Viewing entries tagged
Social Enterprise

Discover What's Possible

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Discover What's Possible

If you know us, you know we spend a great deal of time strategizing around ways to support social change. This past year, The Center for Social Impact Strategy at The University of Pennsylvania gave us the opportunity to join them in developing a new initiative. The result? A studio that tells stories of inspirational changemakers, and shares them alongside free tools so that anyone anywhere can take action. Not only is it exciting to put such incredible stories out into the world demonstrating progress is possible, but we love making education accessible, and this studio does exactly that.

Today, we launch, and we're so excited to see what you do with it! Let us know what you think, and feel free to reach out if you have feedback or ideas for additional stories.

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Empower Mint: Ben & Jerry’s Takes Action for Change

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Empower Mint: Ben & Jerry’s Takes Action for Change

by Kate Vandeveld

Hopefully, it’s finally started to warm up in your neck of the woods. And if so, we’d venture a guess that your ice cream intake is about to increase…ours is!

So it’s probably a good time for us to share a really cool initiative that one of our favorite companies (and a fellow Certified B Corp!), Ben & Jerry’s, recently launched as we lead up to this year’s presidential election. But it isn’t about which political candidate you should support – it’s about the greater issues that our country’s democratic system is facing as a whole.

Ben & Jerry’s Takes Action for Change

What are these issues?

The two overarching issues that the campaign seeks to address are financial corruption in politics, and the challenges that low income and minority voters face as a result of unfair voting laws. 

When the Supreme Court made the decision to give corporations the same rights to freedom of speech as it does American citizens, it made it so that “the richer you are, the louder your voice.” Beyond that, corporate money that goes through Super PACs is largely unregulated and untraceable, so wealthy donors and corporations can give as much money to the candidates they support as they’d like. This means that not only do a small number of Americans have the most power when it comes to getting their candidates elected, but that once those candidates are in office, they’ll owe their supporters and be inclined to pass laws that benefit them.

This problem is exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s recent decision to invalidate a key part of the Voter Rights Act, which was in place to ensure that citizens’ right to vote is upheld across the board. Now, states with a history of discrimination are no longer subject to the same level of federal oversight as they once were when it comes to voting laws. For example, voter identification legislation in some states means that the 21 million Americans who do not have the necessary government-issued ID can’t vote. And some states have limited voting hours to remove those times that have historically been most popular with hourly workers – evenings and Sundays – making it extremely difficult for them to vote.

How is Ben & Jerry’s working to fix them?

Through their ‘Democracy is in Your Hands’ campaign, Ben & Jerry’s is seeking to call attention to and inform a greater number of citizens about these crucial issues, and provide support to the organizations and initiatives that are working to address them.

The company launched their new ice cream flavor, Empower Mint, in conjunction with a campaign that supports recent efforts by the NAACP to increase voter turnout in North Carolina, one of the many states that has passed legislation to make it harder for people to vote in recent years. The Empower Mint flavor will benefit the state’s NAACP chapter, an organization “dedicated to ensuring the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and eliminating racial hatred and discrimination.”

Ben & Jerry's Takes Action for Change - WhyWhisper Collective

Why do we love this so much?

As you probably know by now, we’re big advocates of businesses that choose to support a particular cause or set of causes and stay committed to those causes over time. Long-term, sustained support is important for creating real change.

We also love that Ben & Jerry’s regularly uses its products and brand to support a variety of causes. They often choose to partner with social enterprises and organizations that are working for change, like their collaboration with New Belgium for action around climate change.

Plus, their campaigns always include an educational element. This one, for example, provides clear and easy to understand information about issues around voting rights and money in politics. It even provides links to voter registration, and a petition for the Supreme Court to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.

What other companies do you know of that are openly discussing the need for change in politics? Tell us about them! Here’s how:

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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:

via  Unsplash

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:

 

via  Unsplash

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.

 

via  Unsplash

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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Igniting the Flame: How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together

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Igniting the Flame: How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together

by Kate Vandeveld

One of the most important things for us all to understand is that social impact is not relegated to one particular sector or job. If you’re interested in bettering the world, you can absolutely find a way to do it.

Seattle-based musician Shyan Selah is an inspiring example. Rather than use his passion for music to pursue fame, he chose a different path: Through his Café Noir project, he is leveraging music to bring communities together and offer hope and healing to those who are struggling.

Café Noir is a series of live performances held at different Starbucks locations, in which members of the local community come together to enjoy Shyan’s music, and talk about the issues they’re facing, and how they can work together to solve them.

