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social entrepreneur

Just Jump: How Yellow Tractor is Empowering Change Through Gardening


Just Jump: How Yellow Tractor is Empowering Change Through Gardening

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

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


Here’s what she had to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Tractor on WhyWhisper Collective

And how do they function relative to one another?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Tractor (Social enterprise)

The Yellow Tractor Project (Non-profit)

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


The Power of “No”


The Power of “No”

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

The Power of "No" -- via WhyWhisper

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

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

It Increases Productivity

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

It Allows You to Prioritize

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

It Frees Up Your Time for Self-Care & Connection

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


It Shows That You Value Your Time

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


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

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


Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear


Your Socially-Conscious Guide to Summer Gear

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

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

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


Sunglasses from Karün

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

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


Swimwear from La Isla

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

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

Hammock (& Other Camping Gear) from Kammok

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

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


Water Bottle from Klean Kanteen


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

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


Snacks from Peeled Snacks

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

When you’re out in the hot summer sun, you’ll likely want to keep a snack on hand to keep your energy high. Instead of just grabbing for something at random (as we all often do), try out these healthy, organic, non-GMO AND gluten-free options from Peeled Snacks. From baked snap peas to dried fruit to trail mix, their snacks are nutritious, and they can easily be taken on-the-go. A certified B-Corporation, Peeled Snacks’ high standards for accountability and transparency make them an excellent option for summer snacking. 


Sunscreen from Burt’s Bees

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

Hands down, one of the most essential items on your summer list is sunscreen. But luckily, the days of slimy, thick sunblocks are long gone. One of our favorite options is Burt’s Bees, an amazing line of natural skincare products (including sunscreen and other summer products). Their dedication to responsible sourcing, conscientious packaging, and minimizing their operational footprint is what really makes them stand out. They established the Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation, a nonprofit that is “dedicated to sustaining charitable, grassroots initiatives that support human and honeybee health” in 2007, and the foundation has donated over $1 million in grants since then.


Skateboard from Comet Skateboards

Okay, so maybe this one isn’t an essential, but we thought it was pretty cool. If you’re looking to take up a new sport this summer, what about skateboarding? If you’re into it, try a board from Comet Skateboards. The designs alone are cool enough to make us want to learn, but the company’s mission is what really seals the deal.   Another certified B-Corporation, Comet is committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility. 


Did you find what you were looking for? Or are there other summer essentials on your list? Share with us. We’ll put the word out and be sure to get the information you need! Here’s how to do it:


The Pros & Cons of Freelancing


The Pros & Cons of Freelancing

by Kate Vandeveld

As you may know, the freelance economy is booming these days, with freelancers set to outnumber full-time employees by 2020.

As freelancers ourselves, many of us hear the same question from our networks over and over again: “Do you think I should try it?” The answer might seem simple to other freelancers (yes!), but the truth is…freelancing is not for everyone.

Pros & Cons of Freelancing - via WhyWhisper Collective

As with almost everything, freelancing has its pros and cons. Since we’re familiar with both sides of the story, we’re happy to share our thoughts on the subject. Let’s start with some of the benefits:

All Kinds of Freedom

This one tops the list. With freelancing comes freedom of all kinds. Freelancers have the freedom to create their own schedules, so they can choose to work at the times of day when they’re most effective, rather than forcing themselves to work at pre-determined times. They can go for a walk on a beautiful day, grab a long lunch with a friend, or just take a break when they aren’t feeling particularly productive. When you freelance, not only do you get to choose when you work, but where you work as well. Are you more productive at home? Go for it. Need to be around others? Try a co-working space or a coffee shop. You can develop your own routine, or opt to mix it up. Plus, as a freelancer, you aren’t confined to a limited number of vacation days. Most of the time, freelancers can work from anywhere with a Wifi connection, so you can travel anywhere without disrupting your workflow.

Perhaps even more important than choosing when and where you work is choosing who you work with and for. At WhyWhisper, we prioritize working with the right people and organizations. We choose to work with individuals who are kind, collaborative, and passionate above all else, and with businesses and organizations that are making a positive impact on society. Before setting out on your own, define the types of people, companies, and organizations with whom you feel you would work well.


