to remove waste from the earth’s oceans and waterways.

photo via United By Blue

photo via United By Blue

Do you regularly report on and/or review your impact? If so, has this had an effect on how your businesses has developed?

We keep a running tally of the pounds of trash collected, the number of cleanups we’ve conducted, and the number of volunteers who come out to our cleanups. Since our mission is to pick up a pound of trash from the oceans and waterways for every product sold, these numbers keep us accountable to that goal.

The more our business grows, the more incentive and resources we have to tackle big projects like illegal dumpsite cleanups, or spaces with noticeable amounts of illegally disposed waste. For example, last year our cleanup team identified a spot in central Pennsylvania filled with abandoned tires (and miles away from a landfill or recycling center). They worked with the township to remove 200,000 pounds of tires over the course of a couple days, something that likely wouldn’t happen for years without their dedication to it.

Recently, United By Blue set up an initiative in which you donated proceeds from a particular item to Standing Rock. Do you often respond to current events in that way? If so, how do you determine which causes to support and how to go about it?

Since we’re a mission-based company, our efforts typically center on our cleanups initiative. However, protecting the water is the core of what we do and our ultimate responsibility at United By Blue. Whenever the safety of our water is imperiled, it’s our duty to come to its defense. The proposed extension of the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s access to clean water, so it was important to us to stand in solidarity and to leverage what we do best to support the cause.

Before we took on the issue, we spoke to a handful of people on the ground at Standing Rock to determine how we could make the most substantial impact possible. In addition to donating the profits of our Water Is Life hoodie and tee to the organizations they recommended, Water Protector Legal Collective and Build With Standing Rock, they helped us coordinate a donation of our warm Ultimate American Jackets and Ultimate American Socks to native construction workers who were working to build a camp at Standing Rock. Any time we decide to get involved in a cause, it’s essential that we stick to our overall mission to make a meaningful impact on water conservation and that we do our due diligence to ensure our efforts are tangible. 

How do you determine which manufacturers and factories you work with to produce your clothing?

Our product team works tirelessly to source sustainable, durable materials and to identify manufacturers who align with our overall mission. For example, our bison collection of outerwear and accessories is made in the USA, and our product team coordinates directly with ranchers to source bison fiber that would otherwise be discarded. Our goal as a business is to build on these stories and to continue to raise our standards when it comes to the manufacturers and factories who produce our products.

photo via United By Blue

photo via United By Blue

Your cleanups give both United By Blue employees and other community members an opportunity to participate in positive environmental impact. Do you have any stories about a particularly memorable cleanup or interaction?

Each year, we return to the site of our first-ever cleanup, Bartram’s Garden in West Philadelphia, to kick off our cleanup season. The site has changed so much over the past eight years. While we still manage to pick up plenty of trash with each cleanup, we’re no longer dealing with the legacy trash that filled the park during our first cleanup: abandoned grills, auto parts, tires. It’s rewarding to see the space get a little cleaner and to watch more volunteers come out each year.

 

Not only are companies like United By Blue truly changing the world for the better, they’re also really kind. If you know us, you know how much we value kindness and believe that there’s no greater way to have a positive impact on those you connect with personally. Thank you to Brian and our other new friends for having a positive impact on us!

To learn more about United By Blue, check out their website, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find upcoming cleanups here, but if you don’t live nearby, we highly recommend that you buy some of their awesome gear if you’re able!

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Slow Fashion: What It Is & How It Benefits Business & Community

One of our favorite things about becoming a Certified B Corp has been joining an inspiring global community of over 2000 companies committed to redefining success in business. Overnight, it was as though we gained direct access to a highly targeted and values-aligned focus group comprised of diverse, generous, and insightful participants in a shared pursuit of social and environmental progress. 

One of these incredible companies is VPL, an award-winning fashion activewear company that started with a rebellious concept: a line of underwear to be worn as outerwear (VPL is an acronym for “visible panty line”). Today, you’ll find VPL’s innovative products on the covers of magazines, being worn by celebrities, and in stores across 25 countries. But what we find most impressive is their values: with a mission to empower women to stay fit, healthy, and educated, VPL is designed by women for women, and in everything they do, they advocate slow design and sustainable production.

Recently, we were lucky enough to connect with VPL’s CEO, Kikka Hanazawa. An investor and philanthropist, Kikka is also the founder of Fashion Girls for Humanity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to humanitarian relief.

In speaking to Kikka, we learned a great deal about slow fashion and sustainable production, including how it simultaneously benefits both business and the community. Here’s what she had to say:  

VPL is very vocal about advocating for slow design and sustainable production. Can you help our readers understand what this means and what it looks like in practice?

http://www.vplstore.com

For us, slow design is the business model that is the direct opposite of fast fashion. We evolve good designs over time to make perfect products that are unique and original. Currently the fashion industry is revolving around  2- 4 “seasons” a year when you have to show new designs. Many designers cannot come up with good original designs so fast so they just end up copying ideas or products from other designers or brands— a process which people call “trends” or “knock offs.” With this fast fashion system, consumers, especially in the US, have been encouraged to buy more than they need. This overconsumption comes with a social cost of increased carbon footprint, sweat shop labor, inferior work environment (as illustrated by what happened in Bangladesh), unfair wages, etc. Additionally, designers who spend a lot of time and money coming up with original designs are consumed by the fast fashion system, and their businesses are often not sustainable.

I think sustainable apparel companies, like fellow B Corp Patagonia, have signature products, such as a fleece and down jacket, for which they are known. Their business model is not about chasing fashion trends or knocking off other apparel brands. We call this slow design. It’s not only a good business model, but it is sustainable and ethical. 

We at VPL have many designs that are original and unique, and we try to make the fit and details of our products perfect over time…sometimes over years. It's important that we keep evolving gradually around core and signature designs, as opposed to designing based on a fashion calendar or season. And for sustainable production, we have been up-cycling leftover fabric from past production. We deliberately came up with designs that feature a color blocking system, which allows us to re-use fabric from before. Ultimately, slow fashion and sustainable fashion are in sync.

You mention that this also helps keeps prices stable. Can you explain how?

I think that there are a few apparel companies that are conscious of their waste, but most are oblivious. We are all guilty of ordering fabric of which we don’t end up using more than a few yards  (10-20 yards used out of 70-100 yards ordered for just sample yardage alone). This is because of overestimates or what we call a “fabric minimum order” that’s imposed by the mill. Typically, those sample yardages or leftover fabric from production are discarded and never used again. 

If we are all designing less, people can actually have time to track this leftover fabric, but most don’t currently have the time due to the grinding “fashion” calendar schedule. We, on the other hand, deliberately created designs that include many different fabric parts where we simply plug in other fabrics. It’s more of a design decision than anything else. But for production, it’s easier if we’re using fewer materials for each style.

We also developed a software program that made it easy for us to organize our production. Several years ago, we demonstrated how we do this at the CFDA Lexus Eco Challenge award reception. 

I think that if fashion companies are more deliberate in designing styles that can “upcycle” these leftover fabrics into new products, they can reduce their waste tremendously.

You mention that the savings from this upcycle program are used to support women through your education fund. How do you select the education initiatives that you fund?

We use the saving of not buying new fabric for certain parts of our garments to give to our education initiatives. That is $8 per garment. 

We then select initiatives from donorschoose.org. This is a great online resource where we can fund initiatives we like based on a category, such as technology, or women, and give money directly to those in need, bypassing nonprofit organizations. In this way, we ensure 100% of the money we collect from our customers goes directly to the classroom. 

Do you think your impact initiatives have an effect on your business?

I think that doing something good on our part does not influence customers to buy our goods, but for modern consumers it is important that they are buying from companies that have clear social missions or initiatives. Kind of a requirement or pre-requisite. In other words, if they have a choice, they will go with the company that does something good for society.

In your own personal opinion, why is it important that you are a woman-led company?

We get things done, and I think we work more collaboratively for the benefit of our community.

The factories you work with are women and minority owned -- do you have any other criteria for the factories you work with?

Pay fair wages. No child labor involved. No discrimination. 

Do you believe sustainability and social impact initiatives to be financially smart investments? Why or why not?

Yes. In the long run, I think that companies with double bottom lines perform better in terms of financial returns as well. 

What is your advice for a young brand that wants to make a difference, but isn't sure how to go about it?

I think that addressing all problems related to apparel production is not possible. It’s best to pick one issue (organic, domestic, sustainability, etc.) and do it well. Regardless of social impact, products must stand on their own as unique and original before anything else. A social or environmental impact is an added benefit, but try to incorporate it into your system of production early on, because to change the course later is hard. 

In terms of your impact initiatives and/or commitments, what's next for you as a brand?

Supporting technology and women…through clothing. Again, we have to start somewhere so we will do it through our clothes and allocate funding to tech education from early ages for women. 

To learn more about VPL, you can check out their website here or follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Have additional questions for Kikka? We’re happy to pass them along! Just note them in the comments below or reach out to us via email. And if you’re looking to build out your own impact initiatives, be sure to get in touch with us here. We would absolutely love to help you!

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The Difference Between CSR & Conscious Culture

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The Difference Between CSR & Conscious Culture

Over the past few years, corporate social responsibility has been on the rise. CSR, as it’s often referred, is the concept of integrating social and environmentally conscious practices and programs into existing business models. When it first started to gain popularity, it was a brand differentiator, and not every company understood its value. But it quickly became clear that CSR isn’t just good for the world, it is also good for business, both in terms of employee acquisition and retention, as well as attracting and retaining customers. As a result, a growing number of businesses got on board, and CSR became much more than a trend—it became the norm.

The more businesses we have launching CSR initiatives, the better off our world will likely be… but it’s important to point out that there is a big difference between businesses that implement impact programming to check off a box, and those that build or adopt a culture of consciousness that is apparent in everything that they do.

The latter are more likely to succeed in addressing issues, managing situations with sensitivity and grace, and making long-term change. These are the companies we truly admire, the ones we want to work with and support. Here are a few that we’ve been following:

Quicken Loans

CSR & Conscious Culture

Quicken Loans is an incredible example of a business that was not built with social impact in mind, but that has truly folded social consciousness into its brand. In 2010, CEO Dan Gilbert moved the company’s headquarters to downtown Detroit in an effort to play a bigger role in the community. Since then, the company has exhibited a deep commitment to helping the community recover from the effects of the city’s economic downturn. This commitment starts with the company’s own employees. Quicken is known for its culture of hands-on support and nurturing and generous benefits packages., They also often partner with local nonprofits to put on volunteer days, and give employees 8 paid hours per year to volunteer independently. In 2015, they donated over $16 million to nonprofits, and completed 100,000 volunteer hours.

