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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

 photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.vplstore.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

We often talk about how important it is for businesses to step up in response to the current events and issues affecting our world every day. And the unfortunate fact is, there are always ways that businesses can help out or stand up – whether it's a natural disaster, an act of mass violence, or racial injustice in the form of police brutality.  One of those moments is happening right now.

The results of this year’s presidential election are, for many, shocking and devastating. The implications of Donald Trump’s election, along with a Republican Congress and the likely appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, are far-reaching and scary. Many marginalized and minority communities are gearing up to protect their rights as we prepare for a conservative political system that will likely work to take them away.

How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving

As we move forward, it is important for each and every one of us to think about how we can respond in a way that is proactive and impactful.

One of those ways is through end of year giving. Often thought of as an obligation – a requirement that all “good” companies and organizations must fulfill – we challenge businesses to think of it differently this year. Instead of moving forward with your typical year-end giving plan, use it as an opportunity to support any work that protects the rights of vulnerable populations post-election.

If you're on board, here are our thoughts on how to get started:

Think through your values and how they align

 First things first: What does your business care about? Is it diversity? Gender equality? Mental health? Education? The list is endless, but think it through and take time to hone in on what you would call your company’s core values. If you’re looking for some insight on how to get there, this post will help you out. Once you know what those are, it’s time to think about how they align with the work that needs to be done following the presidential election. Do you want to focus on work to fight racism? LGBT rights? Women’s rights? Immigrants’ rights? As you know, a lot of people’s rights and safety are at stake right now, and we need to do something about it – all of us.

Determine where you want to focus your efforts

The answer to this question isn’t simple. Depending on what your business is, it may or may not be clear as to whether you should start with your own community or focus on national or policy-level efforts. Think about it yourself, and take time to talk to your team. Together, you can determine where your focus should be.

After you know which issue area(s) you want to focus on and at what scale, it’s time to do your research. There are so many organizations out there that need support in various capacities, and it’s worth putting in the time to determine which would be an effective partnership. You’ll absolutely want to consider their work, to date, and what they’re trying to do now, but you’ll also want to look at how they measure their impact, who manages the organization, and whether or not there is a need that you and your employees could fulfill. This post has some great questions you can ask yourself to get started in identifying your partner(s).

Decide how you can give most effectively

Next, think about what you have to give. If you’re looking to give money, this is the perfect time to do it. You could also offer to match employee donations to your chosen organization, or simply pledge to give a percentage of your revenue through the end of the year in support of their work. If you’re looking to give your time, you can arrange a company volunteer day, give employees a day off to volunteer, or simply encourage your team to do so on their own time, providing them with information about organizations your company supports.

 

We also very much encourage businesses to spend this time thinking about their internal culture. Support your employees’ mental health, implement policies that allow them stay safe and care for themselves, and, above all else, take measures to ensure that your workplace has zero tolerance for hate or harassment.

Do you know of a business that has responded to this election in a way that’s worth talking about? Tell us about them – we want to spread the word, and encourage others to do the same!

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How Companies Can Make the Most of the Holiday Season

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How Companies Can Make the Most of the Holiday Season

by Anne Rackow

Many holidays are celebrated out of the office by spending time with loved ones, eating particular foods, and participating in various family traditions. But what if they could also offer opportunities to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and make an impact? This goes for all holidays – even those you may forget about until you suddenly realize you have a three-day weekend. In fact, some of those national holidays might be the perfect places to start.

We first started thinking about this in response to Columbus Day, which we and many others now choose to refer to as Indigenous People’s Day. This day is an important opportunity for social impact, in particular, because of its controversial origin. In case you aren’t aware of what we’re referring to, here’s a little background:

 It is widely discussed that Columbus Day honors a man who did not discover America, but rather invaded a land populated by peaceful people, and then systematically enslaved and even murdered its inhabitants. This article by Irwin Ozborne explains in detail how Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America “resulted in mass assimilation, raping, slaughtering, enslaving, and intention to wipe out all evidence of a native population of between 50 and 100 million indigenous people from the land — the greatest genocide in recorded history.“  Some of the atrocities he notes include: 

  • Abducting and selling children into the sex trade as young as nine-years-old
  • Mass raping of women and children
  • The amputation of limbs if slaves were not producing ‘enough’
  • Offering cash rewards for the scalps of men, women, and children as proof of murder
  • Intentionally spreading smallpox disease, an early means of biological warfare
  • Death marches of more than one-thousand miles to these reservations in which, if you were unable to continue the walk, you were left for dead with family members prohibited from offering assistance

As a result, many recognize that we either need to stop celebrating this tragic part of American history, or change who and what, specifically, we are honoring. Some states have already begun to do this. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day instead of Columbus Day since 1990, and in recent years, cities and states like Seattle, Denver, and Vermont have also begun to acknowledge the injustices perpetrated against native populations by Columbus and his fellow explorers. They have renamed the holiday, and use the day to lead important conversations around the historical and current discrimination and maltreatment of indigenous people. 

