Archive for the ‘Conference News’ Category

Communities by Design: Multiple Layers of Good

Posted on: May 9th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Casey Lauderdale, Social Venture Network, @Radiant_City

Bob Massaro and Bonny Meyer are in the business of community building, but it may not be what you think- they aren’t community organizers or political activists in the sense normally associated the phrase “community building.” Rather, they literally build communities. Together they’ve founded Thriving Communities, a real estate development company that designs and builds housing on the principals of people, planet, and prosperity, creating not just housing, but multiple layers of good.

Bob’s journey to co-founding Thriving Communities began with a constant feeling of insecurity brought on by the poor design of his childhood housing. Cheap post-WW2 structures, called by one housing official as “warehousing for people who need housing the most”, were built with poor insulation and building materials and characterized by crime.

Bob first entered into the healthcare field, but later switched to housing development, bringing a unique understanding of the importance of healthy and environmentally-safe building materials.


Bonny started out as a wine-maker, co-founding Silver Oak Cellars in Napa and later Meyer Family Cellars. Upon selling Silver Oak, she took an interest in both investment and philanthropy and later discovered a way to marry the two through impact investing, where she could support companies that were aligned with her values.

After meeting Bob and co-founding Thriving Communities, LLC, Bonny discovered something uniquely positive to housing development: that investment in housing is real. It provides a physical asset that impacts lives and can’t vanish in the same way, for instance, a technology company can.

The impact of affordable, healthy homes is also very real for the many working families and seniors who now live in a Thriving Communities’ development. The company builds for those who need affordable housing and their homes are typically priced at 10-15% below market rate. They are ADA accessible and designed so that people can grow old in their homes. Rent-to-own programs also support long-term occupancy and owner-investment in the community.

The buildings are constructed without harmful and toxic materials, which means that children are less likely to miss school from illness due to asthma or allergies. The materials and construction process that is used also greatly contributes to economic savings for the company, investors, and, of course, the residents. Their construction partner, Healthy Buildings, can complete projects in 40% less time than traditional methods, and their result is net-zero energy homes with lower water consumption. With no electrical bill and a smaller water bill coupled with lower rents, residents have more disposable income to put back into the local economy.

thriving communities logo

Finally, the projects are designed to foster community. Parking is placed a short walk from housing, rather than in front of homes, so that front doors open up to community space. Everything is designed to produce more encounters between neighbors – from the on-site community center to including open porches in front of homes – in order to foster relationships.

With this model Thriving Communities provides a stronger foundation for hard working individuals and families and is helping to build robust, healthier communities. When communities are strong, the ripple effects into the wider society are significant- it creates multiple layers of good.

The Way of the Urgent Warrior

Posted on: May 6th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Alana Kambury, MBA Candidate at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, @lanabury

Social Venture Network 2014 Spring Conference Plenary: Leadership and the Road Ahead featuring Gary Hirshberg, Founder of Stonyfield in conversation with Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods

Where is the line between big solutions that may come with unforeseen externalities and local endeavors that fall short of actual impact? The SVN crowd may cringe at the idea of Wal Mart, yet can we acknowledge their demand for organic produce can substantially bolster the organic movement? Or is that giving them a hall pass for all the damage that has done to local businesses, labor equality, and consumer culture? Is ‘Go Big or Go Home’ a one-size fits all for change?

Deb Nelson, Executive Director of Social Venture Network began the plenary by asking how can we transform systems. How do we free ourselves from attachment and perfection? How do we let go into growth, even if it’s uncomfortable? To start the weekend on this powerful note, she posed these questions and introduced Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield, who welcomed Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods onto the stage for a discussion of leadership and impact.

Gary, a previous board member returned to SVN with Walter and spoke with familiarity and love. The friendship that the two shared was apparent in their humor.  Nevertheless, they presented stark realities; our agricultural issues are more complex, more drastic, with more uncertain effects than ever. 60%-100% rainfall in Iowa has tested containing herbicides, and the quantity of herbicides are increasing in tow. The road ahead is volatile and serious.

