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You Can Change the World

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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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

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

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

How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving

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

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

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

Think through your values and how they align

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

Determine where you want to focus your efforts

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

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

Decide how you can give most effectively

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

 

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

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

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What Can I Do to Stand Up for Racial Justice?

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What Can I Do to Stand Up for Racial Justice?

Photo source: Jonathan Bachman Photography

It’s been a few weeks since Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police in acts of excessive force.

With the way our news cycle works, it’s easy to get swept up in the next big piece of news, and become removed from tragic events that quickly become part of the past. But the conversation can’t stop when the news coverage dies down. We can’t wait for another tragedy to occur to take action.

Right now, it’s crucial that we continue to move forward for change around racial injustice in this country. We must continue to do three things: educate ourselves, talk about it with others, and take action. To help keep the momentum going, we’re pulling together a list of resources based on what we’re learning from our research, conversations, and peers.

Please note that this list is not comprehensive by any means. It’s meant to grow and evolve as we continue to learn, talk, and act. If you have any resources to add, or want to talk about a specific resource that we’ve shared here, please feel free to reach out on social – TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedIn – via email, or in the comments below.

Educate Yourself

If there is any doubt in your mind that you don’t know enough about racism in America, which is true for many of us, it’s time to keep learning. It’s not enough to look at each individual killing in isolation – we each need to better understand why they continue to happen. The onus is on us to seek out information, to take in different perspectives, fact check, and develop thoughtful, well-researched opinions based on those facts.

Ready to educate yourself? Here are some resources that we’ve come across that we think are worth checking out:

Racism, Prejudice & White Privilege

Looking for resources for kids or teens? Try these:

Police Brutality

Talk About It

Talking about these complex topics can be challenging, especially when it means confronting people we know about them. But when we consider the fact that lives are being lost because of our fear to confront these issues, our own discomfort becomes inconsequential. We’re working to step outside of our comfort zones and talk about what’s happening in our country right now, and we encourage you to do the same. Talk about it on your own online platforms, with your friends and family, and in community settings. Encourage others to connect and discuss racism in America, police brutality, and what needs to change. Your knowledge empowers you to speak up confidently in the face of racist and inaccurate statements.

If you’re looking for some support, here are some resources that might help: 

Take Action

While education and discussion are absolutely crucial, they aren’t enough to create systemic change.  We need to be advocates, activists, and allies in practice, and that means taking it a step further – showing up and putting in time.

If you’re ready to take action, here are some ways you can get started:

 Sign and Share Petitions

Give Resources and / or Time to Relevant Organizations

Push for Change in Your City

  • Learn about your city’s police conduct review process and speak up for change where it’s needed – here’s how
  • Research your city’s government officials and vote for those who are reform-minded 

 

Do you have something to add to any of these lists? Please share them with us – we’ll add to this post and continue to spread the word. Also, hit share on this post! We need to get these resources out there.

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Much gratitude to Dr. Cora Neumann of RESET and The Global First Ladies Alliance for sharing resources and knowledge. 

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15 Ways You Can Curb Your Energy Use Every Day

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15 Ways You Can Curb Your Energy Use Every Day

by Kate Vandeveld

Earlier this month, we talked about how solar power is changing the game when it comes to energy use, and shared our favorite options for solar powered products that can fuel your summer fun. If you’re planning on camping, grilling, or even just relaxing outside this summer, be sure to check it out!

That got us to thinking about how we can be better about our energy use in other aspects of our lives, even when renewables aren’t necessarily on the table. As it turns out, there are so many seemingly small things that we can change in our daily habits that will have a big impact on our energy use.

Here are just a few small steps that you can take today:

Cooling

Lighting & Appliances

Technology

If you really want to go big this summer, plant a tree or two! If you plant one on the east, west, or northwest side of your home, it will create shade that will reduce summer air conditioning needs, and could cut your costs by up to 35%.

