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Social Good

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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How Can You Better Care For Your Employees? Focus on Mental Health

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How Can You Better Care For Your Employees? Focus on Mental Health

by Kate Vandeveld

Stress and anxiety in the workplace have a major impact on both performance and employee happiness, and most working Americans experience both daily. So why aren’t we doing more about it? Or, perhaps more importantly, why aren’t we even talking about it?

There is significant stigma around discussing mental health, and this increases even further in the workplace, given expectations and definitions of “professionalism”. Despite the widespread prevalence of workplace anxiety, employees still don’t discuss it for fear of being perceived as lazy, incapable, or undependable by their peers and superiors.

In reality, it’s actually when we don’t address mental health in the workplace that work really suffers. In fact, fifty-six percent of employees say that stress and anxiety sometimes impacts their workplace performance, and fifty percent say it impacts the quality of their work. Those numbers are significant, and it’s time we address them.

In light of this, as companies are considering implementing employee wellness programs in increasing numbers, we encourage them to consider programs that address mental health, specifically. Here are a few options to get started:

Provide Free Mental Health Assessments

For those who are struggling with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues, it can be difficult to even take the first step of acknowledging it, much less actively addressing it. Whether you provide employees with access to a confidential online assessment tool, or bring professionals into the workplace to offer anonymous screenings, encourage your employees to take stock of their mental health so they can address their needs accordingly.

Offer Employee Forums & Workshops

Perhaps the most important way we can break down the stigma around mental health is simply by talking about it as openly and frequently as possible. You can do this in your workplace by hosting employee forums and workshops in which respected guest speakers come in  to talk about how they’ve managed their own mental health. Recognizing that even the most successful professionals struggle with mental health can have a huge impact on the willingness of others to open up.

Build Internal Infrastructure That Supports Employees

When feeling stressed and anxious, employees often avoid speaking to their direct supervisors or teammates about it. Instead, they may opt to forge ahead with their work, so as to avoid being perceived as a burden or a weak link. Create other options by developing new internal check-in systems that allow employees to voice concerns about their roles, certain projects, and work-life balance, and adjust when necessary. You can do this by connecting your employees with HR representatives or building in regular reviews with other employees that they don’t work with directly. On the flipside, you can also provide trainings to leaders in your business or organization to ensure that they enforce work-life balance and have reasonable expectations of the employees on their teams.

Offer Access to Yoga & Meditation

Practicing yoga and meditation can have a significant and positive effect on relieving stress and anxiety. Both practices decrease symptoms of physiological arousal, like increased heart rate and blood pressure, and encourage feelings of mindfulness and calm. In your workplace, you can provide a workshop on meditation for stress relief, and encourage employees to practice these techniques on their own. If you’re able, you can offer employees time off during the day to take an off-site yoga class, a meditation break, or even provide in-office yoga classes several times per month.

 

Before you determine which program is best for your team, its crucial to first do an internal assessment. Ask your employees to weigh in anonymously on what causes them stress and anxiety, and encourage them to be open about how they manage those feelings. Taking this time will teach you a lot about how you can best address mental health in your specific workplace.

Do you know of a particularly innovative or unique employee wellness program centered around mental health? Tell us about it – here’s how:

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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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Take a Stand for Human Rights

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Take a Stand for Human Rights

by Kate Vandeveld

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, commemorating the day that UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. To give some context, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first global expression of rights that all human beings are inherently entitled to – in other words, an extremely important step in the human rights movement.

This year, the day is dedicated to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50thanniversary of the two major human rights covenants adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1966. The theme for 2015 is ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.’, focusing on such rights and freedoms as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. You can learn more about the day and what it represents here.

International Human Rights Day provides us with an opportunity to take time out of our lives to think about the rights that we believe every human should have, who lacks them, and what actions we can take to stand up for them. 

So today, we challenge you to really think about that: What do you care about enough to stand up for, and how will you go about it?

If you’re looking for some ideas to get started, here are a few campaigns we support:

Eliminate Gender Based Violence 

An estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. And that’s a conservative estimate – as you might imagine, a large number of cases go unreported.

Not enough people are aware of these shocking statistics, and that’s the first problem. That’s why from November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through tomorrow, UN Women has been running a campaign to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls all over the world. The United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign is encouraging you to “Orange the World” by sharing photos, messages, and videos to raise awareness about the problem. If you want to join the campaign, check out their Facebook and Twitter feeds and learn how you can spread awareness yourself.

 

Stand up for LGBT Rights

In more than half of the country, the LGBT community can be denied employment just because of their suspected sexual preferences – it’s legal in 31 American states. And this is only the beginning of the appalling statistics surrounding this issue – learn more about LGBT discrimination here.

If you want to help spread awareness of the issues surrounding LGBT rights, check out the UN’s Free & Equal Campaign, a global public education campaign for LGBT equality. The primary purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and promote greater respect for the rights of LGBT and intersex people everywhere.  