“The enemy is consumer confusion.” To combat this point in the system, Gary has transitioned from Stonyfield to the Just Label It campaign, advocating for the labeling of GE foods. Walter has directed his attention to his suppliers, by demanding that by 2018, all their vendors declare any GMO ingredients on their labeling. Can awareness of the consumer shift the market? Vermont has become the leading edge, so can we hope for a cascade of state-regulations to occur over the next few years? And beyond making labels more transparent, can we reveal the externalities of GMO agri-businesses and mono-cropping?

The discussion felt like a campaign to an issue the crowd already agreed upon, leaving no debate on whether the solution Whole Foods presented had any weak-points or side-effects of its own. Can SVN be that network that encourages companies to act now, and act as a voice of dissent against group think? Walter highlighted the need for immediate action instead of hesitating from systems overload.  It would have been fascinating to include a discussion around how we can collaborate as a community to recover when urgency leads to unforeseen externalities. Stretching ourselves reveals vulnerabilities and risks integrity, and here is where collaboration within in a network, or between an inner city community and a national grocery-chain, can simultaneously insure accountability and protection.

“To create meaningful change, communities and companies have to reimagine what it looks like to work together.” –WR

I am a personal advocate of collaboration through my own connectivity, my graduate work at B Lab for my MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and my work to scale Starvation Alley Farms, Washington’s first organic cranberry farm and the only cold-pressed cranberry juice company in the NW.

How do you stretch yourself? In agreement with Walter and Gary, innovative solutions rely on collaborative efforts between education, policy, agriculture, grocers, communities, and businesses who approach the discussion not with assumptions or individual solutions, but contributive investments. I think we need to go deeper in these discussions, not focusing on how the current system is broken, but on how we can scale with transparency so that we don’t repeat history.

Venturing into a frontier of unconventional business, with qualities that would once deem impossible to quantify, requires frontiersmen and women that have the intellect, courage, and creativity to think outside the box and make the business case for collaborative efforts.

Quote of the night:

“No matter how cynical I get, it’s hard to keep up” – Lily Tomlin

4 Ways We Can Catalyze Positive Change

Posted on: May 2nd, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Kasey Kissick, Social Venture Network, @SVNetwork

Addressing climate change. Confronting malnutrition. Helping veterans heal. Building an equitable workforce. At the 2014 SVN Spring Conference, a speaker series titled “Catalyzing Positive Change” brought together four unique social and environmental issues presented by four fearless leaders: Amy Larkin, Neil Grimmer, Lee Klinger Lesser and Konda Mason. While the topics were diverse, the speakers each shared in their determination to create a more just, humane and sustainable world. Each asked us to think and act in a new way, and each challenged us to stretch ourselves to do more. Taken together, these four speakers left conference attendees inspired and ready to join them in catalyzing positive change.


The Rules of Business and the Laws of Nature

“Nothing except for nature can transform the world as swiftly as can business – for better or for worse.”

The series was kicked off by Amy Larkin, award-winning environmental activist and author of Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy. Hailing financial accountants as her biggest heroes, Amy argued for the economic benefits of green business. She reminded us of the financial impacts of recent extreme weather events and also of the sad truth that today’s biggest polluters also make the biggest profits. She made a simple plea: pollution can no longer be free. It can’t be subsidized. From an economic standpoint, it makes no sense. Through working with Greenpeace Solutions, Amy is chipping away at this ‘environmental debt,’ getting 400 of the world’s largest brands to eliminate HFCs from new equipment by 2015 – a move that will reduce 1-2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. She is also pushing for the use of accelerated depreciation for green infrastructure to promote investments in environmentally friendly business. Amy left us with an excerpt from her book: “Nothing except for nature can transform the world as swiftly as can business – for better or for worse.” She urged us to use it for the greater good.

The Full Effect

10155901_10152265458629733_3789047919441958500_n“Starvation in America isn’t about calories, it’s about nutrition.”

