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Social Change

Treat Yourself to These Socially Conscious Goods

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Treat Yourself to These Socially Conscious Goods

by Kate Vandeveld

When you think of social enterprise, what comes to mind? Probably not beer and chocolate, right? If that’s the case, we have good news: Even when you’re indulging, you can still support social good.

Our team keeps an ever-growing list of great sources, so we know exactly where to turn when we’re treating ourselves. Here are some of our favorites:

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Eat Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most universally loved candies – and maybe even one of the best-loved foods, period. In fact, 52% of Americans have said that chocolate is their favorite flavor. But here’s the problem: Much of the chocolate sourced by major companies like Nestle and Hershey’s comes from countries notorious for child slave labor, like the Ivory Coast and Nigeria. As a result, it’s crucial that we pay attention whenever we’re craving a candy bar.

Thankfully, if you’re one of the many chocolate lovers out there, you have plenty of ethical, eco-friendly options to choose from – here are just a few:

 

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Get Your Caffeine Fix

The coffee industry is another that is known for unethical treatment of its farmers. Dominated by large corporations that sell inexpensive products in mass quantities, these corporations often opt for the cheapest beans. In turn, the farmers that grow those beans seek out cheap labor. At best, this means that their workers aren’t paid livable, sustainable wages, and at worst, it can mean child slave labor.

While it can be easier to turn to the big names found in any supermarket, it’s always best to take the time to seek out ethically sourced beans whenever you can. Here are some of our favorites:

If you want to go the extra mile here, check out these sustainable coffee makers and filters from Able Brewing.

 

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Have a Drink

When it comes to drinks, especially of the alcoholic variety, sustainability is a major issue. To produce just one bottle of beer, it takes nearly twenty gallons of water. That’s a lot – especially given the water scarcity issues our world is now facing. On top of that, beer packaging requires a substantial amount of materials and energy, from the bottles and cans themselves to the cardboard containers they’re often sold in.

If you’re looking to kick back with a cocktail or beer this weekend, choose one of these options to do it without the guilt, by choosing brands that focus on using minimal resources in their production and packaging: 

 

via  Woron

via Woron

Get Intimate

Have you ever stopped to think about how your lingerie is made? We wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. But, as with all areas of garment manufacturing, unethical and unsustainable sourcing can be a major problem when it comes to your underwear. The unfortunate truth is that most garment workers in the world earn around 25 cents an hour, and child labor is incredibly common.

If you want to avoid perpetuating these norms, check out these companies the next time you’re shopping for lingerie:

 

Splurge on Diamonds

When it comes to treating yourself, diamonds have long been considered the ultimate luxury. But, as you may know, the diamond industry is one of the most unethical and dangerous of them all. The diamond trade has fueled civil war and violence all over the world, and their harvesting and production methods have long been centered on exploitation and unsustainable practices.

So, if you’re thinking about splurging on a diamond anytime soon, put in some time to research where it came from and who was involved. Here are some trustworthy options: 

Do you have go-to sources for your favorite indulgences? Share them with us – let’s spread the word together! Here’s how:

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The Role of Corporations in the Clean Water Crisis

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The Role of Corporations in the Clean Water Crisis

by Kate Vandeveld

Did you know that 1.8 billion people do not have access to clean water worldwide?

It’s a major issue, and one that’s close to home – today, over 1.6 million Americans don’t have indoor plumbing at all. And in some places, like Flint, Michigan, water sources are so contaminated that even with indoor plumbing, consuming it poses a serious health risk. 

There are a number of incredible nonprofit organizations that are working to address these issues, but they often lack the necessary funding to implement effective, sustainable change. One solution to this problem is corporate partnership, and in recent years, a number of large-scale corporations have opted to partner with nonprofits focused on solving water issues. Here are a few:

H&M Foundation & WaterAid

WaterAid is an international nonprofit organization focused on improving access to safe water, hygiene and toilets in impoverished communities, with a goal of getting safe water and sanitation to everyone by 2030. They work with these communities to find sustainable solutions to their water issues, financing the work of local partners on the ground. They also advocate for policies that will end the water and sanitation crisis.