Uninhibited Growth

As a freelancer, you have the opportunity to grow your career in whatever direction you desire, creating your own opportunities for advancement. In a corporate environment, your career development is often bound by internal structure and protocol. Though you can advocate for a promotion or more responsibility, it’s not always in your control. When you work for yourself, you can choose how much you want to take on and decide how much you want to charge for your services. It’s not always this simple, but generally, the more you put into your work, the more you can get out of it. 

Speaking of rates, freelancers also tend to make more than salaried employees, on average. In fact, the average freelancer makes 45% more than the average full-time employee. Of course, this depends entirely on your skill-set, experience, and the number of projects you are able to take on, and it doesn’t account for benefits, but the possibility of making more is there. 



When you work eight or more hours each day, one of the hardest things to achieve is balance. You’re working on someone else’s schedule, so it can be difficult to incorporate the things that keep you happy and healthy. Because employee satisfaction has such a strong correlation with productivity, many companies have worked to develop corporate wellness programs in recent years. But when you work for yourself, you don’t need corporate wellness programs – you can do yoga at 10am when classes aren’t full, or wake up and go for a jog on a nice morning. When you’re a freelancer, you have the ability to determine what work-life balance means to you, and develop a schedule that achieves it.

Pros & Cons of Freelancing -- via WhyWhisper Collective


Now, let’s take a look at some of the drawbacks, as we see them:


Most would say that one of the biggest cons of freelancing is the lack of reliable cash flow. When your projects vary month-to-month, so does your income, which can be difficult to manage for some, especially at the beginning.

This means that, as a freelancer, you almost always have to be making moves and selling your skillset. It can be fun – you learn a lot, and have the opportunity to meet cool people almost every day, if you’re lucky. But sometimes, it can be exhausting. As a freelancer, you’re a salesperson, and what you’re selling is your own skills. Making the case for yourself repeatedly can be tough, but as you get more confident in your abilities, you’ll likely find that you’re able to speak to your skillsets more readily and your reputation will spread among your network and beyond, solely by word of mouth recommendations.



Remember when there was someone else being paid to manage your benefits? Someone who filed all of your expense receipts for you? As a freelancer, that person is you. And you don’t get paid extra to do it. While it can be empowering to learn about and manage these administrative tasks, it can also get very overwhelming and/or tedious. We’ve talked about how to set yourself up to manage the administrative side of freelancing more easily so you don’t get stuck with hours of paperwork that you don’t understand all at once. The more you prepare yourself, the easier this aspect is.



As much as the ability to create your own work-life balance can be a pro, it can also be a con in some respects. Because you make your own schedule as a freelancer, you also have to set your own limits. While you’re no longer expected to stay at an office from 9 to 5 (and often beyond) each day, you’re also not restricted to any “normal” working hours. This can make it hard to stop and take a break, or move on from work to do other things. And when you do, it can be difficult to shake the guilty feeling that you should keep going, working on your portfolio or seeking out new clients. If you aren’t able to set boundaries for yourself, you could easily burn out.  

So before you decide to take the leap into freelancing, definitely take the time to think it through carefully. Is your personality one that can handle the ebbs and flows of freelancing? Is the freedom worth the uncertainty that comes along with it? We certainly think so, but we know it’s not for everyone.

What do you think are the biggest pros and cons of working for yourself? Share with us! Here’s how:


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


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.


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!  


Enjoy the Process: How Workshop Chicago Is Building a Community


Enjoy the Process: How Workshop Chicago Is Building a Community

by Kate Vandeveld

Because of the freelance nature of our work at WhyWhisper Collective, many of us leverage coworking spaces for community, networking, and access to office resources. We’re big believers in the growing freelance economy, and the collective impact we can make when we come together to use our skills and talents effectively.

As you may know, we’re also big supporters of social enterprise. So when freelance and social enterprise come together, we like to spread the word. This week, we had the opportunity to chat with Ben Skoda, founder of coworking space, Workshop Chicago. We’re inspired by his unique approach to developing a community for freelancers and entrepreneurs, and his belief in the growing impact of the freelance economy.

