Posts Tagged ‘SVN’

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.

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.

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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.

Lessons Learned from Enterprise Opportunity Trip to Cuba

Posted on: March 11th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Erin Roach, Social Venture Network

Cuba rockface

Mural de la Prehistoria, painted by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo, 1961

Stately old movie houses from the ‘40s dot Havana. Films are everywhere, but the titles I see advertised are mostly Italian, Cuban, French. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the only American film I see on the marquee is Elysium, a story about a dystopian universe where the rich enjoy one perfect planet and the rest of the living beings in existence are relegated to virtual slavery in service of it. Matt Damon and a few brave others see through the guise and vow to break out and take it down. And so it goes with the Cuban revolution, a promise that all Cubans may enjoy the same privileges, the same access to resources no matter what their vocation.

But has it worked? That’s what I and a group of Social Venture Network (SVN) members spanning decades and a breadth of experience related to socially responsible business were there to find out.

The trip to Cuba was organized by SVN member Eric Leenson of Sol Economies, who for half a century has been committed to social justice and the economic development of Latin America. We were there to learn how Cuba is opening up its economy and how this once great hope for an ideal system of human coexistence can jibe politically with private interests and environmental welfare. A new economic system that Eric and his partners economist Rafael Betancourt and lawyer Gregory Biniowski envision as the “social and solidarity economy” driven by socially responsible business.

Our group of 17 consisted of eight SVN members (Ariane Van Buren, Erin Roach, Garry Spanner, Judy Wicks, Claudia Viek, Mecca Franklin, Matt Patsky, Omer Rains) and three of their family members, a Googler, two sets of philanthropists and an academic.

BarberiaCuban FarmersEric planned an itinerary packed with thought-provoking lectures and cultural highlights. On the six-day trip, we met with sustainable farmers and workers from all types of cooperatives; we witnessed burgeoning social enterprises where profits made from services like cutting hair restored vitality to an entire neighborhood in Old Havana. We toured a tobacco farm, took in excellent live theatre and music, soaked up mojitos and salsa-danced at an adult day care center (Cuba has a notoriously aging population). We cruised the coastline in vintage convertibles from the 1950’s. Overall, the trip was a great mix of camaraderie, fun and enrichment.

As much as I wanted to witness the dream of a consumer-less society with wealth equally distributed to all, my observation was that it hasn’t worked. People are hungry, buildings are crumbling, resources are scarce and spread unevenly. There is virtually no manufacturing and 75% of their food is imported. Nobody is rich and there is not abject poverty, but there is still the problem of haves and have-nots, if not the problem of rich and poor. There are certainly many poor, but no more pronounced than the country itself. It’s totally broke – there’s no money at all for infrastructure or to support a decent standard of living. In fact, for a country that produces more doctors per-capita than any other, it is noteworthy that one cannot reliably wash ones hands after using the lavatory.

Is this to say that I am anti-socialism? Absolutely not. It is only to say that Fidel Castro’s vision seems to be unrealizable in the context of a society that aspires to be beyond a subsistence level of sustainability.

I’ve seen successful villages that actualize what the Cubans call solidarity. An equal sharing of resources—the young taking care of the old and visa-versa. No one having more than they need—or their fair share—to get by. Surpluses stored away for when needed and never hoarded by any one individual. But this was in the most rural areas of the Amazon, where most people had never been exposed to the excess of the outside world, and therefore knew no different. Most people there had no more than a primary education, if that.

It’s not clear to me that the vision of equally shared resources is scalable when any one person or group of individuals is aware that another person, or another group has more. Inject aspiration into the mix, and the house of cards collapses. Why? There are so many reasons:

FidelHavana

1. Human nature
2. A great surplus of any one thing, even education, requires a larger market to absorb it.
3. An economy doesn’t have to rely on consumption, but scalability requires demand from somewhere.

Therein lies the difficulty with the United States. Because we won’t trade with Cuba on any level, we are greatly resented by many people there. We will not absorb its goods or allow even our philanthropic support. But I don’t believe that we are Cuba’s problem.

I liken Cuba’s situation to a parent that doesn’t believe in vaccination: They won’t take the health risk involved with inoculating their own child, but it’s okay as long as everyone else is inoculated. This is a fundamentally self-centered approach and it is similar to what is going on in Cuba: All their problems are blamed on the US’ refusal to trade with them.

But what if the US adopted the same standards for our own society and also became a socialist economy? What if we, too, chose not to inoculate? Who would buy our goods if not ourselves? As it stands, the US has been made out by itself and every other country to be the consumers to the world, and as we at SVN know too well, that vision is also not sustainable.

What the US and Cuba have in common is a need to find a better balance between collective and individual interests, an aim central to the work of SVN for the better part of three decades. The Cubans have a unique opportunity to find a way out of their economic quagmire by thoughtfully constructing a new economic model that equally serves the needs of people, profit and planet. And so many SVN member organizations show that it can be done successfully.