 Photo by  Maranie Rae

Photo by Maranie Rae

That got us thinking about what we can do around holidays like Indigenous People’s Day, and other federal holidays that are less controversial but provide opportunities for impact nonetheless. While it’s wonderful for local community members and state governments to spread awareness and create change, we began to ask ourselves what socially conscious businesses could be doing on this holiday and other holidays to have a positive social impact on their employees, customers, and communities.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 50% of states and U.S. territories get time off from work for Indigenous People’s Day.  As a business, you have an opportunity to encourage a different, more informed, and respectful manner of celebration. For example:

  • Refer to the second Monday of October as Indigenous People’s Day in relevant company documents and communication, regardless of what your city or state calls it
  • Share information about why you’ve opted to make this change as a company
  • Encourage your employees to attend an event or celebration hosted by an indigenous group on their day off
  • If your local and state law allow for it, provide the option for employees to work on the second Monday of October in exchange for a different day of

For more ideas on how your business can honor indigenous populations, check out this article by Ecopreneurist.

Celebrating Other Holidays

While Columbus Day is in a league of its own in terms of impropriety, there are many other federal holidays that can also serve as opportunities to raise awareness and participate in service activities related to important social justice topics. When one of these holidays is approaching, contemplate what your company can do make the most of the day and the time off from work. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

What is this holiday about, and what social justice issues are related to it? Here are some examples to get you started:

Veterans Day: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calls Veterans Day, a day to honor American veterans of all wars.”

Examples of Relevant Social Justice Topics:

  • Veteran homelessness

  • Mental health issues associated with military service

  • Policies that make it difficult for veterans to seek treatment for their mental and physical health

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: The King Center says, “the King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.”

Examples of Relevant Social Justice Topics:

  • Modern day racism in America

  • Institutionalized racism

Labor Day: According to the Department of Labor, Labor Day “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Examples of Relevant Social Justice Topics:

  • Setting a fair minimum wage across sectors

  • American companies sourcing products made with slave labor

  • The gender pay gap

 Photo by  Maranie Rae

Photo by Maranie Rae

How can I educate my employees or colleagues around these relevant social justice issues?

  • Post informational flyers and handouts in break rooms, on community boards, and in other shared spaces
  • Include a special feature section in the company newsletter that shares information on the topic and links to further reading or helpful resources
  • Host a “lunch and learn” meeting where staff can volunteer their lunch hour to learn more about a topic or issue

How can I use this holiday to engage my employees in relevant activities that have a positive social impact?

  • Host voluntary company-wide community service days on or around the holiday that take place in a location or with a population impacted by the topic
  • Collect food, clothing, toys, or money for local communities impacted by the topic during the weeks leading up to the holiday

Are there steps we can take to raise awareness about the related social justice topic as a company?

  • Share information and show support on your company’s social media platforms, as appropriate
  • Encourage or incentivize employees to share information and show support on their personal social media networks

As we go into a holiday-heavy season, we’re starting to think through how we as a company can celebrate in a way that aligns with our own values, and help other companies do the same. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing tips on what your company can do to be socially conscious around Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Do you have creative ideas on how companies can use holidays to do good? If so, please share with us by:

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Cause Marketing 101: Getting Started

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Cause Marketing 101: Getting Started

by Kate Vandeveld

Did you know that 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch to a brand associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality? In other words, even beyond the positive implications on our communities and our world, it’s also good for the bottom line.

This is one of many reasons that an increasing number of businesses are finding ways, big and small, to incorporate social and environmental causes into their business models. 

One effective and relatively uncomplicated way for businesses to do so is through cause marketing, or a marketing campaign geared toward a social or environmental cause. Such campaigns or initiatives can be run as a collaborative effort between a for-profit business and a nonprofit organization, or by a business on its own. And they can have a variety of goals, from fundraising, to raising awareness, to advocacy. 

