Posts Tagged ‘Gary HIrshberg’

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

Motivating the SVN Community to Take Action

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Mike Rowland, Junxion Strategy

When Gary Hirshberg stepped on to the small round stage set in the middle of a room of social entrepreneurs, we knew we were in for a treat.

The respected SVN Hall of Famer, and organics pioneer behind Stonyfield Farm yogurt company has plenty of tales to tell—stories of inspiration, of personal trials, and entrepreneurial tribulations.

To our surprise, he began by painting a scary picture….

Since genetically modified foods were made legal in the United States, over half a billion pounds of toxic herbicides have been used on the nation’s crops. Astounding as that number is, it was just the beginning. The perhaps expectable consequence has been the evolution of ‘super weeds,’ invasive, new plants that grow taller than a man, with stalks as thick as his arms. They can stop a combine harvester in its tracks. The solution? Perhaps more than a billion pounds of another chemical now being used on America’s farmland—2-4-D, one of the key ingredients in Agent Orange.

Hirshberg spoke with the passion of a man on a mission. Indeed, since stepping out of day-to-day operations at Stonyfield, Hirshberg has taken up Just Label It!, a new campaign that’s urging Americans to push legislators and food processors to label foods’ ingredients. “We have the right to know what’s in our food” is the common refrain of a celebrity-filled video going viral online while Hirshberg shouts from the rooftops.

We convened in Rye Brook, New York for the 25th Anniversary Social Venture Network Conference. Hirshberg’s among friends and supporters, old and new. And he’s not the only one with a passion for his work.

After finishing his intro comments, Hirshberg invited his audience to talk amongst themselves, and consider two powerful questions:

  1. How can we connect and communicate more effectively beyond the progressive business community?
  2. What is the boldest social change action you or your company could make happen in the next five years?

Keeping track of the diverse answers—themselves often as profound as the questions!—was nearly impossible. Hundreds of engaged entrepreneurs shared their visions of a world made better by their work: Storytelling, to share the great tales of success from a quarter century of focused entrepreneurship. Build bridges across silos, so that ‘us and them’ becomes ‘we and us.’ Political engagement, because all business is political. The ideas flowed like water.

As Hirshberg summed up the dialogue, he talked about the importance of continuous improvement, and of rejuvenation—a common SVN theme. And he talked about the power of inspiration.

Yet I found myself contemplating another theme left out of our conversation this morning. As SVN looks ahead to its next quarter century, we also look back at the trail blazed by the Network’s visionary founders….

You see, so much of the change these fabulous entrepreneurs want to see is already happening: MBA Candidates across the country and around the world are talking about social enterprise through Net Impact, an organization that emerged from SVN. Silo-busting and bridge-building is happening through organizations like Tides Foundation, and the American Sustainable Business Council, each created by members of SVN. And the values of social enterprise are being shared throughout America’s inner cities through SVN’s own Bridge Project.

So the word that echoes in my mind now, hours after leaving that room, is ‘celebration.’ We’re already doing well, and doing so much good. There’s ample reason for celebration here, among this pioneering group.

As the mantle of social ventures is being picked up by a new generation—one that won’t settle for profit orpurpose, but that instead insists that right work embraces both, we take pause at the 25-year mark, to celebrate what’s been achieved.

And like every great entrepreneur, after the toasts are finished, and the applause subsides, we all stand and look at each other and as a simple question….

“What’s next?…”

Honoring the Champions of Do-Good-ism

Posted on: November 15th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post by Leigh BuchananInc. Magazine

Honoring the Champions of Do-Good-ism 1Business icons, including Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, turned out last night to celebrate the Social Venture Network’s inaugural Hall of Fame.

The true believers were out in force Tuesday night. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield toted backpacks full of rubber stamps for marking currency with anti-Citizens United messages: part of their crusade to get money out of politics. Jeffrey Hollender talked about his post-Seventh Generation plans to direct billions of corporate procurement dollars to cooperatives of locally owned businesses–and also to launch an organic, fair-trade condom brand. Almost everyone remarked on the irony of corralling so many triple-bottom-liners in a failed bank.

The event, held in midtown Manhattan’s majestic Gotham Hall (formerly Greenwich Savings), was a celebration of the Social Venture Network’s inaugural Hall of Fame. If you’re not familiar with the SVN, you should be. Almost ten years before Hillary Clinton advised us that it takes a village, SVN had created a village of villages: home to entrepreneurs and investors leveraging the power of community to make the world a better place. Investor Josh Mailman and Calvert Fund founder Wayne Silby convened the first conference of more than 70 people at a Colorado ranch in 1987. Since then, SVN has served as base camp for socially responsible icons like the Body Shop’s Anita Roddick; Stonyfield Farms’s Gary Hirshberg; Joe de Vivre’s Chip Conley; Birkenstock’s Margo Fraser; and Ashoka’s Bill Draper.

This week, SVN inducted those founders and roughly two dozen others into a Hall of Fame that honors their contributions to preserving the environment, creating caring and democratic workplaces, empowering struggling populations, fighting for social and economic justice and just generally trying to leave the world in better shape than they found it. And they managed all that without sacrificing growth. All the entrepreneurs honored had built organizations of at least $50 million in revenue and/or the equivalent in social or environmental impact.

