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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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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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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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Better Businesses? Here's Why and How

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Better Businesses? Here's Why and How

by Alexandra Ostrow

Last week, we interviewed Nicole Caldwell, co-founder and CEO of Better Farm, a 65-acre sustainability campus, organic farm and artists' colony serving as a blueprint for environmentally conscious living. In her interview, Nicole told us about her career path, inspirations, and personal obstacles, and gave us some background on her upcoming book release. This week, we're thrilled to share a chapter of that very book in an early preview for the WhyWhisper community. Read the chapter below and let us know what you think. Have questions? Comment below or reach out via Facebook or Twitter!

 

"Chapter Four: Better Business Practice" from Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living

We are living through an era of record population that ironically coincides with record isolation. Our jobs, along with our addictions to social media and television, exacerbate this issue. We have an “Every Man for Himself” mentality in the dominant culture of the US that encourages us to go it alone - either truly on our own or as an independent family structure. We treat our shopping experiences, jobs and neighborhoods as separate pieces further distinguished as somehow apart from our personal lives. In our isolation, we gobble up resources faster than they can be replenished. All our independent activities and enterprises have added up: On a global scale, our expenses (natural resource use) surpass our incomes (how quickly resources can be renewed in nature) by 150%.

For humans' place in this world to be more sustainable, more loving and more fulfilling, we have to change how we do business on Planet Earth. Let's stop pretending that we're not connected to the businesses we patronize in the communities where we live. And let’s not forget that the businesses we patronize must also do their part to live in agreement with the landscape.

What if we stopped justifying our apathy and instead demanded that business ethics mirror the ethics we want our children to learn? What if we insisted the developers making our neighborhoods took the environment into consideration? What if our communities were extensions of ourselves that we played an active role in shaping and supporting?

All this might bridge the divides we have. It might help us feel connected. And it just might heal so many of the social ills that plague us.

Involvement isn't so far-fetched. Time and again we have seen businesses spring up founded on morals, ethics, philanthropy and environmental empathy. There are ways to poke through a seemingly universally corrupt system. To choose love over greed and to make it work. Business owners, entrepreneurs and start-ups all over the world have begun a new trend of corporate community and environmental engagement that enhance the venture's relationship to the neighborhood in which it is based.

No small part of the disconnect we experience stems from our limited relationships with our communities and local businesses. Examining how businesses can be fused with their neighborhoods offers insights into ways we might all become more actively engaged with our local economies, shopping habits and environments. The glue connecting all these points is a shared vision of a better life for business owners, consumers, children, neighbors, friends and even the landscape.

Sustainability in any setting must first and foremost take the local environment into account. What businesses and communities in Northern New York do to be more sustainable will differ significantly from counterparts in New Mexico, Bangkok or Newfoundland. Local ecology should dictate the methodology, materials and design of businesses located therein. How we interact, care for, take from and nurture the natural world around us must adhere to the local land base. 

To identify the needs of a community, you have to put your feet to the pavement. It is only by listening to people's stories, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of a place and breathing the same air that we can empathize with a space, person or landscape. Smart entrepreneurs know that analyzing data alone won't make them innovators; instead, they know to bury themselves in the questions of how they can improve upon life in their communities in a way that also speaks to their business models.

In 2001, University of Illinois researchers Frances Kuo and Bill Sullivan conducted a study to compare the lives of women living in a Chicago housing development. Half of the test subjects lived in apartment buildings with views of greenery. The other half lived in identical buildings without those green views. Kuo and Sullivan found that buildings with high levels of vegetation outside had 48% fewer crimes against property, 56% fewer violent crimes and less domestic violence. 

Of 200 residents interviewed, 14% of women with barren views reported hitting their children in the last year. Only 3% of women in green areas said the same. Similarly, women enjoying views of trees outside reported fewer violent acts toward their partners than those living without trees. Residents living with green views also demonstrated better relationships with their neighbors: more visitors, more socialization, more knowledge of who's who and a stronger sense of community.

Developers armed with such research findings can fundamentally change social dynamics among residents in their communities. Imagine marketing houses and apartments with proven abilities to reduce crime, isolation, depression and violence.

When our corporate ventures or organizations grow out of a community's needs, our mission becomes part of a higher power and larger body of work. When this happens, employees and customers alike are drawn to the vision. We see things firsthand and experience all that life offers to us. We open ourselves up to our communities and each other.

There isn't any reason for business practices to be separate from neighborhood outreach. A vibrant and successful small business will incorporate a community's identity into its very core. If a business owner can envision a better community and have a carefully orchestrated action plan for facilitating change, then there is a strong relationship that will allow for regeneration and evolution.

To establish itself within a community, a company must assess its neighborhood's needs and file those down to efforts that merge business practices with the community. A farm may wish to donate to the local food pantry, while an office-supply store may give school supplies to local children. Smart collaboration is more important than a misguided laundry list of things a neighborhood needs.

Bennu, a green product development and marketing company focused on recycling, organizes an annual “Greenpacks for Great Kids” online backpack drive. The company donates $5,000 worth of eco-friendly backpacks to children living in low-income, New York City communities. 

Vermont-based Bove's Cafe and pasta sauce company partnered with Hannaford Supermarket to donate 1,000 boxes of pasta and more than 1,000 jars of pasta sauce to the Chittenden County Emergency Food Shelf. Bove's took what it knows how to do - feed people - and used that skill to help the community. 

Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods founders Bob and Charlee Moore in 2011 donated $5 million to Oregon State University in order to establish a research center focused on the nutritional value of whole-grain foods. Another $1.35 million was donated by the couple to the National College of Natural Medicine as help in the fight against childhood obesity.

Maple Leaf Adventures, a boutique expedition company based out of Victoria, British Columbia, annually donates one percent or more of sales to coastal conservation work and science. These funds have supported the prevention of illegal trophy hunting of grizzly bears, research on seabirds and white spirit bears and helped to protect wild Pacific salmon. Each of these causes is near and dear to the hearts of the company's owners; Maple Leaf Adventures relies on this coastal environment for ecotourism.

Communities demonstrate needs through certain indicators. How do people handle their garbage or treat their front lawns? Is the local school struggling? Is natural landscape incorporated into the scenery or banished from it? Are children playing? Are public spaces tidy? Are there any public spaces at all? It's easy enough to explore an area by researching basic information about the local economy, housing, environmental degradation or bounty, topography, transportation, public health and basic demographics. But so much can be learn by actually entering the environment: hike, kayak, walk the trails and explore the old railroad tracks.

This is the beginning. But we have to look even closer, at the canvas behind the neighborhood.

