Viewing entries tagged
social enterprise

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

Comment

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.

NewSociety2.jpg

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!  

Comment

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

Comment

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.

Lawren-Askinosie-WhyWhisper

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.

Askinosie-Chocolate-WhyWhisper-Collective.jpg

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!

Askinosie-Chocolate-WhyWhisper

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.

Askinosie WhyWhisper.jpg

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. 

 



Comment

Why Shopping Small Business Matters

Comment

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.

shopsmall

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.

humanrights

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

Environment

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.

community

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

Comment

Go Green: Green Blender Empowers You to Get Healthy

2 Comments

Go Green: Green Blender Empowers You to Get Healthy

by Kate Vandeveld

Social enterprises come in all shapes and sizes – from focusing on supplying clean water to supporting the cancer community. As long as the business is developed to make an impact, they’re part of the club. And enterprises that focus on health are no exception, which is where Green Blender comes in.

At Green Blender, they believe that in order to live a sustainably healthy lifestyle, you have to indulge in your health and do things that you love. Founders Jenna Tanenbaum and Amir Cohen started Green Blender to make it easy and fun to start your day with a healthy decision by providing a smoothie delivery service to those in the Northeast.

greenblender

Each week, Green Blender members receive a smoothie box with original smoothie recipes, and the pre-portioned ingredients and superfoods that you need to make those smoothies at home. They use only the highest quality ingredients with a sharp focus on working with organic and local farms – something that isn’t always easy to come by in the city.

This week, we chatted with Jenna about health, social entrepreneurship, and, of course, smoothies:

Why did you decide to start Green Blender?

Green Blender came to be out of a frustration I had around the generally accepted consensus about living a healthy lifestyle. Obviously food is crucial to our health, but being healthy is hard. We, as a society, often think that in order to be healthy, we have to go down a path of deprivation. We decide to give up carbs, dairy, or only eat grapefruit. But, as we have all found out at one point or another, that feeling of deprivation catches up to us and we regress. 

I wanted to start a company that lets people indulge in their health. If you love the food you are eating and it also happens to taste great and be easy to make, then that's sustainable. Investing in health is one of the smartest placed bets you can make.

What would you say have been the most challenging aspects of building a social enterprise? 

I think that the most challenging aspect of building a social enterprise is just being patient. I'm the type of person that, once I have an idea, I want it to come to fruition right now. That can get tricky when you're on a mission to change health habits.  

jenna&amir

What has been the most rewarding part of your experience as a social entrepreneur?

The most rewarding part about being a social entrepreneur is seeing how we have helped people redefine their attitudes about food and health. Members tell me all the time that they have never felt better. It's not just about making smoothies – that's really just a starting point. This is about having fun with your health and feeling amazing in the process. 

How do you envision Green Blender growing over the next 5 years?

I see Green Blender becoming a place where people can go to feel empowered. We firmly believe that there is no one way to lead a healthy lifestyle. It is entirely up to you and how you feel. I want Green Blender to become a place to help facilitate that realization. 

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started Green Blender?

When I first started Green Blender, I was afraid to make a mistake. I spent too much time making sure that different projects were absolutely perfect, only to launch them and realize they needed to be adjusted anyway. 

smoothies

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

Just go for it. It's never the right time to start, but once you do, you'll never look back. People become social entrepreneurs because they are passionate about something, and they let that passion show through. When you decide to get started, I suggest writing down why you took that leap of faith on a piece of paper. On the days you're feeling lost, you can look back and read what you wrote. Without a doubt that will give you a second wind. 

We couldn’t agree more with Jenna’s philosophy about empowering individuals to live sustainably healthy lives! And we can absolutely relate to her learnings along the way.

After a week of overindulgence, it’s time to get back on the health train. And we can’t think of a better, easier, and more inspiring way to do it than with Green Blender. Check them out, and take a step toward a healthier, happier you. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest – they're social!