We recently had a chance to connect with Shyan to learn more about him, his music, and his community empowerment work – here’s what he had to say:

You started Cafe Noir as a live street performance in Seattle, with the intention of connecting with people by reaching them right where they stand. Where did the idea come from?

How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together - WhyWhisper Collective

It’s actually rather complex. My musical journey put me in a lot of different places. I’ve worked in every genre – from hip hop to soul to rock and roll to blues. All of them have their own identity as far as where people gather and how they connect.

Because I’m into outreach and activism, there’s nothing more impactful than real interaction with people. I wanted to do a music project that highlighted the importance of the human interaction, that stepped away from being overproduced or really sensational, and was all about humanity and connecting. It was born from a simple notion of connecting with people.

It’s called Café Noir, meaning “black coffee”, because I grew up around my Grandmother and other adults in my life having important conversations while drinking black coffee. It was born from that spirit.

 

The purpose of the Cafe Noir tour is to shed light on issues that affect our world and the communities we live in, offering hope and healing through music. Can you tell us how this is making an impact in the communities you connect with?

I had been doing outreach, and using music as a platform within schools and community centers, and Starbucks was kind of a next step because of their presence in so many neighborhoods – it offered us an opportunity to extend the message beyond kids.

While it’s so crucial to work with kids, the biggest problem is they still have to go home with the information we’ve shared, and we have to hope they reinforce it at the home level, which doesn’t always happen. We wanted a place where we could reach adults at the same time.

We’ve been able to impact the entire community through Starbucks, and it’s really all about empowerment. It’s about inspiration, education and igniting purpose in the people we’re connecting with. How often do we really run across people that ignite that flame, and help you find what you really care about?

 

Have you been able to measure or quantify this impact in any way? 

How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together - WhyWhisper Collective

From the baristas to the attendees, we’ve seen such a positive response to the message we’re putting out there. We also us a simple sign-up sheet to ask people to leave their emails, their comments about what we’re doing, and a note about what they’d like to see change in their communities. There are different things going on in every city, every community.

One of the things that’s really cool about Starbucks is they have a community affinity – there’s a community bulletin board at each location. In partnering with them, we’ve been able to really get into that and give everyone involved a shared voice. And we’ve seen the dialogue change in front of us, from people just talking about everyday life, to asking questions and talking about their futures. It’s really cool to see.

 

Tell us more about the youth education outreach component of your work. What does that look like, and why are you passionate about it?

This is really the core of everything I do in outreach. We’re trying to be the antithesis of standard education right now. To do that, we partner with different schools, usually starting with some type of a lecture and performance. From there, we work with the school to determine their specific needs. We’re working to customize the relationship, because we want it to be long-term. The need never stops – there are new eighth graders who need support every year.

The goal of these partnerships is to find a way to merge curriculum with passion and purpose. What’s been effective for me is going into a school, looking at the full spectrum of students, and helping them find out what they’re passionate about. Everyone has a purpose or a passion, something they’re excited about – whether it’s sports, Oreo cookies, or the next Eminem record. So what we try to do is put them in the driver’s seat of their passion.

For the kid who’s excited about Eminem, for example, we try to take them away from the celebrity concept and take a look behind the scenes. Who helped make the album, and why does it matter? There are so many people involved, and we want that kid to know about those jobs, of all of the opportunities available.

There’s a machine behind occupation that kids celebrate, and we really encourage the youth to look behind the curtain and recognize that we wouldn’t have these things without a small or large army of people making it happen. We really highlight that teamwork aspect.

This success model isn’t anything new, but we’re in a world where we only see the stars, even though there are a lot of little dust particles that make that happen. And you see the lights come on in these kids when they realize that they don’t have to be the star, but their role will still be so important.   

 

Why did you decide to connect with Starbucks for your Cafe Noir Tour? What about their company made you want to work with them in particular?

I always thought there was something unique about Starbucks, well before I ever had any opportunity to work with them. I had taken countless meetings there, and always noticed the diversity, the music, the relaxed yet focused vibe. And it was on every corner – available to so many people. I really believe that you can have a big impact by focusing locally, and I thought that partnering with Starbucks would be a great way to do that.

 

For those who are interested in connecting with a company like Starbucks to support a social impact project, we would love to learn more about how you made that happen. How did you connect with Starbucks, and what did the process for developing this partnership look like?