Have any tips for small changes we can make to save energy? Share them with us in the comments below or on social! We’re on TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedIn.

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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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The Role of Corporations in the Clean Water Crisis

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The Role of Corporations in the Clean Water Crisis

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

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

H&M Foundation & WaterAid

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

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

Bank of America & Water.org

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

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

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

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

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

World Water Day: Keep the Conversation Going

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

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

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

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

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

Ready to get started? Here’s how:

Define Your Goals

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

Consider Your Industry & Values 

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

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

Ask Your Team

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

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

Choose the Right Model & Partner

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

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

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

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

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

Formalize the Commitment 

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

Engage Your Team 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

by Kate Vandeveld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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How & Why We’re Building a Culture of Kindness

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How & Why We’re Building a Culture of Kindness

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

- Stefan Einhorn, The Art of Being Kind

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

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

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

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

Here are some of our examples: 

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

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

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

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How You Can End the Year with Impact

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How You Can End the Year with Impact

by Kate Vandeveld

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it’s time for many of us to break out the holiday music and start prepping for the next round of celebrations. While the holiday season is one of mass consumerism and indulgence – we’re guilty of it too! – it’s also a time when we tend to feel a stronger sense of responsibility to support people and causes we care about. 

The key is channeling these positive feelings into action – and because many of us are also pretty busy around the holidays, this might be easier said than done. But if we each take a few small steps to support others, we can make a huge difference… ending the year positively and starting 2016 off on a strong foot.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Shop responsibly 

We talk about this a lot, and for good reason: making small changes to your purchasing habits can have a hugely positive impact. Being a conscientious consumer is important all year, but especially when we’re spending an average of $805 per person during the holiday season.

Our first suggestion is to shop small business whenever possible. The ripple effect of shopping at small businesses, rather than opting for large corporations, is substantial. It makes an impact on  your local economy, and reaches as far as global supply chains. If you can’t shop small business, there are other steps you can take to ensure that the products you’re buying are ethically and/or sustainably sourced. If you know of any brands, stores, or websites that you’d like to share with the WhyWhisper community, let us know! We want to help spread the word about companies that provide socially and environmentally responsible options.

Support causes you care about 

Never underestimate how much nonprofit organizations need your support. For many, internal capacity is stretched thin, and budgets are notoriously small.  

As you may know, today is Giving Tuesday – perhaps more commonly known as #GivingTuesday. It’s a great opportunity to balance out all of the spending that you’ve done or plan to do this holiday season. Just check out the Giving Tuesday website or #GivingTuesday on Twitter to find out which organizations participated, and what they’re aiming to fund with this year’s campaigns. Even if you only have a couple dollars to spare, this is a time when even the smallest donation can make a huge difference, collectively. The end-of-year funds that these organizations collect will play a big role in determining their scope of work for 2016.

Also, any company or organization that focuses on social impact can greatly benefit from your support via word of mouth. Follow them on their social media platforms, subscribe to their newsletter, and share information about their work and any campaigns or events they promote. Simply acting as an informal ambassador can be an incredible form of support. If you have expertise in a particular area that you think might be helpful to these organizations, or want to use your time to help them further their missions, consider inquiring about volunteering. If you do it, be intentional about it: Make sure you provide concrete ideas for how you can provide support, and only commit to what you’re sure you can contribute, so they are able to properly plan for the year ahead.

Focus on your own community

If you don’t know where to start making a difference this holiday season, look at your own community. Do you live in a place where it gets pretty cold in the winter? Maybe you could organize a cold weather drive at your office, co-working space, or even your neighborhood coffee shop. This way, you can make a large-scale difference for those in need, while providing an opportunity for others to contribute. Even if you can’t organize your own drive, keep your eyes open for those who are collecting various items – from jackets and blankets, to toys, to canned goods – in your community. These types of drives have become ubiquitous in many areas, and for good reason – they’re relatively easy to put together, and their impact is tangible. 