Everlane

CSR vs Conscious Culture - WhyWhisper Collective

Everlane is a not your average clothing brand. While its staple products are basics, its business model is anything but. Focused on the concept of “radical transparency”, the company places high value on ethical sourcing, honest communication, and asking “why” when making key decisions. Everlane takes a hands-on approach to partnering with factories, doing extensive research and visiting sites prior and during production, thereby ensuring adherence to standards and a relationship that goes beyond just the transaction. They are also transparent with customers, sharing the cost of producing each item of clothing, as well as how much and why it’s marked up. They even reduce and raise prices as production costs ebb and flow. Last year, for example, they announced that they would be dropping prices on cashmere sweaters because the cost of making them had decreased. Their values of fairness and transparency are apparent in every aspect of their marketing and communications, because it is truly part of their culture – a key tenet of who they are.

Cole & Parker

CSR vs Conscious Culture - WhyWhisper Collective

Cole & Parker is another great example of a business with a conscious culture that is visible across the board, from programming, to marketing, to craftsmanship. The company’s socks are unique and high quality enough that they could have easily been successful on that premise alone—but the founders chose to do it differently. They wanted their socks to help others build businesses, so they partnered with Kiva to develop a 1 for many business model: for each customer purchase, Cole & Parker provided a loan to support entrepreneurs around the world. Many customers are more familiar with companies like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker, in which the companies provide shoes and glasses, respectively, to those in need for every purchase that is made. But this model has proven to be problematic, taking business away from local business owners and failing to address the specific needs of those communities. Cole & Parker wanted to do it differently. They wanted to build a more sustainable impact model, and came up with an innovative solution that stays true to their company values.  

 

Do you know of another business like Quicken Loans and Everlane that has really folded social impact into their company culture, or a social enterprise like Cole & Parker that is doing impact differently? We’d love to connect with them to share their stories on the blog! Tell us about them by:

  • Sending us an email
  • Commenting below
  • Connecting on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn)

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2016: A Celebration of Progress & An Honest Reflection

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2016: A Celebration of Progress & An Honest Reflection

When we look back at 2016, one thing is clear: for much of the world, it was a difficult year filled with loss, tragedy, and fear. We understand that this doesn’t immediately change with the start of a new calendar year, and it’s important to continue making room for resulting grief and ongoing repercussions. That said, it’s also important to recognize progress made over the past year – for us as individuals, companies, and communities. Where did we create good? What are we proud of? How can we improve as we move forward?

At WhyWhisper, when we look back on our 2016, there’s a lot that we feel proud of – and of course, there are areas in which we can improve. After all, doing good isn’t about being perfect; it’s about continually working to be better. So in the spirit of trust and transparency, here it is – what we think we did well, and where we would like to do better:

We Changed Our Services to Increase Our Impact

We made big moves in 2016! At the beginning of the year, we took time to evaluate our services in an effort to increase our positive impact, while also addressing our team’s evolving interests. How? Historically, we had worked with nonprofits and social enterprises. But the more we learned about the powerful potential of using business to address global issues, the more we wanted to empower and support businesses that weren’t already harnessing their power for good.

After working with a few companies to develop and implement more socially responsible policies, in mid-2016, we formally announced our strategy, planning, and project management services for businesses interested in launching new impact initiatives.  (Interested in getting started on your own? Here are some tips to guide you).

Corporate Social Responsibility Services

We Defined Our Values & Used Them to Guide Decisions

This year, we took time to further define our values as a company. While we had already outlined our values of accountability, positivity, purpose, learning, and empowerment, we hadn’t sat ourselves down to clarify exactly what they meant to our team. By setting aside time to define our values, we reaffirmed our commitment to them, and better determined how to use them as guidelines when making company decisions.

On the subject of accountability, we also became a Certified B Corp after completing B Lab’s rigorous assessment (a process designed to hold companies accountable to the highest standards of social and environmental performance). You can read more about that process and what the certification means to us here.

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We Developed a CSR Strategy for Our Team

We knew it was critically important for us to first develop our own CSR commitments before we gave counsel to others. So at the beginning of last year, we sat down and defined our 2016 goals. It was important to us that these goals be attainable, impactful, and value-aligned. Here’s what we set out to do, and how we measured up in December:

  • We committed ourselves to one pro bono project as a team. After reviewing applications, we had the privilege of working with Changemaker Chats, a nonprofit that brings women together in an intimate forum to share their experiences and build relationships, while learning practical tips for advancing positive change at work, at home, and in their communities. You can read more about them in this interview. To check out our 2017 pro bono application, click here.
  • As individuals, we committed to one volunteer activity per quarter. This collectively resulted in 135.75 volunteer hours this year, which were spent organizing blood drives, supporting LGBTQ homeless youth, wrapping holiday presents for child survivors of domestic abuse, spending time with teens at Rikers Island, and more. This was a particularly fulfilling element of our commitment.
  • We pledged to only take on new clients that had goals of creating measurable impact. Such clients included: New York State: Reforming the Energy Vision, Local Voices, Center for Social Impact Strategy, National Arts Strategies, The ANDI Brand, Sukoon, Sanctuaries, WeThrive, and Kula for Karma.
  • We decided to actively prioritize kindness. To track team participation, we logged our individual acts of kindness on a weekly basis, totaling 173.
  • We committed to practicing mindfulness by setting aside a meditative minute at the beginning of all meetings.
  • We strived to minimize our environmental footprint, so we started actively tracking and working with vendors focused on sustainability, and continued to recycle, use recycled and eco-friendly materials, and avoid printing, whenever possible.
WhyWhisper Collective

We feel great about our progress this past year, but we also know we have plenty of room for improvement. Here are a few of our focus areas for the coming year:

  • We’ll be conducting surveys and interviews to further define our new service offerings, so as to ensure they’re effectively creating win-win strategies for our clients, their communities, and our world.
    • If you have insights or ideas to share on how businesses can be good for the world, we would love for you to get in touch.
  • Since putting people first is at the core of positive impact, we conduct regular check-ins to make sure everyone on the team is feeling balanced between their work and personal lives. In 2016, we gave ourselves weekly work-life balance scores, and noticed some periods when the balance was…off. The scores were helpful in making us more aware of those periods, but in the coming year, we want to take this process a step further. Instead of just reporting on our scores, we'll take a minute to reflect on why the score is what it is, and how we can take steps to improve, if needed. We'll support each other in coming up with ideas, and shifting workloads if and when possible.
  • Because this was the first year in which we committed to a pro bono team project, we went into it with somewhat open parameters surrounding the selection process and our services. While we were lucky to have a truly wonderful experience, we received applications with such a wide variety of requests that we realized it’s important for us to get more specific in the coming year.
  • Rather than making small donations across a variety of causes, we will spend more time researching and selecting one revenue donation recipient, so as to lay the groundwork for a long-term, scalable relationship with an organization that meets our criteria.
  • We will continue to hone in on WhyWhisper’s “ideal client”. While we have definitely made strides to work with organizations and businesses that are creating measurable impact, we realized that this isn’t the only criteria that matters. It’s also important to us to work with clients who are positive and kind – those who are passionate about their work, understand the value of strategy, planning, and time management, and communicate openly and effectively. We’ve been grateful to have worked with such clients in 2016, and we want to do so more intentionally, going forward.
  • We will work to be bolder in implementing our mindfulness practice at the beginning of all meetings. While the practice helped us focus ourselves and start meetings on a positive note, if we’re being honest, we weren’t always that great about making time for it.
  • Did we mention we’re always striving to make improvements? ;) Stay tuned for more to come…

 

Thank you for being a part of our journey as we continue to grow and evolve!  We look forward to continuing to support you in all your impact endeavors. Be sure to stay in touch with us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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Strategic Planning: Making the Most of 2017

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Strategic Planning: Making the Most of 2017

As another year comes to a close, individuals, companies, and nonprofits alike are in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. The inspiration? To try and make each year better than the ones that came before it.

For some businesses, this can mean expanding into new cities or earning a greater profit. For others, it can mean improving one’s environmental or social footprint or perhaps it’s about finally finding that ever elusive work-life-balance. However you define “better,” we encourage you to be intentional about the goals that you set, and to develop a plan that outlines how you will achieve them.

Most of us know from personal experience how easy it is to start off a new year with ambition, motivation, and excitement, only to slowly lose steam after a couple weeks, and ultimately abandon goals altogether. To avoid such deceleration, it’s important to formalize your goals and your methods; to involve other people in the process; and to widely share your plan amongst your team members, so as to increase collaborative action and accountability. 

Strategic planning is a creative and flexible process that can be implemented in a variety of settings, such as within a program, in a department, or across an entire company. But regardless of whether your plan is simple or complex, the following tips will ensure that your process is worthwhile:

Involve others

Your company depends on many people in order to be operational. So when you set out to develop and execute a strategic plan, you’ll want to involve a variety of them. Your group should include a diverse team of board members or trusted advisors, company executives, and employees across multiple departments, each of whom are sure to bring different experiences and perspectives to the table. By assembling such a diverse group of stakeholders, you will encourage and ensure more expansive brainstorm sessions, and are more likely to achieve clarity, cohesion, and buy-in across the board.

Create a plan that includes these key components

  • Executive Summary: A brief overview of the overall plan.
  • Organization Background: A brief history of the organization along with the vison and/or mission statement.
  • SWOT Analysis: An analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that will be used to inform the development of goals. 
  • Goals and Strategies: A prioritized set of long-term and short-term goals and corresponding strategies for achievement.
  • Operations Plan: An outline of goals, strategies, tasks, deadlines, and person(s) responsible. 
  • Evaluation Plan: A plan of how to track progress and measure the success of individual goals and the strategic plan overall.
via Staticflickr

via Staticflickr

Set strong goals

Your goals should be:

  • SMART: Specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
  • Related to your mission: Your goals should not only be aimed at moving the company forward financially, but also geared toward advancing the overall vision, mission, and core values of the organization.
  • Informed by historical financial and performance data:
  • Consider which prior goals and strategies have worked well and which have not been as successful. 
  • Ask yourself if your data supports the claims that you have made in your SWOT.
  • Influenced by the findings in your SWOT analysis:
  • Where possible, capitalize on your strengths and take advantage of the identified opportunities.
  • Be mindful of threats and do not disregard your areas of weakness.

Find support

Many companies find it useful to seek the support of an external consultant to facilitate the strategic planning process. By asking guiding questions, keeping your team focused, and identifying gaps in logic or detail, a skilled facilitator can improve the organization and effectiveness of brainstorming sessions. They can also help to fill knowledge or skills gaps for specific sections of the strategic plan, such as the evaluation plan. For that piece, for example, an experienced evaluator can help to identify meaningful indicators for performance and success, appropriate sources of data, and proper methods of analysis.

