Archive for the ‘Tools and Best Practices’ Category

Coming Clean with Creativity

Posted on: September 4th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post by SVN member Tolulope Ilesanmi, Founder of Zenith Cleaners, @tilesanmi

Creativity is that seemingly elusive and desirable quality associated with the ability to think and act outside the box and bring into existence something new and beneficial. The new thing could be a product, a service, a solution, a work of art or a way of being. We do not necessarily need a survey to tell us we need creativity given the challenges and constraints we are confronted with today. It is obvious we need the ability to adapt, to come up with new ways of being and acting, because our significant challenges are not going away and intuitively, we know nothing is impossible. As Einstein said, “We need new thinking to address the significant challenges we face”. Organizations and institutions need to be innovative and that requires individuals to be creative.Guest Blogger Tolulope Ilesanmi on Bringing Ecosystems Together and the Magic of SVNs Bridge Project 1

Unveiling Creativity

The good news about creativity is that it isn’t a quality we need to create but a quality inherent in each of us, which we are either nurturing or starving. Cleaners go into spaces not to introduce anything new, but to expose inherent beauty by removing dirt.

At Zenith Cleaning, we defined cleaning as “the process of removing dirt from any space, surface, object or subject thereby revealing beauty, potential, truth and sacredness.”

The cleaning mindset works on the premise that the beauty we desire is already here, where we need it. Our task is to unveil it!. Creativity already exists in organizations because it already exists in individuals. Our task is to allow it to thrive, to allow it to flourish by removing what blocks it. Every human being is naturally creative when they have the freedom to express their true selves.

Nurturing creativity within organizations requires identifying and removing whatever impedes creativity in individuals. One impediment to creativity is lack of space-time “oasis” where our minds have the freedom to wander outside of our routine, to observe and ponder, as the actor/comedian John Cleese observed. Organizations like Google provide employees free time and mindfulness training in order to remove this impediment. Another impediment is our tendency to confine ourselves to or define ourselves by our titles, roles and functions, which we need as they provide stability in organizations. Trading places again and again can help to nurture creativity because breaking your regular pattern forces you in a good way to think new thoughts and awaken dormant potentialities. Trading places allows you to experience the beginner’s mind as Deb Nelson, SVN‘s Executive Director experienced when she flew down to Montreal to spend 3 days cleaning in our Cleaning as Practice program.

Cleaning as Practice

At Zenith Cleaning, we decided to step out of the box and introduce light duty cleaning to individuals and organizations as a way to break our regular patterns and step outside of our titles, roles and functions again and again. The idea is simple: invite people far removed from the world of cleaning to participate in cleaning individually or as a team, guided by those who do cleaning more regularly and get everyone from Janitor to CEO reflecting on and sharing their experience. This can be tried in any organization but should be entirely voluntary and can be tried with a few people before making it an ongoing or organization-wide practice.

This approach invites everyone to step out of their comfort zones and set aside their titles, roles and functions which only help to starve creativity and keep us in the box, away from the magic. The Janitor’s role and function changes for a while and the employees’ and managers’ roles are also flipped so everyone has to “think originally” as CEO Julian Giacomelli of Crudessence observed when he participated in our program.

Reflection and sharing are allowed to happen formally or informally before, during and after the experience. Everyone returns to their normal routines but are likely to wear their titles differently. However, just like cleaning needs to happen again and again because dust and dirt do not need our invitation to settle, we need to step out of our roles and set aside our titles again and again to remind ourselves that we are bigger than our titles, roles and functions.

The beauty of this approach is that creativity becomes not an end result but a by-product of a different way of being and functioning. The aim is that cleaning becomes the idea of unveiling beauty and potential in individuals and relationships. Cleaning becomes a mindset and deep metaphor for transformation and not just a chore around which we have created stigmas and put ourselves in boxes that limit our potential as individuals and organizations.

Talk to us

If you would like to try this out or need guidance, feel free to talk to us at Zenith Cleaners. We have been practicing and studying cleaning and its relationship to creativity, mindfulness, culture and many universal principles and subjects for many years. We have invited consultants, lawyers, students, executives and teams to clean and have observed the positive effect. We are also privileged to work with a number of outside-the-box consultants and coaches in mindfulness, applied improvisation and organizational culture.