And if you aren’t in the Northeast, but want to try out the superfood goodness that Green Blender offers, check out their holiday smoothie pack – it includes 10 amazing and creative smoothie recipes and a superfood sampler.

Are you inspired by a unique social enterprise concept? Tell us about them in the comments below, make an introduction via email, or let us know on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t forget to join the WhyWhisper party on Instagram!

2 Comments

How Everyday People Are Solving the World’s Biggest Problems

Comment

How Everyday People Are Solving the World’s Biggest Problems

sparkchange.jpg

Changemakers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are larger-than-life CEOs of social enterprises, some are fighting for policy change, some are doing on-the-ground work to provide healthcare, and some are just people who got tired of seeing a problem that seems fixable go unfixed. More and more, we’re seeing changemakers in the latter category – people who encounter a problem and just know that there has to be a way to change it.

Here are a couple of those inspiring changemakers: 

The Ocean Cleanup

At just 16 years old, Boyan Slat was bothered by something that he encountered on a dive in Greece – everywhere he turned, he saw plastic bags floating around in the water. He was frustrated by the problem, and set out to solve it. During secondary school, he spent a year and a half researching plastic pollution, and learning about the problems associated with cleaning it up. He developed a passive cleaning concept called The Ocean Cleanup that would attach floating barriers to the sea bed that would concentrate plastic before extracting it from the ocean. With this concept, the collection process would be entirely driven by natural winds and currents. The concept also uses solid barriers, rather than nets to avoid capturing sea life. Slat led a team of 100 through a feasibility testing process, and the concept was proven to be likely feasible and financially viable. He then launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly $2.2 million – money that will allow The Ocean Cleanup to begin the pilot phase. 

FreshPaper by Fenugreen

1601471_10152728135508874_760933931946274339_n.jpg

When Kavita Shukla drank some tap water while visiting India, her grandmother gave her a mixture of spices to keep her from getting sick. Shukla realized that this same concoction could be used to do something that would help many others. After extensive research and testing, she found that her grandmother’s remedy could also be used to keep food fresh, and she founded Fenugreen. Fenugreen is “addressing the enormous, yet often overlooked global challenge of food spoilage with a simple innovation – FreshPaper.” FreshPaper gives the 1.6 billion people in the world without refrigeration access to fresh food, and prevents food spoilage at food banks and pantries that have otherwise struggled to keep fresh and healthy food. Shukla’s innovative solution to this problem is mitigating the 25% of our global food supply that is lost to spoilage each year.

Eco-Fuel Africa

Or take Sanga Moses, a man who revolutionized the fuel industry in in Uganda because he was frustrated by the fact that his young sister was spending so much of her time tracking down wood for the family’s cooking fuel. At the time, Moses was an accountant in Kampala, the country’s capital, but he promptly quit his job and used his $500 savings to develop a source of affordable and clean cooking fuel. Eventually, Moses came up with a machine that converts charcoal into briquettes that replace the need for wood or other makeshift fuels that have negative effects on the environment and health. Moses developed this concept so that women in his village would no longer have to use their valuable time in search of wood, but the positive effects of the concept actually extend far beyond that. Now, thousands of Ugandan farmers use the system to convert agricultural waste into charcoal, augmenting their incomes and creating jobs for thousands more. 

These changemakers didn’t initially set out to change the world, but they saw a problem and were tenacious in their efforts to fix it.  And because of that tenacity, people like Boyan Slant, Kavita Shukla, and Sanga Moses are changing the world.

Do you know of an everyday changemaker who is solving a large-scale global issue? Let us know! We would love to write about their accomplishments.

Comment

Run for Another: Janji Creates Running Apparel for a Cause

Comment

Run for Another: Janji Creates Running Apparel for a Cause

by Kate Vandeveld

Amongst social entrepreneurs, there are often many similarities – passion, tenacity, and a desire to contribute to creating substantial social impact. But each of these visionaries has a different story to tell, and we want to share them with you.