The land that's supporting businesses and homes is the backdrop to all we do within it. When creating a business model, we are wise to consider the land what it can realistically support. We must consider the people who depend on that land whether they realize it or not. This is not some fall-by-the-wayside topic; it's everything. How can my business support the local land base? How can my company help to clean up the local ecosystem or establish conservation efforts? How can my office produce zero waste? How can I use renewable resources to power, heat and cool the buildings I use? How does my presence in this location enhance the natural landscape that makes it possible for me to live and work here?

Companies should not continue to produce things that hurt either the environment or community. Enough technology and information is accessible now for us not to need things like genetically selective weed killers or toxic toilet bowl cleaners. There is no longer any excuse to use polystyrene foam containers, paper towels or paper napkins. The boom in small farms and the technology we have to communicate with each other leave little excuse for our restaurants not to incorporate local ingredients. Our office kitchenettes don't need throwaway cups or plastic stir straws. There's no reason to buy these products, offer them up for employee use, and there's no reason to sell them. It's unconscionable to not compost food scraps when we know how beneficial they can be. We can start companies that don't create products that harm the land base. We can appeal to the companies we work for to green their practices.

As consumers, we have power. We increase or decrease demand by buying or not buying. This is the only language many companies know. If we all stopped buying paper towels or factory-farmed meat, what business owner in her right mind would continue to try to sell them?

People utilized social media in 2010 to create a massive campaign against Nestlé for its use of Indonesian palm oil in its products. Initially launched by Greenpeace, the Facebook-driven campaign provided information on how demand for palm oil in Indonesia spurred growers there to illegally cut down endangered rainforests in order to make more growing space for palm. A petition was passed around, but consumers got in on the game directly by writing their own letters to Nestlé and posting on the company’s own social media sites about the issue. Consumer action went viral throughout the Internet, and Nestlé responded with a pledge to source 100% of its palm oil from certified-sustainable sources by 2015. It met that pledge a full two years early, in 2013.

Visitors to Sea World locations in the US dropped by 13% in the first quarter of 2015, following the release of the controversial documentary "Blackfish." The film, which outlines a number of violent outbursts of whales against their trainers, explores the complex intelligence of killer whales and suggests the mammals are unfit for captivity. Public outcry against the theme park resulted in free-falls for Sea World’s numbers. Stocks fell 50% in six months during 2013, and the park’s CEO resigned in early 2015. The dramatic drop in ticket sales has meant a scramble for Sea World execs to rebrand the company and to put an onus on rehabilitation and education over tricks and captivity.

A 2005 McKinsey & Company study found that up to 8% of consumers had stopped shopping at Walmart because of negative press about the company’s environmental practices, labor policies and methods for beating out competition. In response, that same year Walmart’s CEO announced a sustainability strategy that would allow the company to in the near future “be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment.”

We are alive during some of the most exciting times. A huge majority of the people creating start-ups want to make a positive contribution to the world. And luckily for them, a business model that incorporates philanthropy is infinitely more attractive to investors. Courageous leaders who insist on higher standards are rewarded tenfold by consumers.

Actor Paul Newman launched Newman's Own in 1982 by passing out wine bottles filled with homemade salad dressing to his friends. In the three decades since, the company has earned more than $400 million - all of which has been donated. Every after-tax dollar earned by the company goes directly to Newman's Own Foundation, which distributes the cash throughout the world to various charities.

Newman's has inspired countless other corporations to follow suit. Mike Hannigan, one such company's founder, had his moment of reckoning while reading over his own jar of Newman's pasta sauce. Hannigan got in touch with his business partner and the two men figured out a way to instill philanthropy into the core of their venture, Give Something Back Office Supplies.

Though it's a mega-chain, Chipotle is another great example of business practices being intertwined with community outreach and sensible principles. The corporation buys as much as possible from local farms within striking range of each franchise. Chipotle selects farms that are informed by their local land bases and utilize compassionate care for livestock. 

Life is good, Inc. makes a ton of money selling merchandise depicting its now-famous stick figure emblem. The company has built charitable giving directly into its business plan, donating 10% of net profits to children in need. Life is good also sponsors festivals that give merchandise and profits to child-related charities and causes. 

Since 1985 outdoor gear biz Patagonia has donated one percent of annual sales to environmental causes and preservation. But they've done more than that: in 2013, the company unveiled a new campaign called “The Responsible Economy.” This effort is to produce fewer items than in previous years and limit growth in order to put less stress on the environment. Patagonia's high-quality outdoor products are designed to ensure consumers can wear the same gear year after year. The company is single-handedly challenging the compulsive clothing shopping experience other businesses depend on.

The more a community understands an organization's positioning, the better the relationship will be. So aligning a business with one or two specific causes will benefit business owners and employees more than token contributions. This work doesn't have to be money-based, either. Any community will show more respect for business owners who get their hands dirty helping out with neighborhood cleanups or fish fries than some mogul who throws money at community issues.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is a billionaire who devotes most of his time to philanthropy. His chief effort is Virgin Unite, a nonprofit foundation with projects related to leadership and entrepreneurship. Branson has said in many interviews that healthy profits are inextricably linked to community support of a business’ services and management practices - and that employees want to work for businesses they believe in.

Steve Brockman, locally celebrated business owner of Expert Plumbing in Naperville, Illinois, regularly rolls his sleeves up to help his community. He works closely with Naperville Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, and has in the past built a parade float and organized a fundraiser for the group. And senior staff at Solihull Hospital in the UK annually show their appreciation to the rest of the staff by contributing during the hospital’s National Volunteers’ Week. Pitching in unpaid in the pharmacy department, meeting and greeting or helping with fundraising efforts are the higher-ups’ way of saying thank you to the people who put in the elbow grease every day to make the hospital run smoothly.

Notre Dame High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia launched a new initiative in 2015 called “Business Gives Back.” For that program, area business owners visit the school to talk with students about the making a difference in the community and the benefits of local businesses offering volunteer outreach.

There is growing evidence that our happiness is actually tied to local economy and policy. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) movement, started in Bhutan, factors happiness into new policies. A commission in that country reviews policy decisions, distribution of resources and studies the effect of these factors on the level of happiness within the country. Similar to environmental impact measures, governments that use GNH indexing adjust their policies according to the levels of happiness those policies will bring to communities.

Factors include the environment, culture, art, physical and mental health and basics like economics. So now, it's possible to chart how a government (in its own right an extension of a company profile) affects the well-being of the communities it is supposed to serve. It's a model worth considering in our own households, civic centers, states and counties.