How Workshop Chicago is Building a Community -- via WhyWhisper

Here’s what he had to say:

Why did you start Workshop?

The concept for Workshop was a confluence of a few things – 1) my desire to connect quality people in Chicago, building community for remote workers and other creatives, 2) an interest in creating a multimedia platform for myself and friends to share our skill sets with the world, and 3) an attempt to see if I could start a business from the ground up and “be my own boss” (with a lot of help).


Tell us the story of Workshop's development - how did it get to where it is today?

Workshop has come a long way! We’ve gone through a lot of iteration, going back to before we had our own space. We always had a hunch that we could create something unique with the right space, the right people, a little hard work and some creativity. What we didn’t know was exactly which combination of those things would be the best route to our original vision for Workshop.

We shared the concept and got a core group of people on board. Then we started to meet and feel out what it would take to see a consistent community take shape. When we were comfortable moving ahead, we searched for spaces, and it took about 8-10 months before we signed a lease. Since we opened the doors of our space, we’ve never stopped adjusting.

We’re constantly in search of balance between building a brand, furnishing a space on a budget, developing and curating a community, finding the right group of people to manage operations and keep the creativity flowing, and most challenging of all, doing all of this while attempting to find stable revenue streams with limited resources. After a year of being in the space, we feel like we have a lot figured out, but we still have a long way to go to be a profitable business for the long-term. We’re excited about what we’ve learned, and anxious to see how people continue to utilize Workshop creatively.

How Workshop Chicago Is Building a Community -- via WhyWhisper

Co-working spaces like Workshop are so essential in supporting the growing workforce of freelancers and consultants. What has been the most rewarding part of contributing to that movement?

I’ve always been intrigued by the changing work culture, mostly because I think I fit so well into the freelance/consultant/small business culture personally. It’s been an eye-opening experience as we’ve explored ways to support the people who are trying something new, taking the plunge into entrepreneurship or pursuing a dream. It’s personally rewarding because seeing it all up close gives me faith that we can make it work – that the established vocational tracks (that never seemed to fit me) aren’t the only way. But it’s most rewarding to facilitate an environment where others have opportunities to make a new connection, get hired, collaborate, or experience a “light bulb” moment when they realize the same thing I’m realizing: “We can do this.” And we can.


How do you see the freelance movement evolving over the next 5 or so years?

I think we have the technology to make the connections it takes to be successful as a freelancer. We need to build the community, create awareness, and ultimately keep the momentum to continue to provide space so that everyone who wants to try to be their own boss has that opportunity. Going off on your own isn’t for everyone, but it took me decades to even grasp the idea that working for myself was a possibility. I’d love to live in a world where freelancing is easily accessible, and be part of a culture that supports those who want to go down that road – or at a minimum presents everyone with their realistic options. I love seeing the underdog succeed, and what we’re moving toward is the underdog being a bit more of the norm.

How Workshop Chicago Is Building a Community -- via WhyWhisper

How do you envision Workshop growing over the next 5 or so years?

Workshop could go in a few different directions, and perhaps all of them at once. We’re constantly trying to develop in a way that makes us lean and versatile, so that it’s not unrealistic that in a 24-hour period we could facilitate an active co-working community, a charity reception, a yoga class, and a support group for new entrepreneurs.

We’re looking to develop our team and systems in a way that allows us to host a full calendar, each day and night of the week, supporting the people who have invested in Workshop in a variety of ways. We plan to push the limits of what can be done in a 3,000 sq. foot loft office, and to continue to offer a soft landing for anyone leaping into a new season of their professional life.


Do you have any advice for others who are thinking about leaving the 9-5 life to work independently?

Do your homework, take calculated risks, trust those around you or find new people you can trust to help you get where you want to be. Be patient, make room for iteration and adjustments, and learn to enjoy the process more than the ultimate goal. At least those are all the things I’m working on!


If you’re interested in freelancing, or already doing it, check out our Freelancer’s Guide to 2015 for tips on how to do it right.