Continuing the series was Neil Grimmer, co-founder and president of Plum Organics, a leading organic kids nutrition company. Since becoming a father, Neil has been on a mission to provide healthy food to his kids and to kids across the nation. Neil explained that the first 36 months of life determine a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential – and nutritious food is a big part of the equation. In the US, 1 in 5 children are hungry. They’re not hungry for calories – but for nutrition. They’re hungry for healthy, nutritious food. Enter Plum Organics – a certified B Corp that produces nutritious organic food for babies and toddlers and also donates to underserved communities across the nation through The Full Effect program. Plum Organics has donated more than ½ million smoothies and 3.5 million snacks to kids in need across the nation, but that’s just scratching the surface. He estimated that 17 billion meals are needed per year, and he challenged the audience to consider day-to-day changes that might bring this number down to create a truly healthy and thriving nation.

Commitment to Self, Commitment to Service: A Healing Path for Veterans

10001356_10152265458804733_4420698937877051990_n“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or even the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around”

The next presentation was lead by Lee Klinger Lesser, co-founder and executive director of Honoring the Path of the Warrior (HPW), a program that helps veterans make positive transitions from military to civilian life. Lee was joined on stage by veteran marine, Megan Lowry, who began her service in 2005 and became an elite guard for president George W. Bush. In a gesture of true strength and perseverance, she spoke despite finding out just days prior that her father, also a veteran, had committed suicide. Megan bravely recounted her story – of being raped by a superior during service, ostracized for reporting the incident, and told that rape and sexual assault are occupational hazards for women in the military. Before finding a supportive community in HPW, she’d struggled with PTSD and attempted suicide four times. Megan told the audience the reason she shares her story is because so many share in her struggle. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each and every day, and she is determined to change that figure. Lee founded HPW knowing very little about military culture, but recognizing the unique challenges faced by veterans and seeing an area in which she could have true impact through teaching meditation and mindfulness. She’s been leading retreats with HPW since 2007, finding that teaching the veteran community not only provides them with solace, but also saves lives. “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or even the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around” – an anonymous quote shared by Megan on the power of love, support and HPW.

Peak Inequity

1486879_10152265458984733_4834831799801696847_n“Your zip code has more to do with your life expectancy than your genetic code.”

Konda Mason, co-founder and CEO of Impact Hub Oakland, finished the series with a discussion on social equity. She opened with a picture of her 21-year-old godson, Trevor, whose life was cut short by a drive-by shooting on the front porch of his mother’s home in Watts, Los Angeles. In Watts, less than 3% of residents have a 4-year college degree, and it claims the lowest median income and the highest density in all of Los Angeles. So despite Trevor having no involvement in gangs, and being smart, driven, and on the path to success, his life was cut short – just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Konda told the audience that zip code determines life expectancy more than genetic code, concluding quite simply that “place matters.” While 78% of white males in the US will graduate from high school, only 58% of Latinos and only 52% of black males will do the same. So, “race also matters.” Konda told us that today in the US, most babies are born of color, and in 30 years, the US will be a majority people of color nation. In order to build a future workforce that is educated and equipped to lead the nation, these discrepancies need to be understood, quantified, studied and addressed. And in doing so, we’ll get closer to creating a more just, thriving and sustainable world for generations to come.

The Case for Renewable Energy Simplified into Two Pieces: Oil and Electricity

Posted on: April 30th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Kasey Kissick, Social Venture Network, @SVNetwork

“Would you rather die of oil well fires, climate change, nuclear holocaust, or all of the above?” asked a wry Amory Lovins, an internationally acclaimed physicist and co-founder, Chief Scientist and Chairman Emeritis of the Rocky Mountain Institute. At the 2014 SVN Spring Conference, Amory gave his take on the current state of renewable energy in a session titled Reinventing Fire. Prompting both surprise and laughter amongst the crowd with his opening line, he then proceeded to offer the audience another option: “What about none of the above?” What if we could stop using fossil fuels and do away with all the dangers they pose to both humans and the earth? While 90% of America’s energy currently comes from fossil fuels, Amory is confident that we can successfully transition to renewables, we can do it today, and it’s economically sound. According to Amory, switching from coal, oil, and gas to renewables like wind and solar power would save the US $5 trillion. How’s that possible? He broke the argument down into two pieces: oil and electricity.