The H&M Foundation is an independent foundation that supports initiatives focused on women, children and water. In 2014, the H&M Foundation and WaterAid launched a three-year global program meant to bring safe water, hygiene and toilets to 250,000 of the world's poorest students. Together, they’re also working to drive change at the policy level, aiming to integrate these necessities into education policies. WaterAid reported that after the first year, they were able to reach 75,000 students through the program.

Bank of America & Water.org

Water.org, a nonprofit founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, focuses on expanding access to clean water around the world by working within communities to find sustainable solutions. Rather than attempting to implement a one-size-fits all solution to places that are so different from one another, Water.org works to understand each community’s specific barriers and develop innovative solutions that address them, and empower those communities to maintain them.

In 2015, Bank of America provided Water.org with a $1 million to go toward their microfinance program Water Credit, which provides affordable loans to those who need to purchase water connections and toilets. The goal of the grant was to help 100,000 people in South India get access to safe water and sanitation solutions. While we look forward to the reports that show the impact of Bank of America’s grant specifically, we’re happy to see that Water.org has reported that grants like Bank of America’s have helped them to empower more than 2.5 million people in 9 countries to obtain access to clean water.

Nestle, Walmart, Pepsi & Coca-Cola & the Flint Crisis

In 2015, drinking water in Flint, MI, was exposed as containing over two times the EPA’s limits for the amount of lead in safe drinking water. This dangerously high lead count has resulted in a variety of health issues for those who’ve consumed it, including skin lesions, hair loss, hypertension, vision loss and depression. All children under the age of 6 were “exposed to toxic, lead-tainted water that may cause life-long damage.” In light of this, the city’s water was declared unsafe to drink, and many were left with few hydration options.

In January of 2016, four large-scale corporations, Nestle, Walmart, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola, provided 6.5 million bottles of water to the city’s students. These corporations, which are generally in competition with one another and often under scrutiny for various reasons, came together in a time of crisis to make a life-saving contribution. As the city seeks long-term solutions, this donation will allow students and their parents to focus on education and meeting other basic needs.

World Water Day: Keep the Conversation Going

This past Tuesday was World Water Day, a day developed by UN Water to raise awareness about today’s most pressing global issues around water access. We encourage you to use the tools and resources they provided to educate yourself about these issues and keep the conversation going.

Do you know of a business or corporation that has chosen to focus on water in its CSR efforts? Comment below or share with us on social (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) – we’ll help spread the word about their work.

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CSR Strategy: 4 Questions to Get You Started

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CSR Strategy: 4 Questions to Get You Started

by Kate Vandeveld

At this point, it’s pretty clear that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a good idea – for your company, your employees, and your community. Companies that are doing it right, like Starbucks, are seeing huge returns and having a remarkable social and/or environmental impact in their communities and beyond.

But once you’re on board with CSR, where do you get started? How do you determine what your programming should look like and how to make it happen? Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling:

Will you focus your initial efforts internally or externally?

In a perfect world, your CSR strategy would both encompass your internal operations and have a positive impact on your community. But in reality, resources are limited and you may need to focus your efforts in one direction or the other initially. Given your resources and your company’s mission, does it make more sense to start with an employee wellness program, or to look for ways to integrate community impact into your business model? 

What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses?

Make a list of your company’s strengths and weaknesses to start to hone in on where you should focus your programming. For example…

  • Do you have an especially engaged team? Opt for programming that allows them to connect with and give back to your community.
  • Are you a product-focused business? Look into sourcing your products ethically and/or locally.
  • Has your business lagged behind when it comes to sustainability? Consider implementing a recycling program or buying office supplies from environmentally conscious sources.

Find opportunities to capitalize on your company’s strengths and improve on its weaknesses, and start there.

What resources do we have to work with?

First, think through the financial resources available for CSR programming. Do you have a budget for it, or will you have to determine which budget buckets you could pull from? Depending on what your programming looks like, you may be able to pull from your HR or recruiting budget for example. After all, having a CSR strategy in place is beneficial for employee acquisition and retention.

Next, consider human resources. Do you have the internal bandwidth and expertise you’ll need to develop and implement that programming, or will you need to work with an outside firm? If you opt for the latter, take the time to find a team that understands your needs and mission, and helps you figure out how to implement your programming in a way that’s cost-effective and sustainable. This is a different kind of consulting, and you need to make sure the team you’re working with has the best interests of the company and your community at heart.

