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