Amory Lovins 
Oil & Autos

75% of the world’s oil goes to transportation – cars, trucks, buses, ships and planes. The biggest oil sink by far is the automobile industry. Amory methodically walked us through a number of innovations in automobile manufacturing, from design to materials to production processes. He proclaimed the need to “take obesity out of cars,” explaining that most of the energy required to move a car is due to its weight. The introduction of light carbon-fiber materials has made a big difference. The reduction of car parts in the most efficient models to a total of 14 is also a big improvement compared to a normal steel SUV which would use up to 20 times more parts. He hailed the development of electric autos as “game-changing” and likened their invention to the shift from typewriters to computers—highlighting leading manufacturers and models available on the market like Prius, Tesla,Volkswagon and BMW.

Electricity & Efficiency

Just as the bulk of oil fuels transportation, 75% of electricity goes to buildings. In the case of electricity, Amory explained that the biggest problem is waste. Efficiency technologies are actually advancing faster than we can apply them. If we were to implement modern energy-saving technologies across the world, we could quadruple efficiency in buildings and double it in industry. The key is disruptive building design. Amory gave us a glimpse into his ultra efficient home in Snowmass, Colorado, which uses an integrative design that virtually eliminates the need for heating even during the coldest winters. He explained that simply rearranging pumps and motors, insulating walls, swapping out windows, and choosing energy efficient LED light bulbs – a process called retrofitting – can save up to 60% of energy costs. And designing brand new buildings with efficiency in mind can save even more.

What’s Ahead

Amory closed the session by discussing global trends in renewable energy use. Long story short, costs to produce renewables are plummeting and demand to use renewables is rising. He said that by next year, the electricity generated by solar and wind power will exceed that of nuclear power. He also noted China’s rapidly increasing renewable production; in 2012, China generated more wind than nuclear power, and in 2013, the country produced more solar power than the US for the first time. He mentioned the trend toward decentralized energy sources like home solar panels, and he noted that today, a handful of European countries already get up to half of their power from renewable sources. In Amory’s mind, it’s clear that we’ve already reinvented fire. And it’s a fire that’s permanent, plentiful, and inexpensive. The real challenge is and will continue to be working with government and industry to implement these changes. Fortunately, with a ‘carrot’ of trillions of saved dollars, Amory is optimistic people will transition to renewable energy sooner rather than later.

Leading the Way Through Collaboration

Posted on: April 28th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Liz Smith, MBA Candidate at Bainbridge Graduate Institute

People are the greatest asset within our organizations, and it is through the quality of their collaboration that we get the most out of their contributions. Yet creating a culture of collaboration within an organization is a highly nuanced and complicated process. At the Spring ’14 SVN Conference in San Diego, Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller, colleagues and authors of the book Opening the Door to Teamwork and Collaboration: 4 Keys That Change Everything, shared their 40 years of experience and expertise in helping teams and individuals to collaborate effectively, and begged us to ask ourselves the question: who do I need to be thinking with?

Judith Katz

Building our “Thinking Team”
The first step in building a culture of collaboration is to get really clear on one thing: identifying whom the individuals are that we need to be thinking with. Whether from within or outside of the organization, by surrounding ourselves with a thoughtful group that balances out our leadership style and skill sets – a group Katz & Miller call our “thinking team” – we can bring depth of wisdom to our companies.

Judging vs. Joining
Merely teaming up with the right group of people is not guaranteed to lead to collaboration. In fact we cannot effectively collaborate or be part of high performing teams if we cannot communicate with each other. Katz offers the view that we have a fundamental species choice to make: do we want to judge – an action that leads to defensiveness, frustration, and a shutting-down of the creative process – or do we want to join one another? To join together, the epitome of collaboration, is to look your team, your employees, yourself, in the eye and say, “yes, I trust you”.