SVN Launches “Best Advice I Never Got” Video Series

Posted on: July 1st, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Posted by Social Venture Network, @SVNetwork

We hear a lot of advice from business leaders focused on profit. But what about the growing community of mission-driven business leaders who are leveraging their company to do good? What does it take to align profit and purpose?

Social Venture Network members have launched some of the most innovative organizations in the mission-driven business community. They’ve experienced success, failure, setbacks and breakthroughs…and are very candid about the lessons they learned the hard way.

From learning how to deal with unaligned investors to transforming a company culture gone sour, these leaders have a lot of wisdom to share about dealing with the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face every day.

Check out the advice SVN members wish they had heard when they were just starting out, now in our new video series, “The Best Advice I Never Got.

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.

Brand Souls

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by SVN member Jared Levy, Founder, Guru Media Solutions


Several years ago the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are to be treated as individuals in the eyes of the law. I certainly don’t agree with that as it pertains to campaign donations and other issues of democracy, but when it comes to the new age of marketing I couldn’t agree more.

Corporations, more than ever, need to become brands. Brands that are individualized. That have souls and stories that people (aka: consumers, targets) can get invested in. Brands are now being morphed and pressured into becoming content creators, media publishers and thought leaders.

This is the logical evolution of our society where those sitting in the tallest buildings feel the obligation to lead. From Nation States to Religion to Business it has been an organic movement through the ages. This is a natural role for business to take and I believe brands are up for the challenge, but to keep the relationship with their loyalists symbiotic their voice must stay authentic, must provide some sort of value and they must not lose their soul as they carry out their role.

The form must fit the function. The content must be true to who you are as a brand. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing. We are knee deep in an age of information oversaturation and as we navigate this challenging landscape those brands that will win will be “conscious businesses that find their dharma,” said best by the great mystic Ram Dass from the Love, Serve Remember Foundation and Social Venture Network.

Entrepreneurship for Corporate Social Innovation

Posted on: July 8th, 2013 by social venture network 1 Comment

Guest post by Dhaval Chadha, Partner at Cria and Pipa

Dhaval ChadhaPerhaps the core idea behind social innovation is that by thinking of social problems as business opportunities companies can gain a competitive advantage. It follows then, that perhaps the most important core-competency in the quest for social innovation is the ability to identify social and environmental opportunities and to turn them into innovative business solutions.

In other words, social innovation is about human-centered innovation, creativity and traction. This is a field that has advanced significantly in recent years with the increasing prominence of approaches like design-thinking, co-creation and customer development. I have a very special privilege in my work today. I am a founding partner and maintain executive roles at two different companies: an early-stage investment company (accelerator) and an innovation and strategy consultancy, both of which are dedicated to social innovation and impact driven businesses. Over the past few years, this has allowed me a great vantage point and the opportunity to both test and develop methods in innovation for companies.

Rather than getting into a deep analysis or comparison between the different methodologies, the idea of this post is to suggest that the methods that are coming out of silicon valley and other similar start-up ecosystems are extremely powerful and radically overlooked by the corporate world. Here are 5 reasons why entrepreneurship is a very high-potential way of creating social innovation for large companies:

1. Faster: one of the key characteristics of entrepreneurs is that they move faster than other types of thinkers. Their brains are hard-wired to think of solutions even as problems just begin to surface and they have the unique advantage of making unilateral decisions in the face of urgency. No red tape, no talk, just pure action.

2. Cheaper: the combination of low budgets, intuition, impatience and competition force entrepreneurs to do a lot with very little. They work in garages and sleep under their desks because their lives depend on the success of their companies. Their incentives are aligned with long term returns and not quarterly bonuses.