If your business is interested in developing a cause marketing campaign, here are our tips for getting started:

Find a Cause That’s Aligned With Your Values 

As you might expect, the most important aspect of a cause marketing campaign is determining which cause you’ll be supporting. As with all CSR-related initiatives, it’s crucial that you align with your brand’s identity and core values. If you don’t approach your campaign from this angle, it’s likely to come across as insincere or irrelevant, which makes it difficult for consumers to connect and engage. When the connection between your values and your campaign makes sense and feels genuine, it will be easier to market, resonate with your audience, and achieve your intended impact.

A great example of alignment in cause marketing is Reebok’s partnership with the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer. This annual walk is meant to increase awareness about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, educate people about the importance of early detection, and raise money for cancer research, and an athletic event with a cause is a natural opportunity for an athletic shoe company to get involved. With Reebok’s support, the campaign has been able to raise over $500 million for breast cancer prevention and research.

Find the Right Partner(s)

Once you’ve decided on the cause you want to support, the next step is choosing a potential partner(s). Here’s what you should look for:

  • Their mission(s) align(s) with your cause marketing goals
  • They are able to clearly measure and demonstrate the positive outcome of their programs
  • They have the internal capacity to work with you on a campaign (i.e. they have at least one staff member with bandwidth and strong interest)
  • They have a built-in audience you can activate in addition to your own

Remember, the best partnerships create mutual benefit for everyone involved, thereby incentivizing strong participation on both sides.

Get Creative with Your Plans

These days, there are a number of social responsibility initiatives and cause marketing campaigns out there. While this is a great thing, you’ll need to get creative to get your message out in a way that is attention grabbing, genuine, and impactful. Simply aligning yourself with a nonprofit partner and talking about it online won’t be enough – you need to think outside of the box and be smart with your timing, designs, and messaging.

For example, in 2011, Patagonia launched a cause marketing campaign around Black Friday and Cyber Monday called the Common Threads Initiative, which called on consumers to buy less – including less of Patagonia’s apparel. The campaign encouraged conscious consumption by calling out the environmental cost of producing every item we purchase, while simultaneously selling sewing kits for clothing repair. It was risky and innovative enough to garner a great deal of attention while still achieving its purpose of touting the durability of Patagonia clothing.

Use Your Available Assets

To run an effective campaign, you’ll also want to be sure you’re leveraging all available assets – both your own as well as those of your partners.

One great example is Dunkin’ Donuts’ annual Cop on a Rooftop campaign. Each year in Chicago, Dunkin’ Donuts partners with Illinois Law Enforcement to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois. To promote the campaign, Dunkin’ Donuts utilizes  its brick-and-mortar Chicago stores as well as the manpower of Illinois Law Enforcement. Law enforcement officers stand on the rooftops of participating locations and encourage patrons to make a donation to the Special Olympics, offering prizes to those who donate certain amounts. Since its inception 13 years ago, the campaign has raised over $2.3 million.

Have you seen or participated in a particularly unique or effective cause marketing campaign? Tell us about it – here’s how:

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Empower Mint: Ben & Jerry’s Takes Action for Change

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Empower Mint: Ben & Jerry’s Takes Action for Change

by Kate Vandeveld

Hopefully, it’s finally started to warm up in your neck of the woods. And if so, we’d venture a guess that your ice cream intake is about to increase…ours is!

So it’s probably a good time for us to share a really cool initiative that one of our favorite companies (and a fellow Certified B Corp!), Ben & Jerry’s, recently launched as we lead up to this year’s presidential election. But it isn’t about which political candidate you should support – it’s about the greater issues that our country’s democratic system is facing as a whole.

Ben & Jerry’s Takes Action for Change

What are these issues?

The two overarching issues that the campaign seeks to address are financial corruption in politics, and the challenges that low income and minority voters face as a result of unfair voting laws. 

When the Supreme Court made the decision to give corporations the same rights to freedom of speech as it does American citizens, it made it so that “the richer you are, the louder your voice.” Beyond that, corporate money that goes through Super PACs is largely unregulated and untraceable, so wealthy donors and corporations can give as much money to the candidates they support as they’d like. This means that not only do a small number of Americans have the most power when it comes to getting their candidates elected, but that once those candidates are in office, they’ll owe their supporters and be inclined to pass laws that benefit them.