One place we can begin to “join” is within our own organizations. Katz looks to the hiring process to explore this concept. Company hiring is an activity that requires a tremendous amount of resources as we vet candidates to join our team. Yet oftentimes, when we make the hire, we force the employee to go through a process of proving themselves, resulting in a culture of judging. If we want to start joining one another, we must create an environment that fosters collaboration and teamwork within our organization. This all starts with the conversations we have with one another. Ask yourself: am I engaging with this person in a way that makes them feel big; feel valued? When we start from that place we set in motion the trust that’s necessary in order for high-performing teams to thrive.

This methodology of developing thinking teams to co-create collaboration has been put into practice by Katz & Miller through their consulting firm, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, in a number of organizations around the country, including at EILEEN FISHER, a mission-driven women’s apparel company. In attendance at the SVN conference to share her experience of how Katz & Miller’s work impacted the organization was Susan Schor, Chief Culture Officer at EILEEN FISHER. After first meeting 12 years prior at an SVN conference, the three partnered to develop their own thinking team. It is thanks to their work and the effectiveness of this process that EILEEN FISHER has experienced significant corporate structural changes which have led employees to feel a sense of ownership over the work and the company, while fostering a culture of collaboration, ultimately leading to overall company growth and development.

Collaboration begins with who you sit at the table with. Look around you and identify the people you need to be thinking with in order to foster collaboration and bring out the full potential of our greatest assets – ourselves.

Bigger Than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusiness in the United States

Posted on: November 22nd, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

SVN member Connie Evans is the President and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), a national membership organization and leading voice of microbusiness development in the United States. Connie recently spoke at SVN’s Fall Conference about Tilt Forward, a marketplace to address the current gap between demand for and supply of capital and services to Main Street businesses.

Bigger Than You Think Cover Website


With the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, AEO embarked on a two-year study to build the data and the evidence base that documents the economic impact of microbusiness in the United States. This report, Bigger than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusiness in the United States, is one of a series from that research.

The evidence gathered through AEO’s efforts goes far in filling the gap in the paucity of data on microbusinesses and paints a compelling portrait of a remarkably vigorous microbusiness community that plays an essential role in American economic productivity. Furthermore, in the current economic slump, microbusinesses have demonstrated a surprising resilience that contains lessons for accelerating the national economic recovery. And not least, microbusinesses demonstrate great success in spreading business participation and productivity across the economic spectrum, nurturing opportunity across gender and race barriers.

How great an impact can microbusinesses have in our new economy? A lot greater than many previously thought! As summarized in AEO’s earlier report, The Power of One in Three, “if one in three Main Street microbusinesses hired a single employee, the United States would be at full employment.”   This statement has taken the nation by storm, yet many did not fully recognize the transformative nature of U.S. microbusiness. AEO’s current research details the potential of microbusiness by examining the characteristics of microbusiness types and exploring the ways in which microbusinesses can take advantage of non-standard work arrangements and recent technological advances.

As the U.S. economy evolves, microbusinesses are well-poised to capitalize on these changes in our labor markets and broader economy. While individually small in scale, as a whole, microbusinesses play a significant role. Ninety-two percent of all businesses are microbusinesses, and in 2011, the direct, indirect, and induced effects of microbusinesses on employment amounted to 41.3 million jobs, or 31 percent of all private sector employment. Direct sales and receipts and indirect and induced economic output of microbusinesses combined to result in an almost $5 trillion economic impact. Correspondingly, microbusinesses contributed $135.5 billion in tax and fee revenues to federal, state, and local governments.

Read the full report, Bigger than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusiness in the United States.