Share your plan

Once your plan is completed, share it with everyone in your company. Your team members, who are most likely responsible for implementing many of your outlined strategies, are more likely to be motivated and successful if they understand what they are working toward, and how their contribution ultimately ladders up to the company’s success. You can also demonstrate transparency and encourage a climate of trust by sharing the strategic plan with board members, funders, and investors.  

Monitor progress

Another strategy for maintaining momentum is to hold quarterly meetings to review your progress. Routine check-ins will allow you to notice any potential barriers to success and make timely and proactive (instead of reactive) enhancements. The operations and evaluation sections of the overall strategic plan will serve as a guide for these meetings, and make it easy to spot areas in need of troubleshooting.

Do you have additional strategic planning tips to pass along? Or questions about how this process can help your business? If so, we encourage you to connect with us! 

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Has Your Company Been Good This Year?

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Has Your Company Been Good This Year?

by Anne Rackow

As we near the end of each year, we often find that the holiday season inspires a feeling a goodwill towards others and reflection on the events of the past year. As a business, it is a great time to reflect on what your company may have done to create an ethical work space, contribute to the wellness of your employees, or positively impact the global community. Developing a workplace that benefits our world can take many forms, and every company does it differently. The most important thing is that what you do aligns with your company’s values, and that you take stock of your initiatives on a regular basis to ensure they are having the desired results, for both your company and the community.

As you look back on the year to assess whether your company is on the “naughty” or “nice” list, there are a few strategies you can employ to get a more accurate picture of your impact:

Gather Feedback

Collect feedback from staff, stakeholders, and any customers or community partners that participated in or benefited from your corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies. Depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your initiatives, this may take the form of disseminating an anonymous survey, hosting a focus group, or hiring an independent evaluator who can combine multiple methods of data collection and analysis. 

Crunch the Numbers

Is there any quantitative data to review? Combining anecdotal information with quantitative information such as costs or time spent will give you a much more complete view. Did you track the number of employees who participated in volunteer days, the amount of money donated by employees and/or matched by your company, or perhaps the number of hours that staff was able to dedicate to a pro-bono project, which resulted in money saved by the receiving charity? 

Has you company been good this year via Whywhisper

Define Success

If you haven’t already done so, define success. Identify the intended outcomes of your impact strategies and then compare this to the actual results, so as to determine whether you really hit your mark.  If not, don’t get discouraged, get creative! Assign a team to brainstorm where enhancements can be made and decide on the appropriate improvement strategies.

Write It Down

Document the lessons learned and next steps. Share this information with staff and stakeholders and then get to work! There is no “one size fits all” approach or perfect implementation strategy for CSR. Like most processes in business, it is best to have a mindset of continuous quality improvement. 

Extra Guidance

You are not alone on the social responsibility path. There is an ever-growing community of folks trying to run successful businesses while simultaneously making the world a better place. There are also many groups like WhyWhisper who are committed to supporting you along the way. If you are stumped on where to go next with your CSR strategy, just reach out to others for a bit of help. Also, check out these past posts by WhyWhisper that share reading materials and other resources for staying informed.

Did you learn any lessons in 2016 that you feel would be beneficial to share with others? Perhaps tips on successful strategies or pitfalls to try to avoid? Are you interested in an outside perspective on your current strategy? If so, we encourage you to connect with us!

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What You Need to Know About the December 19th Electoral Vote

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What You Need to Know About the December 19th Electoral Vote

In less than one week, the Electoral College will decide who will be the next President of the United States. Historically, this day has served as the official vote into office for the candidate who received the most electoral votes on Election Day. But this year, that may not be the case; and, in light of the far-reaching and long-lasting implications of that possibility, we knew that it was time to do our research around what that means:

How the Electoral College Works

The Electoral College is complex, but in order to understand why this is happening, it’s critical that we know why it began in the first place and how it works today.

First of all, here’s how the Electoral College works:

  • Each state has a different number of Electoral College votes, based on its percentage of the total U.S. population. Electors are awarded to each state based on the number of House seats (which are determined based on population) plus the number of Senate seats (which is always two).
  • Each state’s electors are nominated by their political parties at their state conventions, and are often state-elected officials, party leaders, or people with a strong affiliation with the Presidential candidates.
  • When a party wins the popular vote in a state, they win all the electoral votes from that state.
  • On December 19th, the winning party’s state team of Electoral College voters cast their votes on behalf of their state. 

What You Need to Know About the December 19th Electoral Vote - WhyWhisper Collective

When it comes to the Electoral College, most states have a “winner-take-all” system, which means that when a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, even if it’s only by a few votes, they win ALL of the electoral votes for that state. The exceptions to this rule are Maine and Nebraska, which abide by the Congressional District Method, which is a more proportional method of representation. Learn more about that here.

The Electoral College provides us with a final safeguard against the election of an individual who is unfit to run our country. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton argued that "a small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated [tasks].” The idea is that the general population may be swayed by the campaign tactics of a “popular demagogue,” without fully understanding the implications of their votes. The Electoral College is meant to ensure that the President-elect is both qualified to run our country and to keep it safe.

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that the history of the Electoral College is complicated and controversial. We recognize, for example, that it was largely created to give more power to slave states, and for that reason alone, we should rethink its existence and/or current format. Though we are advocating that the Electoral College act in its purpose as a safeguard right now, we also acknowledge that we would not be in this position if the Electoral College didn’t exist, or existed as a more proportional system – but that’s a topic for another day.

What’s Happening Right Now

On December 19th, the Electoral College has the opportunity to serve its purpose as a champion of the people, and a “fail safe” against an unqualified and dangerous candidate. Right now, many individuals and organizations are encouraging Republican electors to vote for someone other than Trump, or to abstain from voting completely. While some are encouraging electors to vote for Hillary Clinton, most are simply asking that electors cast their votes for another Republican – anyone other than Trump – or that they abstain from voting completely.

When we first heard about this movement, we had a lot of questions: Doesn’t this go against the democratic process? Won’t these electors get in trouble for voting for someone other than Trump? If so, what kind of trouble? How can we encourage them to do this if there are repercussions?

We found out that Electors are not legally bound to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their particular state on Election Day. There are 29 states that do require their electors to vote with their state’s popular vote, but the repercussions for not doing so are often in the form of fees. The other 21 states do not have any regulations binding the votes of Electors at all. To date, 157 electors have voted against their state’s popular vote, and none of them have been prosecuted for their actions. There are also many who are standing up to support these electors in making the decision to vote for the people. Law firms are offering free legal counsel to Republican voters who opt not to vote for Trump, and other organizations are fundraising to support any fees those electors might incur.

What will happen if neither candidate gets the 270 votes necessary to put them in office? The House and Senate take over -- this infographic explains the subsequent process.

Why We’re on Board

In the spirit of full disclosure, we need to say that we were initially wary of the idea that we should ask our electors to take this unprecedented action. But after extensive research and self-education, we’ve changed our position. Here’s why:

What You Need to Know About the December 19th Electoral Vote
  1. These measures are not inflammatory or anti-American. In fact, what we are doing is asking electors to exercise the power that our country’s founding fathers gave them for exactly this scenario. As former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said, “In my view, electors have a constitutional duty not to vote for Donald Trump. The framers of the Constitution established the Electoral College to guard against two possibilities: either that a demagogue might be elected, or that a foreign power might influence the outcome of a presidential election. Trump epitomizes both of these concerns.”
  2. Donald Trump is neither prepared nor fit to lead our country. This is something we’ve known for quite some time, but that we feel the need to reiterate. This situation is unprecedented. To date, we’ve elected experienced statesmen into the highest office in our country, and whether or not we’ve liked those choices, we’ve respected them and moved forward. This is not the case today. Donald Trump’s lack of experience and restraint becomes increasingly apparent with each passing day, and the odds of him causing irreversible damage to this country are far too great to ignore. Some major examples are the backward and dangerous cabinet appointments he’s made so far, which include a climate change skeptic as the head of the EPA, the way he has handled international diplomacy, and his refusal to take part in daily intelligence briefings while in office, in which every president before him has participated and found necessary.
  3. Donald Trump lost the popular vote -- by more than any President in U.S. history. And that doesn’t happen often; in fact, it has only happened four times in the history of our democracy. The most recent was in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote in his presidential race against George W. Bush, but lost the Electoral College, and Bush became President. Before that, the last time it happened was in 1888.
  4. This is not a pro-Hillary or progressive movement. Most of those who are working to inform and empower electors to vote against Trump are not advocating that we use this as a last-ditch effort to elect Hillary. The purpose is to ensure that a more qualified and rational candidate is elected into office, which could very likely mean the election of a Republican who is both experienced and capable.
  5. This is not a violent or aggressive protest. We stand behind the movement to empower electors to vote their consciences or abstain, and will encourage them to do so through peaceful measures.

What You Can Do Right Now

If you’re ready to participate in this movement and potentially change the course of history next week, here’s what you can do to get involved:

Spread the word:

  • Share this video in which Republicans and Democrats alike voice their concerns about a Trump presidency and their support for electors who choose to vote against him
  • Educate your community by sharing this blog post
  • Follow and share the messages of organizations like Unite for America and Hamilton Electors
  • Talk about this on social media using #UniteForAmerica #SupportTheElectors

Support the electors in an upcoming rally

Note: If you attend any of these vigils or support rallies, the organizers are suggesting that you wear purple as a sign of unity between both red and blue parties.

Sign up to volunteer

  • If you have time or a skillset that could help these movements as they work to empower electors, you can sign up to volunteer.

However you choose to get involved in the movement, the most important thing is that we all stay respectful, encouraging, and supportive of the electors. We’re not trying to harass or guilt anyone into making a different decision -- we’re trying to empower them to make the best decision for our country.

Do you have ideas on what we can do to support the electors on December 19th? Let’s share our ideas and take action together! Here’s how you can get in touch:

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In response to this piece, we've received many supportive comments and stories of solidarity. One of them was particularly poignant, and we wanted to share it with you:

From Jeff Parness of New York:

Stand with Electors - WhyWhisper Collective

My 15-year-old son is the "strict constitutionalist" in our family and even though the candidate of the majority of our household did not prevail, and even though we live in NYC, Josh really argued for the importance of the Electoral College to ensure two things: 1) that the votes of people in less populated states were not marginalized and 2) that the EC performed their constitutional duty to ensure we elect someone qualified, who is not a demagogue, and who is free from foreign influence. As a 15-year-old, he is more articulate than I in explaining these fundamental principles that make this country who we are and meant to be. 

Thank you to Jeff for sharing, and to your son for standing up for this important movement.