First, we presented our idea to a local Starbucks, told them what we wanted to do, and sat down and met with the management. They decided to let me come in and start performing. So before anything else, we developed a local relationship and established trust there. They loved the community empowerment aspect of what we were doing, because Starbucks is really focused on that, which not everyone knows about. And after the first 10 or 12 shows, we knew we really had something.

How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together - WhyWhisper Collective

I also have to say that in this case, in particular, I was lucky to have been connected with someone who really made a big difference in getting this idea off the ground – Paula Boggs, the Executive Vice President and Lead Council at Starbucks. I mention her by name because she is just a phenomenal, game-changing, progressive African American woman who’s off the hook – a sister of mine at this point. I just so happened to meet her about this project a couple of weeks before she was going to retire.

The night I met with one of the heads of marketing, I was told to go meet with Paula, who was actually performing down the street. I introduced myself to her, and we connected immediately. We ended up talking for a few hours, and she wanted to come see it. So she came down to see a show in the central district of Seattle, and she fell in love with it. She sat through the whole show, and basically endorsed it that following day to the corporate body.

I have to say that they let us know pretty quickly that they have no interest in becoming a record label or a touring company, but that they believed in the spirit of what we’re doing and wanted to support it. That was almost four years ago.

 

During the course of the Cafe Noir tour, was there a moment that was particularly meaningful or moving?

There have been so many! But one that really sticks out was a conversation with this young man who was at one of the Café Noir shows. He was a teenager, and was living in a nearby shelter that was just a few buildings down from this particular Starbucks.

He was feeling frustrated because he was interested in performing, but couldn’t figure out how to get started. I chatted with him, and he ended up showing me the alley where he and his friends sleep when the shelters are too full. He told me that he and his friends contemplate crime, they contemplate suicide, because life is so hard. I gave him some resources and phone numbers of people to call about his music. I heard him out, provided some support. Though I don’t know exactly what happened, it’s crazy to think that I may have stopped him from doing something bad to himself or to someone around him, at least in that moment. 

 

We love what Shyan is all about, and look forward to continuing to see his work grow and evolve. If you want to stay updated, which we highly suggest you do, check out his website. His Cafe Noir album is out and available on iTunes here. He also loves to connect on social media – you can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or most recently on Instagram.

Do you know someone who is working on impact in a unique way? We’d love to share their story – tell us about them! Here’s how:

 

 

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What We Learned in 2015

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What We Learned in 2015

What We Learned in 2016 -- WhyWhisper Collective

2015 was an exciting year! We worked to expand access to integrative healthcare for communities in need, designed programs to support new mothers, expanded awareness of clean energy initiatives in New York, and so much more. We connected with inspiring individuals who are working to change the world every day. We made big internal changes (that we’re excited to share with you in 2016!). And, perhaps most importantly, we learned a lot.

Along the way, we’ve been sure to share many of our takeaways with you via our blog. As 2015 comes to a close and you’re kicking of 2016, be sure to check out the posts below to find insights on the subjects (both personal and professional) that are most relevant to you!

Start with Yourself

This year, we learned a lot about the importance of taking time for self-care and self-improvement. The positive effects of taking care of yourself extend to all areas of your life -- from mental health to workplace effectiveness. Self-improvement looks different for each individual, and can encompass anything from taking time off, to making more responsible purchasing decisions, to educating yourself about things that matter to you. To help you get started, here’s some of what we’ve learned:

 

Learn from the Experts

We believe one of the best ways to learn about social impact is by example. This year, we’ve been lucky enough to connect with and learn from innovative and effective leaders from nonprofits, social enterprises, and corporations. Here’s a bit of what we’ve learned:

 

Share Your Message

One of our focus areas at WhyWhisper is helping nonprofits and socially conscious businesses spread the word about their work. From developing voice and messaging guidelines to implementing an effective social media strategy and beyond, there are so many ways you can ensure that people know about the impact you’re making. If you’re looking for tips, start here:

 

Think About Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The concept of building social impact into existing business models is on the rise, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Businesses and corporations can make significant headway in addressing social issues, and we look forward to seeing (and helping) more of you follow suit next year. If you’re interested in learning more about CSR, here’s some of what we’ve shared this past year:

 

Increase Your Impact

We’re constantly exploring ways that organizations and businesses can make internal changes that have a positive effect on their workplaces and on the world. Here’s some of what we’ve learned:

 