Harnessing the Power of Gentrification

Posted on: November 21st, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Casey Lauderdale, Social Venture Network, @Radiant_City

Famous for her work on environmental justice issues in the Bronx, Majora Carter is now shifting her focus on economic empowerment through the use of equitable real estate development and job training programs.  At SVN’s 2013 Fall Conference she posed a familiar question: “How do we link current economic trends with local development and job creation?”  Our country has struggled to answer it successfully for decades.  In the past the answer has come predominantly in the form of industry, but as industry faded and manufacturing jobs began to relocate overseas, a declining trend emerged in the neighborhoods surrounding industrial areas.  This coupled with the banning of redlining (a practice by banks and other institutions that segregated neighborhoods along racial lines) caused neighborhoods to become more economically homogenous.

Majora aims to radically shift the status quo and bring economic empowerment through the use of real estate and through job training programs that tap into the technology era.  First, there is a dire need for better development in low-income communities.  She explains that currently only two patterns of planning are implemented: 1) plan for and accommodate the creative class, which leads to gentrification or 2) plan for the maintenance of poverty- in other words, don’t build banks, grocery stores, or mixed-income housing; rather cultivate pay day loan services, liquor stores, and subsidized housing, all leading to the concentration of poverty.  Instead of choosing between these two schemes, we need to create a third option- one that focuses on creating a localized economy to serve the existing community and that can attract residents of diverse backgrounds and incomes to the area.

The second part of the development equation is to improve job-readiness.  All over the nation, but especially in poor neighborhoods, our education system has failed to adequately prepare students for high-growth sectors, leaving behind a large under-utilized workforce.  In order to address this gap, Majora co-founded StartUp Box: South Bronx to foster a culture of entrepreneurism and technology in her longtime neighborhood.  One of the recent highlights for the nonprofit was a partnership with Nickelodeon that employed youth from the community to perform Quality Assurance testing for Nick’s games.  This pilot was so successful that Majora and her partners are seeking to expand the model to other communities and to a wider variety of tech-based industries.

With the QA market valued at $30 billion a year alone, this “insourcing” provides a dual opportunity for both low-income communities and client companies.  As the American population becomes more diverse, it will become essential for companies to reflect this shift in their operations in order to better understand the needs of consumers.  Here again diversity is at the cornerstone of success and is a key driver of economic prosperity.

What Majora teaches us is that economic development doesn’t have to be about wide-ranging government policies.  It can be done with focused, inclusive projects that act as catalysts to transform neighborhoods and create economic prosperity for all.

Hear what Majora had to say at SVN’s 2013 Fall Conference:

Creating a LGBTQ–Inclusive Business Community to Fuel Social Change

Posted on: November 12th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Casey Lauderdale, Social Venture Network, @Radiant_City 

Social Venture Network conferences are designed to both support and challenge entrepreneurs to better the world through business.  Yet, until this Fall there was an important part of our conversation that was missing about how leaders in the SVN community can embrace diversity in all forms and be empowering to the LGBTQ community.  Fueling Social Change, a breakout session moderated by Donna Daniels (Social Venture Network) and featuring panelists Joe Steele (Steele Consulting) and J. Bob Alotta (Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice), opened the floor to attendees to ask how SVN and it’s community can be better conduits of social change for LGBTQ issues.

Donna Daniels posed the first question, asking why this community is not as engaged in conversation around LGBTQ issues.  “There was enthusiasm, that [this session] was happening,” said panelist Joe Steele of Steele Consulting in describing his conversations with fellow attendees, “but it was left with me to have any follow up questions.”  Could it be that there is a perception that America is becoming “post-homophobic” with marriage equality gaining favor across the nation?  Even still, we know that LGBTQ groups face discrimination not only from government entities, but in the philanthropic and business sectors as well.  As Bob Alotta explained, only 7% of philanthropic dollars go towards LGBTQ causes.  Beyond the numbers, topics of sexual identity are still uncomfortable for those who must choose whether or not to “reveal” who they are in a work environment. How can a community like SVN –one that speaks to the importance of diversity as a keystone of innovation– help end this disparity and be inclusive of LGBTQ issues when addressing the needs of social and economic justice?