 

Join the Movement for Gender Equality

Gender inequality remains a huge issue, across all sectors. To start, women in most countries earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages, and girls all over the world continue to be majorly excluded from education systems. And, once again, this is just the beginning – you can learn more here.  

One of our favorite initiatives around gender equality is the He for She campaign. He for She brings men and women together to support one another, for the benefit of both genders. They’re building a movement that creates substantive impact at the policy level, and they’re working to get the masses involved. You can commit to taking action against gender discrimination and violence in order to build a more just and equal world here, or take it a step further with help from their action kit

 

Support Syrian Refugees

Right now in Syria, 13.5 million people need humanitarian assistance. 4.3 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria – half of which are children. These people – all of them – need our help. Why now? Winter is coming, and refugees who are currently living in settlements have fewer resources than they’ve ever had. And this means that they’re more vulnerable to trafficking and other dangerous forms of escape.

If you want to provide support in this critical moment, start with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which is providing basic and necessary humanitarian aid to Syrians in need. This aid takes the form of cash for medicine and food, supplies for heating, winter clothing, and more. Every donation makes a difference, and UNHCR explains exactly how each dollar amount will impact the individuals and families who need it most.

 

On the most basic level, just talking about human rights violations on your own digital platforms (and in real life!) is so important. Think about the issues that matter to you, do some research, and spread the word. 

What are you doing to stand up for human rights today (and beyond!)? Share with us – here’s how:

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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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How You Can End the Year with Impact

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How You Can End the Year with Impact

by Kate Vandeveld

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it’s time for many of us to break out the holiday music and start prepping for the next round of celebrations. While the holiday season is one of mass consumerism and indulgence – we’re guilty of it too! – it’s also a time when we tend to feel a stronger sense of responsibility to support people and causes we care about. 

The key is channeling these positive feelings into action – and because many of us are also pretty busy around the holidays, this might be easier said than done. But if we each take a few small steps to support others, we can make a huge difference… ending the year positively and starting 2016 off on a strong foot.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Shop responsibly 

We talk about this a lot, and for good reason: making small changes to your purchasing habits can have a hugely positive impact. Being a conscientious consumer is important all year, but especially when we’re spending an average of $805 per person during the holiday season.

Our first suggestion is to shop small business whenever possible. The ripple effect of shopping at small businesses, rather than opting for large corporations, is substantial. It makes an impact on  your local economy, and reaches as far as global supply chains. If you can’t shop small business, there are other steps you can take to ensure that the products you’re buying are ethically and/or sustainably sourced. If you know of any brands, stores, or websites that you’d like to share with the WhyWhisper community, let us know! We want to help spread the word about companies that provide socially and environmentally responsible options.

Support causes you care about 

Never underestimate how much nonprofit organizations need your support. For many, internal capacity is stretched thin, and budgets are notoriously small.  

As you may know, today is Giving Tuesday – perhaps more commonly known as #GivingTuesday. It’s a great opportunity to balance out all of the spending that you’ve done or plan to do this holiday season. Just check out the Giving Tuesday website or #GivingTuesday on Twitter to find out which organizations participated, and what they’re aiming to fund with this year’s campaigns. Even if you only have a couple dollars to spare, this is a time when even the smallest donation can make a huge difference, collectively. The end-of-year funds that these organizations collect will play a big role in determining their scope of work for 2016.

Also, any company or organization that focuses on social impact can greatly benefit from your support via word of mouth. Follow them on their social media platforms, subscribe to their newsletter, and share information about their work and any campaigns or events they promote. Simply acting as an informal ambassador can be an incredible form of support. If you have expertise in a particular area that you think might be helpful to these organizations, or want to use your time to help them further their missions, consider inquiring about volunteering. If you do it, be intentional about it: Make sure you provide concrete ideas for how you can provide support, and only commit to what you’re sure you can contribute, so they are able to properly plan for the year ahead.

Focus on your own community

If you don’t know where to start making a difference this holiday season, look at your own community. Do you live in a place where it gets pretty cold in the winter? Maybe you could organize a cold weather drive at your office, co-working space, or even your neighborhood coffee shop. This way, you can make a large-scale difference for those in need, while providing an opportunity for others to contribute. Even if you can’t organize your own drive, keep your eyes open for those who are collecting various items – from jackets and blankets, to toys, to canned goods – in your community. These types of drives have become ubiquitous in many areas, and for good reason – they’re relatively easy to put together, and their impact is tangible. 

Plan ahead for 2016

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time or resources to contribute at the moment, or you’re not particularly into the holidays, or you’re already taking action? No matter waht, the end of the year is a great time to plan for how you can make a greater impact in the coming year.

How will you be active in contributing to positive change? Will you volunteer? Plan to reduce your environmental footprint? Mentor others who need support?