This week, we chatted with Dave Spandorfer, co-founder and president of a growing social enterprise called Janji. Janji, which means “promise” in Malay, is a running apparel company that provides clean water to those who need it in countries all over the world. Here’s how it works: A portion of the proceeds from each piece of Janji running apparel goes toward providing clean water to communities in a specific country. The piece is crafted with that country in mind, and its design is based on the country’s flag. This way, those who are interested in supporting a project in a particular country can choose their apparel accordingly.  

Both long-time runners, Spandorfer and co-founder Mike Bernstein built Janji so that they could combine two things that they’re both passionate about – running and making an impact in the lives of others. Two years after its launch, Janji is a full-fledged operation with five full-time employees, and has helped to provide clean water to people in six countries – Haiti, Kenya, Peru, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the United States. Here’s what Dave has to say about his experience as a social entrepreneur:

Why did you decide to start Janji?

We started Janji after graduating from college, but the idea was born a few years earlier.

Mike and I were at an NCAA track meet in college, and it was just brutally hot.  During the meet, we felt so fortunate to have clean water – we were being sprayed down with it on one side, and getting cups of water on the other. As runners, I feel like we’re really in tune with our own personal experience, and I realized that I 100% would have passed out without the water that we received that day. It struck us that having that water was so vital, and made us really think. We started the business plan for Janji right then and there, and launched in 2012.

Why did you choose the for-profit social enterprise model for your business?

We knew that in order to have the greatest impact, we would need to grow Janji to be as big as possible. People don’t buy running apparel because it’s for a good cause – they buy it because they’re looking for high quality gear. So we didn’t want to be strictly for-profit or non-profit; we just wanted to make sure that we were producing great gear that is also for an important cause.

What would you say have been the most difficult aspects of building a social enterprise?

I would say that just getting the name out there has been the hardest part. People know Adidas, Under Armour – and people are drawn to brands that they know. So our biggest challenge has been figuring out how we get people to know that when they’re seeing Janji in a running store, that it’s going to be for something bigger than themselves. How do we make sure that people know that they’re getting really, really great gear when they buy Janji products?

To address that problem, we do a lot of events where we can show people our products, a lot of social media engagement, we were recently featured in the Boston Business Journal…anything we can do to spread the word about Janji. Because once people know what Janji is all about, then they start to spread the word to their friends and that’s really impactful.

What has been the most rewarding part of your experience as a social entrepreneur?

I would say that there are two things that have been the most rewarding parts of building Janji: Giving back – actually writing checks to our partners and seeing the impact that we’re making firsthand – that really does create an incredibly rewarding experience.

Also, when someone comes back and just raves about their experience with their Janji gear – that’s huge. We put a lot of work into it; we craft each piece of gear, and spend months and months perfecting it, so it’s really rewarding to hear that someone is really happy with it.

When someone really enjoys their experience with the gear and then they find out that it’s also going toward a good cause – that’s really, really cool.

How do you envision Janji growing over the next 5 years?

We definitely want to keep expanding on the great product lines that we already have and continue to grow. This week, we actually launched our first-ever crowdfunding campaign for a new shirt that we’re developing. Once we hit our fundraising goal, we launch right then and there. With the development of this shirt, we’ll be able to provide clean water to 350 people in Uganda. At 40 hours into the campaign, we’re already at 50% of our goal, so we’re really excited about it.

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started Janji?

Part of me wishes that I knew how difficult it would be, but on the other hand, it’s been such a journey. It’s crazy all of the things that you need to think about – from things as small as how you get a particular pair of shorts to fit perfectly for all different body types. I have to say, before starting Janji, I wasn’t the most passionate about the fit of women’s tights, but now I know all about it and it’s important to me.

All in all, it’s been a journey that I feel really lucky to be a part of.

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

To be honest, I don’t think it should just be ‘follow your passion.’ I think that’s important – I started Janji because I’m passionate about great running apparel and giving back – but I also think it’s really important that you make sure that there’s a market for what you want to do before you get started.