How will you measure your impact?

Before you get started, you’ll want to set benchmarks and goals for your CSR programming, and determine how you will measure success. If you launch your strategy with those benchmarks and goals in mind, you’ll be able to measure and adjust your strategy along the way. Paying attention to and reporting on your achievements and failures in a meaningful way also shows that you care about the efficacy of your programming and making a real impact.

 

Is your company ready to develop and implement a CSR strategy, but you don’t know where to start? We’re here to help – get in touch!

And if you just want to chat about marketing for impact, CSR, employee wellness, or anything, really, here’s how you can reach us:


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How to Be Authentic About Social Responsibility

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How to Be Authentic About Social Responsibility

by Kate Vandeveld

Last week, we talked about Starbucks, a company that wasn’t initially developed as a social enterprise, but that has effectively integrated social impact into its business model. Their strategy for external impact is thoughtful and comprehensive, and they actively invest in their employees. Because of this, the results of their multi-faceted strategy is positive for all involved. 

On the flipside, as you may know, Volkswagen is currently in the midst of a CSR-related scandal.  This September, the German car company admitted to cheating in emissions tests in the U.S. by installing devices in their engines that detected when they were being tested, and changing their performance to alter results. The company did this in order to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel emissions standards. As a result of their false reporting, Volkswagen was viewed as reputable when it came to CSR. While we can’t call it merely a PR stunt, the company’s desire to be seen as environmentally responsible likely played into its decision to cheat the system, which is exactly the opposite of the point of CSR.

The Volkswagen situation brings up a question of authenticity when it comes to social and environmental responsibility. What does it mean for a company to be authentic when it comes to impact? Here’s what we think:

They make it part of their mission

One major difference between a truly socially conscious company and one that is in it for the positive PR, is whether or not their strategy is an integral part of their mission, or merely an addendum, an afterthought. Whether or not a company is socially conscious from the start, or chooses to implement CSR programs down the line, it’s important to pay attention to how entrenched they seem to be in their impact. Companies that are really impactful don’t just implement a program that allows them to meet a certain social or environmental goal, they make it a part of their operations and integrate it into their mission.

They report on their successes and failures

When implementing strategic changes in any capacity, you’re bound to experience failures or missteps along the way. And generally, talking about it is the last thing you want to do when a new program or strategy isn’t as successful as you hoped it would be. But in this case, it can be a good thing. Reporting on your successes as well as your failures when it comes to CSR strategy shows that you’re paying attention, and that you care about the efficacy of your programming and making a real impact. And perhaps the most important thing, as evidenced by the Volkswagen fiasco, is that you stay honest in your reporting. Social change is difficult to enact, and your earnest effort to be impactful is what truly matters.

They evolve their efforts over time

Deciding to integrate CSR programming into your business model is only the first step; contributing to positive social or environmental change is an evolutionary process.

To start, it might take some time for a company to hone in on which strengths they should focus on in order to be as impactful as possible. And even if you’re clear about how you want to focus our efforts, you’ll want to evolve as time goes on. When you set clear goals, and then report on and analyze your results, you can use that information to continue to change and develop your approach and strategy to be more effective.

 

Do you know of a company whose CSR strategy has been particularly effective, or one who you think could be impactful with some support? Share with us – we want to learn about them! Here’s how:

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Corporate Social Responsibility: How Starbucks is Making an Impact

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Corporate Social Responsibility: How Starbucks is Making an Impact

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

As you probably know by now, WhyWhisper is focused on supporting organizations and companies that care about making a positive social or environmental impact.

Recently, we’ve been thinking about how impactful different companies’ programs are. Are they really making a difference, or are they just there for PR purposes?

While discussing a friend’s employer’s CSR strategy recently, she said that they "provide a discount on a gym membership and incentivize us to challenge ourselves in different ways with the reward of company shout outs and prizes. It's just enough for them to check off the social responsibility box before going public."

This got us thinking. How many companies are just “checking off the box” when it comes to social responsibility, and how many are actually making an impact?