Take Action

We’re also always looking for ways to help our community bridge the gap between caring about a particular issue and actually taking action. When you’re short on resources, or don’t really know where to get started, it can be tough to make moves. We’ve put together a number of posts about how you can take action around different issues – and some are as easy as talking about the issues online! Check them out:

 

Words of Wisdom for Freelancers

At WhyWhisper, we set out to build a different kind of work structure. As such, our team is comprised of consultants who work remotely and independently, taking on projects that are personally meaningful with teammates who support and inspire. But freelancing has its own challenges, and we’ve learned a lot along the way:

What’s your biggest learning from 2015? We’d love to hear about it, and share with our community. Here’s how to get in touch:

Happy New Year to our incredible community! We’re so lucky to learn from you every day, and can’t wait for all that we’ll do together this year. Feel free to connect with us anytime – we love to hear from you.

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CSR Spotlight: Ben & Jerry’s + New Belgium Partner for Climate Change

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CSR Spotlight: Ben & Jerry’s + New Belgium Partner for Climate Change

by Kate Vandeveld

The end of the year can be stressful. Between the holidays, wrapping up work for the year, and making plans for the next, there’s a lot going on. So, when you have a chance to relax and indulge a bit, you should take it.

That’s why we were so excited to learn that two of our personal favorite indulgences, ice cream and beer, came together this year in collaboration for environmental impact. Ben & Jerry’s, a company that is well-known for its social and environmental impact, and New Belgium, a Colorado-based brewery, announced their partnership earlier this year.

Ben & Jerry's + New Belgium - Social Impact - WhyWhisper Collective

Both B Corporations, the companies partnered to release a new product for each brand: Salted Caramel Brown-ie Ale ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, and Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale beer from New Belgium. Each are limited releases – three months only! – and are sold in select locations around the country. While both sound delicious, the unique flavor isn’t even the coolest part: A portion of the proceeds from the sales of these two products will be going to climate advocacy group, Protect Our Winters (POW).  

Started in 2007 by pro-snowboarder Jeremy Jones, POW is working to engage and mobilize the snow sports community to raise awareness of and work against climate change. POW is working to use what they call the outdoor community’s “disproportionate influence” for good, through awareness-raising events, fundraising, and advocating for policy reform around environmental issues.

The aim of this partnership in particular is to build awareness of, and inspire action around, the Clean Power Plan, an effort to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants that was passed by President Obama in August 2015. The plan allows each state’s governor to determine how they’ll reduce carbon pollution in the best way for his or her state. So, on top of sales donations, all three entities are encouraging their audiences to take action by contacting their governors to ask them to make a “speedy transition to clean renewable sources of energy that pollute less, protect the environment, create good jobs, and protect the health of all Americans.” Click through here to select your state, and POW will call you back and connect you with your governor directly. It couldn’t be simpler! If you don’t want to call, you can also email or tweet at your governor – they provide you with copy for both.

Perhaps even more important than this particular initiative in and of itself is the example that Ben & Jerry’s and New Belgium are making in integrating impact into their existing business models. This short but effective marketing campaign and corresponding non-profit partnership is allowing both companies to have a positive impact in an area they care about, without having to turn their operations upside down or greatly expand their capacity. And, while we always hope that impact projects aren’t put into place for PR purposes, it looks pretty good for both companies in that respect, too.

Do you know of a company that is running an interesting social impact campaign? Share with us! We love to learn about and share unique and effective efforts to do good. Leave a comment below, or connect on social – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Also, if your company or a company you know about is interested in doing something similar, our team can help you develop an effective and strategic campaign. Get in touch!


Learn more about the collaboration between Ben & Jerry's, New Belgium, and Protect Our Winters here:

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The Ultimate Social Impact Reading List

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The Ultimate Social Impact Reading List

The Ultimate Social Impact Reading List

When it comes to the subject of social impact, we’ve done quite a bit of reading. As you likely know, there’s a lot out there – and it can be difficult to determine which resources are worthwhile.

As such, we thought it might be helpful to share some of our favorites – and some that we’ve written ourselves – with you.  

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but if you’re looking for some reading over the holidays, check these out:

Social Impact

To start off broadly, these are some of our favorite articles and blog posts that focus on social impact in a more general sense. 

Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR is a complex and ever-evolving topic, and one that is widely discussed. These articles will help you develop an understanding of what’s happening in the space. 

Social Enterprise

The concept of doing well by doing good is changing the way that social impact intersects with business. If you’re interested in learning more, these resources are a great place to start.