3. Market tested: entrepreneurs prototype their ideas from the get go. They do not have the time or resources for extensive research or lengthy net present value analyses. Their ideas only survive if the target audience is willing to use their product or service. In the time it takes a large company to write up a solid business plan, entrepreneurs have already tested and fine-tuned theyr products with hundreds of customers. As such, their data is based on real experiences of real customers as opposed to opinions given by customers in interviews or focus groups.

4. Greater creativity: it has become increasingly clear that no company in the world has the creative capacity internally to tackle all of its innovation challenges. Bringing fresh ideas from beyond the company’s limits is crucial in helping drive creativity. In working with entrepreneurs companies not only access new ideas but also the specific abilities to implement quickly and cheaply that are second nature to entrepreneurs.

5. Mission alignment: it is much easier to embed the principles and models of shared value into new products, services and initiatives than it is to transform existing structures. An entrepreneur that is mission-aligned from the very beginning needs guidance and support but not extensive cultural change efforts.

Needless to say, many large companies have noticed this and have begun to use corporate venture funds, incubators and accelerators as innovation methods both for traditional business as well as shared value. We were just recently hired to help a Fortune 100 company design this kind of initiative in Brazil and are excited to see more of this in the near future.

Dhaval Chadha is a founding partner at Pipa (an early stage investment fund and accelerator) and Cria (a strategy and innovation consultancy), both of which are focused on business with positive impact. He can be reached at

Unleashing Activism through Business

Posted on: April 28th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

Michael KieschnickA businessman with a personal quota for getting arrested once a decade isn’t an ideal role model, but it does define a man as a force for social change.

Everyone that attended SVN’s 2013 Spring Conference got hear from one of these heroes first hand, leaving with a clear vision of what it means to run a disruptive business with positive impact.

As a white, male, straight athlete growing up under the Friday Night Lights of Dallas, TX, Michael Kieschnick quickly decided that his life of privilege was worth more if he used it to make a difference.

As the president and co-founder of Working Assets/CREDO Mobile, Michael has created a network of over 3 million activists fighting for causes that would bury most businesses in hate mail.

“We lose customers on every single thing we do. If we oppose invading Iraq…we lose customers. If we speak out against the PATRIOT Act…we lose customers. If we talk about Iran…we lose customers.”

But what’s most interesting about Michael’s leadership, isn’t his acts of civil disobedience, powerful as they are. It’s his success in growing a profitable business while keeping social and environmental activism at its core.

“We’re not a mobile phone company, we’re a social change organization.”

Watch the video below of Michael Kieschnick at SVN’s 2013 Spring Conference for valuable insight into how unleashing your inner activist can help you run a successful social change organization.

Four Strategies to Establish a Clear and Profitable Vision

Posted on: July 31st, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Nadine A. Thompson & Angela E. Soper

“Vision. It’s a simple word with huge connotations in the business world. Surely for anyone who has awakened in the middle of the night with a new business idea glowing like a 100-watt bulb in her head, the vision is sparkling clear, illuminating every fiber in her body. Most of us have had such “visionary” moments in our lives. Maybe it wasn’t a new business idea but a new way to solve a problem or enhance your life or someone else’s: an abrupt awareness of that nagging reason you couldn’t  balance the checkbook, a sudden insight into why your teenager has been giving you nasty glares for three days, the perfect way to celebrate your parents’ wedding anniversary.

There’s no discounting such moments of blinding insight when it comes to proposing a new idea. And of course, there’s also plenty of room for those who start with a kernal of an idea, work laboriously and painstakingly to nurture it, and allow it to germinate fully before putting it into action. However it is reached and ultimately presented, a vision can be a critical component of creating sales and distribution strategies that move a business forward. In fact, it is often the foundation for many other aspects of a business that can play a role in promoting healthy sales and distribution: marketing, customer service, personnel issues, community outreach, public relations.

In a values-driven business, or socially responsible business, the vision is the torchbearer that leads his or her team proudly over the challenging terrain of business ups and downs. Occasionally this vision may alter its route, adjust for changes in the environment or climate, or even reconfigure the long-term strategy, but it will always maintain  a steady course toward the goal at hand. Vision is looking to the horizon and imagining what could be. Vision is daring to head toward the horizon with a true sense of purpose and a plan of action.”