When we seek business ventures that solely satisfy our greediest, most egocentric concerns, we limit ourselves. We feed an addiction to material gains and a hectic life that leaves us exhausted and unfulfilled. Living in this way only expands our sense of being alone. But opting for community-driven business practices enhances neighborhoods, increases happiness levels and is good for business’ bottom lines.

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The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good

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The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good

by Kate Vandeveld

We talk a lot about businesses and organizations that are focused on doing well by doing good. These are social enterprises that have built their business models around social impact: doing good is part of their brand DNA.

Equally as important are the existing companies that may not have set out originally to contribute to social good, but have implemented programs and initiatives aimed at doing good as they’ve developed. Though social impact was not built into their business models, the work that some of these large-scale companies are doing is incredibly impactful as a result of their scale and global influence.

The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good -- via WhyWhisper

What’s more, employees are an important part of the equation.  In a 2014 report, 55% of millennials surveyed said that a company’s involvement in cause-based work influences their decision to accept a job. So integrating social impact into a corporation’s strategy isn’t just good for the world, it’s actually becoming necessary for attracting and retaining talent.

Here are five of the many large corporations that are focusing on social impact, as well as how they’re doing it:

American Express

When you think of American Express, one of the world’s largest credit card companies, social impact may not be top of mind. But the company has actually developed a number of socially conscious programs in recent years. Their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs include a Leadership Academy, a historic preservation initiative, and incentivized community service.

In 2010, American Express even launched Small Business Saturday, which falls the day after Black Friday, a day that is well known for catering to large corporations. In contrast to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday supports small, local businesses by helping them spread the word about their own products and services, and encouraging consumers to shop there instead of going big. And shopping small business is important: small businesses are better for the economy, human rights, and the environment. As a whole, American Express’s efforts to have a positive impact both internally and on a global level have been huge.

Cisco

Cisco is a multinational technology company that designs, manufactures, and sells various types of networking equipment. Though its offering is not built around impact, its focus on social responsibility is one of its core values. As it states on its website, at Cisco, "any success that is not achieved ethically is no success at all."

Cisco’s CSR programs are numerous. The company leverages its tech focus to make an impact across the following areas: access to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, critical human needs and disaster relief, environmental sustainability, governance and ethics, and supply chain standards. Its Global Impact Map shows at-a-glance the incredible work that it’s doing globally, and its 2014 CSR Report details the impact that these programs are having. Cisco also has a strong focus on work-life balance internally, and works hard to foster a strong culture of empowerment, engagement and innovation among its employees.  As with American Express, Cisco has used its tech assets and scale to do immeasurable good, though social impact was not a goal of the company at its outset.

Patagonia

Patagonia, a high-end outdoor apparel company, has been making headlines for its social impact efforts over the past several years, specifically around sustainability. Patagonia has worked to increase transparency around its supply chain, giving consumers a glimpse into the environmental and social impact of developing and distributing its clothing through The Footprint Chronicles.  It’s made remarkable efforts to ensure that everything that goes into their products is traceable and responsibly sourced, as well as fair trade certified. Patagonia also gives 1% of sales to environmental organizations all over the world.

Beyond its efforts around sustainability, Patagonia has developed CSR initiatives to increase employee happiness and promote fair labor practices. As the company’s CEO Rose Marcario recently stated at the White House-hosted Working Families: Champions of Change event, Patagonia has seen a notable increase in employee retention as a result of its efforts to offer fair benefits and showing employees that the company cares about them. We’ve discussed the importance of fairness and compassion in business, and its results are made very apparent in this case.

Gap Inc.

Gap Inc. is a large-scale clothing retailer, with over 3,000 stores employing over 150,000 people globally. But producing and distributing clothing isn’t all the Gap is about. In fact, the company’s “Do More” programs are centered around its focus on positive social impact, including providing equal pay for employees of all genders, a focus on sustainability, and a commitment to maintaining safe and fair labor conditions in their 800+ global factories.

Gap Inc. also launched its P.A.C.E. program in 2007 to provide work and life advancement opportunities to the women who make their clothes. Using company resources and leveraging partnerships with local community organizations, the P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement Career Enhancement) Program provides skills, education and technical training to the women who make up 70% of the company’s team of garment makers. To date, more than 30,000 women have participated in the program.

Microsoft

As most of us know, Microsoft is a multinational technology company that primarily develops and distributes computers and computer software. We may not be as familiar with the company’s noteworthy commitment to social responsibility. The company’s social impact efforts are both internally and externally-focused, ranging from developing a diverse, inclusive, and respectful work environment for employees to consistently working towards more sustainable operations.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Microsoft’s social responsibility efforts is its expansion beyond Microsoft itself. Earlier this year, Microsoft issued a new mandate to its contractors: If they want to work with the leading tech provider, they’ll have to offer their own employees paid time off. This concept is somewhat revolutionary, and one that only a company with as much clout and power as Microsoft would be able to pull off without losing an egregious amount business. Right now, only 12% of private sector employees are given paid sick days, which is problematic in a myriad of ways. Efforts like this will go a long way to change that in the absence of federal policy change.


These are just a few of the increasing number of powerful large corporations that are working to build out their CSR efforts and have a positive impact on their employees and our world. Do you know of others? Tell us about them! We want to talk about them. Here’s how you can do it:

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

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

by Alexandra Ostrow

Two years ago, I went out on my own with the goal of doing something better -- better for the world, better for my community, and better for myself. While on my journey to do better, I've been lucky to meet some of the best. Recently, I connected with Nicole Caldwell, co-founder and CEO of Better Farm, a 65-acre sustainability campus, organic farm and artists' colony serving as a blueprint for environmentally conscious living.

Better Farm attracts those who are interested in doing "better"— growing from each experience, serving their communities, and creating something that benefits the world around them.  Nicole is also president of the not-for-profit arts and music outreach initiative betterArts, which works in tandem with Better Farm to explore the intersection between sustainability and art. She has worked as a professional writer and editor for more than a decade, and her work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader's Digest, Time Out New York, and many others. Lucky for us, her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, comes out this July through New Society Publishers.

While we wait for its release, we asked Nicole if we could share some of her work on the WhyWhisper blog. Read the interview below to learn more about Nicole, Better Farm, AND her upcoming book. Weekly posts on "Being Better" start now -- for the entire month of May!