Personal Habits

We’ve been talking a lot lately about how important it is to take care of yourself if you want to be effective in supporting others. It can be easier said than done, but these resources offer some great advice.

Sustainability & Environmental Responsibility

Another element of impact that directly ties into social good Is sustainability. It’s an incredibly vast topic, but these are some great resources to get you started on living more sustainably.

If you’re looking for more general resources for staying on top of what’s happening in the social impact space, try these:

Have you come across an impact-focused resource that’s been particularly helpful or informative? Share with us! We’ll add it to our list. Here’s how:

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Your Eco-Friendly & Cruelty-Free Guide to Winter Gear

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Your Eco-Friendly & Cruelty-Free Guide to Winter Gear

by Kate Vandeveld

If you live in a place where it’s about to get chilly or plan on taking any winter getaways this year, you may be getting ready to buy some new cold weather gear.

As always, the change in seasons provides an opportunity to purchase products that have been sourced ethically, and that have caused as little damage to our environment as possible. Isn’t it cool that all you have to do to be better in this situation is choose the right places to shop? We think so!

To get your started, here are some of our favorite options for eco-friendly and cruelty-free winter gear:

Outerwear: Patagonia

As you may know by now, Patagonia has made environmental and social responsibility part of its mission. The high-end outdoor apparel company has worked to increase transparency around its supply chain, showing their environmental and social impact through The Footprint Chronicles.  The company ensures that all of its products are traceable and responsibly sourced, as well as fair trade certified. Patagonia also gives 1% of sales to environmental organizations all over the world. Plus, the company offers repair on their apparel through their Worn Wear program, which also recycles garments once they’re beyond repair. And their gear isn’t just limited to classic jackets and fleeces – they sell everything from denim to ski apparel.

Boots: Planet Shoes

Thinking about investing in a new pair of winter boots? If you know that you want them to be eco-friendly and ethically sourced, but you don’t know exactly what brand or look you’re going for, Planet Shoes has you covered. Their shop features shoes and boots that have been made with eco-friendly materials and are shipped in recycled packaging. Planet Shoes offers options from a variety of different brands, for different types of weather, so you’re covered no matter what you’re looking for. They also have an Eco Blog, focused on providing you with tips and ideas around living more sustainably. 

Skin Care Products: Organic Bath Co.

Let’s be real: You have to put some extra effort in to take care of your skin during the winter. If you’re going to invest in moisturizer, lip balm, and other skin care products, opt for a vendor that gives back. Organic Bath Co. was founded on the idea that taking care of yourself and caring for the planet are of equal importance. To give back, Organic Bath Co. donates a portion of proceeds from every purchase to 1% Percent for the Planet, which finances sustainability-oriented non-profits, and the Global Soap Project, which provides hygiene products to those who need them all over the world.

Coats & Accessories: VAUTE Couture

If you’re looking for outerwear and winter accessories that are a little more “fashionable” than what Patagonia has to offer, check out VAUTE Couture, the world’s first all-vegan fashion brand. The brand’s founder, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, believes that animals shouldn’t be part of the “fashion equation,” and hopes to prove that high fashion can be accomplished without the use of animal by-products. Check out their elegant collection of coats, hats and other accessories.

Do you know of other ethically sourced, environmentally friendly winter gear companies? Tell us about it and we’ll spread the word:

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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.

YTP.jpg

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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The Power of “No”

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The Power of “No”

by Kate Vandeveld

For many, saying “no” can be a difficult exercise, both personally and professionally.

When you’re starting your own business, it can be especially difficult for fear of missing an opportunity or an important connection.

The Power of "No" -- via WhyWhisper

But we’ve learned that saying no selectively can do wonders for your productivity, mental health, and work-life balance. As in many situations, saying no for the first time is the hardest step. But when your response is met with understanding, as it often is, or you start to see positive effects, saying no becomes empowering rather than debilitating. We’re not saying that you should say no to everything, of course, but that it’s okay (and healthy) to be discerning with your time.

Here are some of the positive effects that we’ve seen in our own experience:

It Increases Productivity

When you’re moving in too many directions or have too much on your plate, it gets hard to focus. Being stretched too thin usually shows in your work, and almost always in your demeanor. It’s not good for anyone – yourself or those you’re working with and for. Saying no to certain projects or requests when you don’t have the capacity or just aren’t truly interested will free you up to be more productive and effective on the projects that you care about. And, on the flip side, it will allow your client or employer to find someone who is able to fully commit to the project or task at hand.