Vision Strategy Number One:
Think about how your vision and product combined can improve your customers’ business or personal lives.

In order for your business and your vision to succeed, you must compel your customers. Don’t waste time cluttering your sales pitch with a complex explanation that weaves details of your socially responsible mission with the benefits of your product, you may confuse the buyer. Your message has to be easy to understand for the customer. Listening to the needs of your customers is critical. As Jeff Mendelsohn, founder of New Leaf Paper, states “Take off your save-the-world hat and put on the hat of whoever you’re selling to”.

Vision Strategy Number Two:
Align your vision with your communities interests.

Serve your community with your actions. If your vision has roots in benefiting your community, find ways to develop win-win situations that will improve your community while building stronger sales or distribution methods. This approach has been successful for companies like Hot Lips Pizza. Owners David Yudkin and his wife Jeana Edelman took their vision of wanting to create a better place for their children, like their immigrant parents had before them, to create a business model that looked upstream. David calls this approach “backcasting” a concept he adopted from Natural Step to build a model that complements his vision for a sustainable world.

Vision Strategy Number Three:
Be open to adjusting your vision as your business grows.

The evolution of your vision may be the most important factor in growing your sales over time. Jeffrey Hollender, founder and CEO of Seventh Generation and a SVN Hall of Fame Honoree, seized this opportunity as he saw the term ‘sustainability’ broaden in the early 2000′s with the wellness trend. He had to shift from engaging customers with the environmental benefits of his product, to also focusing on health and wellness issues. This evolution resulted in a 30 to 40 percent growth every year since 2000. Expanding your vision will open new growth opportunities that will have a positive impact on the stakeholders connected to your business and your sales. If you own an established company, its also important to remember that transforming your vision probably won’t happen over night. Let the changes you’re making be a symbol of what you are and plan to become.

Visionary Strategy Number Four:
Align every aspect of your business with your core values to help drive sales.

If you want growth and strong performance, no matter what your business’es size, keep your sales firmly anchored by the values you established when you began your business. If you’re not sure who you are or what values you stand by, then take the time to sort it out. Being clear about your values will give you the courage to say no to a sale when your integrity as a businessperson could be compromised. When Tom and Kate Chappell of Tom’s of Maine decided to sell their company to Colgate-Palmolive in 2006, their values-driven integrity was in question. Yet they were successful in becoming the leader in the U.S. natural hygiene products by working out an agreement that preserved their character, spirit and values as a company, and then communicated that message clearly with their customers.

For more on the Social Venture Network Book Series visit

Exerpts from: Values Sell: Transforming purpose into profit through creative sales and distribution strategies

Guest Blogger Mal Warwick Offers a Resource for Social Entrepreneurs

Posted on: June 29th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written By Mal Warwick, One World Futbol Project

Here are the books, periodicals, blogs, websites, and organizations I’ve come across in exploring the field of social enterprise. This is by no means a comprehensive list (although, so far as I can tell, it’s longer than any other I’ve found). And I haven’t read everything here or engaged with all the websites or organizations in the list — though I’m working on it.

I’ve boldfaced those items with which I am personally familiar and recommend as good sources of information and insight about social entrepreneurship. The books I’ve reviewed in this blog are linked to their reviews.


Bryan Bell, Editor, Good Deeds, Good Design: Community Service Through Architecture (2004)

David Bornstein, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition (2007)

The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank (1997, 2005)

— and Susan Davis, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know (2010)

Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick, Values-Driven Business: How to Change the World, Make Money, and Have Fun (2006)

Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven,Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day (2009)

Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (2005)

Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, 2nd Edition (2008, 2012)

J. Gregory Dees, Jed Emerson, and Peter Economy, Strategic Tools for Social Entrepreneurs: Enhancing the Performance of Your Enterprising Nonprofit (2002)

Cheryl L. Dorsey and Lara Galinsky, Be Bold (2006)

John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan, The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World (2008)

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere (2012)

Adam Hochschild, Bury The Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2006)

Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (2003)