I also think it’s really important to know what you’re getting yourself into – you have to devote 100 hours a week to your work, which most people don’t know. It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s fun, and it’s worth it.

I couldn’t be more fortunate to be doing what I’m doing, and now I just want other people to be part of the Janji community.

You can check out Janji’s apparel here. Whether or not you’re a runner, you can support Janji’s efforts to provide clean water by spreading the word about what they do – so check them out on Facebook and Twitter. And you can help them hit their fundraising goal, and provide 350 people in Uganda with clean drinking water by clicking here

Do you know of an inspiring social entrepreneur with a unique story to tell? Tell us about them in the comments below, make an introduction via email, or let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Comment

Become a Change Agent: Your Alternatives to Social Entrepreneurship

Comment

Become a Change Agent: Your Alternatives to Social Entrepreneurship

by Kate Vandeveld

Social enterprises are taking the social impact world by storm, offering a revenue-generating business model for organizations with socially-focused missions. But becoming a social entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, and there are options for those who are looking for an alternative way to make an impact. Echoing Green senior vice president Lara Galinsky put it well:

“Not everyone should be a social entrepreneur…It’s time for those of us in this field to help young people see the variety of ways and venues in which they can have a social impact.”

Sometimes, it makes more sense to find ways to create impact through existing structures, rather than starting from scratch. Here are a couple of ways that you can be a substantial part of for-profit social impact without starting your own social enterprise:

Social Intrapreneurship

Social intrapreneurship is one effective alternative to building your own social enterprise. Social intrapreneurs have been referred to as “secret change agents,” spearheading socially-conscious missions within larger existing organizations. Like social entrepreneurs, they are motivated by a desire to create social change, and are up to the task of thinking outside the box to do so. Unlike social entrepreneurs that build their own enterprises to create social change, social intrapreneurs find opportunities to create social change within existing organizations, often those that they already work for.

Intrapreneurship may seem like an easier alternative to entrepreneurship – capital is easier to come by and sometimes even guaranteed, resources and infrastructure are already in place, and supporting teams are often built in from the start. But building a new program within an existing organization presents its own unique obstacles. Social intrapreneurs have to work within existing structures, follow rules, and find creative ways to get through red tape.

There are so many inspiring examples of these intrapreneurial change agents. Take General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who saw an opportunity for the company to focus on developing environmentally friendly products, and has made significant strides in turning GE into a major player in renewable energy. Or Gib Bulloch, who realized that his company, Accenture Development Partners, was in a unique position to offer business and technology consulting to organizations involved in the development sector. His motto? “Affecting even small change in large organizations can lead to significant positive social impact.”

These larger-than-life examples are certainly inspiring, but you don’t have to be a CEO to implement social change from the inside out. James Inglesby, a category manager for deodorants and skincare at Unilever, was tasked with looking for new business opportunities for toilet cleaning products. When he discovered that 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to proper sanitation, he decided to develop a program in Ghana that offers Unilever-branded and affordably-priced toilets, as well as a locally-run toilet cleaning service that uses Unilever cleaning products.

So if you see an opportunity to create social change at your day job, don’t dismiss it. Intrapreneurs may not start their own companies, but their efforts to change the way that existing systems work is also extremely valuable. 

 

Social Franchising

Another alternative to social entrepreneurship is social franchising. McDonald’s and Walmart have given franchising a bad name, but social franchising may just restore your opinion of the concept. Social franchises are simply organizations that replicate a social enterprise business model that has proven to be effective.

There are many benefits to social franchising that makes it an appealing option for creating change. One benefit is that social franchising allows for rapid set-up and scaling. Because the central organization has already gone through the trial and error process and has documented their success, franchisees simply have to replicate the successful approach. Social franchising allows organizations to hit the ground running by adopting proven best practices.