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How One Nonprofit is Revolutionizing Health & Employee Care

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How One Nonprofit is Revolutionizing Health & Employee Care

For several years, the WhyWhisper team has had the opportunity to work with an amazing and innovative nonprofit, Kula for Karma. Kula, which means “community,” provides free therapeutic yoga and meditation to underserved populations, including veterans, at-risk youth, and those battling cancer, among many others.

Why is this so important? Therapeutic yoga and meditation have been shown to have a  positive affect on both physical and psychological health. Psychologically, they help to improve self-acceptance, reduce anxiety and depression, and develop healthy coping strategies. Physically and medically, they lead to decreased pain, improved immunity, decreased blood pressure, and more. Unfortunately, many of those who can most benefit from these programs are often unable to access them. That’s where Kula comes in.

How Kula for Karma is Revolutionizing Health & Employee Care

Kula is all about community and seva, or acts of selfless service. Their volunteer yoga instructors serve their local communities, and it is because of these volunteers that Kula’s service continues to expand. Passion, kindness, and generosity fuel every aspect of Kula’s work, and it shows in the impact they have.

In addition to its nearly 50 active programs in hospitals and studios, Kula also partners with corporations and businesses to offer yoga and meditation to their employees. According to a recent study on employee mental health, 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful. As the year comes to a close, stress can become even more prevalent, as a result of work, holidays, or some combination of the two, and finding ways to cope with that stress is incredibly important. This is true not only for employees, but also for businesses, as stress can cost them money.  In fact, stress costs U.S. businesses nearly $300 billion a year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity levels, and employee turnover. Recent studies have also shown that more than 90% of business leaders say that promoting wellness positively affects employee productivity and performance.

In light of these findings, we wanted to sit down with Penni Feiner, Kula’s Executive Director, and Geri Topfer, Kula’s Founder and President, to learn more about how Kula started and how they’re changing the world for the better. Check out our interview below:

For those who are just getting to know you, please share what Kula is all about.

Kula for Karma is a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the face of healthcare by pioneering the integration of yoga, meditation and stress management into mainstream medicine and healthcare. Kula for Karma uses specially trained volunteer yoga teachers to offer programs to populations facing physical and emotional health challenges. Through a network of strategic partnerships that includes hospitals, schools, and other nonprofit organizations, we “turn passion into action”.

Why did you decide to start Kula?

For Geri and me, the practice of yoga and mindfulness completely changed our lives, and we recognized how to use the practice as a powerful tool for personal transformation. As our journey unfolded, we realized that most vulnerable populations did not have access to yoga because of the costs associated with it, and could not participate in traditional yoga class settings. These individuals need to go into an environment where they can practice safely, with experienced teachers. We also observed that yoga teachers come to the practice with great big hearts and a willingness to serve. This combination of need in the marketplace and willingness on the part of teachers to serve, turned into a magical opportunity to create an organization that would be a platform for volunteerism.

As you've learned more about yoga and meditation, and the populations with whom you work, how has your work changed or evolved throughout the years? 

How Kula for Karma is Revolutionizing Health & Employee Care

Over the years, we recognized the need for our teachers to receive specialized training to work with our vulnerable populations. We understood that, first and foremost, Kula needs to offer a safe space for patients, and to create a sequence/flow that will allow all of our students to feel successful even while managing challenging health issues. As hospitals and patients became more aware of the value of yoga and mindfulness, we seized the opportunity to engage with the medical community by having them refer their patients to yoga classes and write prescriptions, making the practice part of the treatment plan. As Kula Care, our hospital-based programs grew, we began to offer our teachers advanced trainings so they would feel empowered to work with specialized populations and be familiar with the philosophy and culture of Kula…our trainings needed to meet the level of excellence expected in hospital based environments...

Both of you practice yoga yourselves and have taught the communities that Kula serves. Can you share an experience with a person or a group of people that really illustrates the positive effects of this work?

We both had the privilege of working with at-risk male teens at Children’s Village in Westchester, a sprawling residential facility and school. At the Children’s Village, the residents were removed from vulnerable situations and given the opportunity to thrive. Many of these young adults are dealing with substance abuse, mental illness, and post-traumatic stress. We would arrive every Friday to a house full of boys and chaos. We would first have to move all the couches to the side, vacuum, and bring in 25 mats, music and beanie babies from our car. Each week, one of the boys would be asked to manage the music as our DJ, and they would very energetically jump onto their mats…it was a zoo! Some would practice easily, some with attitude, and some would refuse to practice all together. There was always talking and fighting. We would gently, and at times forcefully, chant and move through our practice of asana including headstands and shoulder stands. There would be a big applause if one of the boys was successful. They all wanted a turn, and a chance to show what they could do. It was work keeping them intrigued. And then the lights would go down, beanie babies passed out for a breathing practice while in savasana, and the energy would shift. There was stillness, complete stillness. Penni would chant, tears would drop, and they felt safe, and loved.

When the practice was over, they would fight over who was going to bring the mats over to the car, and get the guitar and beanie babies all packed away; and as we drove away, while looking into our rearview mirror, we would see them standing in tree pose, with a mudra, “ommmming” as they sent us off until the following week. They knew that they could count on us returning week after week, and that felt incredible.

Kula is a women-led organization that values women's empowerment across the board. Are there ways in which Kula programs work to support women in particular? 

We do offer programs for women who are survivors of domestic violence specifically. In general, our goal is to serve all of man and womankind! We offer a little piece of peace, which is our mission and heartfelt intention.

For some, the holiday season can get a little bit stressful or overwhelming. Do you have any advice for how people can minimize that stress and take care of themselves?

How Kula for Karma is Revolutionizing Health & Employee Care

Yes, doing a three-minute breathing exercise every day, such as this one, would be beneficial and powerful. By sitting quietly every day for three minutes, you get a snapshot of the stress in your body and chitta vritta, the mind chatter that plays out all day long. At the end of the three minutes, you find yourself breathing more deeply, and your mind is quieter. You will want more, and you will realize that you can tap into that experience when you are in a stressful situation. You are armed with a tool that can transform your thoughts in the moment, and on the lifelong journey of shifting perspective.

What are some ways that businesses can assist with employee stress levels and/or mental health, especially during the end of the year, which can be chaotic?

Stress is insidious. It affects job performance, physical and mental health, and attendance. By providing brief practices throughout the workday, companies such as Google and Aetna have made commitments to their respective teams, and are seeing the benefits (listed here). Companies who offer their employees the space to practice, even if it’s a “time out” of sorts with a smart phone app such as Headspace, or Insight Timer, can make a difference in the ways their teams experience stress.

 

We are so inspired by Kula’s mission, and how they’re consistently working to expand their programs to provide yoga and meditation to those who need it most. If you’re interested in supporting their work, there are three ways you can have an impact: by joining them as a volunteer yoga instructor, making a donation to support program expansion, or following their work on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn). However you choose to join their community, we can guarantee it will be highly rewarding.

Have questions of your own for Penni and Geri? Send them our way! Here’s how:

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Party with a Purpose this Holiday Season

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Party with a Purpose this Holiday Season

By Anne Rackow

At WhyWhisper, we’re all about making a difference and, as much as possible, having fun in the process! Plus, it’s an added bonus when we can build impact into our existing routines and plans.

For many, the holidays are filled with parties and gift giving. So, we did a little research to identify ways that you can do these things while also making a difference this season. Are you in charge of planning the office holiday party? Would you like to do something a little different from previous years? Whether you are planning a party for the office or for family and friends, here are some tips for making an impact:

Invite a local charity or non-profit to attend and present at your party

WhyWhisper Blog Holiday Donations

Year-end giving is huge for a number of reasons: Many companies want to capitalize on tax breaks for charitable giving before the year comes to a close, and the holiday season also serves as inspiration for people to give back to their communities. If you or your employees are still searching for causes and organizations to support, inviting a local charity to attend and present at your holiday party could be a win-win for everyone. Many non-profit organizations, like Work of Women and Project Fierce Chicago, regularly co-host parties with volunteers as a means to spread awareness and raise money. You can still keep it festive by decorating, serving food, and playing holiday games.

Drink responsibly

When it comes to drinking alcohol, there are a few ways that you can do it responsibly. First, make sure everyone travels home from the holiday party safely. You can hire a shuttle to take people home at the end of the night, contact a ride share company like Uber to get a discount code for the evening, or if you are having the party in a location with lodging accommodations and have a big party budget, spring for a room for each employee. Second, be mindful of employees who may not drink alcohol due to personal, health, or religious reasons. While it seems like a big “thank you” to your staff to have an unlimited open bar for your party, it may not be appreciated equally by all staff, so be sure to provide an alternate option that can accommodate everyone. Finally, as noted in a previous post, making and packaging alcoholic beverages can be a major sustainability issue.  Consider stocking your bar from environmentally-friendly companies like Drink More Good and KOVAL Distillery who source organic ingredients from local farms and New Belgium Brewing who is committed to monitoring and reducing their impact on the environment as well as giving back to the community. 

Exchange gifts that make a difference

WhyWhisper Blog Holiday Shopping

Do your employees exchange gifts around the office? Maybe play a good old-fashioned game of white elephant? If so, set guidelines that gifts should be environmentally friendly or contribute to a cause in some way. You can also use these tips when shopping for your family and friends, and encourage employees to do the same:

  • Support local businesses and artisans: Shopping locally is good for the environment, helps to create jobs in your community, and often puts money into the pockets of families rather than corporations. Take a walk in your neighborhood to see if you can find what you are looking for from a small business or family-owned shop. If you don’t find what you’re looking for locally, check out Etsy for unique goods made by independent creatives before you hit the big corporate retailers.
  • Shop from ethical retailers: If you don’t have time to do on-foot shopping in your community, look for web-based companies that source their goods responsibly, donate items or profits from each purchase, are environmentally friendly, or give back to the community in some way. There are many companies out there that are making a difference and selling unique or handmade, high quality products! To get you started, we have included a few online resources that have extensive suggestions of where to shop, highlight a few companies with more detail, or allow you to search and shop by ethical criteria or cause. If you are going to shop at a “one-stop-shop” like a major department store, pick Target this year and let them know you support their decision to support the LGBTQ community and counter those who have chosen to boycott.
  • Encourage minimalism: Buy products with minimal and eco-friendly packaging and help others to reduce the amount of stuff they might accumulate and/or ultimately throw away by giving an experience not a gift. Consider giving tickets to a concert or play or a gift certificate for a local restaurant instead of a physical item.
  • Make an honorary donation: Consider skipping gifts all together and focus on spreading love and supporting those in need. Make an honorary donation to causes that your colleagues or loved ones care about. You can even get a fair trade, hand-crafted, card to “wrap” the proof of donation in so they still have something to open on the holiday.  