Think about the resources at your disposal, your personal bandwidth, and how you can realistically use them to support the causes you care about. Then, make concrete and actionable plans. If you want to support a cause, but aren’t sure which organizations are doing the most substantive and sustainable work, do the research now. Once you’ve landed on one (or several!), take the steps that we outlined above to start learning more about them, like following them on social media and subscribing to their newsletter. If you have the bandwidth to lend your time or expertise, reach out to them with a proposal on how you can support them as a volunteer or consultant.

  

What are you doing to end 2015 in an impactful way? If you have a specific way that our community can help out, let us know – we want to do all that we can. Shoot us an email, connect on social – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, or comment below.

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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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5 Reasons to Implement an Employee Wellness Program

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5 Reasons to Implement an Employee Wellness Program

by Kate Vandeveld

If you ask a WhyWhisper team member why they opted for the consulting lifestyle instead of a traditional 9-to-5, they’ll likely tell you that one of the many reasons is to take care of themselves better, both mentally and physically. When you’re working eight or more hours every day, especially at a desk, it can be difficult to find the time to move around or do the things that keep you healthy. But it’s so important!

That’s why we’re so into the recent growth of corporate employee wellness programs that are helping those in more traditional workplaces stay healthy. These days, 70% of employers offer wellness programs – and no longer are they only in the form of gym memberships. There is a plethora of options available to companies who want to create programs that work well for their employee population.

And these programs aren’t just good for employees – they are good for the businesses that implement them, too. Here are some of the reasons why it’s worthwhile to invest in employee wellness:

Attracts Top Talent

Wellness programs are no longer just a competitive advantage for companies – they’re the norm. Prospective employees actively look for these programs when comparing benefits packages, and having them in place could change the type of talent your company is able to attract. The programs subsidize health maintenance costs for employees, and, perhaps more importantly, they also show them that your company cares about them – and that matters to them.

Decreases Turnover

Not only does having a great employee wellness program in place help attract top talent, it also helps to retain it. Studies have shown that when companies care about their employees’ health by offering them opportunities for improved mental and physical wellness, workplace morale increases. Employees that are happier in the workplace and feel a greater sense of loyalty to their employers are less likely to leave, which is good for everyone. Turnover is expensive; studies have shown that the cost of turnover is generally anywhere from 16 to 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary. 

Increases Productivity

On the most basic level, when employees are mentally and physically healthier, they’re more energetic and productive.  In fact, some studies have shown that this is where your company’s employee wellness program will yield the greatest return. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Services reported that at companies with employee wellness programs, workplace productivity increased by anywhere from 2 to 52 percent. This number definitely will vary depending on your programs and your employees, but any increase in productivity is a good thing.

Reduces Insurance Costs

A study by Harvard Business Review showed that the money spent on implementing employee wellness programs comes back to the company in the form of lower insurance costs. The U.S. Department of Health and Services reported that employee wellness programs that include physical activity of some sort reduce healthcare costs by anywhere from 20 to 55 percent, and short-term sick leave by 32 percent. Those numbers alone are enough to prove that, financially, employee wellness programs are worth the initial investment.

Gives You a PR Boost 

Beyond the internal benefits that you’ll see, offering an employee wellness program makes your company look good. It’s something you can talk about on your website, to investors, and in annual reports. The best part is, this isn’t a PR stunt that will look good to the public but do little internally. As we’ve noted, the internal benefits are clear.

As you would expect, the ROI on employee wellness programs depends on a number of factors: the research done in advance, how much a company invests in its programs, and the employees themselves, to name a few. But across the board, the tangible benefits of implementing an employee wellness program are there, and they are worthwhile.

Have you seen (or participated in) any unique or particularly cool employee wellness programs? Tell us about them! We want to spread the word. Get in touch by sending us an email, commenting below, or reaching out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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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!

Do you know of someone who is doing something cool in the social impact space? Share with us! We’ll help spread the word. Here’s how:

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Behind-the-Scenes: Building a Business that's Focused on "Better"

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Behind-the-Scenes: Building a Business that's Focused on "Better"

by Alexandra Ostrow

Two years ago, I went out on my own with the goal of doing something better -- better for the world, better for my community, and better for myself. While on my journey to do better, I've been lucky to meet some of the best. Recently, I connected with Nicole Caldwell, co-founder and CEO of Better Farm, a 65-acre sustainability campus, organic farm and artists' colony serving as a blueprint for environmentally conscious living.

Better Farm attracts those who are interested in doing "better"— growing from each experience, serving their communities, and creating something that benefits the world around them.  Nicole is also president of the not-for-profit arts and music outreach initiative betterArts, which works in tandem with Better Farm to explore the intersection between sustainability and art. She has worked as a professional writer and editor for more than a decade, and her work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader's Digest, Time Out New York, and many others. Lucky for us, her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, comes out this July through New Society Publishers.