Franchisees have the benefit of starting off with the credibility and support of the central organization, and have an established network to tap into when they need it.  Because the concepts that social franchisees are replicating have already proven to be successful, there is also a much smaller financial risk involved.

Education for Employment (EFE) is a great example of an effective social franchise. EFE is a social enterprise that works to create economic opportunity for unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa by providing professional and technical training that leads directly to jobs and entrepreneurship support. EFE affiliates are locally-run, meaning that each of its branches operate independently, but with EFE’s credibility and access to necessary resources as a part of the EFE franchise. This allows local affiliates to set up and scale quickly, using EFE’s model as a guide while simultaneously crafting solutions that are specific to their area.

Another social franchise model is the micro-franchise. Living Goods, an organization that empowers individuals in Uganda and Kenya to become micro-entrepreneurs, uses the micro-franchise model. Living Goods’ micro-entrepreneurs sell affordable, life-changing products like clean cookstoves and anti-malaria treatments to others in their communities. Living Goods provides them with a below-market inventory loan to get started and a free “Business-in-a-Bag” with uniforms, marketing collateral, and basic health and business tools, as well as training and support along the way.

These examples are just two of many organizations that have used the social franchise model to dramatically scale impact. Social franchising provides passionate individuals with another effective avenue for contributing to social change. 

No one path is necessarily better or more effective than another; what’s important is that you find the path that’s right for you and your talents and you take it.

Know of another alternative to social entrepreneurship when setting out to create social change? Let us know about it in the comments below, or share with us on Facebook or Twitter.


Comment

Creating Sustainable Social Change: The Ashoka Model

Comment

Creating Sustainable Social Change: The Ashoka Model

by Kate Vandeveld

For those who are looking to get involved in the world of social entrepreneurship, there are plenty of potential issues to consider – funding, the existence of an adequate support network, and how to build a team that can help you turn your ideas into impact, just to name a few.

It can be difficult to create sustainable social change on your own – but luckily, you don’t necessarily have to. Organizations like Ashoka exist to provide creative social entrepreneurs with the support they need to implement their ideas for social change. Ashoka is a global non-profit organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs across thirteen focus areas, including Venture and Fellowship, Empathy, Nutrients for All, Youth Venture, Changemakers, and Social Investment Entrepreneurs. 

To ensure that the social impact ideas they support are both fully developed and sustainable, Ashoka offers ‘critical intervention’ on three levels – the individual, the group, and the sector: 

Supporting Social Entrepreneurs

One of the many things that sets Ashoka apart as a leader in social change is its strong emphasis on the individual social entrepreneur, rather than on specific projects. Each Ashoka entrepreneur, or Fellow, must have a new idea that is focused on social impact and changes the pattern in a field. Their vision is to “advance an ‘Everyone a Changemaker’ world, where anyone can apply the skills of changemaking to solve complex social problems.”

This approach empowers individuals to create substantive and sustainable change, and evolve their ideas as they learn, rather than implement pre-determined programs and systems. Once selected, Ashoka Fellows are given a stipend for three years, and connected to a global network to support them as they put their ideas to work. 

Promoting Group Entrepreneurship

The next level of support involves connecting Fellows to a global network of peers, as well as partnerships with professional consultants. If an individual Ashoka Fellow is able to create social impact, imagine what happens when a team collaborates. Ashoka refers to this as a “network of incalculable power,” and supports it by connecting fellows all over the world so that they can share insights with one another. Through these connections, fellows are able to identify global trends and best practices, and use this knowledge to be even more effective in implementing their ideas for social impact.

Building Infrastructure for the Sector

In order to best support the social entrepreneurs they’ve invested in, Ashoka also works to build sector infrastructure that helps their ideas become more sustainable. This supporting infrastructure includes “seed financing and capital, bridges to the business and academic sectors, and strategic partnerships that deliver social and financial value.” Ashoka recognizes that social entrepreneurs need capital and partnerships in order to succeed, and this level of Ashoka’s support ensures that entrepreneurs have access to them as they’re implementing their world-changing ideas. 