This problem is exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s recent decision to invalidate a key part of the Voter Rights Act, which was in place to ensure that citizens’ right to vote is upheld across the board. Now, states with a history of discrimination are no longer subject to the same level of federal oversight as they once were when it comes to voting laws. For example, voter identification legislation in some states means that the 21 million Americans who do not have the necessary government-issued ID can’t vote. And some states have limited voting hours to remove those times that have historically been most popular with hourly workers – evenings and Sundays – making it extremely difficult for them to vote.

How is Ben & Jerry’s working to fix them?

Through their ‘Democracy is in Your Hands’ campaign, Ben & Jerry’s is seeking to call attention to and inform a greater number of citizens about these crucial issues, and provide support to the organizations and initiatives that are working to address them.

The company launched their new ice cream flavor, Empower Mint, in conjunction with a campaign that supports recent efforts by the NAACP to increase voter turnout in North Carolina, one of the many states that has passed legislation to make it harder for people to vote in recent years. The Empower Mint flavor will benefit the state’s NAACP chapter, an organization “dedicated to ensuring the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and eliminating racial hatred and discrimination.”

Ben & Jerry's Takes Action for Change - WhyWhisper Collective

Why do we love this so much?

As you probably know by now, we’re big advocates of businesses that choose to support a particular cause or set of causes and stay committed to those causes over time. Long-term, sustained support is important for creating real change.

We also love that Ben & Jerry’s regularly uses its products and brand to support a variety of causes. They often choose to partner with social enterprises and organizations that are working for change, like their collaboration with New Belgium for action around climate change.

Plus, their campaigns always include an educational element. This one, for example, provides clear and easy to understand information about issues around voting rights and money in politics. It even provides links to voter registration, and a petition for the Supreme Court to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.

What other companies do you know of that are openly discussing the need for change in politics? Tell us about them! Here’s how:

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Treat Yourself to These Socially Conscious Goods

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Treat Yourself to These Socially Conscious Goods

by Kate Vandeveld

When you think of social enterprise, what comes to mind? Probably not beer and chocolate, right? If that’s the case, we have good news: Even when you’re indulging, you can still support social good.

Our team keeps an ever-growing list of great sources, so we know exactly where to turn when we’re treating ourselves. Here are some of our favorites:

 via  Unsplash

Eat Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most universally loved candies – and maybe even one of the best-loved foods, period. In fact, 52% of Americans have said that chocolate is their favorite flavor. But here’s the problem: Much of the chocolate sourced by major companies like Nestle and Hershey’s comes from countries notorious for child slave labor, like the Ivory Coast and Nigeria. As a result, it’s crucial that we pay attention whenever we’re craving a candy bar.

Thankfully, if you’re one of the many chocolate lovers out there, you have plenty of ethical, eco-friendly options to choose from – here are just a few:

 

 via  Unsplash

Get Your Caffeine Fix

The coffee industry is another that is known for unethical treatment of its farmers. Dominated by large corporations that sell inexpensive products in mass quantities, these corporations often opt for the cheapest beans. In turn, the farmers that grow those beans seek out cheap labor. At best, this means that their workers aren’t paid livable, sustainable wages, and at worst, it can mean child slave labor.

While it can be easier to turn to the big names found in any supermarket, it’s always best to take the time to seek out ethically sourced beans whenever you can. Here are some of our favorites:

If you want to go the extra mile here, check out these sustainable coffee makers and filters from Able Brewing.

 

 via  Unsplash

Have a Drink

When it comes to drinks, especially of the alcoholic variety, sustainability is a major issue. To produce just one bottle of beer, it takes nearly twenty gallons of water. That’s a lot – especially given the water scarcity issues our world is now facing. On top of that, beer packaging requires a substantial amount of materials and energy, from the bottles and cans themselves to the cardboard containers they’re often sold in.

If you’re looking to kick back with a cocktail or beer this weekend, choose one of these options to do it without the guilt, by choosing brands that focus on using minimal resources in their production and packaging: 

 

 via  Woron

via Woron

Get Intimate

Have you ever stopped to think about how your lingerie is made? We wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. But, as with all areas of garment manufacturing, unethical and unsustainable sourcing can be a major problem when it comes to your underwear. The unfortunate truth is that most garment workers in the world earn around 25 cents an hour, and child labor is incredibly common.

If you want to avoid perpetuating these norms, check out these companies the next time you’re shopping for lingerie:

 

Splurge on Diamonds

When it comes to treating yourself, diamonds have long been considered the ultimate luxury. But, as you may know, the diamond industry is one of the most unethical and dangerous of them all. The diamond trade has fueled civil war and violence all over the world, and their harvesting and production methods have long been centered on exploitation and unsustainable practices.

