Viewing entries tagged
social entrepreneurship

Discover What's Possible

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Discover What's Possible

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

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

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These Financial Companies Incorporated Purpose & Profit

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These Financial Companies Incorporated Purpose & Profit

by Kate Vandeveld

As tax season comes to a close (thank goodness!), a few of us are starting to think about how to make better financial decisions in the coming year. 

After all, if you aren’t an accountant or money manager, making financial decisions on your own can be overwhelming. That being said, putting your finances into a stranger’s hands can be stressful (and costly). Thankfully, there are a number of companies working hard to simplify the complicated, build trust, and provide free or affordable education to those who are interested in becoming more financially literate.

By offering innovative and accessible resources, these companies are disrupting the traditional finance sector and making a crucial impact on the lives and futures of the individuals with whom they work. Here are some of our favorites:

To Access Low Cost Financial Education: LearnVest

Financial illiteracy is a major issue in the United States. According to the 2015 S&P Global FinLit Survey, a detailed and comprehensive analysis of worldwide financial literacy by the World Bank, Gallup, and George Washington University, just 57% of Americans were deemed financially literate. Also, student loan debt is over $1.1 trillion, 56% of people in the US don’t have “rainy day funds,” and only 14% of baby boomers have a written retirement strategy – all troubling numbers. Even when you feel like you understand certain elements of your finances, the market changes so frequently that “you must be a lifelong learner” to stay on top of your game.

That said, there are resources out there for those who want to become more financially literate – you just have to know where to find them. One of our favorites is LearnVest, an online platform providing affordable access to financial planning services, tools, and classes. Their incredibly informative blog provides a plethora of free resources about topics like understanding credit, getting out of debt, and budgeting based on your salary. LearnVest also offers hands-on personal financial planning for a fraction of the traditional rates, making it much more accessible.

To Invest in Social & Economic Progress: Global Impact Investing Network

In traditional investing, investors and their financial managers choose investments based solely on projected financial return, with little concern for what the company they’re investing in actually does. In recent years, a new kind of investing has been on the rise: impact investing. What is impact investing? When people make investments in entities and funds that are focused on positive social and environmental impact alongside financial return. Impact investing goes beyond a “do no harm” approach of screening out potential negative industries or products and instead, seeks to create positive impact in a measurable and transparent way.

If you’re interested in impact investing, start by informing yourself of how it works and who you should work with. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) provides myriad resources to that end, including a knowledge center, tools and training materials, and a network for impact investors to connect with one another.

To Work with the Right Investment Experts: Aspiration

Once you’ve made the decision to invest, you’ll likely want guidance. But, again, finding the right people to work with at a price you can afford can be a daunting task. That’s why we were thrilled to learn about Aspiration, an investment firm that is “built on trust, focused on the middle class instead of millionaires, and founded on the idea that we can do well and do good at the same time.”

While this mission alone is enough to seriously interest us, there are two other differentiating factors that definitely warrant attention: When you invest with Aspiration, you decide what to pay them for their services. They believe that since you’re trusting them to make you money, they need to trust you right back.  They also donate ten cents of every dollar of their revenue to “charitable activities expanding economic opportunity” through their Dimes Worth of Difference initiative. 

To Access Better Loans & Services: SoFi

Our banks and financial institutions play a critical role in our finances. Traditional banks operate without a holistic view of an individual and his or her needs. This can lead to financial trouble down the line, which you’re then left to manage on your own.

Enter SoFi, a modern finance company that is putting people at the center of finance. SoFi offers an array of financial services, from personal loans to wealth management. Unlike traditional finance companies, they “evaluate applicants based on a holistic view of their financial well-being rather than a three digit score.” The company is revolutionizing the banking industry, going beyond traditional banking to offer such services as affordable and easy-to-understand student loan refinancing, career support, and an Unemployment Protection Program.

SoFi also offer a wealth of valuable financial literacy resources, including a blog, student loan repayment calculator, and clear information about complex topics like when you should consolidate versus refinance, and how variable rate loans work.

These are just a few of the increasing number of financially-focused companies that are choosing to turn the market on its head, helping us plan for a better future, both for ourselves and our world. Do you know of others? Share them with us, and we’ll spread the word to our community. Here’s how:

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

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

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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What We Learned in 2015

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What We Learned in 2015

What We Learned in 2016 -- WhyWhisper Collective

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

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

Start with Yourself

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

 

Learn from the Experts

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

 

Share Your Message

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

 

Think About Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

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

 

Increase Your Impact

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

 

Take Action

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

 

Words of Wisdom for Freelancers

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

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

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

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

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

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

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

Outerwear: Patagonia

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

Boots: Planet Shoes

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

Skin Care Products: Organic Bath Co.

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

Coats & Accessories: VAUTE Couture

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

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

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The Power of “No”

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The Power of “No”

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

The Power of "No" -- via WhyWhisper

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

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

It Increases Productivity

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

It Allows You to Prioritize

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

It Frees Up Your Time for Self-Care & Connection

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

 

It Shows That You Value Your Time

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

 

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

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

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Go Green: Green Blender Empowers You to Get Healthy

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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!

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Solving Big Problems: Standbuy Supports the Cancer Community

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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.

Sashka

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.

Standbuy

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.

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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.

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Run for Another: Janji Creates Running Apparel for a Cause

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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.

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Become a Change Agent: Your Alternatives to Social Entrepreneurship

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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.


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