And remember, America is a big, beautiful, and diverse country, and hopefully so is your workplace. Be mindful of the religious views and traditions of all of your employees and colleagues. Make sure everyone has the appropriate days off to celebrate and use a variety of phrases, decorations, and music to bring cheer and well wishes to all.

Do you have suggestions on other holiday traditions that make an impact? We would love to hear about them!

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How to Think About Food This Thanksgiving

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How to Think About Food This Thanksgiving

by Anne Rackow

Lately, we’ve been sharing ideas on how companies can celebrate holidays in ways that align with their values (e.g. Halloween) . With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we’ve been thinking about how to approach this sometimes-controversial holiday from a socially and environmentally friendly perspective.

Surrounding Thanksgiving, people are often inspired to reflect on the many things for which they are grateful. Sometimes, they become motivated to volunteer at their local shelter or soup kitchen, an act that is wonderful in theory, but results in a sudden surge of untrained volunteers, which can sometimes be overwhelming and burdensome to small charities. Then, numbers drop off immediately after the holiday is over, when sustained support is really needed.  In light of that, we wanted to share different ways to take action.

via Unsplash

As you can imagine, one of the biggest issues that comes up around Thanksgiving is exorbitant food waste. There are people going hungry around the world every day, while a massive amount of food is simultaneously being wasted. Each year, about 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted internationally, and about 35 million tons of food is wasted in the U.S. alone. This happens in a variety of ways including unsold food in grocery stores, unsold or uneaten food in restaurants and households, and even unused and food from farms. Not only could we be using this food waste to feed the millions of people that are underfed each day, but we could also be saving money and the environment while we do it. 

If we work together, as individuals, organizations, and businesses, we can greatly reduce food waste and redistribute that food to those who need it:

Educate your employees

Part of the reason why food waste is such a widespread issue is because of the lack of knowledge around it. It’s hard to fathom that the little bits of food that we throw away each day amount to so much, or that restaurants and grocery stores throw away such large quantities so frequently. One of the ways companies can be most effective in reducing food waste is by educating their teams about it. Here are some ideas:

  • Host a lunch-and-learn where employees can spend their lunch hour listening to a presentation or watching a brief documentary such as Dive, or Just Eat It, which also offer helpful resources to take action after watching the film. 
  • Share informational handouts, or relevant resources in break rooms, cafeterias, on community boards, and in other shared spaces.

Take action and encourage your employees to do the same

Though education is crucial, what you do with your new knowledge is what’s going to really make a difference. Here are some ways that you can be better about food waste as a company:

Thanksgiving WhyWhisper Collective
  • Compost as a company and have separate trash cans in the break room for compostable waste and recyclable materials.
  • Host a post- holiday food drive and collect unused non-perishable items from employees during the weeks following holidays and then donate them to local food banks.
  • Have a company or department wide pot luck with leftovers. Try to make it fun with a prize for most creative use of leftovers (and don’t forget to share recipes)!
  • Raise money for organizations like Feeding America that are actively combatting this issue. Put a collection box in the breakroom or use an online platform, such as Generosity by Indiegogo to make it easy for staff to give.
  • Encourage your employees to shop local, and where available, to purchase “ugly” fruit and vegetables that most shoppers won’t (it tastes the same!).

Engage with others to spread the word

Once you’ve taken action, the best way you can get the movement going is by talking about what you’ve done and the impact that it’s had. Here are some ideas for how you can do that:

  • Share information and resources on your company’s social media platforms, as appropriate. Consider taking pictures of your lunch and learn or pot luck and sharing them on your social media as well!
  • Encourage employees to share information and show support on their personal social media networks.

Do you have a favorite recipe that utilizes leftover food? Or additional suggestions on what companies can do to help curb food waster this Thanksgiving? If so, please share with us by:

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

We often talk about how important it is for businesses to step up in response to the current events and issues affecting our world every day. And the unfortunate fact is, there are always ways that businesses can help out or stand up – whether it's a natural disaster, an act of mass violence, or racial injustice in the form of police brutality.  One of those moments is happening right now.

The results of this year’s presidential election are, for many, shocking and devastating. The implications of Donald Trump’s election, along with a Republican Congress and the likely appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, are far-reaching and scary. Many marginalized and minority communities are gearing up to protect their rights as we prepare for a conservative political system that will likely work to take them away.

How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving

As we move forward, it is important for each and every one of us to think about how we can respond in a way that is proactive and impactful.

One of those ways is through end of year giving. Often thought of as an obligation – a requirement that all “good” companies and organizations must fulfill – we challenge businesses to think of it differently this year. Instead of moving forward with your typical year-end giving plan, use it as an opportunity to support any work that protects the rights of vulnerable populations post-election.

If you're on board, here are our thoughts on how to get started:

Think through your values and how they align

 First things first: What does your business care about? Is it diversity? Gender equality? Mental health? Education? The list is endless, but think it through and take time to hone in on what you would call your company’s core values. If you’re looking for some insight on how to get there, this post will help you out. Once you know what those are, it’s time to think about how they align with the work that needs to be done following the presidential election. Do you want to focus on work to fight racism? LGBT rights? Women’s rights? Immigrants’ rights? As you know, a lot of people’s rights and safety are at stake right now, and we need to do something about it – all of us.

Determine where you want to focus your efforts

The answer to this question isn’t simple. Depending on what your business is, it may or may not be clear as to whether you should start with your own community or focus on national or policy-level efforts. Think about it yourself, and take time to talk to your team. Together, you can determine where your focus should be.

After you know which issue area(s) you want to focus on and at what scale, it’s time to do your research. There are so many organizations out there that need support in various capacities, and it’s worth putting in the time to determine which would be an effective partnership. You’ll absolutely want to consider their work, to date, and what they’re trying to do now, but you’ll also want to look at how they measure their impact, who manages the organization, and whether or not there is a need that you and your employees could fulfill. This post has some great questions you can ask yourself to get started in identifying your partner(s).

Decide how you can give most effectively

Next, think about what you have to give. If you’re looking to give money, this is the perfect time to do it. You could also offer to match employee donations to your chosen organization, or simply pledge to give a percentage of your revenue through the end of the year in support of their work. If you’re looking to give your time, you can arrange a company volunteer day, give employees a day off to volunteer, or simply encourage your team to do so on their own time, providing them with information about organizations your company supports.

 

We also very much encourage businesses to spend this time thinking about their internal culture. Support your employees’ mental health, implement policies that allow them stay safe and care for themselves, and, above all else, take measures to ensure that your workplace has zero tolerance for hate or harassment.

Do you know of a business that has responded to this election in a way that’s worth talking about? Tell us about them – we want to spread the word, and encourage others to do the same!

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Election 2016: How We Move Forward

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Election 2016: How We Move Forward

by Kate Vandeveld and Anne Rackow 

“Please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it. It's always worth it.” - Secretary Hillary Clinton

For many of us, this week has been one of incredibly high highs and the lowest of lows. We rallied behind the first woman to run for President as a major party candidate, and were shocked and devastated when that victory was secured by Donald Trump instead. In addition, the Republican party won majority in both the House and the Senate.

In the days, weeks, and months following the results of this election, in which the Republican party also won majority in both the House and Senate, it’s going to be difficult to come to terms with the fact that the outcome was so far from what many of us had hoped and planned for. It might feel debilitating, overwhelming, and scary.

Since Tuesday night, we’ve been thinking through the different ways that we can move forward, and we wanted to share to get your thoughts too. Before we get started, however, we want to make sure to note that the process we each go through can and should be different. Take your time to do what feels right for you. When you're ready, here are some of our thoughts: 

Election 2016: How We Move Forward via Whywhisper

Take care of yourself and each other

“I know how disappointed you feel, because I feel it too. And so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort.”  - Secretary Hillary Clinton

To us, this is the most critical part of the process. In the face of grief, uncertainty, and fear, we need to prioritize self-care and the care of those around us. Recognize that your feelings are valid. Let yourself feel sad, overwhelmed, disappointed, shocked, scared and any other feelings you may be experiencing. Ask to work from home, or take the day off if you need it. Go for a run or do a yoga class or just meditate in your own living room.

Acknowledge that others may be grieving too. Pay attention to those around you, and if you’re able, offer to cover meetings, babysit, or make a meal for those who are struggling. Let them know that you are there to support them and, if it feels appropriate or necessary, share the contact information for help hotlines and resources. If you see someone being harassed or put down because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, or ability, do something about it. This could mean approaching them to ask if they need help, calling the authorities, or engaging in some other way. 

Stay (or get) politically active

“Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let's do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear.” - Secretary Hillary Clinton

It can be easy to lose heart in the face of this kind of unexpected setback, but it’s absolutely critical that we actively participate in politics - particularly at the state and local levels. You can engage your current Senators and Representatives in conversations about issues that matter to you. Even if you commit to reaching out to just one official each month to let them know which issues matter to you and give feedback on their work, you’ll be making a huge difference in getting your voice heard.

Always vote in midterm elections. With the most recent election, the Republican party took control of both the Presidency and Congress, but midterm elections provide the opportunity to change the majority party in both the Senate and the House of Representatives every two years. These elections are crucial -- they allow Americans to assess their level of satisfaction with the President and Congress and make changes where needed. Since they don’t garner the same level of media attention and over-the-top campaigning, many forget about the midterm elections, which often leads to lower voter turnout. In fact, the midterm elections in 2014 had the lowest voter turnout for a national election in 72 years. Let’s set a new record in 2018 with the highest voter turn-out for a midterm election this country has ever seen.

Get more involved in the issues you care about

by Alex Ostrow

by Alex Ostrow

“Our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. And I know you will.” - Secretary Hillary Clinton

There are so many different ways you can further engage yourself in creating change around the issues you care about. Reach out to organizations who are doing work that matters to you to discuss concrete ways that you can support them. Together, you can determine which will be most effective -- time, money, skills, or some other option.  If you don’t already have an organization in mind or would like to learn about a few more, here are two lists of incredible pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-earth, anti-bigotry organizations that could use your support.  Do you know of others? Send them our way, and we’ll do our part to spread the word.

Practice inclusivity & compassion in your workplace

“The American Dream is big enough for everyone -- for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities.” - Secretary Hillary Clinton

One of the most immediately impactful ways you can work for progress right now is by ensuring that your own company’s practices and policies are fair and inclusive.  Look at every level of your operations, from your employees, to the individuals you contract with, to your executive staff. Are your teams diverse? Are your employees given fair and equal opportunities for merit-based growth, regardless of their race, religion, gender, age, and sexuality? What do your hiring practices look like -- were they developed with diversity in mind? In order for us to ensure that our workplaces are fair and diverse, we need to actively take steps to assess them and make changes wherever necessary. Here’s some great information on how to go about it.