So, if you’re thinking about splurging on a diamond anytime soon, put in some time to research where it came from and who was involved. Here are some trustworthy options: 

Do you have go-to sources for your favorite indulgences? Share them with us – let’s spread the word together! Here’s how:

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Building Your Social Responsibility Strategy: Where to Start

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Building Your Social Responsibility Strategy: Where to Start

by Kate Vandeveld

These days, it’s becoming increasingly common for companies to partner with nonprofits, audit their supply chains, or amend their business models to address social or environmental problems.

Why? With the rise of Internet and mobile technology, information is more readily available. This means we all have access to information about climate change, poor working conditions, health risks, and more; and with this information comes a greater understanding that we’re in serious need for change.

Plus, these days, consumers are looking for socially responsible companies in increasing numbers, and employees are actively seeking purpose at work. In a nutshell, being a better business also benefits the bottom line. It’s an exciting time.

That said, new clients often come to us feeling a little overwhelmed, and unsure of where they should start when it comes to social and environmental responsibility.

To address this need, we designed a workshop that helps companies identify their values and use them to inform their unique opportunities for impact.

Here are the key areas of focus:

1.     What is your corporate identity?

In this exercise, outline the defining features of your company. Be sure to look beyond your marketing materials to evaluate all aspects of your company. A few examples: What industry are you in? How is your company structured? Where are you located? Who is your customer?

2.     What does your company value?

Corporate values, by definition, are the operating philosophies or principles that guide your internal conduct, as well as your relationship with your customers, partners, and shareholders. Here, think about what makes your company unique, and what behaviors your company encourages, both internally and externally. Some values might be obvious to you, whereas others might take some reflection to uncover.

3.     What are the issues at hand?

Now, take some time to evaluate the challenges specific to your corporate identity, which you defined in question 1. After all, you want your strategy to provide solutions to issues that are relevant to your industry, your employees and/or your customers. 

4.     What can your company offer to address the issues in a manner that aligns with your values?

Here’s where your team needs to get creative. Brainstorm anything and everything you can do to address the problems that you listed (question 3) in a manner that aligns with your values (question 2). Ideas may include partnerships, policies, campaigns, donation opportunities, and more.

Why this structure? We’ve found that by focusing in on a company’s identity, values, and issues, we are able to build strategies that make a meaningful impact in a way that is authentic and sustainable to the brand.

Using WhyWhisper as an example, here’s how the process looks in practice:

1.     Our identity:

- Impact sector

- Consulting firm comprised of independent consultants

- Serving nonprofits and businesses

- New York-based, but working all over the world

- Providing research, marketing and strategy services

- Offering bold approaches to better our world

- Woman-owned

2.     Our values:

Accountability

We hold ourselves accountable to our clients, our fellow freelancers, the environment, and the world at large. We apply critical thought to every aspect of our operations, making changes as we learn and evolve.

Positivity

We see opportunities for creating social impact everywhere we look. We understand that this begins by being kind, supportive, and encouraging of one another, so we work with good people on good projects.

Purpose

We built WhyWhisper because we wanted to use our skills to make the world a better place. We are intentional about who we work with, what we work on, where and how we work. We know that large-scale positive change starts with the actions of individuals.

Learning

We think it's important to try new things, and encourage everyone to take chances. We are thinkers, researchers, and askers of (many) questions.

Empowerment

We designed our company to bring opportunity to communities, clients, and consultants alike. We work with our clients to create positive social, economic, and environmental impact; we empower them to continue this work on their own long after our contract is over, and we pride ourselves on being a source of meaningful projects for our talented network of consultants.

3.     Issues at hand:

- Nonprofits and social enterprises often lack resources (funds and talent)

- Nonprofits’ emphasis on the external impact may be to the detriment of its internal impact (i.e. employee well-being, sustainability, etc.)

- Independent consultants often encounter unreliable work schedules and/or issues with work/life balance.

- Workplace stress is increasingly resulting in physical and mental health issues  

- Companies are struggling with:

- Building an inclusive workplace

- Removing unconscious biases around hiring

- Building and maintaining an ethical supply chain

- And more… 

4.     Our impact:

Knowing the challenges relevant to WhyWhisper, we were then able to connect our company assets and values to ways we could work to solve them.

We donate. 

Each year, we give 5% of profits to causes that roar against injustice when others have whispered.

We volunteer.

As a team, we take on one pro bono project each year, and as individuals, we commit to one volunteer activity per quarter. 