Paul Charles Light, The Search for Social Entrepreneurship (2008)

Kevin Lynch and Julius Walls, Jr., Mission, Inc.: The Practitioner’s Guide to Social Enterprise (2008)

Pavithra Mehta, Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion (2011)

Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World (2009)

Paul Polak, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (2009)

C. K. Prahalad, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, Revised and Updated(2004, 2009)

Beverly Schwartz, Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World (2012)

Rupert Scofield, The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook: How to Start, Build, and Run a Business That Improves the World (2011)

Cynthia E. Smith, Design for the Other 90% (2009)

Social Enterprise Alliance, Succeeding at Social Enterprise: Hard-Won Lessons for Nonprofits and Social Entrepreneurs (2010)

Wilford Welch, Tactics of Hope: How Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing Our World (2008)

Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (2008)


Stanford Social Innovation Review (Stanford University),

Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization (MIT),


Evan Carmichael’s Top 30 Social Entrepreneurship Blogs to Watch in 2012,

Skoll Foundation Social Edge,


World Resource Institute’s,


Alltop’s Social Entrepreneurship Coverage,

Catalyst Fund’s Social Business blog,,

E-180′s Top  25 Social Entrepreneurship Websites,


Institute for Social Entrepreneurs,

Ashoka: Innovators for the Public,

Echoing Green,

Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship (Oxford University),

Social Venture Network

Social Enterprise Alliance,

Net Impact

University Network for Social Entrepreneurship,


Bainbridge Graduate Institute,

Center for Responsible Business, Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley,

Center for Social Innovation, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University,

Presidio School of Management,

Babson College, MBA in Entrepreneurship,

Marlboro College Graduate School, MBA in Sustainability,

Also see Aspen Institute rating of top 30 SUStainable MBA programs,

Three Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Trying to Raise Capital

Posted on: June 18th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Sara Yap, Social Venture Network

Unbeknownst to many entrepreneurs, studies show that investors often rely on instinct and expertise rather than the business plan to evaluate a company. With so many factors at play, how can social entrepreneurs optimize their chances of raising capital? Peter Strugatz (Strugatz Ventures), Michael Whelchel (Watershed Capital) and Taylor Jordan (Imprint Capital) shared these insights for entrepreneurs seeking capital at the Social Venture Network and Hanson Bridgett Sustainable Business Speaker Series.

What are the mistakes that entrepreneurs often make when raising capital?

Mistake #1: Entrepreneurs don’t optimize their pitch time effectively.
Entrepreneurs have typically 12 minutes to execute the pitch. Strugatz shared that entrepreneurs often underestimate the importance of demonstrating the business plan. During the funding pitch, the entrepreneur often talks too long about the problem without showing how the business provides a solution

Mistake #2: The entrepreneur does not find the right investor and company match for the pitch.
Entrepreneurs neglect to conduct due diligence on the investment company prior to approaching funders. It is to the entrepreneur’s advantage to research who the investors have backed and understand which entrepreneurs have raised funds in similar sectors.

Mistake #3: The entrepreneur lacks strong management skills.
Peter Strugatz states, “You need business skill-sets to build the company. Entrepreneurs underestimate the power of having a strong management team. Be aware of how to build the team as well as a product or service, all while keeping your burn rate low.”

Examples of pitches and presentations that have gone well:
Manage the pitch time to your advantage. Taylor Jordan offered one approach that has worked for his investees:

1. (Two minutes) The entrepreneur provides a story of the business, how it started, how the service or products will change the current landscape and why the business is important

2. (Ten minutes) The Chief Operating Officer provides background on the actual business execution

3. (Five minutes) Q&A

Have a board member, investor or someone on the team provide a concise story that shows their commitment to the company and its mission.

  • The entrepreneur shares the qualifications of the team and the qualities of the advisors.
  • One investor recommended this approach: “One of the stakeholders of a company stood up during the pitch and said, ‘I’m an investor, I’ve done this before and this is why I’m involved.’ Validation from an expert shows that what the entrepreneur presents could very well be true.” In this case, the validation around the pitch also built more momentum for the company.