To give you a sense as to what we mean, we took a look at one of the most comprehensive CSR strategies we’ve seen to date: Starbucks. Here’s what they’re doing, and why it works:

Who are they?

As most of us know, Starbucks is an international coffee company, with over 20,000 stores in over 60 countries to date. But just five years ago, the company was doing poorly. This was partially as a result of the financial crisis and internal restructuring; but, generally, the company’s future was “bleak.” As a result of this slump, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz launched a “Transformation Agenda,” aimed at investing in the company’s people. The series of initiatives launched under the agenda were centered on people, the environment, and the community. As a result of these initiatives, which we’ll dive into in a minute, Starbucks recovered financially, and even exceeded its prior revenue, by 2013. 

What are Starbucks’ CSR initiatives?

Starbucks’ social responsibility strategy is based on three pillars: Community, Ethical Sourcing, and the Environment.  Here’s what the company does to have a positive impact in each of those areas:

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

To have a positive impact on the communities it works with and in, Starbucks develops community stores that partner with local nonprofits. The nonprofits these stores work with offer services aimed to meet the needs of the communities they’re located in. Starbucks in turn donates $0.05 to $0.15 per transaction to the nonprofit partner. You can find a list of these community stores here. Starbucks has pledged to hire at least 10,000 veterans and military by 2018, and focuses on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The company also provides training opportunities for youth in their communities, and has even developed the Starbucks Foundation, a 501c3 whose goal is to strengthen those communities further. These are just a few of their many community-centric initiatives.

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

The second pillar, Ethical Sourcing, dictates the way that Starbucks purchases its products. The company is committed to ensuring that their coffee, tea, cocoa, and manufactured goods are responsibly and ethically produced and purchased. They say their “success is linked to the success of the farmers and suppliers who grow and produce [their] products,” and so they only purchase those products from farms and manufacturers that adhere to a certain standard of ethical treatment.

Corporate Social Responsibility - WhyWhisper

Starbucks refers to the planet as their “most important business partner,” and takes a comprehensive approach to reducing their environmental impact. To do this, they build LEED certified stores, are committed to recycling and conserving water and energy, and pursue strategies that address climate change on a global level. Generally, Starbucks tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible in every aspect of their operations.

Why is it working?

First and foremost, Starbucks decided to invest in its people and the communities they work with. When a company puts people first, and focuses on making positive changes for the communities they work with and serve, consumers notice. In fact, studies show that when companies support social or environmental issues, 93% of consumers have a more positive image of that company. Starbucks’ strategy and resultant outcomes are proof positive of that study. Plus, when companies like invest in their people, they see less turnover, and employees become advocates of the company as well.

What’s more, each year, Starbucks publishes a Global Responsibility Report (in 9 different languages!), that shares data highlighting the impact they’ve had over the past year. They use this data to inform the coming year’s strategy, so as to ensure their programs are as effective as possible. Rather than simply coming up with a CSR strategy and blindly sticking to it, Starbucks takes the time to measure and evaluate its programs.

We’re not suggesting that your business’s social responsibility strategy should be on Starbucks’ level – not right off the bat, at least. But it’s not enough for businesses to do "just enough to check off the box". Thoughtful CSR programs aren’t just PR stunts or a show for investors, and the companies that are really succeeding are proof that these programs can be hugely impactful if implemented well.

Do you know of an awesome CSR program that you think is worth talking about? What about one you think could use some improvement? Share with us in the comments – we’re interested. 

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Just Jump: How Yellow Tractor is Empowering Change Through Gardening

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Just Jump: How Yellow Tractor is Empowering Change Through Gardening

by Kate Vandeveld

When you have an idea that you think could change the world, getting from idea to implementation takes work. And perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make in that process is what kind of model you want to use to achieve your goals.

Do you want to set up as a non-profit? A social enterprise? As we’ve seen, there are pros and cons to both options. These days, a rising number of impact-driven ventures are opting to operate under a hybrid model. This can be as a non-profit social enterprise, or as a non-profit working in tandem with a for-profit social enterprise.