Before starting Better Farm, what were you doing? How did those experiences bring you to where you are today?
I lived and worked in New York City throughout my 20s working as a journalist. I was fortunate to land in a vocation that allowed me to meet some unbelievable people. In that decade, I spent time with voodoo healers, the SCUBA subculture of New York City, environmentalists trying to use an endangered turtle to block condo development, San Diego's homeless population, and the Yurok Tribe of Klamath, Calif. My adventures and conversations awarded me a deep sense of wonder, belief in magic, and the ultimate gift of whimsy in my everyday life. But paying New York City rent means aiming for jobs with nice salaries over those that satisfy your passions. So through normal twists and turns, I ended up in a basement cubicle working for a paycheck at a job I loathed: covering the New York City diamond trade. I felt tired all the time. I lived for weekends. I took frequent trips to Better Farm, which at the time was a defunct commune occupied only by my uncle and two other people. He and I used to daydream about ways to revive the space: offer artist residencies, host music festivals, live off the land. But I was too chicken to make a move, so I returned each time to my cubicle. It’s funny how we refuse to take chances when we’re comfortable, even if that relative comfort isn’t making us happy.

Then my uncle passed away in March of 2009, and left me Better Farm. The timing was terrible, as death always is. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him—and I certainly wasn’t ready to take on a 65-acre property 350 miles away. My grief compounded the stress. Then the floodgates opened. My boyfriend and I broke up a week later. Then I got laid off. I felt utterly hopeless. And though I applied to job after job and tried figuring out ways to dig my heels into the ground and not change, nothing stuck. I checked into therapy and started volunteering at a community garden in the Bronx. I invited my friends over and held brainstorm sessions on what to do about Better Farm. And finally, one random night on a crosstown Manhattan bus, I just knew. In June of 2009, I sublet my apartment, loaded up my car, adopted a puppy and moved to Better Farm.

What do you find most appealing about sustainability?
Sustainability is literally the act of lending oneself to infinity. It refers to actions so unobtrusive, they can be done and done again for all time, constantly replenishing and being replenished. I take great comfort in that idea—especially in this culture of planned obsolescence and impermanence. Stepping away from that linear mode of thinking and paying attention to how nature is constantly replenishing itself has changed my life.

In your pursuit of a "better" lifestyle, what are some of your biggest obstacles?
Honestly, it is hard to not make yourself crazy. If I’m at a restaurant, I watch all the half-eaten food being taken back into the kitchen to be thrown away and feel frustrated. I have mini temper tantrums constantly over throwaway cups, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, paper napkins, paper towels. Every time I leave the farm, I’m inundated with all these things people are always throwing away. I have to control myself. It is a huge balancing act to educate people about something you care so deeply about while also not going overboard and turning people off. I get impatient: with myself, with the whole world, for not making bigger changes more quickly. We are in such desperate need for a huge cultural overhaul in how we grow our food, how we treat animals who live their whole lives serving our gluttony, in how we handle our “waste”—but we don’t need more people screaming until they’re blue in the face. If you push too hard, you ultimately alienate the very people you need to attract.

What inspired you to write a book, and how long did it take to write?
New Society Publishers actually got in touch with me to say they’d found Better Farm’s website, loved the message, and wondered if I’d ever considered writing a book. It was totally surreal—every writer’s dream. The best irony to me is that I took such a risk stepping away from New York City. Naysayers at the time told me I was throwing it all away: my degrees, my career, my potential to find a partner. People wondered how I’d be able to pursue my writing and have any semblance of a good life if I moved to a tiny hamlet of 500 people hundreds of miles from everyone I loved. Better Farm was such an unformed template, no one could see what I had in my head. I take such satisfaction in the fact that it took that leap to ultimately achieve more than I ever thought possible. When I signed my book contract, I felt so gratified. I actually had done it.

In your book, you have chapters on everything from building a better business to the intersection of sustainability and art to DIY tutorials on going green. Who do you feel will benefit most from reading Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living?
I think the book speaks most to people in the same boat I was in six years ago, experiencing a sense of detachment from who they believed they were or could be. Better is kind of a call to arms for anyone who has lost sight of the things he or she always wanted to do and accomplish and experience; people who feel beaten down by repetition. The book is designed to light a fire in people’s bellies. My hope is that readers will read the last page of Better, walk outside and bark at the moon.

In your opinion, what is the one thing every one of us can start doing now to create a better world for all?
Ditch the idea of garbage. There isn’t any system in the natural world that acknowledges waste, because there isn’t any. When we live more in rhythm with the earth, we take only what we need. We don’t throw anything away. If we eliminate the idea of garbage, then we don’t buy stuff loaded with packaging. We eat clean. We compost food scraps and paper products like newspaper. We bike instead of drive. We reuse and donate instead of throw away. If every one of us lived like this, supermarkets wouldn’t sell anything packaged or processed. Every neighborhood would have a community garden fed by compost toilets and kitchen scraps. We would hang out with each other instead of watching television. We’d cook together instead of going to a drive-through.

What companies or organizations do you personally admire? Why?
I’m in love with the Gentle Barn and Farm Sanctuary. These organizations rescue abused, neglected farm animals and give them a noble retirement filled with love and open air. Our treatment of fellow living things as products is an embarrassment, and these groups educate the public on how intelligent and gentle these creatures are. I’m also really jazzed about the work Patagonia is doing to provide ethical products to consumers, and their “Responsible Economy” project that encourages people to actually buy less—an anomaly in the corporate world. Also, Tesla is going to change the world with the recently announced home batteries.  A single battery powers your house with solar energy—or you can charge it off the power grid during cheapest energy hours. The concept is going to revolutionize how we power our homes.

What advice to you have for social entrepreneurs who are working to build more socially-conscious businesses?
Smart entrepreneurs will build business models that primarily take into account how a business can benefit the local landbase, and how it can benefit the community in which it is situated. Employees and consumers alike overwhelmingly want to be involved in ventures that answer those needs. It is a great starting point and has huge returns.

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To stay in touch with Nicole and all things Better, click on the links below:

Also, check in next Tuesday for a sneak preview of her upcoming book!  

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Give Better Gifts on Valentine’s Day

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Give Better Gifts on Valentine’s Day

by Kate Vandeveld

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner! And while the focus of the holiday is love, it comes with a side of consumerism. Did you know that the average consumer spends $116.21 on Valentine’s Day? That’s over $13 billion each year. Don’t get us wrong: Consumers keep companies in business, and companies can do a lot of good. But as a consumer, it's up to you to make purchasing decisions that have a positive impact.