And if you’re considering moving to Canada, we encourage you to reconsider and move to a swing state instead -- we need you there

If you have other ideas for how we can best move forward in ways that are bold, compassionate, respectful, and unified, please share them by commenting below, sending us an email, or connecting on social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). We’re all in this together. Together, we can disrupt the hate.

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These Companies Are Rocking the Vote this Election Season

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These Companies Are Rocking the Vote this Election Season

 

Exercising your right to vote is so important, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or even possible, for everyone.

Earlier this year, we shared different ways that businesses can encourage and help their employees to vote. These include educating employees about why voting is important, making it easier by giving them time off or offering transportation, and providing crucial information about candidates. With voter turnout on the decline in recent years, decreasing from 62.3% of eligible citizens in 2008 to 57.5% in 2012, it is critical that we support efforts to inform and encouraging voting. Companies can make a huge difference in getting informed citizens to the polls.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of companies step up to make that happen. In the final days leading up to the election, we’re especially grateful for their forethought and effort. Here are a few: 

Rock the Vote - WhyWhisper Collective

Virgin America

In April, Virgin America was announced as the Official Airline of Rock the Vote for the 2016 election season. What does that mean? In each of their flights, they feature a video created by Rock the Vote that shows passengers how to register easily and immediately via free in-flight WiFi. The video targets Millennials, as only 46% of them showed up to the polls for the last presidential election, and focuses on how voting gives them a chance to make a difference when it comes to the issues that they value, such as equality and gun control.

 

USA Today

Rock the Vote - WhyWhisper Collective

USA Today sparked conversation around voting this election season with their #votingbecause campaign. The campaign encouraged people to share their reason on social media by taking a photo of themselves with a sign that says #votingbecause ________. In doing so, participants join a national conversation around the importance of voting, as well as get a chance to be featured in USA Today. The campaign page also includes helpful resources like instructions on registering to vote, informative blogs and podcasts, and interactive learning experiences.

 

 

Patagonia

Rock the Vote - WhyWhisper Collective

This isn’t the first time we’ve been impressed by Patagonia’s unique efforts to make a positive impact, and we’re pretty sure it won’t be the last. This election season, Patagonia launched a Vote Our Planet campaign centered around green voting, or voting for candidates that are actively working to support environmental initiatives. Like USA Today, their campaign page includes helpful resources, but with a particular focus on green issues. The campaign also invites people to share their #VoteOurPlanet stories and photos on social media, which Patagonia then shares on their website. Additionally, the company opted to take the conversation offline by organizing a series of free events across the country for voters to attend and learn.

 

Take Tuesday Off

When employers don't give time off from work on Election Day, it becomes a major roadblock for voters. Many countries – like France, Germany, Brazil and Japan, to name a few – don’t schedule election days during the workweek. In the U.S., however, voting in the presidential election takes place on a Tuesday, a day when many Americans aren’t able to leave their jobs. This year, Noah Fradin launched the Take Tuesday campaign, arguing that election day should be a paid holiday for eligible voters, or that companies should at least offer a block of time during which employees can go to the polls. As a result of the campaign, companies like Thrillist and Salon have signed a pledge to offer paid time off for voters.

 

Do you know of any other companies who are doing their part to educate and encourage voter turnout? Tell us about them! Let’s make sure they get the recognition they deserve.  Here’s how:

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The Sweet Way Your Business Can Make a Difference This Halloween

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The Sweet Way Your Business Can Make a Difference This Halloween

by Anne Rackow

Last week’s Indigenous People’s Day, a holiday formally known as Columbus Day, made us realize a couple things. First, the meaning behind some holidays are not as celebration-worthy as we might think. And second, holidays can offer great opportunities for socially-conscious companies to celebrate in ways that align with their values.

The Sweet Way Your Business Can Make a Difference This Halloween -- WhyWhisper Collective

With Halloween right around the corner, we did some research around the social justice issues that companies can address while celebrating on October 31st. In doing so, we discovered that many of the cocoa plantations and popular chocolate brands that make some of trick-or-treater’s favorite candies have a few skeletons in their closets, to say the least.

Halloween festivities often include dressing up in costumes, eating candy, and trying to scare each other with tricks, horror films, and haunted houses. But to us, one of the scariest things about Halloween is the number of human rights violations that have been committed in the making of many of the most common Halloween treats, specifically those of the chocolate variety.

What do we mean by that? According to Green America, 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where forced labor and child labor have been documented on cocoa farms for nearly two decades. It is well-documented that during the growing and harvesting of cocoa, many children are exploited, abused, exposed to hazardous chemicals, and prohibited from going to school. Doing a simple Google search on this topic will provide you with an overwhelming number of articles and documentaries on the issue. 

While this is a problem year-round, Halloween presents a uniquely valuable opportunity for consumers to make an impact as a result of the dramatic uptick in chocolate sales around the holiday. Each year, Halloween shoppers spend a total of $2.1 billion on candy and almost 75% of Americans say that chocolate is their favorite Halloween treat, resulting in over a billion dollars being spent on chocolate alone.

Considering that about 75% of American households hand out Halloween candy, many of your colleagues and employees will likely pass out treats on October 31st.  And the sharing of candy is not limited to one night of trick-or-treating. In fact, up to 57% of Americans will have candy bowls in their homes or offices during the Halloween season.  Co-workers often share treats in the break room around holidays, and most people know at least one co-worker with a not-so-secret candy drawer.

This year, we encourage you to spread awareness around the issue of slave labor in the chocolate industry, and inspire your employees to be ethical consumers. Here are a few suggestions on how your company can ethically celebrate Halloween around the office: 

Educate your employees

  • Host a lunch-and-learn where employees can spend their lunch hour listening to a presentation or watching a brief documentary such as The Dark Side of Chocolate, which also offers corresponding discussion questions and preparation materials.
  • Share informational handouts, or relevant articles in break rooms, on community boards, and in other shared spaces.
  • Put these ethically-sourced chocolates in everyone’s company mailbox or on their desk with these informational flyers attached.
  • Include a special feature section in the company newsletter or send a company-wide email that shares information on the topic, including links to further reading and what they can do, including where they can buy ethical chocolate.

Take action as a company and encourage your employees to do the same

  • Raise money for organizations like Slave Free Chocolate that are actively combatting this issue. Put a collection box in the breakroom or use an online platform, such as Generosity by Indiegogo to make it easy for staff to give.
  • Make sure that any chocolate, or coffee for that matter, purchased or sold by your company is ethically produced.
  • Encourage your employees to hand out ethically-sourced chocolate or locally-produced, non-chocolate treats on Halloween.

Start the conversation on social media

  • Share information and resources such as those mentioned above on your company’s social media platforms, as appropriate.
  • Encourage employees to share information and show support on their personal social media networks. You could even incentivize them with a prize of ethically-sourced chocolate or some other treat!

Do you have a favorite ethical chocolate brand or additional suggestions on what companies can do to have an impact this Halloween? If so, please share with us by:

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#GivingTuesday: How Companies Can Take it to the Next Level

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#GivingTuesday: How Companies Can Take it to the Next Level

As a small business, we’re always on the lookout for ways we can give back to our communities and the many causes that we care about. By nature, small businesses don’t always have the capacity to give a large amount of time or resources, but there are plenty of opportunities to make an impact, especially around the holidays.

One of these opportunities is #GivingTuesday. Scheduled for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving each year (November 29th this year), Giving Tuesday was developed in response to the corporate retail madness around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As you may have already guessed, Giving Tuesday is all about giving back, and it’s become a pretty big deal. According to the Case Foundation, online giving on Giving Tuesday nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015, reaching $116.7 million in donations last year.  As it continues to grow, an increasing number of businesses, from small local operations to large corporations, have found ways to get involved.

Though Giving Tuesday is over a month away, if your company is thinking about getting involved this year, now is the time to start developing your strategy, finding the right nonprofit partner, and developing any supporting collateral. Here’s how to get started:

Determine which organization(s) you’ll support

ugh, I'm sorry. and I'm sorry for my role in that. I do know that it'll be okay, and you will bounce back, even if it takes some time.

Find an organization that is working to address a need in your community that aligns with your company values. How do you do that? Think through your corporate identity and what issues matter to your business and team. Then, think about the issues that are prevalent in your industry or community. Once you’ve come up with a couple of relevant issues, do some research into organizations that are addressing them, either locally or otherwise.

For example, Chicago-based flower company Flowers for Dreams is a small business that values its connection to the local community. They choose a different nonprofit partner to support each month, but each is focused on issues that are prevalent in Chicago specifically, such as RefugeeOne, which refunds the resettlement of refugees in the Chicago area, and NAMI Chicago, which is dedicated to supporting Chicagoans who struggle with mental illness. Check out this blog post for a more detailed process around building a social responsibility strategy that aligns with your company’s values.

Reach out to organization(s) to gauge their interest in a partnership

Once you’ve settled on a relevant organization, reach out to see if and how they’re participating in Giving Tuesday. If they’re taking part, they’ll be able to share their campaign strategy, and ideas for how you can best support their efforts so as to be as impactful as possible. After you’ve settled on the right partner and confirmed their interest, it’s time to make it official: sign up as a partner on the #GivingTuesday website.

Develop a workplace giving campaign

#GivingTuesday -- WhyWhisper Collective

Workplace giving is an incredibly effective way for companies to give back to causes they care about. And launching a workplace giving campaign around Giving Tuesday will likely mean that you’ll raise even more money for your cause than you would if you did so any other time of year. With 698,961 online individuals making contributions on Giving Tuesday last year, it’s a great way to get your campaign in front of those who otherwise might not have seen it. Starting or wrapping up your annual workplace giving campaign on Giving Tuesday is a great way to ensure that you start off strong, or make a final push to reach your goal.

In your workplace giving campaign, you can ask employees to make a contribution themselves or to raise a certain amount by reaching out to their personal networks. You can also consider implementing a matching policy, in which your company matches all gifts up to a certain amount or donations made on a certain day, so as to further incentivize employees to give back and reach fundraising goals.

Spread the word about your partner organization’s campaign

To further support your nonprofit partner’s #GivingTuesday campaign with relatively minimal effort, make a commitment to also spread the word amongst your networks. Follow them on their social media platforms, and share their message both on #GivingTuesday and in the weeks leading up to it. First, spread the word to your employees and tell them why you are supporting your partner organization, encouraging them to do the same. Share their campaign on your social platforms, and provide that copy to your employees as well so they can spread the word to their networks.

Go beyond money

#GivingTuesday: How Companies Can Take it to the Next Level - WhyWhisper Collective

While the primary purpose of #GivingTuesday is to raise funds, there are other ways you can support your partner organization as well. If you’re able, you can turn Giving Tuesday into a paid volunteer day, in which your team supports the cause in whichever way is most beneficial to your partner organization. If that’s not an option, you can hold an in-office drive, asking your team to bring in items from a list provided to you by your nonprofit partner. Before you develop this part of your strategy, be sure to connect with the organization you’ll be supporting – they’ll be in the best position to let you know about their specific needs.