We work with our clients to better the world.

The end outcome of every client engagement is measurable impact.

We're committed to diversity.

As a proud woman-owned company, we actively work to foster diversity in the workplace. 

We actively promote kindness.

Our team members report weekly on their acts of kindness. 

We practice mindfulness.

The first minute of our meetings is set aside to clear our minds and center ourselves. 

We're environmentally-friendly.

We avoid printing, but if printed materials are requested, we print double-sided documents on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks.  We work remotely, cutting down on unnecessary emissions. We use reusables during meetings. We responsibly recycle paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, metal, and electronics. When buying products and choosing suppliers, we select them based on their commitment to diversity and sustainability, striving to stay local and support underrepresented populations whenever possible.  We surround ourselves with plants and greenery.

We're a Certified B Corporation.

Certified B Corporations meet higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. And unlike traditional corporations, as a Certified B Corporation, we are legally required to consider the impact of our decisions not only on our shareholders, but also on our stakeholders, including our workers, suppliers, community, consumers, and the environment. To learn more about our certification, check out our B Corp profile and blog post. 

 

While the workshop goes more in-depth on each of the above sections, we wanted to share the general process, so you don’t struggle with getting stuck before you start.

If your company is interested in evaluating and defining its values and using them to inform its socially responsibility strategy, we’re here to help. You can get in touch with us by:

 

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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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The Role of Corporations in the Clean Water Crisis

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The Role of Corporations in the Clean Water Crisis

by Kate Vandeveld

Did you know that 1.8 billion people do not have access to clean water worldwide?

It’s a major issue, and one that’s close to home – today, over 1.6 million Americans don’t have indoor plumbing at all. And in some places, like Flint, Michigan, water sources are so contaminated that even with indoor plumbing, consuming it poses a serious health risk. 

There are a number of incredible nonprofit organizations that are working to address these issues, but they often lack the necessary funding to implement effective, sustainable change. One solution to this problem is corporate partnership, and in recent years, a number of large-scale corporations have opted to partner with nonprofits focused on solving water issues. Here are a few:

H&M Foundation & WaterAid

WaterAid is an international nonprofit organization focused on improving access to safe water, hygiene and toilets in impoverished communities, with a goal of getting safe water and sanitation to everyone by 2030. They work with these communities to find sustainable solutions to their water issues, financing the work of local partners on the ground. They also advocate for policies that will end the water and sanitation crisis.

The H&M Foundation is an independent foundation that supports initiatives focused on women, children and water. In 2014, the H&M Foundation and WaterAid launched a three-year global program meant to bring safe water, hygiene and toilets to 250,000 of the world's poorest students. Together, they’re also working to drive change at the policy level, aiming to integrate these necessities into education policies. WaterAid reported that after the first year, they were able to reach 75,000 students through the program.

Bank of America & Water.org

Water.org, a nonprofit founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, focuses on expanding access to clean water around the world by working within communities to find sustainable solutions. Rather than attempting to implement a one-size-fits all solution to places that are so different from one another, Water.org works to understand each community’s specific barriers and develop innovative solutions that address them, and empower those communities to maintain them.

In 2015, Bank of America provided Water.org with a $1 million to go toward their microfinance program Water Credit, which provides affordable loans to those who need to purchase water connections and toilets. The goal of the grant was to help 100,000 people in South India get access to safe water and sanitation solutions. While we look forward to the reports that show the impact of Bank of America’s grant specifically, we’re happy to see that Water.org has reported that grants like Bank of America’s have helped them to empower more than 2.5 million people in 9 countries to obtain access to clean water.

Nestle, Walmart, Pepsi & Coca-Cola & the Flint Crisis

In 2015, drinking water in Flint, MI, was exposed as containing over two times the EPA’s limits for the amount of lead in safe drinking water. This dangerously high lead count has resulted in a variety of health issues for those who’ve consumed it, including skin lesions, hair loss, hypertension, vision loss and depression. All children under the age of 6 were “exposed to toxic, lead-tainted water that may cause life-long damage.” In light of this, the city’s water was declared unsafe to drink, and many were left with few hydration options.

In January of 2016, four large-scale corporations, Nestle, Walmart, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola, provided 6.5 million bottles of water to the city’s students. These corporations, which are generally in competition with one another and often under scrutiny for various reasons, came together in a time of crisis to make a life-saving contribution. As the city seeks long-term solutions, this donation will allow students and their parents to focus on education and meeting other basic needs.