Give Better Gifts on Valentine’s Day - via WhyWhisper Collective

Here’s what you need to know to ensure you’re shopping consciously:

Fair Trade

Whenever you’re making a purchase, look to buy fair trade. Fair trade goods are those produced by workers who have been fairly compensated according to wage standards within their local context. The fair trade movement is focused on bringing goods from developing countries to developed countries, and supporting those companies that compensate their employees at locally competitive rates. In some contexts, fair trade also means ensuring safe working conditions and helping to provide sustainable livelihoods for communities.

Here are the best ways to ensure that you’re purchasing fair trade products:

Need some ideas to get started?

Give Better Gifts on Valentine’s Day - via WhyWhisper Collective

 

Conflict-Free

For some Valentine’s Day gift givers, jewelry is top-of-mind – especially diamonds. If you plan to go that route this year, it’s so important to choose a conflict-free rock. According to Amnesty International, conflict-free diamonds are those that were not sold to fund armed conflict and civil war. Diamond-fueled conflict is devastating; one of the most well-known diamond wars in history was the Sierra Leone Civil War, in which nearly 10,000 children were forced to serve as child soldiers. But you can take it a step further by seeking out diamonds that are deemed “beyond conflict-free.” “Beyond conflict-free” diamonds are those that have been mined without the involvement of violence at all, regardless of whether that violence was associated with a civil war. Be aware of this classification for other gemstones and precious metals as well.

Here are some ideas to get you started:


Social Enterprise

As you may know by now, we’re big fans of social enterprise and the concept of doing well by doing good. The social enterprise model allows those who want to have a positive social impact to do so sustainably, while making a profit. Some of our favorite social enterprises are retail-focused, selling a product created by, or in benefit of, a third party in need of support.

Often, a portion of the proceeds from each purchase or a similar product goes back to the third party. So no matter what kind of gift you’re looking for, you can also support someone in need.

Here are a few ideas:

For more ideas, check out our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide!

Give Better Gifts on Valentine's Day - via WhyWhisper Collective


Whether for Valentine’s Day, or any other day, it doesn’t take a lot to ensure that your purchases are having a positive impact on the world. Just take a few extra steps, and feel good about the gifts that you give.

Where are your favorite places to buy ethically-sourced goods? Share with us in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – we’ll help spread the word. 

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

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

by Kate Vandeveld

As you may have noticed, we’re really into the idea of changing the world for the better. And, similar to almost everyone else in the world, we also LOVE chocolate. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to learn about Askinosie Chocolate – a social enterprise that creates sustainable change through the production and distribution of chocolate.

  © Askinosie Chocolate 

© Askinosie Chocolate 

There are many things that make Askinosie Chocolate stand out. To start, their commitment to social responsibility, unique story, friendly and approachable messaging, and beautiful packaging. We had the chance to chat with Lawren Askinosie, the company’s Director of Sales and Marketing (as well as the founder’s daughter), who gave us the inside scoop on the magic behind the brand, as well as their impact.


Tell us a bit about Askinosie Chocolate and what you do.

My dad started the factory in 2006, after over 20 years as a criminal defense attorney, because he was ready for a change. I was still in high school at the time, but immediately became intimately involved with our new lives as chocolate makers, especially on the marketing side of things.

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For a while, at 15, I was the one handling our social media, writing our press releases, writing website copy, and packaging copy. In fact, those things are still part of my job, except at the time I had no idea what I was doing. I learned so much as I went along though, and it was fun. Even now, we're still such a small team that we're often learning on the fly. With each new opportunity or project, we learn a plethora of new skills because, well, there's often no one else around to do it and somebody has to!

I started college a bit early and graduated a bit early, because I was honestly so passionate about what we were creating that I couldn't wait to jump in full-time at the factory (which I did immediately). I have been in my role as Director of Sales & Marketing for a little over 4 years, and every day is completely different.

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We have a little saying around the factory: "It's not about the chocolate, it's about the chocolate," which sums up our philosophy of this zen-like balance we strive for between an excellent product and doing as much good as we can. Whether it's our Direct Trade practices and profit sharing with our farmer partners, our Sustainable Lunch ProgramsChocolate University, or our commitment to traveling the globe in search of the best beans and developing relationships with the amazing farmers who harvest them, it all makes our chocolate better.


As you’ve noted, Askinosie Chocolates has developed a number of incredible programs that provide food, education, and agency to members of the communities you work with. Why did you choose to incorporate social responsibility into your business model in such a major way?

We incorporate social responsibility into our business because, well, our business is founded on it. The very foundation of what we do is based on Direct Trade; without it, we wouldn't be able to make great chocolate, plain and simple. The direct relationships with farmers ensures that we have the highest quality beans possible, and the profit sharing encourages the farmers to continue to produce great beans, because it produces better chocolate, which people love and want to purchase!

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As for the other work we do, it just makes sense. It made sense for us to start Chocolate University, which is funded mainly by our weekly tours, because we wanted to serve our community, particularly our neighborhood. And it also made sense for us to get involved in our origin communities. We've worked so hard to develop meaningful relationships with our farmer partners; it seemed like a direct extension to then work with their local schools and their children and help them meet this need for nutrition, which is why we began the Sustainable Lunch Programs.

Perhaps the most exciting development of the Sustainable Lunch Programs is that within 5 years, our aim is for us to be out of the picture. Right now, Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) at local schools in the communities we work with make and harvest various local products, such as rice and cocoa rounds. We then ship these products back to the United States with our cocoa beans and sell them across the country. 100% of the profits from these products are returned to the PTA to fund lunches for each student every day. Through this process, we're basically providing them access to the market. We're also teaching them to do it themselves, so within 5 years (or less), they won't need us anymore. We see that as true sustainability. In fact, both communities in which we have the Sustainable Lunch Programs (Tanzania the Philippines) are already working toward this, and are well on their way to taking their products to the next level on their own. Of course, we’ll still be involved in their communities in other ways, because being deeply involved in the communities we work with is at the core of what we do.

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In a nutshell, we believe the social purpose of Askinosie Chocolate is to not only compensate our farmers fairly and treat them like the business partners they are, but to connect those farmers with our customers – to build relationships based on mutual understanding and appreciation, which makes both our chocolate and our business better. We believe transparency, social responsibility, and sustainability aren't just a part of great chocolate, they create great chocolate. It all goes hand-in-hand. 



How has your role at the company evolved over the years, and what is your favorite part of what you do now?

My role has evolved as the company evolved. I work alongside my Dad and our COO to run the company, and even though we manage different small teams with various responsibilities, we all work extremely closely with one another (there are only 15 of us full-time!). It's very hands-on.