While we wait for its release, we asked Nicole if we could share some of her work on the WhyWhisper blog. Read the interview below to learn more about Nicole, Better Farm, AND her upcoming book. Weekly posts on "Being Better" start now -- for the entire month of May!

Before starting Better Farm, what were you doing? How did those experiences bring you to where you are today?
I lived and worked in New York City throughout my 20s working as a journalist. I was fortunate to land in a vocation that allowed me to meet some unbelievable people. In that decade, I spent time with voodoo healers, the SCUBA subculture of New York City, environmentalists trying to use an endangered turtle to block condo development, San Diego's homeless population, and the Yurok Tribe of Klamath, Calif. My adventures and conversations awarded me a deep sense of wonder, belief in magic, and the ultimate gift of whimsy in my everyday life. But paying New York City rent means aiming for jobs with nice salaries over those that satisfy your passions. So through normal twists and turns, I ended up in a basement cubicle working for a paycheck at a job I loathed: covering the New York City diamond trade. I felt tired all the time. I lived for weekends. I took frequent trips to Better Farm, which at the time was a defunct commune occupied only by my uncle and two other people. He and I used to daydream about ways to revive the space: offer artist residencies, host music festivals, live off the land. But I was too chicken to make a move, so I returned each time to my cubicle. It’s funny how we refuse to take chances when we’re comfortable, even if that relative comfort isn’t making us happy.

Then my uncle passed away in March of 2009, and left me Better Farm. The timing was terrible, as death always is. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him—and I certainly wasn’t ready to take on a 65-acre property 350 miles away. My grief compounded the stress. Then the floodgates opened. My boyfriend and I broke up a week later. Then I got laid off. I felt utterly hopeless. And though I applied to job after job and tried figuring out ways to dig my heels into the ground and not change, nothing stuck. I checked into therapy and started volunteering at a community garden in the Bronx. I invited my friends over and held brainstorm sessions on what to do about Better Farm. And finally, one random night on a crosstown Manhattan bus, I just knew. In June of 2009, I sublet my apartment, loaded up my car, adopted a puppy and moved to Better Farm.

What do you find most appealing about sustainability?
Sustainability is literally the act of lending oneself to infinity. It refers to actions so unobtrusive, they can be done and done again for all time, constantly replenishing and being replenished. I take great comfort in that idea—especially in this culture of planned obsolescence and impermanence. Stepping away from that linear mode of thinking and paying attention to how nature is constantly replenishing itself has changed my life.

In your pursuit of a "better" lifestyle, what are some of your biggest obstacles?
Honestly, it is hard to not make yourself crazy. If I’m at a restaurant, I watch all the half-eaten food being taken back into the kitchen to be thrown away and feel frustrated. I have mini temper tantrums constantly over throwaway cups, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, paper napkins, paper towels. Every time I leave the farm, I’m inundated with all these things people are always throwing away. I have to control myself. It is a huge balancing act to educate people about something you care so deeply about while also not going overboard and turning people off. I get impatient: with myself, with the whole world, for not making bigger changes more quickly. We are in such desperate need for a huge cultural overhaul in how we grow our food, how we treat animals who live their whole lives serving our gluttony, in how we handle our “waste”—but we don’t need more people screaming until they’re blue in the face. If you push too hard, you ultimately alienate the very people you need to attract.

What inspired you to write a book, and how long did it take to write?
New Society Publishers actually got in touch with me to say they’d found Better Farm’s website, loved the message, and wondered if I’d ever considered writing a book. It was totally surreal—every writer’s dream. The best irony to me is that I took such a risk stepping away from New York City. Naysayers at the time told me I was throwing it all away: my degrees, my career, my potential to find a partner. People wondered how I’d be able to pursue my writing and have any semblance of a good life if I moved to a tiny hamlet of 500 people hundreds of miles from everyone I loved. Better Farm was such an unformed template, no one could see what I had in my head. I take such satisfaction in the fact that it took that leap to ultimately achieve more than I ever thought possible. When I signed my book contract, I felt so gratified. I actually had done it.

In your book, you have chapters on everything from building a better business to the intersection of sustainability and art to DIY tutorials on going green. Who do you feel will benefit most from reading Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living?
I think the book speaks most to people in the same boat I was in six years ago, experiencing a sense of detachment from who they believed they were or could be. Better is kind of a call to arms for anyone who has lost sight of the things he or she always wanted to do and accomplish and experience; people who feel beaten down by repetition. The book is designed to light a fire in people’s bellies. My hope is that readers will read the last page of Better, walk outside and bark at the moon.

