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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.vplstore.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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