Many of my responsibilities are the same as they were in high school; and in some ways they're just more challenging. Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman's and a mentor to our factory says, "Success means you get better problems--but there will always be problems." I'd say we're lucky enough now that we encounter some pretty major problems! When I'm feeling optimistic (ha!), I like to think of them as opportunities; opportunities for me to learn something, to do better. And in many ways that's how my role has evolved the most: I've become a pretty solid problem solver and I get a chance to improve that skill on a weekly, if not daily basis.

My responsibilities are so varied that I really don't have a favorite aspect, although I must say that traveling to origin countries to meet with farmers, inspect cocoa beans, and work on community development projects is not only one of my favorite and most rewarding parts of my job – those trips have also been some of my most treasured life experiences as well. 

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

I don't know that I have anything that revelatory to share here that many other experts haven't already shared, but a piece of advice I happen to believe in wholeheartedly is this:

Work hard and be nice to people. In my (albeit limited) experience I've found that pursuing tirelessly what it is that you think is right or good, while also being kind and compassionate tends to yield pretty positive results. 

 

We couldn’t agree more: With passion, kindness, and tenacity, anything is possible. Lawren’s upbeat personality and infectious enthusiasm for change and chocolate are apparent in Askinosie Chocolate’s social media presence – check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And we highly recommend that you buy some of their chocolate – but that almost goes without saying.

Do you know an individual or organization who is changing the world in a unique way? Tell us about them in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We would love to help share their stories. 

 



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The Freelancer’s Guide to 2015

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The Freelancer’s Guide to 2015

by Kate Vandeveld

The freelance economy has grown tremendously in recent years. In fact, freelance workers are actually projected to outpace full-time workers by 2020.  And for good reason: Freelancing enables motivated and independent individuals to work for the clients whose missions inspire them, while also allowing organizations to tap into the unique skillsets that they need for particular projects.

But freelancing comes with its own unique challenges, from achieving the optimal client-freelancer relationship to keeping your finances straight. As we have quite a bit of experience in the freelance world, we thought we’d pass along some of our learnings.  Here’s our advice for freelancers who want to kick off 2015 on the right foot:

Maintain a Work-Life Balance

Making your own schedule can be incredibly liberating. As a freelancer, you are often free to work at the times when you are the most effective – early morning, late at night, or somewhere in between. The problem is, without the structure of a 9 to 5 schedule, it can become difficult to step away from work and unplug. There is always more that could be done, whether it’s clocking time on a project, researching potential clients, or honing your personal brand.

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But, as with every career path, maintaining a work-life balance is essential for your success (and sanity!). It is so important to “work when you’re working, and not when you’re not.” One way to do it is to set (and adhere to) a schedule for yourself. Whether it’s based on an hourly breakdown or completing certain tasks on a given day, setting goals and limits will give you a sense of accomplishment and give you a clear sense of when it is time to sign off. If you want to do this by choosing a select number of hours to work each day or week, try using time tracking software – it will make your life a lot easier. 

 

Find a Co-Working Space

In chatting with other freelancers, we’ve heard the same story over and over again: At the beginning of the freelance journey, working from home is awesome. No longer do you have to adhere to a “normal” schedule; you can take breaks when you feel the need, and set up an optimal work environment for you. But after a couple of days or weeks, you may start to feel a little bit isolated or unmotivated. The joy of working from your living room is replaced by a feeling that you need to have a separate workspace, with other like-minded individuals to talk to.

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Enter the co-working space. Co-working spaces are offices where individuals work on their own projects in a rented space. If you live in a big city, you’ll find that they are all over the place. Some are catered toward specific niches – tech or creative, for example – while other are open to anyone who needs a space to work. Each co-working space is a bit different, offering different set-ups – from separate offices to open floor plans with desks – and ambiance, so you should definitely do some research and visit the spots that appeal to you before making a decision. Co-working will give you the opportunity to better separate work and home when you need to, and allow you to connect with others who are doing similar or related work.

If co-working isn’t for you, be sure to create a separate spot for working within your own home. And if you want to work outside the home, but can’t find a co-working space, give your local coffee shop or bookstore a try! 

 

Seek Out Networking Opportunities

As a freelancer, you can secure much-needed support and inspiration by finding opportunities to connect with others who are involved in work that is relevant to your field. Without the built-in relationship-building that comes with working in an office, however, you’ll need to seek out these opportunities on your own.  Even though networking as a freelancer takes a bit more effort, it’s relatively easy to do, and will have a big impact on your career development.

Start by using online forums like Meetup.com to connect with other individuals in your area who are working in your field or freelancing. You can also use LinkedIn as a resource for making connections. Reach out to the people in your network who are working for organizations and businesses that you admire, and ask them to connect you with others in the space. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but more often than not, people are more than willing (and even excited!) to help you make connections with others in their networks.

Co-working spaces often provide networking opportunities as well. Before joining one, be sure to check out whether or not they have events like happy hours and workshops that will allow you to spend some non-working time with the other members. 

 

Stay on Top of Your Finances

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Much of the time, managing finances is a little bit trickier for freelancers than they are for corporate employees. Independent contractors often have to handle their own accounting, from billing to bookkeeping to taxes, and many go into it without knowing the first thing about how to do it the right way. It might sound daunting, but there are ways to make it more manageable. Here are some tips that will make handling your finances easier:

  1. Separate your personal and business finances: This will make your life infinitely easier when tax season comes along.
  2. Select a finance day each month or quarter: Managing your finances all in one annual sitting will likely prove to be quite miserable.
  3. Use accounting apps / software: Find a software (like Freshbooks or Bench) that fits your needs, and take the time to familiarize yourself with how it works and how it can help you.
  4. Set aside a certain percentage of your income for taxes: If you aren’t working with an accountant, you can use a free tax estimator to help you decide how much to set aside for taxes.

When it comes to taxes and planning for retirement, Freelancers Union has some great tools that can help set you up for a successful year – check out their tips.

 

Don’t Forget About Health insurance

And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget about health insurance. When transitioning to the freelance life, it may be easy to forget about things that were previously built into your benefits package. Luckily, these days, applying for health insurance isn’t as difficult as you might think.

To get coverage, you can apply directly through healthcare.gov, which provides a great deal of information on health coverage for the self-employed.  You can also turn to third-party sources like Freelancers Union for information about the best package for you.

However you go about it, just be sure to take care of it as soon as possible – open enrollment now ends on February 15th. If you haven’t applied by then, the only way you can get coverage for 2015 is if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. And if you don’t have coverage, you will be penalized at tax time at a rate that is certainly not worth it.

 

Whether you’re a freelancer or not, the New Year provides us all with an opportunity to start off on a better, more organized foot. Take steps to evaluate your work life, and make changes wherever you can improve.