This is the case for Chicago-based Yellow Tractor Project, a non-profit organization that empowers people to grow their own fresh, healthy, food in an easy and affordable manner, and its affiliated social enterprise, Yellow Tractor LLC. We had the chance to connect with the woman behind it all, Wendy Irwin, about the work they’re doing and how they operate.

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Here’s what she had to say:

Let’s just talk a little about the non-profit aspect of your model, the Yellow Tractor Project. How did it come to be?

So the Yellow Tractor Project came to be in 2009. I was actually the Grants Chair for an educational foundation in Wilmette, and this grant application came through that was so simple and I thought could have such a profound effect. So, I very unprofessionally picked up the phone and called the grant writer, and she thought I was calling to award her a grant. I felt terrible and tried to explain that we might be interested in piloting it. With her idea, I told her I thought we could change the way America thinks about food in ten years; and change the world in twenty. She was really taken aback – she wanted to do one garden in one building, not change the world.

But we met, and the idea for the Yellow Tractor Project was born. We operated for years without a 501c3, and while we raised money and got all of the logistics in place for the application, I was in testing mode. I had the social enterprise hybrid piece in my head from day one, and I started off by pitching our programs as paid programs to see if they would work.

I went into each meeting with potential partners prepared to ask them for funds from specific budget buckets. I knew they’d go for old school foundation money if I didn’t, which we couldn’t get because we didn’t have 501c3 status.  Without it, we had to think creatively about which buckets to draw from – marketing, advertising, recruitment.

Then I quickly realized: This is so much more than food access. This very simple, easy, turnkey thing is such a solution for job skills training, for employment, for rehab. We wanted to help those who don’t have access to nutrition, and started pilots that targeted senior citizens who live in subsidized housing. They’re the last generation who has knowledge of gardening in their bones, and yet they have no access to it and their nutrition bottoms out as a result. We now have two programs in Evanston, and they’re just knocking it out of the park. One thing we were somewhat surprised to find was that, for them, the gardening was almost as good for their mental wellness as it was for their nutrition, because it built a sense of community. That was really profound for us.

We want to make it easy for people to improve their health, starting with the basics – and do it wherever they need to.

And how does Yellow Tractor, the social enterprise aspect of your model, tie in? How did it develop?

As I thought through how we should develop the social enterprise piece, I realized that rather than starting at schools, we should start with the parents. Teaching kids how to garden will only work in a sustainable way if the parents know how to do it too. We tried at the YMCA at first, but it just became really obvious that we should go for corporate wellness programs. That’s where adults spend the bulk of their lives – at work. We decided it made sense to reach them there. And it was sort of perfect convergence of things: a broken health care system and a loss of any innovation in corporate wellness programs.

And then we just did experiments to see if this would ultimately reduce health care costs. We have a five year pilot here, and for the first time ever – at this global firm we were working with –its over 100 years old – their insurance premium didn’t go up.  So we made sure at the beginning when we were developing the non-profit to build relationships with businesses that might eventually be interested in the social enterprise aspect, and it seems to be paying off so far.

Now, we offer customizable corporate wellness programs that are centered around gardening. If a corporation wants to put in garden beds and have us come in and teach their employees about how to garden, we can do that. If they want us to bring in a chef and show them how to use that healthy food to cook meals, we can do that. But one of our key differentiators is the education that we provide. When you start one of our programs, we look at your climate and location, and put together a newsletter with all of the information that you need to sustain your garden. This would take a ton of research and knowledge on the part of the individual.

Beyond the garden-based wellness programs, we also offer something called “Your Company in the Community,” and this is where CSR comes in. This is where the engagement dollars come in. We’ll take anywhere from 5 employees in a department to the whole company, and we take them out to a local community non-profit – either one that they partner with or one that we know – and take them out to do gardening projects there.

Yellow Tractor on WhyWhisper Collective

And how do they function relative to one another?

It’s sort of a classic non-profit / social enterprise hybrid model. The non-profit preceded the social enterprise, and the whole thing kind of becomes a social enterprise.  They function separately, which is hard for external parties to really understand. Yellow Tractor LLC is focused on corporate wellness programs and providing customizable paid solutions in that sector. The Yellow Tractor Project is focused on donating beds to underserved populations. Both are centered around nutrition and food access, and providing education around those things, but they function separately.