 

Is your business or organization planning to participate in #GivingTuesday this year, or do you know of one that executed a particularly unique or successful campaign? Let us know! Here’s how:

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How Companies Can Make the Most of the Holiday Season

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How Companies Can Make the Most of the Holiday Season

by Anne Rackow

Many holidays are celebrated out of the office by spending time with loved ones, eating particular foods, and participating in various family traditions. But what if they could also offer opportunities to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and make an impact? This goes for all holidays – even those you may forget about until you suddenly realize you have a three-day weekend. In fact, some of those national holidays might be the perfect places to start.

We first started thinking about this in response to Columbus Day, which we and many others now choose to refer to as Indigenous People’s Day. This day is an important opportunity for social impact, in particular, because of its controversial origin. In case you aren’t aware of what we’re referring to, here’s a little background:

 It is widely discussed that Columbus Day honors a man who did not discover America, but rather invaded a land populated by peaceful people, and then systematically enslaved and even murdered its inhabitants. This article by Irwin Ozborne explains in detail how Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America “resulted in mass assimilation, raping, slaughtering, enslaving, and intention to wipe out all evidence of a native population of between 50 and 100 million indigenous people from the land — the greatest genocide in recorded history.“  Some of the atrocities he notes include: 

  • Abducting and selling children into the sex trade as young as nine-years-old
  • Mass raping of women and children
  • The amputation of limbs if slaves were not producing ‘enough’
  • Offering cash rewards for the scalps of men, women, and children as proof of murder
  • Intentionally spreading smallpox disease, an early means of biological warfare
  • Death marches of more than one-thousand miles to these reservations in which, if you were unable to continue the walk, you were left for dead with family members prohibited from offering assistance

As a result, many recognize that we either need to stop celebrating this tragic part of American history, or change who and what, specifically, we are honoring. Some states have already begun to do this. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day instead of Columbus Day since 1990, and in recent years, cities and states like Seattle, Denver, and Vermont have also begun to acknowledge the injustices perpetrated against native populations by Columbus and his fellow explorers. They have renamed the holiday, and use the day to lead important conversations around the historical and current discrimination and maltreatment of indigenous people. 

Photo by Maranie Rae

Photo by Maranie Rae

That got us thinking about what we can do around holidays like Indigenous People’s Day, and other federal holidays that are less controversial but provide opportunities for impact nonetheless. While it’s wonderful for local community members and state governments to spread awareness and create change, we began to ask ourselves what socially conscious businesses could be doing on this holiday and other holidays to have a positive social impact on their employees, customers, and communities.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 50% of states and U.S. territories get time off from work for Indigenous People’s Day.  As a business, you have an opportunity to encourage a different, more informed, and respectful manner of celebration. For example:

  • Refer to the second Monday of October as Indigenous People’s Day in relevant company documents and communication, regardless of what your city or state calls it
  • Share information about why you’ve opted to make this change as a company
  • Encourage your employees to attend an event or celebration hosted by an indigenous group on their day off
  • If your local and state law allow for it, provide the option for employees to work on the second Monday of October in exchange for a different day of

For more ideas on how your business can honor indigenous populations, check out this article by Ecopreneurist.

Celebrating Other Holidays

While Columbus Day is in a league of its own in terms of impropriety, there are many other federal holidays that can also serve as opportunities to raise awareness and participate in service activities related to important social justice topics. When one of these holidays is approaching, contemplate what your company can do make the most of the day and the time off from work. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

What is this holiday about, and what social justice issues are related to it? Here are some examples to get you started:

Veterans Day: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calls Veterans Day, a day to honor American veterans of all wars.”

Examples of Relevant Social Justice Topics:

  • Veteran homelessness

  • Mental health issues associated with military service

  • Policies that make it difficult for veterans to seek treatment for their mental and physical health

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: The King Center says, “the King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.”

Examples of Relevant Social Justice Topics:

  • Modern day racism in America

  • Institutionalized racism

Labor Day: According to the Department of Labor, Labor Day “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Examples of Relevant Social Justice Topics:

  • Setting a fair minimum wage across sectors

  • American companies sourcing products made with slave labor

  • The gender pay gap

Photo by Maranie Rae

Photo by Maranie Rae

How can I educate my employees or colleagues around these relevant social justice issues?

  • Post informational flyers and handouts in break rooms, on community boards, and in other shared spaces
  • Include a special feature section in the company newsletter that shares information on the topic and links to further reading or helpful resources
  • Host a “lunch and learn” meeting where staff can volunteer their lunch hour to learn more about a topic or issue

How can I use this holiday to engage my employees in relevant activities that have a positive social impact?

  • Host voluntary company-wide community service days on or around the holiday that take place in a location or with a population impacted by the topic
  • Collect food, clothing, toys, or money for local communities impacted by the topic during the weeks leading up to the holiday

Are there steps we can take to raise awareness about the related social justice topic as a company?

  • Share information and show support on your company’s social media platforms, as appropriate
  • Encourage or incentivize employees to share information and show support on their personal social media networks

As we go into a holiday-heavy season, we’re starting to think through how we as a company can celebrate in a way that aligns with our own values, and help other companies do the same. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing tips on what your company can do to be socially conscious around Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Do you have creative ideas on how companies can use holidays to do good? If so, please share with us by:

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Nurturing is a Superpower: How RESET is Supporting Women Differently

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Nurturing is a Superpower: How RESET is Supporting Women Differently

Over the past month, we’ve been interviewing some of the women we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with, who have developed initiatives that empower women.

One of these women is Cora Neumann, whose experience spans across sectors, but with a focus on positive impact across the board. For nearly 20 years, Cora has collaborated with local and national leaders in over 40 countries to help them develop strategies and programs that improve the lives of women and families, through corporate and policy work, as well as her own initiatives. She holds a doctorate in international development from the University of Oxford, UK., and an MPH in global public health from Columbia University.

Her impressive resume speaks for itself, but it’s just the beginning of why we wanted to share Cora’s story and work with you. It’s difficult, if even possible, to encompass all that Cora is doing to empower, support, and galvanize women on the global level. One of the most important aspects of her work is this: It comes from a place of love and nurturing. While she places a focus on the urgency around changing the world, there’s no pressure tied to it, just motivation.

To better capture Cora’s work, we connected with her to ask a few questions – here’s what she had to say:

Looking at your experience, a lot of your work has been focused on supporting changemakers, specifically women. Has this been your goal from the start, or has it evolved over time? 

RESET Founder Cora Neumann

RESET Founder Cora Neumann

I actually actively shied away from focusing on women at the beginning of my studies and career. I was working with refugees and rural communities in Asia and people would encourage me to add the ‘women’s perspective.’ I was committed to staying agnostic on gender, and also worried that might pigeon hole and restrict me to a subsector. Then, when I was approached by an acquaintance about assisting a group of First Ladies in Africa, something clicked. I felt suddenly deeply compelled to support these women. Although I had never worked with or even really thought about first ladies, I knew that, generally, the only attention they received was criticism for either doing too much or not enough. Like so many women in positions of power or influence, they were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t. Yet first ladies have so much potential to play a very important role in society.

A maternal instinct of sorts took over, and I felt if I didn’t build something that supported and leveraged their potential, someone else might try to take advantage of them. I am not implying that first ladies aren’t strong or empowered, but I saw a need there, and felt deeply compelled to jump right in with my particular mission to build a platform to empower them.

This past year, you started RESET with the goal of re-connecting changemakers to themselves, each other, and the earth. What inspired you to start RESET?

A major inspiration for RESET is my brother Wyatt. He passed away suddenly last year, and he and I were incredibly close, like twins. Wyatt lived every moment like it could be his last, he lived fully, bravely, loudly and with so much love for life and this world. RESET will honor his ‘lust for life’, and is also borne out of my own awakening through this trauma. I no longer feel we have time to waste. The world needs activated changemakers to stand up and fight for justice, peace, humanity and the planet. RESET Retreats and the Impact Series will bring leaders and changemakers (men and women, although we will have very tailored women-only retreats and programs as well) on journeys into self to connect with purpose, into community to connect with humanity, and into nature to reconnect with the planet. The goal is to awaken and activate, to help people find meaning and opportunities to make real impact during this chaotic and also exciting time. As Wyatt always said (and as he had tattooed broadly across his collarbones), ‘Moments Like This Never Last’. It’s true. They don’t. So let’s make the very most of it, and work our asses off to make the world a better more whole and connected place while we are here.

I also want to shout out to my amazing and totally heart-driven co-founders, Alma Lacour, Wasfia Nazreen and Stash Slionski. I am so excited to build this vision and work with them.

Let’s talk about RESET’s three main initiatives:

Your Impact Series brings world leaders, corporate executives, citizen activists, scientists, and innovators together to reset our collective course towards a healthier planet.

We know you’re in the early stages of building out these Impact Series, but could you share an example of one that is in the works? Who would be participating and what might the discussion and/or potential outcomes be?

One of our first more high profile Impact Series sessions will be ‘Celebrating Glaciers’, hosted in Iceland in Summer 2017. This 5-day event will bring changemakers from across sectors – politics, business, philanthropy, music and the creative industries – together to talk about and make commitments to issues that impact glaciers and climate change. One of the ideal outcomes: partnerships to help people make everyday but significant changes to reduce emissions or invest in renewable energy. President Obama has also announced that he will focus on climate issues once leaving office, so we hope to engage leaders like him, in this or a future event. Stay tuned to @resetlead on Instagram & Twitter for announcements.

Given the different agendas of the two presidential nominees, do you think that this series will be affected by the outcome of the election? If so, how?

I believe that regardless of who wins, this election cycle has been a major wake up call for many across this country, and across the world. We’ve seen an incredibly positive response to RESET already, and I think it correlates with how disoriented people are by the fact that Trump has made it this far, and about the misogyny and blatant racism that has emerged through the process. There is huge disillusionment and distress, and people are looking for meaning, connection, purpose, answers, hope. We will explore all of this through our series, with the goal of helping people feel more empowered to create change in their own lives and in the world. There really is a lot to be hopeful and excited about, and each of us has more influence than we realize.

RESET also puts on Women’s Retreats for female leaders who are looking to reconnect with themselves and the world around them. How are these different from other retreats for women?

I am applying the curriculum I developed for First Ladies, as well as the work I’ve done with more than 100 women CEOs, entrepreneurs and political leaders around the world to help women connect to and act on their purpose. There are many wonderful women’s retreats out there, and I am so happy to see a rising focus on self-care and empowerment for women. Our series will add an element of purpose and meaning, will cultivate community among the participants, and will match women to causes if they feel moved to activate on or deepen their purpose. Participants may also move on to participate in the Impact Series, which focuses more specifically on impact.