How do you plan to set yourself up for career success this year? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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Social Enterprise Models for Making a Sustainable Impact

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Social Enterprise Models for Making a Sustainable Impact

by Kate Vandeveld

One of the biggest challenges non-profit organizations face is finding funding for their operations. Often, small non-profits are forced to spend significant time and resources in search of funding, thereby taking time away from their ability to focus on the work they set out to do. For a long time, it seemed like a thick line was drawn between business and philanthropy, and it was difficult for non-profits to find alternate means of sustaining themselves.

With the rise of social enterprises, this line has been blurred. These days, companies and organizations with socially conscious missions are being built on for-profit business models, and the concept of “doing well by doing good” continues to gain momentum.

There are many types of for-profit business models that socially-focused companies and organizations use to create sustainable change – here are just a few:

Engineering for Affordability

In the developing world, there is an extreme need for basic products and appliances that have a huge impact on health, safety, and day-to-day living. Social enterprises that design and engineer these products in a simple, inexpensive, very effective manner subsequently sell them in places where they are needed at very affordable prices.

Clean Cookstoves is a social enterprise whose goal is to mitigate and prevent health issues that develop from cooking over an open fire. By designing and producing simple cookstoves that eliminate this problem, and selling them at very low cost to individuals in places that are lacking them, they are on track to foster the adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million households by 2020.

E-Commerce Platforms

One very effective way to empower communities in need is to provide them with a platform for selling goods that they are able to make themselves. These businesses generate revenue through sales, a portion of which goes back to the makers and a portion of which funds their own operations. 31 Bits, a company that sells jewelry handmade by a team of Ugandan women, is built on this model. Their jewelry is made from 100% recycled paper sourced in Eastern Africa, so they are able to consciously expand production, according to demand.

Similarly, e-commerce company Rose & Fitzgerald sources handmade, locally-sourced products from Ugandan artisans, and re-sells them on their website. The company invests in machinery and assists with design, empowering these artisans by providing them with consistent business and opportunities for training and growth.

Buy-One Give-One Model

The one-for-one model is perhaps one of the best known in the social good for profit realm because of companies like TOMS and Warby Parker. In this model, whenever a customer purchases an item – in this case, shoes and glasses, respectively – a pair is given to a person who needs it in a developing country. This model is highly successful, because it relies on asking people to purchase items that they would likely have purchased anyway.

Another great example of this model is Kno Clothing, a clothing retailer that for every purchase made, provides an article of clothing to those in need here in the United States. Additionally, they only keep 50% of proceeds from every purchase, giving the remaining portion of the other 50% to their partners, who work to provide housing to homeless populations. All production materials are fairly traded and organic, so the whole operation is socially and environmentally conscious.

Service Providers

Social impact doesn’t always come in tangible forms; many social enterprises provide services rather than goods. These organizations and businesses provide a range of crucial services that collect revenue while making an impact on the world.

 One example of such an enterprise is Bright Funds, which helps individuals decide where they should donate their money. Often times, people are interested in making donations, but they don’t know enough about relevant organizations to feel comfortable making substantial donations. Bright Funds provides analysis of organizations’ work and efficacy, thereby informing prospective donors. A portion of each of donation is then allocated toward Bright Funds’ operations.

Products for a Cause

Another social enterprise model is a combination of service provider and buy-one give-one. Companies like Janji, a clothing company that designates a portion of proceeds from specific items to mitigating a problem, fall into this category. With companies like Janji, customers can choose where their money is going by purchasing a unique piece of clothing.

 Some of these companies even give individuals a chance to choose where the proceeds go. Drink Give is one such company, donating ten cents of every beverage sold to the local charity of the purchaser’s choosing. So every time you buy a Drink Give beverage, you make a difference in the community of your choice.

The social enterprise model is opening the door to a whole new way of creating social change by  developing sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and difficult problems.

Know of another social enterprise model that is making a big impact? We’d love to hear about it! Comment below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter

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Sell Your Product First and Your Story Second

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Sell Your Product First and Your Story Second

by Shanley Knox

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

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

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

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

Here are some steps to get you started:  

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

Some key questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What My Travels Taught Me About Social Change

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What My Travels Taught Me About Social Change

by Alexandra Ostrow

Last month, my newlywed husband, Ron, and I set off on a three-week adventure to Thailand. With three days in Bangkok, five days by the Ping River in Chiang Mai, and close to two weeks on the beaches of Khao Lak, Koh Lanta, and Railay, we had a chance to experience different climates, ecosystems, accommodations, food, and nightlife. We visited historical temples, bathed elephants, swam in crystal clear blue seas, and walked the colorful streets of crowded night bazaars. And all the while, I couldn't help but take note of the numerous models for impact. 

Now that we're back in New York, I routinely find myself thinking about the organizations that we encountered, and the many ways that their marketing, operations, and infrastructure applies to my client work.

Here are a few examples:

Bangkok

During our first two nights in Thailand, we stayed at The Metropolitan by Como, a luxury boutique hotel with sleek, contemporary designs, an in-house Michelin-starred restaurant, and a beautiful and serene spa. At first glance, there were no readily apparent ties to any philanthropic initiatives.

Later in the trip, I took a better look at the welcome card that they had left for us. On the back, there was a small, but distinct message about their foundation's work in Peru. It struck me as odd that a Thai hotel - even one that's a member of a global boutique operation - would be messaging their work in Peru. Upon further research, I learned that The Como Foundation supports nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls in 19 countries worldwide through education, skill development, and income generation. Now, this made a bit more sense.

What to remember:

  • When running a philanthropic arm of a larger corporate entity, it's critical to craft messaging that resonates with the customer. If someone is traveling to Thailand, odds are they will be more interested in what's going on in Thailand than what's going on in Peru. If unable to resonate on a geographical level, approach it from a different angle. Approximately 51% of the world's population is female. Since their mission is directly tied to empowering girls, why not make this the focus of their materials?
     
  • To ensure the ongoing success of any nonprofit initiative, one must ensure continued visibility and interest. The Metropolitan has numerous opportunities to make customers aware of their philanthropic activities. For example, when someone makes a reservation, they could alert them that a portion of the fees are donated to their foundation. When they check in at the front desk, they could provide a card or brochure with instructions on learning more. When they visit their spa, they could feature items produced by the girls the foundation supports, and information on the training they had received. On-site art auctions, Twitter responses to Foursquare check-ins, even including a direct call-to-action on the welcome card -- any of this would have greatly helped to increase the odds that their customers would support their efforts. The lesson? Look for every point of contact with a prospect, and include relevant stories and information. Did I mention that this benefits the corporation as well? In a recent study, 60% of American consumers said that buying goods from socially responsible companies is important to them.