Ashoka’s multi-level approach to supporting the social entrepreneurs is both effective and sustainable, due in part to the fact that each year, Ashoka measures the impact their Fellows have on creating substantive systemic change.  Their annual Measuring Effectiveness study surveys Fellows that were elected 5 and 10 years prior, with a goal of determining whether or not they have revolutionized the fields in which they work. They do that by identifying 5 paths to social system change:

  1. Market dynamics and value chains
  2. Public policy and industry norms
  3. Full inclusion and empathy
  4. Business-social congruence
  5. Culture of changemaking

Each path asks questions designed to determine the effectiveness of the Fellow. Ashoka is then able to apply this data towards improving their approach, going forward.

Whether or not you want to work with an organization like Ashoka to achieve your social entrepreneurship goals, you can apply their principles to your own plan: start with a social impact idea that changes the pattern in a field, develop and utilize a strong support network, and evolve based on consistent assessment of your progress.

Do you know of other similar organizations that are making sustainable social impact? Let us know in the comments below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter.

Comment

Social Enterprise Models for Making a Sustainable Impact

Comment

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

Comment

How to Run an Online Campaign with User Generated Content

Comment

How to Run an Online Campaign with User Generated Content

by Shanley Knox

When it comes to running a successful online campaign, the key is no longer just in offering great content to your users. Instead, it's important to create a campaign that convinces your followers to generate the content themselves.

So, just how do you do that?

Set Measurable Goals

Before beginning your campaign, it's important to explore your purpose. Do you want to increase your reach? Educate others? Generate sales leads? Your goal should be clearly defined, so as to inform your strategy and content.  

Make it Worthwhile

Once you’ve laid out your campaign goals, it's important to ensure that you're offering fans value in exchange for providing you with content. In order to identify what makes them tick, you need to do some research. Do your fans want visibility across your platforms? Recognition for a donation? An opportunity or a prize? Once you pinpoint exactly what it is that they’re looking for, you can craft your campaign content around it.

Develop Toolkits to Support Your Fans

What do you want your campaign partners, stakeholders, and fans to do? Do you want them to share your logo, tweet a certain link, or post photos that incorporate your product? Make sure you create a comprehensive list, as this will help to ensure your campaign goals are met by the content your fans are generating. To set yourself up for success, make downloadable toolkits readily accessible, including sample tweets, shareable logos, photos, testimonials, and more.

Create Campaign Ambassadors

Campaign ambassadors are online users who spread the word on your behalf through their social accounts and personal networks. Often, your existing fans and supporters make the best campaign ambassadors. Request participation via email, and routinely follow up with specific tasks that maintain campaign momentum.

Another way to generate campaign ambassadors is to put up a registration page on your website.


Invite Fans to Collaborate

Host a Twitter chat, feature guest bloggers, invite guest pinners to your Pinterest boards. By inviting fans to collaborate with you, you're helping to create buy-in between you and your fans, while also incorporating new thoughts and/or aesthetics, and driving visibility amongst fan networks.


Engage

Don’t forget to monitor your campaign daily, and engage with your fans throughout. Like their posts, comment on their entries, share their content.... let them know you appreciate their involvement. 

Have you hosted a successful campaign focused on user generated content? Tell us in the comments below, or contact us via Facebook, Twitter or Email

Comment

Sell Your Product First and Your Story Second

Comment

Sell Your Product First and Your Story Second

by Shanley Knox

 Nowhere has business become more purposeful than in the world of social enterprise. New businesses are constantly cropping up with world-changing missions, messages of empowerment, and products to address even the worst of society's issues.

In a world where nearly half of global consumers are willing to pay extra for socially responsible products and services, it's becoming a growing challenge for social enterprises to stand out against other cause-oriented products and services. 