Are you inspired by a unique social enterprise? Tell us about them in the comments below, make an introduction via email, or let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!  




Go Green: Green Blender Empowers You to Get Healthy


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.


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.  


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. 


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!


Solving Big Problems: Standbuy Supports the Cancer Community


Solving Big Problems: Standbuy Supports the Cancer Community

by Kate Vandeveld

Lately, we’ve been focusing on telling the brave and inspiring stories of passionate social entrepreneurs. 

This week, we spoke with WhyWhisper client, Sashka Rothchild, founder and CEO of Standbuy. Standbuy is an online crowdfunding platform for those who have been diagnosed with cancer. In setting up a profile, those who are battling cancer can connect with friends, family, and others who understand what they’re going through. Having successfully funded cancer treatments, egg preservation, and more, this amazing tool is providing hope, support, and financial options to those who are currently facing a diagnosis.

Here’s what Sashka had to say about her journey as a social entrepreneur: 

Why did you decide to start Standbuy?

I decided to start Standbuy because I couldn’t really find anything else I wanted to do where I could spend as many hours doing it, and still feel passionate. After my mom died when I was in high school, I tried a variety of other things, and I just couldn’t let go of wanting to work in a way that helped people who were going through the things that I had.  Coupled with the fact that we’re in a major healthcare crisis – it just seemed like the right opportunity to try and make something to get people support faster.

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

I definitely think there is value in non-profits; there are problems that need to be solved that cannot be solved with for-profit business models. But what I see as problematic about non-profits, is that they work at a different speed, since they have to spend 80% of their time fundraising to try to cover the cost of their admins and programs.

I wanted to be able to do kind of the opposite; I wanted to work on making Standbuy more helpful, and adding more tools and features, to give people better support and enable them to tell their stories in an easier way.  By having a business model that that allows us to be sustainable and scalable, I can do that. I don’t have to spend my days worrying about how we’re going to cover our overhead for the year.

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

I don’t know where to start! There are so many. There is difficulty in building anything – either a business or a non-profit. And if it’s something that you care about, there is this extra added pressure of really wanting to make sure that you’re doing it right.

For me, because I’ve never built a website before – that was a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I needed to ramp up, so I could feel confident and comfortable making quick decisions about how we would develop, or how we would structure the company. But I think it was also helpful because I wasn’t constrained by past experience, or thinking that it has to go a certain way.

One of the hardest parts is finding the right people to work with, choosing who to hire and how to hire, even if it’s an intern. I think it can be hard as a social enterprise because you do have a double bottom line; you need to think about your people and your mission in conjunction with your profits, and I think that you can get caught in a little bit of a limbo situation. You try and read articles on Fast Company or Inc or HBR, and they’re all insightful and informative, but they’re geared toward people that are just operating with a single bottom line: a goal of making as much money as possible.

And then if you kind of flip to the other side and look for guidance on the non-profit side, you’re even more lost because there’s just no real structure about how to do things. Finding the best way to explain your place in the middle – I think can be hard – whether it’s to freelancers, or partners, or anyone you’re working with.


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

There’s been so much. When you’re starting a business, you work on it all the time. And I happened to have started a business right when I got pregnant. So the entire time I’ve been working on Standbuy, I was either tired, or nauseous, or nursing, or away from my son. And to be able to work so hard on something and then be able to look at him and say, “Yes, I might be working while I’m nursing, but it’s because people need help right now.” That’s really rewarding and unfortunately uncommon for mothers. 

We’ve seen a lot of different success stories in many different areas with Standbuy. I have frustrations pretty much all day, but it’s peppered with notes from people that are so incredibly grateful, and beautiful, and appreciative.

When I see someone raising $3,000 in a couple days so that they can get help, that’s pretty amazing. So…I’m pretty lucky.

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

I’ve said before that it will be incredibly disappointing if there is still a need for Standbuy in five years. I really hope that as a country, we can get our shit together enough that when people get sick, they don’t need to fundraise on their own. I hope that insurance companies, healthcare organizations, hospitals, and doctors can all work together to get people the help that they need without people going bankrupt.