Chiang Mai
In traveling to the northern Province of Chiang Mai, both Ron and I were beyond excited to feed and bathe the elephants. We had extensively researched our options, as we knew from others that there were numerous companies exploiting animals for purposes of tourism. That being said, we never could have imagined the incredible sanctuary we would step into upon visiting The Elephant Nature Park.

Throughout the day, we received quite an education . We  learned of the abuse and traumas faced by the elephants of Thailand, and the ways in which we could affect change. We saw a baby elephant mischievously trying to allude his mom so as to play with the children in our group. We came to understand the importance of adhering to a strict snacking schedule, so as to ensure the elephants still knew to seek their own food sources throughout the day.

The elephants roamed freely amidst dogs, cats, and visitors (note that safety measures were in place), and volunteers ranged from their late teens to their early eighties. Some were clearing elephant dung. Others were carrying countless baskets of bananas, watermelons, and pumpkins. All had paid a fee to take part in these activities. To date, the organization has rescued over 35 elephants from the trekking, logging, and tourism industries, as well as over 400 dogs and cats, and their success is in large part due to their volunteer populations.

What to remember:

  • By offering an experiential volunteer program where people pay for accommodations and hands-on interaction, organizations can build a sustainable financial model that perpetuates change for their communities, while simultaneously minimizing costs around full-time labor.
     
  • While facts and figures are undeniably important, people are much more likely to buy into the mission of an organization when they have an opportunity to see the impact of its work. A great way for an organization to bring its mission to life is through storytelling. Why did the founder first get involved? What is a typical day-in-the-life of a volunteer? How did one elephant's life change after being placed at the Elephant Nature Park? 

Koh Lanta
Just after arriving in Koh Lanta, a district in Krabi Province, Thailand, Ron and I were looking for a beachside cocktail when we stumbled across Time for Lime, a cooking school, restaurant, and bar, that also offers bungalow accommodations. As I read through their cocktail list and innovative tasting menu, something else caught my eye… all profits from Time for Lime go to Lanta Animal Welfare, a rescue committed to the sterilization and care of the island’s neglected animals.

If you know me (or follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram), you are likely aware of my love of animals. For years, I worked at a local NYC animal rescue, not to mention the Rottweiler, Shepherd-Lab mix, and 2 spunky cats living alongside my husband and me in our little East Village apartment. Needless to say, we spent many nights supporting their business and talking to their founder; and we also arranged a daytime motorcycle ride to visit the animal rescue in person.

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What to remember:

  • There are many ways to affect change in a community. By using a beachside business model that easily attracts tourists, Time for Lime was financially able to start and sustain a nonprofit animal rescue. They also increased the visibility of the animals who were up for adoption, and provided employment to locals from the area. Were this to be located in New York, they would likely be certified as a Benefit Corporation (or BCorp). 
     
  • Time for Lime is able to attract a more steady stream of business through partnerships with larger hotels who want to offer their patrons a unique cooking school experience. When running any social change initiative, it's important to build mutually beneficial relationships that ensure support from the larger community.

The organizations I encountered in my recent travels to Thailand helped to remind me of the endless models and opportunities for creating social change in a community. Are there other impactful initiatives you encountered in your travels? I would love to learn about them!

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

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

by Shanley Knox

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

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

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

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

It’s Going to Be Different Than You Think

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

It’s Going to Take Longer Than You Think

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

It’s Going to Be Harder Than You Think

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

You’re Going to Change More Than You Think

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

It’s Going to Be More Rewarding Than You Think

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

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

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Crowdfunding & Crowd Investing: Which Platform is for You?

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Crowdfunding & Crowd Investing: Which Platform is for You?

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

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

1. Looking to raise donations for your nonprofit?

Try Razoo

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

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

Try Crowdrise

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

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3. Need investors for your social enterprise?

Try Return On Change 

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

4.  Looking to run a fundraising campaign?

Try Indiegogo

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

5. Looking to fund a project?

Try Kickstarter 

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

6. Trying to launch a new product?

Try Crowdfunder

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

Helpful points to remember: 

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

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

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5 Ways Twitter Will Grow Your Social Enterprise

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5 Ways Twitter Will Grow Your Social Enterprise

As a social entrepreneur, you're likely accustomed to wearing many hatsfounder, sales executive, HR director, public speaker, and marketerjust to name a few.

In each of these roles, Twitter can be an incredibly useful toolbut in the midst of doing a million things at once, its easy to lose sight of its value. How can you utilize the platform to further your career, your cause, and your story?

Here are five ideas to get you started: 

  1. Identify and Engage Your Target
    Are you looking for buyers? Users? Early adopters? Whatever your target, you can find them on Twitter. Follow the accounts interacting with your competitors. Search related industry hashtags (e.g. #socent) and join the conversation. Share compelling stories that are relevant to your audience. Once you've established a relationship, ask for email addresses and be sure to reference your Twitter conversations when sending out your pitches. 
     
  2. Differentiate From Your Competitors
    We know how time-consuming  (and important) it is to put together a comprehensive business and marketing plan on a budget. Well, researching the competitive landscape is an essential component of such a plan. Use your social channels to find the companies, organizations, and individuals who are active in your field. Identify what they're doing to support their endeavors, as well as what they could do better. This will give you great insight into how to structure your own marketing initiatives, and how to differentiate your product. 
     
  3. Become a Trusted Resource
    While you and I may know the amazing value of your product or service, others have yet to find out. This means that the majority of the population is not going to come to you out of instant admiration. They will, however, come for the purpose of learning something valuable. Curate content from others, share resources, provide insight, and engage in conversation. When you demonstrate your expertise in a useful and humble manner, the demand for your product will follow.
     
  4. Meet your network
    Looking for experts to advise you? New friends to support you?  Use Twitter bios to identify your prospects. Respond to a relevant article they wrote, congratulate them on a recent accomplishment, or ask them a burning question. Also, don't be afraid to RSVP to events they’re attending via Meetup and Eventbrite or ask them to meet in person. 
     
  5. Strut Your Stuff
    Social networks are one of the best ways to share your current and prior work. Did you write a blog post? Participate on a panel? Receive an award? Post it. All of it. You never know the opportunities that may surface because you were displaying a valuable skill set. 

Have other ideas for Twitter that could be useful to social entrepreneurs? Note them in the comments below! We're working to provide valuable resources to social entrepreneursthe more material, the better!

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