Their connection is financial: Once sales from Yellow Tractor LLC reach a critical mass, a percentage of the revenue flows to the Yellow Tractor Project as one of its diverse revenue streams. On top of that, we still do our traditional fundraising, donor cultivation, all of the things that you do in a traditional non-profit.

What is the key differentiating factor between what you offer and what people could do at home?

When we were figuring it all out, we first decided to learn manufacturing and develop a garden bed that could stand on its own and was as high quality as possible, and we created a kit of sorts that included the soil, the bed, plant sourcing. Those are the main things that have to be right in order for it to work. The wood itself has to be quality, and without it, most gardens go bad. Without good wood, people use railroad ties or anything inexpensive. These are generally treated, which leeches into the soil, which leeches into the food…and we’re right back at square one with bad nutrition. Moreover, it disintegrates in a few years, and then no one wants to do a new one again.  So we put the time into developing this product that is safe and we know will last about fifteen years.

And we use these same high quality beds on the non-profit side. Even though many business advisors have told us it’s a bad model, because they’re too expensive, we refuse to budge on that. We’re not willing to compromise the integrity of the product. When you use lower quality widgets, not only does it have an effect on nutrition, but when they fail, it lowers morality, and detracts from the entire mission.

What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in getting your programming off the ground?

We’ve faced the challenge of getting people to really adopt a new way of thinking, and understand the importance of nutrition. For Toms shoes…no one is going to turn down a free pair of shoes if they need them, or for Warby Parker…no one is going to say “Nah, I don’t need my grandfather to see.” But when it comes to nutrition, people often want to opt for the Cheetos because it’s what they know and can afford. They don’t feel like they need to make the change, and it takes work on their part.

That’s why we’re trying our best to make it easy for them – to provide the beds and materials that they need and supplement that with education.

What is your best advice for someone who wants to start a social impact project?

Don’t look before you jump – everyone’s going to tell you that you need years of research, but that’s not always true. It’s an iterative process and you’ll never learn more than what you get from just trying things and listening to people. Sometimes it will take people awhile to understand what you’re doing, but that’s innovation.


We love that Yellow Tractor and the Yellow Tractor Project are creating change on such a fundamental and crucial level. If you’re interested in their work, stay on top of their initiatives and connect with them here:

Yellow Tractor (Social enterprise)

The Yellow Tractor Project (Non-profit)

Do you know about a social impact venture that is using the hybrid model? We want to learn about them and share their story with the WhyWhisper community. Here’s how you can tell us about them:

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Want to Change the World? Start with Your Workplace

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Want to Change the World? Start with Your Workplace

by Anne Rackow

“Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Changing the world for the better can happen anywhere - even the workplace. In fact, if you own or manage a company, it’s the perfect place to start: incorporating social responsibility at work can help attract top talent and improve employee satisfaction

This is especially true when hiring Millennials. According to a study by Deloitte, a sense of purpose was a major factor in workplace choice for 6 in 10 Millennials. This statistic increases to approximately 8 in 10 for Millennials who are relatively high users of social networking tools.

While non-profits and social enterprises may appear to have a leg up in this department, traditional businesses and corporations are actually joining the movement at an increased rate as well. We recently talked about a few of these “unusual suspects” that are incorporating impact into their existing business models.

Even companies with socially conscious missions can do things on this list to take it a step further.  Here are a few suggestions for how you can create an environment that supports social justice in your day-to-day operations:

Develop Inclusive & Equal Workplace Policies

  • Implement a flexible leave policy that is supportive of major holidays for all religions.
  • Ensure that the company leadership is diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
  • Offer generous family leave for both males and females after the birth or adoption of a new child, and make sure that your policy allows you to be flexible with working parents.
  • If you contract with staffing agencies, make sure that their workers are getting a fair wage and safe working conditions.
  • Similarly, use ethical supply chains that do not use slave labor or sweatshops in the creation of the materials and products used or sold by your company. If you’re unsure where to find these kinds of products, Made in a Free World can help!
  • If you have separate restrooms for men and women, install changing tables in both. Also, consider gender neutral restrooms.