One attendee mentioned that SVN organizations, who are all dedicated to improve the world through their enterprise, may be hesitant to take up LGBTQ issues as another “good fight” because they already have their resources and passion focused on another social or environmental matter.  In other words, they don’t have the capacity to be multi-causal.  Yet, as this attendee continued to explain, it’s not necessary to be so.  In order to affect positive change for the LGBTQ community, leaders need to do what is already within their power- create more inclusive, more diverse organizations.

In brainstorming some action steps that the SVN community can take, there was discussion of sharing best practices from employee handbooks to interview questions that screen for a candidate’s values.  Still, the consensus came back to the role of leadership; the most important thing SVN leaders can do is to set an example for their employees and for their peers.  They can do this by showing up to conversations around LGBTQ issues, establishing inclusive policies in their organization, and holding others in the community accountable to do the same.

With the session converging on the importance of leadership, what is the next step for SVN to move the conversation forward?  How can SVN build momentum to engage leaders in addressing diversity holistically and incorporate LGBTQ equality into their business practices?

Watch the video of the session and share your ideas:




At the Social Venture Network, good work means working for good

Posted on: October 30th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post by Lindsay Goldwert, Hotwire PR, @lindsaygoldwert

There’s nothing wrong with doing good while making profit. In fact, there’s a whole business model based around the very idea.

The business of doing good was the topic of at hand at the Social Venture Network Fall Conference in Baltimore. Hotwire is an SVN partner and attended the event as one of its sponsors, along with Eileen Fisher, Dansko, Organic Valley and Halloran Philanthropies. Through the hard work of our San Francisco team, SVN received some great coverage ahead of the event in ForbesCSR Wire and VentureBeat.

Over the course of four days, the dedicated members of the SVN, many of them members and friends for more than 20+ years, laughed, learned, and were inspired by the innovations and entrepreneurial spirit of those who believe that helping humanity should be part of business as usual. The triple bottom line, a phrase that The Economist cites as being first coined in 1994 by John Elkington, of the British consultancy SustainAbility, concerns the idea of a third measure of a business’s success. Elkington believed that along with profit and loss, companies should include a third “bottom line” that measures a company’s social responsibility.

In short: People, profit, the planet.

Among the panels, plenaries and presentations, SVN members talked about greening one’s business, the power of crowdfunding to fuel social campaigns, tech incubators in underserved communities, funding globally vs. locally, and the challenges that come with depending on the kindness of strangers to fund a business. The experts agreed: Better to have a solid business plan and give people something they need and want. The big names in attendance, such as Indiegogo, Etsy, and Honest Tea were there to show the crowd that the triple bottom line can really coexist along with big profits and marketplace success.

The SNV Innovation Awards were a joyous celebration of good ideas that solve real world problems. Elizabeth Scharpf, founder and chief Instigating Officer, Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) won for her amazing work in developing a franchise model to manufacture and distribute affordable, eco-friendly menstrual pads for girls and women, sourcing local, inexpensive raw materials (e.g., banana fibers) and leveraging existing networks. Liz and Ben Bohannon, co-founders of Sseko Designs, created an ethical fashion brand that uses fashion to educate and empower women in Uganda. Kavita M. Shukla and Swaroop Samant of Fenugreen bemoaned the fact that 25% of our food supply is lost to spoilage. Their innovation FreshPaper is a low-cost, compostable invention that keeps produce fresh 2-4 times longer.

Lisa Tarver and Tim Jahnigen, co-founders of One World Futbol Project were inspired to create a nearly indestructible ball after watching news footage of kids in Darfur playing a soccer game using a ball of trash tied up with twine. With a concept and material in mind, Tim set out to design a ball that played like a real soccer ball, but would never need a pump and never go flat—even when punctured multiple times. Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, co-founders, of MASS Design Group, have created a nonprofit firm committed to architectural solutions to mitigate the transmission of airborne disease in Rwanda, Uganda, Liberia, Haiti and the US.