In your opinion, what is the one thing every one of us can start doing now to create a better world for all?
Ditch the idea of garbage. There isn’t any system in the natural world that acknowledges waste, because there isn’t any. When we live more in rhythm with the earth, we take only what we need. We don’t throw anything away. If we eliminate the idea of garbage, then we don’t buy stuff loaded with packaging. We eat clean. We compost food scraps and paper products like newspaper. We bike instead of drive. We reuse and donate instead of throw away. If every one of us lived like this, supermarkets wouldn’t sell anything packaged or processed. Every neighborhood would have a community garden fed by compost toilets and kitchen scraps. We would hang out with each other instead of watching television. We’d cook together instead of going to a drive-through.

What companies or organizations do you personally admire? Why?
I’m in love with the Gentle Barn and Farm Sanctuary. These organizations rescue abused, neglected farm animals and give them a noble retirement filled with love and open air. Our treatment of fellow living things as products is an embarrassment, and these groups educate the public on how intelligent and gentle these creatures are. I’m also really jazzed about the work Patagonia is doing to provide ethical products to consumers, and their “Responsible Economy” project that encourages people to actually buy less—an anomaly in the corporate world. Also, Tesla is going to change the world with the recently announced home batteries.  A single battery powers your house with solar energy—or you can charge it off the power grid during cheapest energy hours. The concept is going to revolutionize how we power our homes.

What advice to you have for social entrepreneurs who are working to build more socially-conscious businesses?
Smart entrepreneurs will build business models that primarily take into account how a business can benefit the local landbase, and how it can benefit the community in which it is situated. Employees and consumers alike overwhelmingly want to be involved in ventures that answer those needs. It is a great starting point and has huge returns.

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To stay in touch with Nicole and all things Better, click on the links below:

Also, check in next Tuesday for a sneak preview of her upcoming book!  

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Work Hard & Be Nice: How Askinosie Chocolate is Changing the World

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Work Hard & Be Nice: How Askinosie Chocolate is Changing the World

by Kate Vandeveld

As you may have noticed, we’re really into the idea of changing the world for the better. And, similar to almost everyone else in the world, we also LOVE chocolate. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to learn about Askinosie Chocolate – a social enterprise that creates sustainable change through the production and distribution of chocolate.

© Askinosie Chocolate 

© Askinosie Chocolate 

There are many things that make Askinosie Chocolate stand out. To start, their commitment to social responsibility, unique story, friendly and approachable messaging, and beautiful packaging. We had the chance to chat with Lawren Askinosie, the company’s Director of Sales and Marketing (as well as the founder’s daughter), who gave us the inside scoop on the magic behind the brand, as well as their impact.


Tell us a bit about Askinosie Chocolate and what you do.

My dad started the factory in 2006, after over 20 years as a criminal defense attorney, because he was ready for a change. I was still in high school at the time, but immediately became intimately involved with our new lives as chocolate makers, especially on the marketing side of things.

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For a while, at 15, I was the one handling our social media, writing our press releases, writing website copy, and packaging copy. In fact, those things are still part of my job, except at the time I had no idea what I was doing. I learned so much as I went along though, and it was fun. Even now, we're still such a small team that we're often learning on the fly. With each new opportunity or project, we learn a plethora of new skills because, well, there's often no one else around to do it and somebody has to!

I started college a bit early and graduated a bit early, because I was honestly so passionate about what we were creating that I couldn't wait to jump in full-time at the factory (which I did immediately). I have been in my role as Director of Sales & Marketing for a little over 4 years, and every day is completely different.

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We have a little saying around the factory: "It's not about the chocolate, it's about the chocolate," which sums up our philosophy of this zen-like balance we strive for between an excellent product and doing as much good as we can. Whether it's our Direct Trade practices and profit sharing with our farmer partners, our Sustainable Lunch ProgramsChocolate University, or our commitment to traveling the globe in search of the best beans and developing relationships with the amazing farmers who harvest them, it all makes our chocolate better.


As you’ve noted, Askinosie Chocolates has developed a number of incredible programs that provide food, education, and agency to members of the communities you work with. Why did you choose to incorporate social responsibility into your business model in such a major way?

We incorporate social responsibility into our business because, well, our business is founded on it. The very foundation of what we do is based on Direct Trade; without it, we wouldn't be able to make great chocolate, plain and simple. The direct relationships with farmers ensures that we have the highest quality beans possible, and the profit sharing encourages the farmers to continue to produce great beans, because it produces better chocolate, which people love and want to purchase!

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As for the other work we do, it just makes sense. It made sense for us to start Chocolate University, which is funded mainly by our weekly tours, because we wanted to serve our community, particularly our neighborhood. And it also made sense for us to get involved in our origin communities. We've worked so hard to develop meaningful relationships with our farmer partners; it seemed like a direct extension to then work with their local schools and their children and help them meet this need for nutrition, which is why we began the Sustainable Lunch Programs.

