Posts Tagged ‘Social Entrepreneur’

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.

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.

SaveUp: Helping Americans Play Their Way to a Better Financial Future

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

Guest Post by Priya Haji, SVN 2007 Innovation Award Winner and co-founder of SaveUp

Priya Haji is featured on Season two of Trep Life, an original series exploring the life of an entrepreneur. The series is produced by SVN member Malachi Leopold. 

Priya_HajiSaveUp was born out of the recession. Americans were and still are dealing with some hefty financial problems, and I knew there had to be an innovative way to use technology and business to help solve them.

My co-founder Sammy Shreibati and I came across behavioral economics research on the success of prize-linked savings and lottery bonds outside of the US.  We also studied the way that gamification and new technology interaction have changed the way people interact with almost everything.

With SaveUp, we’ve taken that research and adapted it to become a new way to reward Americans for good financial choices, like saving money and reducing debt. SaveUp is free to any American and can be used with any financial institution. Users register their financial accounts, earn credits for saving money and paying off debt, and use those credits to play for prizes in a fun, daily game of merchant funded sweepstakes including a $2 million jackpot, travel, electronics and scholarships.

The most amazing part is that it’s working—SaveUp users report that the program helps them save more, pay off debt faster, and stay motivated as they work towards their financial goals. Since we launched SaveUp in 2011, our users have rebuilt over $1 billion in assets—and that number is growing every day.

The next challenge we face is sharing SaveUp with millions of Americans to build better financial habits and achieve their financial goals in surprisingly fun way.

I really enjoyed sharing our journey in the Trep Life series. They captured the real challenges of building the venture, and at the same time becoming a mom.  I hope this video can inspire other women and other social entrepreneurs to jump across the line and dive in to try to solve big problems in new ways.

Feeling inspired, delighted, or learned something new? Please share with a friend! And also be sure to check out new episodes airing every other week on For more behind the scenes footage of entrepreneur life follow Trep Life on Facebook and Twitter!


Back to the Roots Hustle to be the Next Agricultural Disrupter

Posted on: October 4th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Guest Post by Nikhil Arora, Co-Founder, Back to the Roots

Back to the Roots was founded during our last semester in college when my co-founder Alex and I heard in a lecture a random, crazy fact that intrigued the both of us – you could possibly grow gourmet mushrooms on entirely used coffee grounds.

What started off as an urban mushroom farm growing gourmet oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds has since transitioned into a company with a far greater vision – to help every family across the country connect with their food again, through fun and easy to use products. Our first product was the Mushroom Kit, a small brown box that yields fresh, edible mushrooms in just 10 days! We launched our 2nd product, the AquaFarm, just a few months ago. It’s a self-cleaning fish tank that grows food – concentrating all the amazing features of aquaponics into a tank small enough to inspire anyone to become an urban farmer – green thumb or not!
We currently sell the Mushroom Kit throughout the country in Whole Foods, Nordstrom, and Home Depot.  We launched the AquaFarm this summer into Whole Foods & Nordstrom, and it will be sold nationally in Petco starting October 27th.

It’s been an incredibly fun, challenging, and exciting time for the company recently – a new product, our biggest distribution opportunity to date, and the chance to really elevate our brand from “the mushroom guys” to “Back to the Roots.”

Amongst all this change this past year, what hasn’t changed is the core values this company lives and grows by – Hustle, Passion, Family, and Universal Happiness.  We believe in our vision to our core, and are willing to give it everything we’ve got – through all the ups and downs.

And that’s why Trep Life is amazing and we were so excited to be part of the series. They’re capturing the true spirit of entrepreneurship and they’re showing that there’s really no secret to success  – it’s as simple as “are you willing to give everything you have to create something you absolutely believe needs to exist in the world?” If the answer is yes, you’ll be just fine. We hope you enjoy our episode and get inspired to launch your own business!

Feeling inspired, delighted, or learned something new? Please share with a friend! And also be sure to check out new episodes airing every other Tuesday on For more behind the scenes footage of entrepreneur life follow Trep Life on Facebook and Twitter!



Ignore Election Year Politics, The Solar Industry is Booming and Sungevity is Leading the Way

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

How the fastest growing solar company in the U.S. is using solar entrepreneurship and social good to drive the rooftop revolution.

This past year, eighty percent of presidential campaign ads against Obama have targeted energy, sixty percent Solyndra specifically. With another government funded solar company announcing its bankruptcy this week, Abound Solar, support for the solar industry looks grim. But don’t be deceived that the clean energy movement isn’t making rapid progress and that converting to solar is an unrealistic investment.

After SVN’s recent Call-to-Action call with Sungevity’s President and Co-Founder, Danny Kennedy, and Vice President, Sherri Pittman, it is clear that the solar community is expanding, solar technology is advancing, and there are steps we can take in support.

As Danny points out, “The tariffs on Chinese solar panels imports haven’t crippled the market and it acts against our broader goal to expand clean energy on a global level. The real work that needs to be done is to build a community around the clean energy space so we can start to educate energy consumers and families.”

Sungevity, a four and a half year old residential solar company, has been a driving force in expanding this clean energy community, making the solar experience more engaging for consumers with interactive iquotes and solar mapping, offering incubation and training services to emerging solar entrepreneurs, turning their workspace into a solar hackathon, and partnering with non-profit organizations like Social Venture Network to help raise funds for their important work by spreading solar solutions to their supporters.

Even with all of these tools in place, Danny believes that giving the solar market room to grow is vital to expanding the market for clean energy:

“It’s more about electricity costs and whether the policies exist to allow net metering”

Sungevity’s Rooftop Revolution campaign offers a promising action plan people can use to support the growth of the solar industry and the affordability of going solar.

But is solar technology still an issue? As environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken points out, “Until there is a solar-PV technology that can be made with minimal, nontoxic, abundantly available inputs and be made entirely with solar energy, incumbent solar does not move the ball down the field but diverts us from achieving the critical energy transformation required.”

Danny offered that solar technology certainly hasn’t been static and silicon photovoltaics, a semiconductor that converts light energy into electrical power, will dominate the next decades, bringing us closer to the sustainable supply chain that will help free us from our dependence on fossil-fuels.

As it stands, coal consumption is dropping to levels similar to World War II, and companies like Tri-State BiodieselSoluxe SolarTendris, and Sungevity are providing a cleaner, consumer friendly energy alternative.

Help SVN ensure that clean energy stays at the forefront of the responsible business movement by supporting the Rooftop Revolution!

View SVN’s Products and Services Directory to see a list of entrepreneurial companies that have been advancing the clean energy movement, and perform with a triple bottom-line.

Questions? Insights? We encourage you to spark conversation by leaving a comment below.