Plan ahead for 2016

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time or resources to contribute at the moment, or you’re not particularly into the holidays, or you’re already taking action? No matter waht, the end of the year is a great time to plan for how you can make a greater impact in the coming year.

How will you be active in contributing to positive change? Will you volunteer? Plan to reduce your environmental footprint? Mentor others who need support?

Think about the resources at your disposal, your personal bandwidth, and how you can realistically use them to support the causes you care about. Then, make concrete and actionable plans. If you want to support a cause, but aren’t sure which organizations are doing the most substantive and sustainable work, do the research now. Once you’ve landed on one (or several!), take the steps that we outlined above to start learning more about them, like following them on social media and subscribing to their newsletter. If you have the bandwidth to lend your time or expertise, reach out to them with a proposal on how you can support them as a volunteer or consultant.

  

What are you doing to end 2015 in an impactful way? If you have a specific way that our community can help out, let us know – we want to do all that we can. Shoot us an email, connect on social – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, or comment below.

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#BeingBetter Checklist: 10 Ways to Live More Sustainably Right Now

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#BeingBetter Checklist: 10 Ways to Live More Sustainably Right Now

Guest post by Nicole Caldwell, co-founder and CEO of Better Farm and author of Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living

Responsible stewardship of the land and sustainable living are crafts. Living green is an art form requiring no formal training; in fact, we already innately know how to do it. Humans are natural leaders, natural innovators and have always been naturally resourceful. But we've misinterpreted our role on the planet. As a culture we've determined that the Earth is here for our use, and we've in turn treated the environment like a commodity.

But our higher level of consciousness allows us to protect. Our ability to take care of each other - not our might - is what sets us apart from other living things. It is our responsibility, not our gift, that distinguishes us.

There are easy things everyone can do to change their local ecosystem, food habits, communities, health and overall well-being. We don't have to wait around for laws or politicians or policy to change. We are not victims. We are powerful enough to make basic changes at home that will make big ripples. The changes are inexpensive, practical and healthy for everyone. 

Here are 10 things each of us can do now to live more sustainably at home.

1. Stop Making Excuses. Don't say you don't have time to cook for yourself, compost or think of ways to make the planet a brighter, sweeter, more beautiful place when the average American spends more than 34 hours a week watching television. Don't say you can't afford organic food if you still have the money for dinners out, a beer at your favorite watering hole, video games, manicures, a satellite radio subscription or a pack of cigarettes. Instead of finding all the reasons why something can't happen, focus on why something can. For the overwhelming majority of people, it is entirely possible to live healthier, happier and to practice responsible land stewardship. 

2. Love Your Body. All your work on this planet comes out of you. And the moment you start respecting and loving your own body is the moment you refuse to do anything that would put it in harm's way. Loving your self is the start toward exercise, a healthy whole-foods diet and the end of polluting, mindless buying and disconnection from the real world. Read the ingredients on your soap, shampoo and toothpaste and determine whether you want it on your skin, in your body or in nearby waterways.

3. Copy Nature. Mother Nature is one smart lady. From ethics to food production to giving more than you take, look to the land base for lessons on how to live your life. You've got to start trusting the Earth to provide. Everything you need - each and every thing! - exists in the natural world. The planet provides in abundance for your overall wellness, your medicine and your tools. You may have forgotten your faith in this bounty. That doesn't mean it isn't there. 

4. Grow Your Own Food. Growing your own food removes your need for Big Agriculture. By creating your own beds of greens, veggies and even fruit trees, you're taking yourself out of the monster machine that large-scale agriculture has become. There is no reason everyone can't be growing at least some of his or her own food. Even one thing. Even lettuce growing out of reused coffee tins in a sunny kitchen window. If you provide just one vegetable, herb or salad green you love for yourself, you'll be saving exponential amounts of money and fossil fuels otherwise spent in the transportation of that item to you commercially throughout your lifetime. Any fish tank can host an aquaponics array that will give you and your families fresh produce year-round. Herbs can grow in pots hanging from your kitchen walls. Start a community garden with your neighbors if you don't have the time to take care of so much on your own - and then split what you reap.