That being said, I also think there’s a lot of room for Standbuy to grow and expand without necessarily losing focus on the cancer community: by taking our stance on simplistic and easy-to-use design, and translating it into helping larger organizations tell their stories in a clear and beautiful way while raising money to do the work that they do. There are a lot of people who are doing a lot of good work in the world; and if you’re a non-profit, you have especially limited bandwidth, so I would love to be able to offer our solutions to more people.

It would be incredibly depressing if this was still the status quo in five years.


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

(Laughs) About a thousand things…

I wish I had known that you can really only go as fast as you can go. Someone who I look up to, a woman named Cindy Gallop once told me that there’s no such thing as “should” when you’re building a business. It’s not about how fast you can go, or these pretend masochistic goals you set for yourself. It’s just about putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t do things as fast as you thought you should’ve, because it’s your business, and you can do whatever you want. It’s not anyone else’s project, and it’s not anyone else’s timeline. And I wish I would have remembered that or thought about that more in the beginning.

It’s also hard to try and remember that you do generally know what’s best. Your instincts are generally right. Getting help and input from people is imperative, but you started your own thing for a reason, and you should trust your gut a little more. Otherwise, what’s the point? You might as well be working for someone else.

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

Be sure that you’re solving a real problem. I think that it’s become weirdly popular to want to launch a start-up. And I think that’s awesome, but you have to be scratching an itch, you have to be solving a problem. And nothing matters unless you’re being helpful.

One of the ways that I try to make decisions for Standbuy is just to try to think – is this helpful? Then great, let’s do it. If it’s not, if it’s for some other reason, who cares? What’s the point? I think there are a lot of people doing great stuff, and unless you think you are really addressing a problem, there are people who need help doing the variety of things that are already out there.

Conversely, don’t be afraid. It’s kind of scary if you’ve never launched a company or a business, and particularly if you’re a woman, because with start-ups and social enterprises are incredibly male-dominated industries, especially when it comes to funding. You just kind of have to say fuck it, and go do it.


We’re inspired – what about you? 

Standbuy is in the middle of fundraising campaign that will allow them to keep their doors open, as well as roll out new features to make fundraising for cancer much more efficient. If you want to help Standbuy support the cancer community, pitch in, or spread the word on Facebook and Twitter with #StandbuyEachother. If you want to know more about the campaign, watch this video.

Are you inspired by a social entrepreneur who you think the world should know about? Tell us about them in the comments below, or make an introduction via email, Facebook or Twitter.


How Everyday People Are Solving the World’s Biggest Problems


How Everyday People Are Solving the World’s Biggest Problems


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


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.


Run for Another: Janji Creates Running Apparel for a Cause


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.


Become a Change Agent: Your Alternatives to Social Entrepreneurship


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.


Creating Sustainable Social Change: The Ashoka Model


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.


Beyond Marketing: Here's What I Really Learned as a Social Entrepreneur


Beyond Marketing: Here's What I Really Learned as a Social Entrepreneur

by Shanley Knox

I joined the WhyWhisper team after four years of work as a social entrepreneur. 

WhyWhisper gives me a place to pass along the lessons I learned in branding a social enterprise. After riding the highs and lows of running a business on my own, WhyWhisper gives me opportunities to work for social change while also being a part of a community. And as a freelancer who, in any given month, can find herself working from East Africa, California, or New York City, WhyWhisper gives me a digital platform to consistently call my home. 

As I work with other companies and causes, I’ve discovered that we share more than the goal of building an impactful brand. We share the often inspiring, but sometimes disparaging, journey along the way. 

So, here are a few things I've learned that have nothing do to with how clickable a campaign will be, but have everything to do with working for social change.

It’s Going to Be Different Than You Think

When I started Nakate Project in Uganda, I thought I would be linking artisans in rural villages to skills training in urban areas, so as to generate local sales. Two years later, I was working to promote female-led Ugandan businesses in international markets. At first, I balked when I saw that change needed to happen. But I began to learn, over time, that the ability to pivot within your business is the only way to effectively find a model that creates impact.  