Finally, you facilitate the Global First Ladies Alliance, which was started as its own entity in 2008 to support first ladies, individually and collectively, in their efforts to advance women’s leadership in all sectors of society. What was the problem you were aiming to solve when you first started the Global First Ladies Alliance?

Cora with First Lady Dr. Kaseba (Zambia), and First Lady Koroma (Sierra Leone) during the 2013 First Ladies Summit in Tanzania, which brought 12 African First Ladies, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush together to discuss challenges facing women and girls in Africa. 

Cora with First Lady Dr. Kaseba (Zambia), and First Lady Koroma (Sierra Leone) during the 2013 First Ladies Summit in Tanzania, which brought 12 African First Ladies, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush together to discuss challenges facing women and girls in Africa. 

As noted before, when I started this work in 2008, first ladies were largely neglected by the international community. Although many were engaged in powerful work, they weren’t highlighted as leaders, and when they were invited to participate in events or summits, they were generally asked to speak on behalf of someone else’s agenda. I wanted to create a program that focused on and promoted the work of first ladies themselves. To date, we have worked with all of the US first ladies, many first ladies from Africa and Europe – a total of 42 first ladies offices so far.

How has the Global First Ladies Alliance evolved over time?

We were extremely committed to co-creating this program together with first ladies (including financially – they sponsored their own participation entirely). They requested workshops for themselves and training for their staff. The program evolved into a leadership program of sorts, focused on helping first ladies and their senior advisors design and use their platform to impact the most change – mainly on issues related to women and girls. We are in the process of finalizing a ‘First Ladies Handbook’, co-authored by First Ladies and their offices, on how to develop and run an effective office.

What role does the Alliance play in regard to RESET’s mission?

It exists as a foundation for our continued focus on women’s leadership. We also aim to engage First Ladies and government agencies, like National Forest Service and relevant ministries, in our Impact Series where and when relevant.

We love your focus on wellness and connection. What advice do you have for women and leaders in regards to self-care and community?

RESET Co-Founders Cora Neumann and Alama Lacour

RESET Co-Founders Cora Neumann and Alama Lacour

Number 1: Do your best to fully unplug, ideally through sitting or moving meditation, for at least 10 minutes/day. I have been practicing transcendental meditation since I was 26 and have seen such profound transformation in myself and in people who practice regularly. The fact that it can be so hard to sit still for a brief time each day is evidence in and of itself of how powerful this practice is.

Number 2: Get yourself a ‘Fight Club’ or small group of women ready to stand by you through any possible up or down. We need each other. And you may be surprised how much support floods in when you finally ask for help and/or open yourself up to love and nurturing in this way. One of my mottos is: nurturing is a superpower. Accept it, give it, support it…you’ll be surprised how powerful it can be.

hat has been the most rewarding part of your work to connect and support individuals, especially women, in their efforts to make an impact and maintain balance in their personal and professional lives? Is there a particular moment or story that stands out to you?

I have been truly stunned by the power of empowerment. Taking a new tack with leaders like First Ladies – asking them what they need instead of telling them what the world needs from them – has been a game changer. Supporting leaders, and especially women leaders, to see, own and use their strengths is transformative.

One of my favorite quotes is from the former First Lady of Kenya, who said, “When we met Cora, we were on a train… now we are on a plane and the possibilities are endless!” The First Lady of Sierra Leone has also told me, “You have amongst your strengths the gift of telling me whom I am.” Through the process of helping the First Ladies feel seen, heard, and empowered, we were able to help them step onto the global stage with more confidence and determination, and to launch and/or scale major national programs and strategies that have impacted millions.

 

We’re so excited to see how RESET continues to grow and support women across the globe! To stay in-the-know, you can follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

If you know of a women-led business or organization that is changing the game for women, tell us about them! We’d love to connect with them. Here's how: 

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Women Supporting Women: Changemaker Chats’ Innovative Platform for Connection

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Women Supporting Women: Changemaker Chats’ Innovative Platform for Connection

As a women-led business, the WhyWhisper team understands the unique challenges that women face in the workplace. In fact, one of our founder’s motivations for starting our firm was her desire to build a business that supports women and have the opportunity to influence others to do the same.

In many professional settings, women experience debilitating bias, both unconscious and otherwise, and are forced to learn how to navigate through it. Figuring out how to do this alone isn’t easy, and perhaps the most powerful way that women can support each other is through the sharing of stories and learnings in a raw and honest way.

Many women have an array of personal and professional goals that don’t fit any specific mold or path, but the need for support by way of real answers to real questions is prevalent across the board. That’s where Changemaker Chats come in.

Changemaker Chats are intimate salons that bring women together to share their experiences and build relationships, while learning practical tips to advance positive changes at work, at home, and in their communities. So far, they are in 4 cities, including New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boulder. They’ve hosted speakers such as Kathy Calvin, President & CEO of UN Foundation, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Founder and President of Joyus, and Helene Gayle, CEO of McKinsey Social Initiative.

We’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with founders Jessica Johnston and Briana Ferrigno, and were excited to interview them about their own experiences and learnings: 

What led you to start these chats initially? 

As with many good ideas, Changemaker Chats was started over drinks. :-)

Women Supporting Women: Changemaker Chats’ Innovative Platform for Connection

It’s no surprise that women care deeply about excelling in our jobs, achieving happiness at home, and being forces for good in our communities. When we would get together for drinks, our conversations often touched upon all of these topics. Yet, inevitably we'd find ourselves asking questions about how other senior women achieved their goals, how they handled challenges in the workplace, had navigated different career decisions/transitions, and how they balanced their professional ambitions with personal goals.

To answers these questions, we’d typically turn to the usual advice: reading the latest books and advice columns, seeking out women leaders for guidance, and turning to our friends to ask questions we were afraid to ask others.

But we realized this approach was inefficient and, often, ineffective. There are not enough hours in the day to read everything! Even if we could, much guidance comes from women who are not yet in the upper echelons, or from women who are but cannot speak the raw, uncut truth publicly. One-on-ones with women leaders are hard to pin down, so we go to our friends for counseling, which doesn’t work as well when we’re all looking for the same advice.

We'd had enough! And so we decided to start Changemaker Chats as an effort to leverage our collective networks of like-minded women to overcome these challenges, and hear ‘real stories’ from inspiring women.

How is Changemaker Chats different from other forums or networking groups for women, and why does it matter?

The primary purpose in attending a Changemaker Chat is not to network. Networking is a nice by-product of the experience, but it is not the reason why we started the chats, and it is not the primary reason why women attend.

Women Supporting Women: Changemaker Chats’ Innovative Platform for Connection

Women attend our chats to invest in themselves, and that happens in various ways. For some women, it might be a treat to hear from a speaker she has long admired. For others, it may be a chance to connect with other women, hear their stories and disconnect from work. And then for others, it may be a night away from their kids to hang with other women in their communities who care about advancing positive change. (Just ask our mamas in Boulder!).

We also care a lot about inclusion. For us, there is only one prerequisite for the chats:  you must care about advancing positive change in the world.

The chats are an authentic, in-the-moment experience. No phones, no live tweeting, no pitching. We are there to ask those questions that have been tough to ask, in a setting that is private and real.

How has Changemaker Chats changed over time, and how do you envision them evolving as you move forward? 

We've grown! However, the format and quality of the chats remains consistent throughout. It’s important for us to create an atmosphere where we can be open enough to explore so many topics and issues pertinent to women but in a way that remains interesting, respectful, and insightful.

Going forward, we’re excited to continue offering our staple ‘chats’ while building out new offerings that help women take deep dives into the very real challenges we face. We’ve started testing these workshops in New York and so far – with workshops on goal setting and taking risks – they have been received really well. We’re excited to expand moving forward.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this space for women? Do you have any particular stories that come to mind?

The most rewarding moments come in a few different ways:

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First is that, at the beginning of each chat, we ask each woman to introduce herself and share where they work or their field. With so many impressive, diverse women sitting in one place, this is the moment when you realize, “Wow these women are amazing.” We love it every time.

Second, we love hearing women in our network tell us that a chat changed her perspective, or encouraged her to take a risk that she wouldn’t have otherwise without having been inspired by a chat. This happens all the time.

Finally, we love hearing how chats have offered practical, actionable advice to women – whether that is negotiating a raise, landing a new job, or overcoming a difficult situation. We get this type of feedback often, and it makes the chats all the more worth it.

Following last month’s Women’s Equality Day, we wrote about how one of the places where women are still unequal is in the workplace. Do you have any advice for women who want to step up as leaders at work, but are experiencing barriers in doing so?

Women Supporting Women: Changemaker Chats’ Innovative Platform for Connection

We have lots! We post recaps of our chats on our website, and they are full of lessons learned and wisdom passed down from female leaders on how to tackle the myriad challenges that early and mid-career women face in the workplace. Here are a few of them:

  • Don’t go into any battle without knowing your opponent: Do the hard work, prepare, and understand what motivates the individuals you need to influence. – Maria Eitel, Chairman, Girl Effect | Co-Chair, Nike Foundation
  • Find a friend: When facing unconscious bias at work, find an ally, someone who can be your advocate – and male allies can work great.  How to pick the right one? Find an empathetic person on the team, then ask this person to observe the situation over time, and speak up for you when they see bias playing out. This can be much more effective than you advocating for yourself. – Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Dropbox
  • People create initiatives:  Positive change must be inclusive. It can’t come as ‘an initiative’ from HR, or from the top down – it has to come from the people. ‘Your whole team has to take charge of the problems and come up with innovative solutions. If it’s not their idea, it’s not likely they are going to feel connected to creating the change. When everyone feels connected, they create change and learn how to lead. Change doesn’t have to start with minorities and it doesn’t have to come from the top. Let the people lead the way.’ – Sonya Hausafus, CMO, Techstars
  • Leading with head and heart: When thinking about leadership, we all need to craft our own style. – Peggy Clark, VP of Policy Programs, ED of Aspen Global Health and Development, and Director of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise at The Aspen Institute.

We'd encourage women to check out some of what our speakers have shared, and join us at one of our upcoming Chats. And if you don't see a Changemaker Chat network in their city and are interested in starting one, we’d love to hear from you! 

 

We’re so inspired by the work that Jessica, Briana, and all of the women involved with Changemaker Chats are doing to support one another and build safe spaces to learn from and connect with one another. We can’t wait to see what they do next! If you’d like to follow along, check them out on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

If you know of a women-led business or organization that is changing the game for women, tell us about them! We’d love to connect with them.

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