The best part of the conference for me was realizing that we had a client already (The Grommet) that had corporate values that aligned with so much of what SVN espoused: Sustainability, job creation and empowering women and underrepresented entrepreneurs to compete in the corporate world. It was great to connect two clients with such a shared vision.

– See more at:

The New Guru Is You: Social Venture Network East 2013

Posted on: October 25th, 2013 by social venture network 1 Comment

Guest post by  G. Benjamin Bingham, CEO and Founder, 3Sisters Sustainable Management, @gbbingham

Meanwhile in BaltimroeThe entrepreneurial buzz was everywhere in the Renaissance Hotel even one of the food servers decided to start a business she got so excited. We can all do it and it is going to get easier in some ways: more access, more inclusion, more virtual platforms… and then you have to actually do the work! This is what once made Americans popular and what makes us unpopular with some… our Can Do attitude, only in this context we are talking about a world we might all want, without one special interest dominating another. The following are glimpses of leaders from this better world and it is by no means complete — in fact, like the superhero theme of the gathering: the Adventure Continues… with you.

Danae Ringelmann of Indiegogo ( was inspired to help people launch plays and films initially. When she realized that only 0.04 percent seeking venture backing get it and only 15 percent of new businesses manage to get loans, she built a platform where anyone can raise money through people who want to see any project happen and get a small gift in exchange for theirs. So simple. There is a fee increase if they fail to get to their goal but unlike kickstarter ( the money still can be accepted… just go for it and see what happens. It is on track for potentially billions of dollars from participants all over the globe, democratizing fund raising for initiatives that are clearly wanted, even if someone else may not. Up on the stage, she seemed to an old timer, like me, just a smart nice young post graduate student with a big idea. But she had done it! Her advice: Ask yourself what bothers you the most? Why? What could be done about it? And who else cares? Then talk to others who care and imagine raising $100K to take care of the problem. Just do it because you can.

Connie Evans of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) has decades of initiative in social solutions behind her and like Danae is most concerned about the lack of access to capital. She is working with Mohammed Yunus of Grameen to build micro-lending in this country because there are 8,000 loan applications currently being declined every day. She is also raising a $50M American Dream Fund to lend up to $250K of unsecured debt with 20 percent turned around within 48 hours and 4 to 6 weeks if there is a need for and a willingness to receive advice along with the loan. They expect to turn down only 7-10% of applicants and to work with the 70 percent who need advice. Can you imagine? Then go for it!

Now imagine musical interludes with the confident conducting of Dr. Ysaye Barnwell from Sweet Honey and the Rock (, the breakthrough lyrics of Austin Willacy (, the deep sound of Imani Uzuri ( and the down to earth simplicity of singer-songwriter, Erica Wheeler (, bringing a feeling for the peace in the surrounding landscapes. Mix that with the hip hop sound of Invincible merging fractal awareness with social IQ and the short but rich chant of Sadhguru, a modern man with an old-fashioned guru outfit who likes race cars and motorcycles as much as setting Guinness records by planting more trees in a day than any group. The sound collage worked because of the united intention of goodwill and entrepreneurial revolition. Yes, ‘revolition’…it might have been a typo but I think not… we have to rewill the world and if we do believe in this, all kinds of music work together and everything can be questioned because there is no defensiveness if the sounds and questions are true. Music and dancing went on for some all night long, and an expansion of awareness and imagination of how possible well being is becoming in the midst of this troubling time. We are the world we are making and we are the heroes we used to think might save us.

Of course this was a privileged subset in the Renaissance Harbor Hotel, and ending with Honest Tea’s founder, Seth Goldman’s description of the sale to Coke and subsequent phenomenal scaling of low sugar, organic beverage consumption may have been off-putting to a localist. To me Ali and Altman Smith’s story eclipsed the Honest Tea kind of success story. Their journey back to their crack-infested hood and reentry into the yoga path as a foundation for social healing was extraordinary to hear and see. Their Holistic Life Foundation ( has now taught thousands of children and adults who may have otherwise given up on their journey.

It is time for impact investing in social enterprises like this to scale like Honest Tea.

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