Perhaps the most exciting development of the Sustainable Lunch Programs is that within 5 years, our aim is for us to be out of the picture. Right now, Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) at local schools in the communities we work with make and harvest various local products, such as rice and cocoa rounds. We then ship these products back to the United States with our cocoa beans and sell them across the country. 100% of the profits from these products are returned to the PTA to fund lunches for each student every day. Through this process, we're basically providing them access to the market. We're also teaching them to do it themselves, so within 5 years (or less), they won't need us anymore. We see that as true sustainability. In fact, both communities in which we have the Sustainable Lunch Programs (Tanzania the Philippines) are already working toward this, and are well on their way to taking their products to the next level on their own. Of course, we’ll still be involved in their communities in other ways, because being deeply involved in the communities we work with is at the core of what we do.

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In a nutshell, we believe the social purpose of Askinosie Chocolate is to not only compensate our farmers fairly and treat them like the business partners they are, but to connect those farmers with our customers – to build relationships based on mutual understanding and appreciation, which makes both our chocolate and our business better. We believe transparency, social responsibility, and sustainability aren't just a part of great chocolate, they create great chocolate. It all goes hand-in-hand. 



How has your role at the company evolved over the years, and what is your favorite part of what you do now?

My role has evolved as the company evolved. I work alongside my Dad and our COO to run the company, and even though we manage different small teams with various responsibilities, we all work extremely closely with one another (there are only 15 of us full-time!). It's very hands-on.

Many of my responsibilities are the same as they were in high school; and in some ways they're just more challenging. Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman's and a mentor to our factory says, "Success means you get better problems--but there will always be problems." I'd say we're lucky enough now that we encounter some pretty major problems! When I'm feeling optimistic (ha!), I like to think of them as opportunities; opportunities for me to learn something, to do better. And in many ways that's how my role has evolved the most: I've become a pretty solid problem solver and I get a chance to improve that skill on a weekly, if not daily basis.

My responsibilities are so varied that I really don't have a favorite aspect, although I must say that traveling to origin countries to meet with farmers, inspect cocoa beans, and work on community development projects is not only one of my favorite and most rewarding parts of my job – those trips have also been some of my most treasured life experiences as well. 

Askinosie-Chocolate-WhyWhisper

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own social enterprise?

I don't know that I have anything that revelatory to share here that many other experts haven't already shared, but a piece of advice I happen to believe in wholeheartedly is this:

Work hard and be nice to people. In my (albeit limited) experience I've found that pursuing tirelessly what it is that you think is right or good, while also being kind and compassionate tends to yield pretty positive results. 

 

We couldn’t agree more: With passion, kindness, and tenacity, anything is possible. Lawren’s upbeat personality and infectious enthusiasm for change and chocolate are apparent in Askinosie Chocolate’s social media presence – check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And we highly recommend that you buy some of their chocolate – but that almost goes without saying.

Do you know an individual or organization who is changing the world in a unique way? Tell us about them in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We would love to help share their stories. 

 



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Why Shopping Small Business Matters

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Why Shopping Small Business Matters

by Kate Vandeveld

Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about how you can make a difference during the holiday season – from making more sustainable choices, to purchasing gifts that give back, to shopping small business. And while most of us know that shopping at small businesses is a good thing, we may not entirely know why.

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Here are a few of the key reasons why shopping small business is so important:

 

Boosts Your Local Economy

Buying from small, local businesses boosts the economy in smaller towns, and creates job opportunities in places that need it. In fact, small business job growth is huge: Over the past decade, small businesses have generated over 63 percent of the net new jobs available in the United States, and currently employ almost half of the nation’s workforce. Because small businesses are more likely to purchase their products from domestic manufacturers, by shopping local, you are supporting jobs not just in your own community, but in small towns across the country.

Economy

In addition, when you shop at small businesses, you are investing in your local community. When you shop at small businesses, around 68 percent of what you spend will stay in your local economy, versus the 43 percent that stays local when you shop elsewhere. If residents of an “average” American city shifted 10 percent of their spending to local businesses, it would mean an influx of over $235 million into that community’s local economy. Imagine what a difference that would make!

 

Takes a Stand for Human Rights

When you buy locally, you can take steps to make sure that the products you are buying are not being made by exploited or abused workers. You can ask questions about whether or not small business products were made locally, and where exactly they were made. In addition, 85 percent of small business owners pay all of their employees more than the minimum wage, so it is more likely that you will be supporting fair wages when you shop local. In a recent poll, two out of three small business owners supported increasing the federal minimum wage, as well as readjusting it yearly to keep up with increased cost of living.

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On the flipside, shopping small means you won’t be supporting large corporations like Walmart. When you shop at these large corporations, it’s very possible that you will be purchasing products that were made in inhumane conditions, where workers are overworked and underpaid, and sometimes forced to work in unsafe conditions. Walmart employees themselves are overworked and underpaid, so much so that this year, workers protested against the corporation on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. The union-backed labor campaign OUR Walmart launched a nationwide strike against the corporation, asserting that they aren’t paid enough to make ends meet. Their demands are simple and fair: they want the option of consistent, full-time work and a wage of $15/hour. These negative working conditions aren’t exclusive to Walmart; large corporations are more likely to pay their workers less than small businesses. 