In his recent piece, “Social Enterprises Must Move Beyond Purpose,” Heath Shackelford writes that, “your customers only allow your purpose to be a factor if you meet other criteria, including price, quality and value.”

To differentiate your social enterprise, begin by providing the best possible product or service. Then, market it like a successful business would - through effective research, market differentiation, and smart brand messaging. Afterward, tell a social story that illustrates the power of what a successful social business can do.

Here are some steps to get you started:  

Learn Your Market
Before you plan for marketing to your market, you’re going to need to know who they are. Begin by determining factors such as what kind of customer is going to pay for your product or service, and where you can find them.

Some key questions:

  • Approximately how many people out there are willing to pay for your product?
  • What amount are they willing to pay for your product or service?
  • Where are these people located?
  • What are these people interested in?
  • Who is already marketing a similar product to them, and how do you measure up against them?

Find Your Unique Selling Point 
Many social enterprises focus on the social benefits of their product, rather than focusing on the value and quality of their product itself. Now that you know who your customer is, and who else is selling to them, it’s time to identify your unique selling point... in other words, what makes your product or service more attractive than anyone else’s? 

  • Research your customer’s satisfaction with their current products or services: What do they love? What would they want to change? Why?
  • Are there certain messages that are a “no-go”? For instance, your customers may associate terms such as “nonprofit,” “fair trade” or “green” with a product that is subpar. By identifying and removing these “trigger” phrases, you remove potential purchasing barriers.

Craft Your Voice
Once you've decided how to effectively market your product, its time to integrate your social mission back into your branding, and create a voice that will consistently tell your story to current and potential customers:

  • What is the type of message that resonates most with your customers - is it people or numbers? emotional stories or statistics? formal or casual?
  • What are the facets of your social story that appeal most to the customer sector you have identified? 
  • Who are the influencers (voices that effectively influence others' purchasing decisions) in your customer groups? Wow can you reach them and convince them to share your product?
  • Which social platforms are your customers currently using, and how must you adjust your voice to meet the parameters of that particular platform? 

Looking for more support in building an effective marketing strategy for your social enterprise? Check out these helpful resources:

Comment

3 Timesavers for Social Media Management

Comment

3 Timesavers for Social Media Management

When discussing social media strategies with members of the impact community, we often hear how difficult it can be to find the time to regularly post to social channels. Many people are simultaneously managing fundraising campaigns or exploring brand partnerships and e-commerce strategies-- and while they can remember to post the initial traffic drivers, they forget to maintain their momentum.

Here are three tools we highly recommend, both for content curation, as well as overall community management. Hope you find them helpful!

Buffer
Best for: Scheduling Content 
What you should know:

  • By granting Buffer access to all of your social profiles, you can easily schedule the times your posts should go live each day or have Buffer analyze past engagement patterns to choose the right times for you
  • Add team members to share responsibility and allow for collaboration
  • Access analytics about clicks, retweets, mentions, shares, likes and more
  • Use the to Chrome extension to add content to your queue without leaving the article you're reading
  • Check out their extras to ensure you can easily share from your phone, news reader, and more
  • Remember to pause your Buffer during crises or world disasters, so as to avoid insensitive content going out at such times

Hootsuite
Best for: Community Management
What you should know:

  • Schedule posts across multiple social networks
  • View newsfeeds and interactions via your Hootsuite dashboard
  • Keep track of mentions of your brand
  • Create streams to track industry keywords, new followers, and more
  • Filter search results by language
  • Collaborate and assign messages to your team members
  • Access data on post engagements and traffic 

Zite
Best for: Content Discovery
What you should know:

  • App available on iPhone, Android, and tablets
  • After indicating the topics you're interested in, Zite provides a personal newsfeed that's curated just for you
  • Use your Quicklist to take a deeper look at articles falling into one particular category
  • As you like and share posts, Zite's algorithm hones in on your preferences 
  • Block publishers whose content you would prefer not to see

Have other tools you would recommend? We would love for you to note them in the comments below!

Comment