It’s Going to Take Longer Than You Think

I thought I’d see marked results within a few weeks. I wanted large, measurable impact. If somebody told me it would be years until I began to feel the satisfaction of seeing actual change, I might have quit right then and there. I didn’t want to have to go through the painful building phase where I had to keep seeing the unmet needs of our target population, and feel humbled by my lack of power. What I learned along the way is that systemic change runs a long, painstaking course, and social entrepreneurs experience setbacks, obstacles, discouragement, and failed efforts.  

It’s Going to Be Harder Than You Think

I knew cognitively that pushing social change in Uganda would be hard. I knew it would be long hours, and not a lot of pay, but I didn’t know that it would hurt. I hadn’t yet processed that real change involves the willingness to push through social and societal norms. It means being the odd woman (or man) out. It means saying things that people don’t like to hear, and working to explain why systems should be shifted. Sometimes, it means leaving parts of your business or work behind when it's no longer in line with your vision. All of it is emotional, personal, and often painful. I’ve come to understand that this is part of what makes social change so worthwhile -- good things never come easy. 

You’re Going to Change More Than You Think

I was a different girl when I started Nakate. The business, in itself, has pushed me to my limits. It’s humbled me. It’s exhilarated me. It’s given me a platform to write, to speak, to meet people across the globe, and to discover an entirely new home for myself in East Africa. At some point, I realized that I hardly recognized myself. The experience of living so far out of my comfort zone had pushed me to become someone new. 

It’s Going to Be More Rewarding Than You Think

I wanted to quit Nakate a hundred times on a hundred different days, but I didn’t. And I’m grateful for that, every single day. That’s because my social enterprise didn’t just teach me how to persevere, run a business in a another culture, or afford me the determination and vision to continue pushing through my failures and mistakes. It taught me how to fight for what I love. It taught me to believe in my work, and to have enough humility to change when I discovered it may be faulty. 

Every day I sign in to begin my work for our clients at WhyWhisper, I bring gratitude with me -- gratitude for all that I’ve been taught in my own journey, and gratitude to have found a community at WhyWhisper where I can walk alongside others as they embark on a similar journey. 


Crowdfunding & Crowd Investing: Which Platform is for You?

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Crowdfunding & Crowd Investing: Which Platform is for You?

It seems that a new crowdfunding or crowd investing platform crops up every few days. With seemingly endless opportunities, it's important to choose a platform that fits your cause, reaches your target audience, and helps you tell the brand story that matters most to you. 

Below are six of the best platforms for finding the funds needed for your particular model: 

1. Looking to raise donations for your nonprofit?

Try Razoo

Who? Anyone can fundraise on Razoo – for a personal cause or for one of the 1 million+ registered US nonprofit organizations.
What? Razoo accepts donations that are received and receipted by Razoo Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 charity that operates a donor-advised fund to fulfill donor advisements. 
What’s the Fee? Razoo Foundation retains a low, flat 4.9% on all donations, one of the lowest transaction rates in the online fundraising industry.
How Will I Process Payments? Razoo partners with U.S. Bank to securely process your donations.
Campaign ideas? Here’s a list of Razoo’s best campaigns.

2. Want to support a charity (your own or someone else’s?)

Try Crowdrise

Who? Anyone raising donations for a charity. 
What? Donations to US-Based 501(c)3 charitable organizations through Crowdrise are 100% tax-deductible. You'll automatically receive an email receipt that meets the IRS requirements for a record of your donation.
What’s the Fee? Crowdrise charges a flat 3 - 5% (depending on your membership level), plus credit card fees.
How will I process payments? Network for Good or Amazon Payments.
Campaign Ideas? Run/WalkDo something Ridiculous or Donate your Birthday, among other things


3. Need investors for your social enterprise?

Try Return On Change 

Who? Startups in Tech, CleanTech, EdTech, Life Sciences, & Social Enterprises.
What?  This online funding portal seeks to meet all of startup's capital raising needs, as well as providing a place where investors can find socially innovative businesses to invest in. 
What’s the Fee? Return on Change does not charge posting fees. Broker dealers on the Return on Change site charge a 6% fee.
How will I Process Payments? You will need a business bank account to ‘close’ and receive the capital that you raise.
Campaign Ideas? Here’s a list of startups that have been approved.