The mood was buoyant one week after a national election that–from the perspective of most attendees–could not have gone much better. Master of ceremonies Morgan Spurlock (best known for his 2003 documentary “Super Size Me”) gently lampooned the hippy-dippy, tree-hugging ethos co-existing comfortably with financial success. “It seems like only ten years ago you were all talking about saving the world, sitting around in a hot tub, eating vegan food, smoking weed–and look at you now!” he joked to the crowd. “For all you people here who voted for the Green Party candidate for President, you get to meet everybody else who voted for the Green Party candidate for President. You’re all here.” (He wasn’t being entirely hyperbolic. How many other events offer vegan alternatives not only for the entrée, but also for dessert?)

On stage, the honorees reaffirmed their commitment to a range of causes, from Conley’s quest to measure the “emotional fist print” of companies on employees and their families, to Jeffrey Hollender’s desire to help the poorest communities in the United States leverage “wonderful assets that they can turn into a brighter future.” Many described the influence of SVN on their work and lives. “I remember the first time I came to SVN,” said Eileen Fisher, founder of the eponymous fashion brand. “We were sitting in a circle and they went around and wanted to know what our passions were. I had never sat in a circle before, and no one had ever asked me about my passion. That really inspired me. Now at Eileen Fisher we always sit in circles, and we always ask people, what’s your passion?”

The ceremony also signaled a passing of the baton to the next generation. During the reception, dozens of more-recent entrepreneurs mingled with and sought advice and support from their predecessors. Among them: Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, founders of Back to the Roots, which makes sustainable mushroom-growing kits; Scott Leonard, co-founder and CEO of Indigenous, which manufactures organic clothes using networks of artisans in the poorest regions of South America; and Mal Warwick, partner in the One World Futbol Project, which delivers virtually indestructible soccer balls to children in refugee camps and other harsh environments.

But perhaps “sharing the baton” is a more accurate phrase than passing it. Judy Wicks and Laury Hammel–both founders of socially conscious companies–accepted their award for creating the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). The two have been champions of sustainable business for more than 30 years, and an exuberant Hammel made clear they had no plans to slow down. “It’s time to take a stand,” he exhorted the cheering audience. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. Even though a lot of us are turning 65, we’re just getting started. Let’s go!”

Inc. Magazine

Happy 25th Anniversary, Social Venture Network!

Posted on: November 14th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

By: Maria Rodale Huffington Post

Twenty-five years ago my Dad was still alive and the world felt like a different place, even though it wasn’t. Twenty-five years ago, he took me with him to a conference at which he was a speaker. I remember it was at Pocono Manor–in the Poconos, of course–one of those old ramshackle once-romantic hotels that were now hanging on by a thread. But just as honeymoon children were conceived there, so was the first Social Venture Network conference (SVN). And thanks to my Dad, I was there.

Back then I had no idea what the “venture” part meant. As a private, independent family business, Rodale Press had no need for venture capitalists. But I did understand the social and network part–and this was long before Facebook.

My memories are like flashbacks: Hearing Anita Roddick of the Body Shop describe her radical concept, with her wild, curly hair and British accent. Meeting Jeffrey Hollander, founder of Seventh Generation, and telling him I loved his organic underwear (so soft!). Meeting Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Yogurt and being slightly skeptical that Americans would embrace yogurt as a food item. Sharing an elevator with Eric Utne, when the Utne Reader had just roared onto the scene and everybody was talking about it. Listening to Ben and Jerry talk about ice cream as a force for social change. Phillip Moffet defending me for asking them all hard questions (Journalists of the world, unite!). And there were others who I didn’t quite understand what they did and why they were there, but I knew somehow they were important people. People like Josh Mailman.

At the time, I thought it was all a little weird. I had grown up weird, so I was trying to find my own way and define myself independently, apart from the hippie movement or whatever this SVN culture called itself. But I did like that there was business involved here. This was about the time that I was reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. No, I was not a Republican or a conservative, but I did have a massive crush on John Galt.

Was David Fenton there? Perhaps. I had just finished working for him for a year in Washington, DC, so I was steeped in the radical, liberal, progressive social justice world, even though I hadn’t quite embraced it.

But like many things in life, sometimes you don’t quite understand an event’s significance till the years go by. What SVN showed me over the 25 intervening years of watching businesses and people grow, and succeed, some failing, some dying, but all leaving a good mark on the earth, was that IT IS POSSIBLE. Anything was and is possible. Dreaming and making it real are possible. It is possible to do the right thing and create a successful global brand. It is possible for organic to be mainstream. It is possible to infuse spirit and, yes, spirituality into work and business. It is possible to be different and still succeed.

I didn’t say easy. I said possible.

I stopped going to SVN conferences about 15 years ago. No, exactly 15 years ago. Why? Because my daughter was born that weekend, April 17th, 1997. So it is fitting that I am bringing her this year to the 25th anniversary conference. She is much smarter than I was when I was her age. And when I think of a future created by women like her, I think ANYTHING is possible.

That’s why I’m bringing her.

Huffington Post

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