How do you use a network like Social Venture Network for the funding process?
Peter Strugatz and Michael Whelchel leveraged SVN by connecting with other investors and entrepreneurs. Strugatz shared, “SVN has allowed me to use personal and business relationships with a base of people who understand what I do and the ability to build trusted alliances. For me, I found sales and strategic partnerships through the organization. I also see SVN as a cross pollinating tribe for building relationships and resources. In many ways SVN incubates ideas, accelerates a business idea and brings together a networked community.” Michael Whelchel shared, “SVN is a place to build support as an investor and where members have a genuine desire to see people succeed.”

Join SVN for the final Hanson Bridgett Sustainable Business Speaker Series for 2012 on “Best Practices in Impact Investing” with Joy Anderson (Criterion Ventures) and Will Rosenzweig (Physic Ventures).
Date and time: Thursday, September 20th, 2012 from 5:30pm – 8:00pm
Location: Hanson Bridgett LLP, 425 Market St., San Francisco

What have you learned about raising capital as either an entrepreneur or an investor? Share your feedback with us! Send us a comment below!

Why High-School Dropouts Are This Business’s Competitive Advantage

Posted on: April 22nd, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Teju Ravilochan, Co-Founder and VP of Partnerships and Communication, Unreasonable Institute

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a session with Al Fuller, CEO and Chairman of the Integrated Packaging Company (IPC). The Integrated Packaging Company, founded in 1992, is a manufacturer of corrugated boxes. They have well-serving Fortune 500 companies as their main clients, many of whom have relied on IPC for more than a decade. In my view, however, what’s most remarkable about IPC is how they treat their employees.

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss the importance of “growing your people” in order to create change. That principle is clearly alive at IPC. Aiming to improve the lives of impoverished people, IPC hires only workers who have a high school education or lower. They provide them the training and skills development not only to perform their job, but also a platform for upward social mobility. Al described their three-pronged strategy to engaging the workforce in places like Detroit and New Orleans.

  1. Understanding Their Workforce. What IPC quickly learned is that one of the most dignified opportunities they could provide to low-income people is a reliable job where they could grow their skills. Whether or not workers remained with the company, they would be able to use those skills to generate greater income over time. What’s more, simply providing jobs in often has unexpected benefits. The IPC observed that when they began business New Orleans, 20% of the spouses of their hourly workers began their own small businesses within 6 years. Albert explained that when a household is given resources, people gain enough of a toehold to improve their own lives.
  2. Expecting the best. Albert described how IPC fires 50% of the people they hire for not showing up to work or other problems. Once an employee is fired, they can be re-hired after thirty days. Each employee gets 3 strikes, meaning they can be fired twice and get re-hired both times mandatory month-long off-periods. But in 20 years, IPC has only had to fire 2 workers three times. Through this sort of accountability structure, IPC doesn’t punish its workers, but instead offers them a chance (or three) to grow in their professionalism.
  3. Sharing the outcome. Hourly workers at IPC are 40% owners in the company. They feel ownership, therefore, for its overall success. This also means, as stakeholders, employees transparently understand management-level decisions. This lays a foundation for “sharing the up & the down.” When the company is doing well, shareholders see higher returns. But when the company is in recession, management find ways to help employees keep their jobs without firing them. For example, they may say “we can only pay you for 4 days of work in the next 6 months.” This allows hourly workers to find other short-term work, while still having a well-paying job to return to once things stabilize.

The ultimate social value that IPC creates is that 80% of their hourly employees and 100% of their salaried employees are still working in the industry and making more than they made when IPC originally hired him.

Most businesses would struggle to see an opportunity in hiring workers with limited education, who may not understand the importance of showing up to work every day, and who may not have relevant prior job experience. But Al Fuller and the Integrated Packaging Company have found a massive opportunity in training low-income workers, creating a profitable company and highly effective company, and measurably improving the lives of their employees.

Al Fuller is an inaugural Social Venture Network Hall of Fame honoree.  He will be inducted into the SVN Hall of Fame on November 13, 2012 at Gotham Hall in New York City