4.  Looking to run a fundraising campaign?

Try Indiegogo

Who? Anyone looking to fund a creative or cause based project. There is no application process, so anyone can be involved!
What? Indiegogo provides a platform for your family, friends and anyone else you find through digital platforms to donate to your campaign. 
What’s the Fee? When your campaign raises funds, Indiegogo charges a 9.0% fee on the funds you raise. If you reach your goal, you get 5.0% back, for an overall fee of 4.0%.
How will I Process Payments? Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit or debit cards, or PayPal.
Campaign Ideas? Check out Indiegogo’s recent success story,&nbsp;</span>Occupy Love.

5. Looking to fund a project?

Try Kickstarter 

Who? Creatives looking to fund projects in film, music, art, theater, games, comics, design, photography, and more.
What? Project creators set a funding goal and deadline. If people like a project, they can pledge money to make it happen. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing — projects must reach their funding goals to receive any money.
What’s the Fee? Kickstarter collects a 5% fee from a project’s funding total if a project is successfully funded. There are no fees if a project is not successfully funded.
How will I Process Payments? Kick Starter uses Amazon Payments.
Campaign Ideas? Check out Kickster’s staff picks.

6. Trying to launch a new product?

Try Crowdfunder

Who? US based businesses with a product or service. 
What? Crowdfunder connects your business to their local networks of 20,000 interested investors.<br>What’s the Fee? 5% if you meet your goals plus payment processing fees.
How will I Process Payments? Crowdfunder uses Amazon Payments.
Campaign Ideas? The most funded project to date is It's For Life, a company producing consumable and convenient health products.

Helpful points to remember: 

1. Posting a project is not a set-it-and-forget-it project. You must use social media to get the word out, and make funds come in.
2. Once you launch your campaign, it can be almost a full-time job to reach your goal. 
3. Individuals and companies with customers, an audience, or a social/professional network that can be converted to “backers” tend to be most successful. 

Have a favorite platform you want to share with us? Leave it in the comments below.

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5 Ways to Keep Your Creative Mind at its Sharpest


5 Ways to Keep Your Creative Mind at its Sharpest

We’ve all experienced it - that moment when we realize we are no longer able to give our best. As social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders, we work tirelessly to drive our cause or project to the next funding goal or deadline. When exhaustion sets in, it's an unwelcome barrier to finishing the kind of inspired, fresh work we know we are able to deliver as our best selves. 

Here are five practices to keep your brain at its best, regardless of how many long hours you’re putting in:

1. Read a book  

According to a new study from Emory University, reading a gripping novel often causes the brain to “transport” into the body of the protagonist. This can cause shifts in the part the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the primary sensory motor region of the brain - leading to heightened connectivity. 

2. Take some time off

Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a year-long sabbatical to spend time renewing his creative outlook. In his recent TED talk, he shares the power of finding new inspiration by taking time away from regular routine.

3. Do one thing one at a time

Research has found the human brain incapable of multitasking. Instead, it switches between tasks quickly, and expends valuable energy as a result of doing so in succession. In contrast, doing one thing at a time saves the brain's energy supply and enables it to produce higher quality work. 

4. Feeling tired? Get creative

When you are tired, your brain is less efficient at filtering out distractions and focusing on particular tasks. This is usually considered a negative thing. But it it can be positive when it comes to taking on creative tasks. A tired brain is more likely to make new connections, accept unfamiliar ideas and think in new ways.

Try your most creative tasks before you fall asleep at night, or during your typical "low energy" time during the day. You may be surprised by the creativity that unexpectedly flows out of you!

5. Take a nap 

If you feel that you require a nap…take one! Studies have shown improvement in creative thinking, cognitive function, and memory performance as a result of afternoon naps. It is also possible that taking a short nap after learning information speeds up the process by which information is retained. Here’s a study explaining why. 

Have something to add? Tell us in the comments and we'll share it with our followers!

(Creative Commons photo from Flickr user jgoge)