World Water Day: Keep the Conversation Going

This past Tuesday was World Water Day, a day developed by UN Water to raise awareness about today’s most pressing global issues around water access. We encourage you to use the tools and resources they provided to educate yourself about these issues and keep the conversation going.

Do you know of a business or corporation that has chosen to focus on water in its CSR efforts? Comment below or share with us on social (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) – we’ll help spread the word about their work.

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

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

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

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

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

Provide Free Mental Health Assessments

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

Offer Employee Forums & Workshops

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

Build Internal Infrastructure That Supports Employees

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

Offer Access to Yoga & Meditation

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

 

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

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

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Ready to Develop an Employee Volunteer Program? Here’s How

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Ready to Develop an Employee Volunteer Program? Here’s How

by Kate Vandeveld

Today, employees are intent on finding meaning at work. In fact, a recent study showed 55% of millennials (currently the largest generation in the workforce) were influenced to accept a job based on that company’s involvement with causes.  

As a result, an increasing number of businesses are contemplating corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs at their workplaces. If you’re currently evaluating options, volunteer programs are an impactful and relatively straightforward way for your team to make a big difference. Whether you work at a large corporation, a small business, or a collective of freelance consultants, you can develop a volunteer program that is both impactful and works for your team.

Ready to get started? Here’s how:

Define Your Goals

As with any new initiative, you want to begin by clearly defining what it is you’re working to achieve and how you’re going to measure it. Do you want to address an issue in your local community? Improve employee morale? Attract new hires? Build a stronger relationship with your customer? Don’t shy away from applying business goals to your philanthropic endeavors. By simultaneously creating wins for the community AND your business, you’re much more likely to build a sustainable and scalable program.

Consider Your Industry & Values 

When you’re starting a volunteer program, you want to first consider how you can connect it to your industry and values. Without that connection, the relationship will likely feel less authentic to everyone you touch – partners, employees, and consumers.

As an example, if you’re a sporting goods company, it may make more sense for your team to volunteer time at an inner city summer camp than it would to volunteer at a food pantry. The stronger the tie between your industry, values, and volunteer efforts, the more your program will thrive.

Ask Your Team

When you’re looking to make a real impact on your community, the best thing to do is to tap into your team’s interests and passions. If you choose a cause relevant to your industry, but your team doesn't find it engaging, your commitment will likely be perfunctory and short-lived. Schedule a team meeting or send out a survey to find out:

  • Their level of interest in giving back
  • The specific social, economic, or environmental issues they care about
  • The type of volunteer activities they’re interested in (e.g. physical, skills-based, mentoring)
  • Their preference for team-based or individual activities

Choose the Right Model & Partner

Once you know the type of work you and your team want to do, you will next need to figure out the who and how.

In terms of structure, there are a number of options, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Company-wide paid volunteer days: Choose a certain number of days each year during which your team will come together to volunteer with a specified nonprofit partner.
  • Company-wide drives or fundraisers: Commit to supporting a nonprofit’s annual needs through collective employee fundraising and community advocacy.
  • Skills-based projects: Explore structures where individual company departments use their particular skills to solve a specific problem (i.e. The marketing team can help boost a nonprofit’s fundraising revenues, while accounting can search for ways to make the nonprofit’s budget more efficient).  
  • Individual volunteer hours: Encourage your team to commit to a certain number of personal volunteer hours each quarter, to be carried out with the nonprofit partner of their choice. You can incentivize these by allowing employees to do their hours during regular work hours, or by offering paid volunteer hours outside of work.

If you’re choosing to align your volunteer activities with one nonprofit organization (as opposed to letting employees choose their own), you also want to be sure you’re starting off with the right partner. Here are some preliminary questions to ask as you’re researching potential nonprofit partners: 

  • What do the organization’s programs and services look like, and where do they need the most help? It can be helpful to list out each of the nonprofit’s needs and see how they match up to your employees’ skillsets.
  • How long has the organization been around, and what is their experience with corporate partnerships? If the organization has been around for a long time or seems to be substantial in size, they may have good ideas and case studies for effectively engaging your team. On the other hand, a newer organization might have a greater need for corporate partners or volunteer support. Chat openly with prospective partners to figure out which of the two situations feels like a better fit for your team.
  • How do they measure the impact of their efforts? Find out if the organization publishes reports on their website, or if they have data available upon request. This will give you a better idea of what your impact will be, and also help to further engage your employees. 
  • What is their staffing structure? Find out whether their staff is made up of volunteers or full-time employees, as well as their general workload and time commitments. Though it’s common to find nonprofits are understaffed, you still want to be sure you’re investing your team’s time in an organization that has the infrastructure in place to be responsive and properly leverage your contributions. A word of advice: At the beginning of the relationship, you’ll also want to ensure you have a key contact with whom you can coordinate your team’s volunteer efforts – it’ll be a game changer.