 

Has a Positive Environmental Impact

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Small businesses have “a deep connection to their communities’ and environments’ needs, and therefore often have an incentive to be good stewards of their surrounding environment.” Because locally-owned businesses generally make their own purchases locally (or at least domestically) as well, they have less of a negative environmental impact when transporting their goods. On the other hand, large corporations almost always get their goods from further away. This means that they frequently rely on aircraft transport, which has greater fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions per mile than any other mode of transport.

Large food corporations also commonly use a great deal more (non-recyclable!) packaging than small farms and grocery stores. Every single day, the average American produces over four pounds of waste, much of which comes from food packaging. By buying food from your local grocery store, you can opt for foods with less packaging and therefore, create less waste. 

 

Builds Your Local Community

Local business owners are often more invested in your community’s future. So when you support them, you’re investing in the prosperity of your city.  Throughout the United States, only about 34 percent of the revenue from national chains is reinvested into the community, versus 65 percent from local businesses. This means that almost double the amount of the money that you spend at small, local businesses goes directly back into your community. Small businesses are also much more likely to give back, donating 250 percent more to local non-profit organizations and community causes than large corporations.

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Beyond their economic contributions, small businesses also support and foster a sense of community that large corporations simply cannot. Small business owners connect and work with one another, and are much more likely to actually care about their customers and the products that they are selling them. Because of this, customer service is often stronger at small businesses. For us, and many others, shopping small business tends to be a much friendlier and higher quality experience. 

 

If you want to take a step further, you can shop at small businesses that are focused on social impact – we provide some great examples in our holiday gift guide.

So when you’re finishing up your gift shopping this holiday season, keep this in mind: shopping small business is worth it, for the environment, the economy, and your local community.

What are some of your favorite small businesses? We want to make sure the world knows about them! Share with us in the comments below, or get in touch on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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Using Social Media as a Catalyst for Social Good

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Using Social Media as a Catalyst for Social Good

by Kate Vandeveld

At this past week’s Social Good Summit in New York, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter made an important statement on the subject of social media:

“Today, social media is one of the most powerful tools for mobilizing communities across the oceans and generating collective solutions to challenges in peace and health.” 

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While some may disparage social media as being a hindrance to productivity and a medium for narcissism, the reality is that social media can and should be used as a tool for creating real, substantive change.  Last week, we discussed using Twitter as a catalyst for global discourse, but that is just one of many ways that social media can be used to break down socioeconomic, cultural, and political barriers that hinder conversation and impede progress. As a generally unrestricted, and widely available means of communication, social media provides all of us with feasible ways to contribute to social good.

Here are some of the ways that social media acts as a powerful tool for change:

Spreads Awareness About Preventable Illnesses & Diseases

With social media, we have the opportunity to reach people across geographic and social boundaries and spread the word about pervasive issues to domestic and international audiences.

At the Social Good Summit, President Carter went on to speak about the effects of social media on global health, specifically the Guinea worm disease. Social media has played a significant role in the movement to eradicate Guinea worm disease, raising awareness about the waterborne parasite. The Carter Center even developed an app called “Guinea Worm: Countdown to Zero” that allows users to follow the progress of the Center’s eradication program, and provides information and other resources to those who are affected by the disease, as well as those who are contributing to its eradication on the ground. As a result of this effort, the Carter Center asserts that Guinea worm disease will soon be the second human disease to be eradicated.

Mobilizes Resources in Times of Need

Social media allows for the rapid spread of information, which is a crucial element in times of need. When a natural disaster strikes, natural or man-made, social media has proven to be an effective way to spread the word about how individuals can provide aid to those affected.

For example, when bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon killed three people and injured an estimated 264 others, people in the Boston area remained ready to assist in the recovery efforts, despite their personal fears and the obvious devastation.  Social media platforms became the favored method of disseminating information. As the city watched social media for more information, the American Red Cross used Twitter and Facebook to encourage Bostonians to donate blood. The bombings took place on the afternoon of April 15th, and by that very evening they had enough blood to treat all victims

Calls Upon Communities to Identify Criminals

With 271 million active monthly Twitter users and over 1.2 billion active monthly Facebook users, these platforms act as an effective means of securing information that could have taken months or even years to obtain in years past. Now, when a question is posed on these social media platforms, engaged users are often eager to respond with their knowledge and opinions, much of which is useful from a practical standpoint.