5.  Compost Your Food Scraps. About 20% of what we throw away as waste is actually food. Twenty percent! If no one ever threw a food scrap away ever again that would mean millions of pounds of food scraps each year turning into lush soil for backyard gardeners. Composting would minimize transportation costs associated with hauling garbage away from our homes. And it would nurture the dirt in everyone's backyard. Whether you feed your food scraps directly to your garden, or to a compost tumbler, or to the earthworms living in a container under your New York City apartment sink, you're creating a sustainable, circular system and limiting what gets added to landfills. If you don't have a garden, take your beautiful black topsoil you create and donate it to a community garden or your favorite Green Thumb. There is always a demand for gorgeous, healthy soil.

6. Eat Your Zip Code and Stop Buying Barcodes. We should all seek food closer to home, in our food shed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens. If you're not pulling it from your backyard, see if you can get it from a neighbor's or at the farmers market over the weekend. The popularity of CSAs and markets like this has made it inexcusable to buy in-season veggies from more than 30 miles away. Anything that has a barcode is a packaged food item. Avoid these as much as humanly possible. Sugar, fillers and processed ingredients are the gateways to obesity, heart disease and unnatural consumption. Get rid of this garbage.

7. Touch More. Trees you walk by. Grass. Vegetables and fruits. Each other. Touch creates empathy and a sense of connection. A hand on the back. A hug. The soft petals of a flower. Tactile sensation is extremely important for sensory development. It's therapeutic to many of our ills. We don't do enough of it. Act more patient than you feel, practice kindness, and let people be whoever they are. Loving yourself and each other goes hand in hand with being more loving to the natural world around you. We are all connected.

8. Change Your Shopping Habits. The choices you make as a consumer are your most powerful positioning points as a member of this society. Where you put your money will dictate policy, trends, supply and demand. By making small, smart decisions every day about where your food, clothes, house supplies, beauty products and every thing else you pay for comes from, you will be making the biggest impact of all. 

9. Stop Eating So Much Meat. Eighteen percent of what we call the greenhouse effect is believed to be caused by methane, much of which is caused by cud-chewers like sheep, goats, camels, water buffalo and most of all, cattle - of which the world has an estimated 1.2 billion. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, planes, ships, trucks and trains in the world combined. Seventy percent of the leveled rain forest in the Amazon is used to raise animals for meat consumption. How much of this stuff do we really need to eat? Try to lessen the amount of meat you consume on a daily basis. Shrink your meat portions when you cook at home. Try out Meatless Mondays or see if you can go a week without. A plant-based diet is a diet of peace: mind, body and soul. If you do buy meat, support the growing number of small farms doing excellent work with crop and animal rotations in pasture. Insist on buying only locally raised organic meats where farmers undertake responsible animal husbandry and holistic management. You should be able to say that the food you consumed - plant or animal -  lived a respectable life and was treated fairly. Cleaner, healthier, happier food translates into a better life for you.

10. Stop Throwing Everything Away. Paper towels, plastic cups, plastic straws, cellophane, paper napkins: stop what you are doing! Forty billion plastic utensils are used and thrown out every year in just the US; while paper products top the charts for waste added to landfills at 27%. To meet demand for plastic water bottles, Americans burn the energy equivalent of 32-54 million barrels of oil each year. So start sporting a handkerchief. Refill your water bottles. Buy some cloth napkins for goodness sake! See if you can go a whole year without using a plastic, throwaway shopping bag. Donate clothing, children's toys and used furniture to thrift shops. Post other items online for sale. And instead of paper towels, cut old clothes and towels into rags to pick up spills and clean house.

Have others to add that I missed? Note them in the comments below! 

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