Formalize the Commitment 

Draw up a company statement that spells out the goals and specifics of the partnership. This should be available on your website, so all involved and any external parties who are interested in learning about your work can access it. This will ensure that your team honors the commitment you’ve made to your community and that nonprofit partners stay within the boundaries of your agreement. Making the commitment public may also help you recruit new millennial talent who are searching for employers that are making an impact.

Engage Your Team 

Whichever model you settle on, recruit ambassadors from each of your company’s departments. This will help with participation and enthusiasm, as well as reduce the overall work involved with organizing and coordinating the activities. If your company is large, you can also use this as an opportunity for testing your volunteer program: Start with one of your departments, and closely track the program’s success.  

 

Once your program is developed and formalized, choose the communication channel you’ll use to keep your employees informed. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Bulletin boards in common areas
  • Email newsletters
  • Internal company messenger systems or groups (e.g. Slack, Facebook Groups),
  • SMS alerts

 

Know of a company that has implemented a particularly interesting or impactful volunteer program? We want to know all about them – here’s how you can tell us:

If your company is ready to launch a volunteer program, but needs some help getting it off the ground, get in touch with us – we will help you make it happen.

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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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How & Why We’re Building a Culture of Kindness

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How & Why We’re Building a Culture of Kindness

“Being kind to our fellow human beings is a precondition to becoming truly successful. Goodness and kindness are the single most important factors when it comes to how successful we will be in our lives.”

- Stefan Einhorn, The Art of Being Kind

Too often, we hear that to be successful, we have to push ourselves (and others) to the edge. We need to work harder, study longer, sleep less, and sacrifice more.

Unfortunately, this mindset can lead to a disconnect with our loved ones, miscommunications with colleagues, impatient behavior, poor self-care, and a multitude of other issues.   

At WhyWhisper, we see success as a better world – one that is filled with opportunity, justice, and support. And we believe that making this happen doesn’t start with working harder or making more sacrifices – it starts with kindness. There’s a chain effect that occurs when we put kindness out into the world: it travels. And if we all commit to being kinder in our day-to-day lives, then as a society, we collaboratively achieve success. 

This year, our team is consciously working to develop a culture of kindness. We’re challenging ourselves to commit to, and reflect on, at least one kind act per week, with each of us defining for ourselves what kindness really means.

Here are some of our examples: 

  • Take time to stop and help someone who needs it. When someone asks for directions, or needs support crossing the street, stop and help them, kindly and patiently. Odds are, it’ll change their day.
  • Cook or buy a meal for someone who’s hungry. Instead of just brushing by the next person who asks for your support, take a minute to stop somewhere and buy them a hearty meal.
  • Write a Letter to someone who might need a little cheering up.  Too often, we forget how much it means to receive a letter of encouragement. Think of someone who’s going through a hard time (whether you know them or not), and write a note to let them know you’re in their corner.
  • Take care of yourself. When we’re busy or overwhelmed, self-care is often the first thing to go. It shouldn’t be, but it is. And the fact is, when we don’t care for ourselves, we also can’t take care of others. Think about how you can be kind to yourself, then set aside the time to do so.
  • Pick up some trash. How often do you walk by a piece of garbage on the street, slightly annoyed that people still litter? Next time that happens, instead of getting annoyed, pick it up (safely, of course).
  • Focus on your community. When we’re thinking about large-scale social impact, we can sometimes forget to consider our own communities. Who do you interact with everyday, and how can you show them kindness? Tip your local barista more than you usually would. Have a conversation with your neighborhood crossing guard. These seemingly small acts will likely have a chain reaction.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting that these small acts should take the place of working toward substantive, sustainable change. After all, providing a meal to someone who’s hungry does not solve a large-scale problem. But in that moment, it does make all the difference to that person, and that’s undoubtedly impactful.

If you’re inspired to be more conscious about kindness, we’d love for you to join us in our challenge. Follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and post your kind acts with #WhyWhisper #workonpurpose. You can also get in touch with us via email, or in the comments below. We look forward to seeing the good that we can accomplish together this year!

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