Support Your Local Economy

  • Decorate with art from local artists in your community.
  • Host regular companywide days of volunteering or offer a match plan for donations.
  • Cater events with and host company gatherings at local mom and pop restaurants

Get Sustainable in the Office

  • Stock your printers with recycled paper and print on both sides, when possible.
  • When you get new electronics, recycle the old ones.
  • In the restroom, use paper towels made from recycled paper, air hand dryers, and low flow toilets.
  • Close the blinds on large windows on nights and weekends, and use a timer to regulate heat and AC.
  • If you provide coffee in the break room, buy coffee that is fair trade and locally roasted. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making the world a better place or increasing employee satisfaction; but if it is possible to do both at the same time, it sounds like a win to us! While it may not be realistic to try implementing every suggestion on this list right away, there is at least one thing on this list that your business or organization can implement relatively easily.

 

What are some small changes that you’ve made in the workplace that have had a positive social impact? Share with us! Here’s how…

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Empower the People: How St. Luke is Making an Impact in Haiti

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Empower the People: How St. Luke is Making an Impact in Haiti

by Kate Vandeveld

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

- Howard Thurman

When you meet someone whose work and passions align, their enthusiasm and depth of knowledge is inspiring.

We recently had an opportunity to chat with just such an individual: Wynn Walent, a musician and Assistant National Director at the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti. St. Luke is a volunteer-based and Haitian-led non-profit that provides education, medical care, and vocational training in places that have been underserved by traditional service providers.

Empower the People: How St. Luke is Making an Impact in Haiti -- via WhyWhisper Collective

Wynn does incredibly impactful work in Haiti, and when we connected with him, we couldn’t wait to share his story with you. Here’s what he had to say…

Tell us about your experience in Haiti, and how you got involved with St. Luke.

I went to Haiti for the first time after the earthquake in January 2010. At the time, I was working for St. Luke's partner organization, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) in Peru. St. Luke grew out of the NPH programs, starting about 15 years ago as children in the NPH orphanage grew into adulthood and were seeking a way to transform and improve their communities. When the earthquake happened, I was in Peru working at an orphanage, and intending to go back to New York in a few months. They asked me if I would come to Haiti to help out. I planned to stay for two months, but just kept extending my stay. I stayed there full-time for about two and a half years, and now I go back at least every two months. I still work with St. Luke but I’m now based in the United States, with frequent trips to Haiti.

What is your role in Haiti with St. Luke now?

II do a variety of things, but I focus mainly on communications, fundraising, building awareness, forming partnerships. When I was in Haiti originally, it was very hands on. I worked at the hospitals, and at the cholera center that we started at the end of 2010. Cholera hadn’t been in the country before then, and it came at an extremely vulnerable moment, so I was helping a lot with that. Since then, we’ve seen over 40,000 patients in the cholera center alone.

Now, I support the Haitian leadership at St. Luke’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Damien’s Hospital, which is part of NPH. There are also two other clinics, including a women’s health clinic, and thirty two schools, including a nursing school, a secondary school, and a number of primary schools. In total, there are 2,000 Haitian employees between NPH and St. Luke together, and every program is Haitian led, which makes all the difference in the world. It's a Haitian organization. Haitian people lead, and foreign friends contribute and help at the service of their vision.

I support by making connections, fundraising, and nurturing relationships with foundations, while also working on grants and communications. I show prospective donors and supporters around. I look for creative ways to engage people in trying to understand the reality in Haiti, both the great need and the great possibility and strength.

Photo by Rebecca Arnold

What would you say makes St. Luke unique from other similar organizations?

St. Luke is unique for a few reasons.

First of all, St. Luke’s founder, Father Rick Frechette, is a really extraordinary man. He’s an American priest and doctor who has been in Haiti for about thirty years now. He's really beyond special.

St. Luke consists of two hospitals, 32 schools a job creation and production center, where we make pasta and bread and cement blocks. There’s also a restaurant, a kitchen and a tilapia farm, agriculture, clean water programs, housing. All of that is the St. Luke Foundation.