On occasion, social media has even helped authorities identify alleged criminals. On September 11th, a group of Philadelphia residents allegedly attacked a gay couple in what has been widely acknowledged as a hate crime. Authorities were able to capture an image of the attackers from surveillance footage, and shared it on social media in an attempt to identify them. In a matter of days, word spread across Twitter, and the alleged attackers were identified and arrests have now been made

These are just a few of the many ways that social media can act as a catalyst for social good. How do you use social media to further social good? Let us know in the comments below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter.

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Social Enterprise Models for Making a Sustainable Impact

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Social Enterprise Models for Making a Sustainable Impact

by Kate Vandeveld

One of the biggest challenges non-profit organizations face is finding funding for their operations. Often, small non-profits are forced to spend significant time and resources in search of funding, thereby taking time away from their ability to focus on the work they set out to do. For a long time, it seemed like a thick line was drawn between business and philanthropy, and it was difficult for non-profits to find alternate means of sustaining themselves.

With the rise of social enterprises, this line has been blurred. These days, companies and organizations with socially conscious missions are being built on for-profit business models, and the concept of “doing well by doing good” continues to gain momentum.

There are many types of for-profit business models that socially-focused companies and organizations use to create sustainable change – here are just a few:

Engineering for Affordability

In the developing world, there is an extreme need for basic products and appliances that have a huge impact on health, safety, and day-to-day living. Social enterprises that design and engineer these products in a simple, inexpensive, very effective manner subsequently sell them in places where they are needed at very affordable prices.

Clean Cookstoves is a social enterprise whose goal is to mitigate and prevent health issues that develop from cooking over an open fire. By designing and producing simple cookstoves that eliminate this problem, and selling them at very low cost to individuals in places that are lacking them, they are on track to foster the adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million households by 2020.

E-Commerce Platforms

One very effective way to empower communities in need is to provide them with a platform for selling goods that they are able to make themselves. These businesses generate revenue through sales, a portion of which goes back to the makers and a portion of which funds their own operations. 31 Bits, a company that sells jewelry handmade by a team of Ugandan women, is built on this model. Their jewelry is made from 100% recycled paper sourced in Eastern Africa, so they are able to consciously expand production, according to demand.

Similarly, e-commerce company Rose & Fitzgerald sources handmade, locally-sourced products from Ugandan artisans, and re-sells them on their website. The company invests in machinery and assists with design, empowering these artisans by providing them with consistent business and opportunities for training and growth.

Buy-One Give-One Model

The one-for-one model is perhaps one of the best known in the social good for profit realm because of companies like TOMS and Warby Parker. In this model, whenever a customer purchases an item – in this case, shoes and glasses, respectively – a pair is given to a person who needs it in a developing country. This model is highly successful, because it relies on asking people to purchase items that they would likely have purchased anyway.

Another great example of this model is Kno Clothing, a clothing retailer that for every purchase made, provides an article of clothing to those in need here in the United States. Additionally, they only keep 50% of proceeds from every purchase, giving the remaining portion of the other 50% to their partners, who work to provide housing to homeless populations. All production materials are fairly traded and organic, so the whole operation is socially and environmentally conscious.

Service Providers

Social impact doesn’t always come in tangible forms; many social enterprises provide services rather than goods. These organizations and businesses provide a range of crucial services that collect revenue while making an impact on the world.

 One example of such an enterprise is Bright Funds, which helps individuals decide where they should donate their money. Often times, people are interested in making donations, but they don’t know enough about relevant organizations to feel comfortable making substantial donations. Bright Funds provides analysis of organizations’ work and efficacy, thereby informing prospective donors. A portion of each of donation is then allocated toward Bright Funds’ operations.

Products for a Cause

Another social enterprise model is a combination of service provider and buy-one give-one. Companies like Janji, a clothing company that designates a portion of proceeds from specific items to mitigating a problem, fall into this category. With companies like Janji, customers can choose where their money is going by purchasing a unique piece of clothing.

 Some of these companies even give individuals a chance to choose where the proceeds go. Drink Give is one such company, donating ten cents of every beverage sold to the local charity of the purchaser’s choosing. So every time you buy a Drink Give beverage, you make a difference in the community of your choice.

The social enterprise model is opening the door to a whole new way of creating social change by  developing sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and difficult problems.

Know of another social enterprise model that is making a big impact? We’d love to hear about it! Comment below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter

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The Best Social Good Campaigns of the 2013 Holiday Season

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The Best Social Good Campaigns of the 2013 Holiday Season

Each year, countless bloggers and publishers post a roundup of their favorite holiday campaigns. Since these lists always serve as inspirational marketing thought-starters, we decided to create our own. 

The below slideshow features campaigns put on by nonprofits, social enterprises, impact-focused brands -- and even large corporations. The one theme that runs through all of them? In some way, they were focused on social good. 

The Best Social Good Campaigns of the 2013 Holiday Season

Have more to add?

Note them in the comments below -- we would love to help spread their message!

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