It Allows You to Prioritize

Similarly, when you start to say no to things, the tricky task of prioritizing becomes much easier. It will become clear relatively quickly which projects and people you truly want to be involved with, and which you need to turn down or set aside in a particular moment. You’ll learn that this doesn’t mean that the things you’re saying no to are unimportant, just that you can’t do it all.  And when you prioritize things that are important and meaningful to you, you’ll feel better about the effort that you put into those tasks and relationships.

It Frees Up Your Time for Self-Care & Connection

 For many of us, self-care is the first thing that goes when we’re extremely busy. Who has time to make a healthy lunch in the morning or spend time outside when we have deadlines and meetings and events and obligations – right? It can be difficult to say no to opportunities to just…take care of yourself. But really, self-care is even more important when you’re busy. Block off time for yourself, and say no when a conflicting request arises. Make that time a priority. The same goes for spending meaningful time with the important people in your life. When you make plans with them, do your best to stick to them, even if you feel like you should be doing something else. You shouldn’t – those connections matter (a lot!), and you need to nurture them.

 

It Shows That You Value Your Time

Professionally, you may think that saying no to meetings or potential clients or projects looks bad for you or your brand. But, really, if you take the time to evaluate the situation and tactfully decline, it can have the opposite effect. Your time is valuable, and when you’re selective and focused with it, people will generally respect that. It’s not always easy to value your own time and talents – but when you do, others will too.

 

We’re certainly not experts on saying no, but we practice! And we think you should too. Sometimes, changing a seemingly small habit can have a powerful effect on all facets of your lives.

What’s a habit that you’ve changed that has made a significant difference? Share with us – we want to talk about it! Here’s how:

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Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear

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Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear

Now that summer weather is finally here, are you prepping for travel or an outdoor adventure?

You may not yet think of social impact when you think about sunglasses and swimwear, but these days, you can purchase almost anything through a social enterprise (a business with a socially-conscious mission).

Here are some of our favorite summer essentials from amazing companies that are doing well by doing good: 

 

Sunglasses from Karün

Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear -- via WhyWhisper Collective

Looking for the perfect pair of shades? These sunglasses from Karün will set you apart from the crowd – not just because of their unique style, but also because of what they represent. All frames are handmade in Chile with wood and other materials from Patagonia. Rather than cutting down forests for these materials, Karün utilizes only wood from fallen trees. With a strong focus on our connection to nature, they are extremely conscious of their impact on the earth. Their mission is to not only produce high quality sunglasses, but to do it while respecting the planet and encouraging other similar businesses to do the same. You can use their virtual mirror to try on sunglasses, and then order them online here.

 

Swimwear from La Isla

Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear -- via WhyWhisper Collective

Next up: swimwear. If you’re looking to get some beach or pool time this summer, you’re probably on the hunt for the perfect suit. La Isla offers swimwear options for men and women that are both stylish and socially-conscious. La Isla’s mission strongly emphasizes fairness to its employees, as well as the importance of the community they aim to provide to them. Not only are the majority of its employees local to Colombia, where their manufacturing facility is now located, but many of them are also head of household women. Additionally, the company supports a variety of charitable efforts and partners with a number of socially focused initiatives.



Hammock (& Other Camping Gear) from Kammok

Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear -- via WhyWhisper Collective

If you’re looking to really kick back this summer, we highly suggest investing in a hammock. And not just any hammock, but the Roo hammock from Kammok. Kammok is a member of 1% for the Planet, an initiative that connects businesses, consumers, and nonprofits to empower them to drive positive, environmental change. Through this initiative, Kammok is paired with CTC International, a nonprofit that helps Kenyan communities develop sustainable solutions to their specific needs around education, environment, economy, health and community development. Kammok also sells other camping gear and apparel, so make sure you take a look at their website before you venture out this summer.

 

Water Bottle from Klean Kanteen

 

Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear -- via WhyWhisper Collective

As we all know, it’s crucial to stay hydrated in the summer. What’s more, you have probably heard how bad plastic bottles are both for us as well as the environment. So instead of using disposable plastic water bottles, go for a reusable option.  Klean Kanteen offers reusable bottles in a wide variety of sizes and colors, so you have lots of options based on your personal preferences. Like Kammok, Klean Kanteen is a member of 1% for the planet, and gives at least 1% of their profits to initiatives and organizations aimed at preserving and restoring the natural environment. The company also actively supports the Breast Cancer Fund, helping to promote their campaigns around prevention.