St Luke was born when the kids at NPH’s orphanage grew up and wanted to start their own organization. It’s 100% Haitian-led, with important international involvement and partners, but every program is led by a Haitian professional. It’s unique in that there is no real overhead, and resources go directly to the hands of the Haitian people, who know the local people and dynamics in the context of their country. They are so much more than capable, and we just give them the tools and resources they need to make that happen. We’ve been able to make a ton of progress as a result. Haiti is a really challenging place, and there are a lot of complicated reasons why it’s challenging. St. Luke is a great example of what can happen when Haitian people are given the reins, and given resources to make change.

We’ve also been working to integrate social enterprise into our model a bit, to provide a more sustainable income flow to the Foundation. We’re just trying to trim the margins of our budget a bit, not fully fund internally – that likely will never happen. We’re focusing on agriculture, peanuts, peanut butter, mangos, and tilapia. The model differs a bit for each: For tilapia, we sell some to local restaurants and local NGOs and use some to feed orphanages and employees.

We also build our own cement blocks, which is very impactful. This is because people often build in phases in Haiti, which is what made the earthquake even more devastating because homes weren’t complete. In making our own cement blocks, we can sell the blocks wholesale and let people pay us back over time so they’re able to build all at once, which makes a huge difference.

How have these experiences shaped you as a musician? And conversely, how has your music played a role in your work in Haiti? 

When I lived in New York, I was working with kids at a non-profit, but also playing music as much as I could. I had a period of time where I was traveling around, playing a lot of shows. But when I went to Haiti, music was put completely on the back burner, and the burner was turned off. I was just really focused on the work every day. Even now, I’m not actively pursuing music in the same way as before.

That said, my new album is based in the fact that music is such an integral part of my life and the lives of the people in Haiti. There are funerals and mass every day. I don’t really go to mass in the United States, but in Haiti, I go everyday, and it’s because I want to go every day. It’s a lot of community and solidarity, and music is an incredibly powerful part of the experience. I learned all the songs from burying the dead and spending time at the general hospital, and the songs are incredible. They’re spirituals and have a country gospel feel to them. Those melodies became the songs on the record. They’re not direct translations because it wouldn’t make sense, but they’re interpretations of the songs I hear there. I’m in no way an authority on Haitian music, and there are lots of different types of it, but I’m an expert on these ten or twenty songs. I’ve heard them so many times and just love them.

Wynn Walent of St. Luke Foundation Haiti -- via WhyWhisper

Many members of the WhyWhisper community want to use their time and skills for social impact, but sometimes don't know how to get started. Do you have any advice for them?

If the interest is international, you have to go to the country you want to work in. If you want to get involved in the “developing world,” you want to go and spend time in those places so you can see the reality in 3D. You have to link up with local people and link to them for as long as possible, in order to learn how to engage and make an impact a little bit later. But the first step is really just to walk with the people that you want to help. It may sound trite, but it’s really true.

Then I would say to find creative ways to make the people you’re hoping will support the work feel like a part of what you’re doing. Rather than saying “help us make this happen,” you’re saying “you’re a part of this team – how can we make this happen together?” Help them to understand that the link is direct. And I think that the way to do that is to put the resources into the hands of the local folks so that the link actually is direct.

What's the best way for people who want to help in Haiti, or with St. Luke specifically?

A great way to become involved with St. Luke specifically is through our Ambassador Program. Our Ambassadors help us spread the word about the work we’re doing in Haiti.

There are also other things that you can do from the United States. You can host a fundraising party. Last year, there were 32 holiday fundraising parties. Some are large and celebrity-driven, whereas others are small groups of friends having dinner parties to tell people about our work and request support.

We’re always looking for people with different types of skills to get involved in our work in different ways – especially graphic designers and fundraisers, so if you know any of those, send them our way!  You can contact me directly if you want to get involved in any capacity and we will figure out the best way to work together.

 

Wynn is going on tour this summer to promote his new album, which you can download here. All he requests in exchange is a donation of your choice, 100% of which will go to St. Luke. He’ll be in New York on August 5th, joined by friend and colleague, Esther Desir, who manages St. Luke’s morgue. They’ll be singing songs from the album, and weaving in the Haitian spiritual style even further with Esther’s help. According to Wynn, her live performance is not to be missed, so we encourage you to check out the details and get your tickets ASAP.

Wynn is also writing a book about Haiti and his friends there, which will be finished this fall. Stay tuned!

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