Eric is planning future trips to Cuba for SVN members and Cubans to continue dialoguing about the possibilities of socially responsible business. It’s a rare moment in time for Cuba and I highly recommend the opportunity to take part.

 

Heather White is Keeping Fast Fashion in Check with Her Boots on the Ground

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network, @SVNetwork

Photo credit Luigi Casentini

Photo credit Luigi Casentini

Another garment factory fire, this time at a Chinese-owned clothing factory in the town of Prato, Italy, has cost the lives of 7 workers trapped in a dormitory built onsite.

The New York Times reported this week that Prato is a town with one of the highest concentrations of Chinese immigrants in Italy, a town with more than 4,000 Chinese-owned businesses. Many of these immigrants are believed to be living in the city illegally, working for a network of wholesalers and workshops turning out cheap clothing for the export market as well as well-known retail chains.

SVN member Heather White has been doing extensive research on global working conditions and has spent two years focusing on the city of Prato. She happened to be in Prato at the time of the fire and reported on her experience.

“I originally came here on the weekend to scout fast fashion brands for an Al Jazeera show – and it just happened the fire had occurred Saturday night. I was at a special meeting of the Prato city council last night to address the fire and what can be done to prevent future disasters like this.”

In a recent study through the Harvard Center for Ethics, Heather states that dangerous working conditions for Chinese immigrants have been present for over a decade.

Our favorite U.S. brands are engaged in a new business model called Fast Fashion that was first pioneered by Chinese factory owners operating outside of Florence, Italy 10 years ago. Using illegal trafficked workers from China who had been snuck into the country (they paid $13,000 to scary middlemen called snakeheads who guided them step by step overland from Central China). Chinese factory owners would accept an order from local Italian garment firms and not stop production until the order was completed. Most factories employed 50 workers or less, which meant there were no shift replacements. Workers put in 30+ hours at a time and people literally died at their sewing machines…there’s a saying in Italy, “No one from China ever dies here.” Meaning if a Chinese worker dies in Italy, someone else immediately appears to take their identity papers and their name, and if they die, someone else appears, and so on.”

This vicious cycle isn’t unique to Italy. Extreme working conditions due to fast fashion and pressure from large American companies are a global issue. Recently, Heather has reported on the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 workers, the forced silence of working women in India and the unregulated use of student interns in China at Apple manufacturer Foxconn.

We can count on new technologies like Indigenous Design’s Fair Trace Tool and grassroots movements like Greenpeace’s new Detox campaign to keep the pressure on companies from the consumer side, but it’s encouraging to know that women like Heather White are traveling around the globe to hold companies to higher standard.

You can learn more about Heather in this interview with SVN. Look out for her upcoming film exposing global working conditions from her research in the field.

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 dhaval@pipa.vc

American Ingenuity Offers Solution to Industrial Health Crisis

Posted on: July 8th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Comet SkateboardsITHACA, N.Y. – When Comet Skateboards started out in 1997, firm president Jason Salfi was determined to find a way to manufacture their product without the use of harmful chemicals, particularly benzine. That petroleum derivative, which has been widely used as an industrial solvent, has been shown to cause cancer and other short- and long-term health problems.

Now, according to Salfi, Comet has perfected a water-based painting process, and is known around the world for the vivid graphics and durable coating on its boards.

“We just took two more benign chemicals and used them for something that other companies and other competitors assumed that they needed to use the most toxic alternative out there (for), because the specs said it was the best,” Salfi said.

Comet Skateboards now is working with a large skateboard manufacturer to help it adopt Comet’s toxic-free process.

In the U.S., factories are required to offer additional protection to their employees who use benzine, but that’s not the case in other parts of the world, according to Heather White, who has been extensively researching the health effects of benzine.

“When they get to Asia, it seems as though all bets are off and workers are using plastic gloves that disintegrate when they come into contact with the strong chemicals that they’re asked to use in production,” White said.

She said it will take consumer demand to encourage companies to follow in Comet Skateboards’ footsteps to eliminate such toxic chemicals as benzine.

“We have to, as consumers, call the companies,” she said. “They’ve got email addresses now; they do pay attention to the supply-chain issues.”

White spent 15 years documenting the use and effects of benzine in foreign factories. Her film on the issue will be released this September. The working title is “The Places Where Dreams End.”

This story was created by Soundbite Services.

Sharpening My Focus at SVN’s Spring Conference

Posted on: May 7th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post by Daniel Phillips, co-founder of Greenaid Seedbombs and SVN Bridge Project scholarship recipient

One of the stories I heard at my first SVN conference in San Diego was an allegory set in the forest.  As I recall the story goes something like this: A hulking tough guy challenges an experienced lumberjack to a day long contest to see who could chop the most wood.  The hulking young man chops non-stop, convinced that a grueling pace is the only way to win, while the lumberjack takes a break every so often.  In the end, the Lumberjack’s pile is much larger.  The incredulous young man wonders out loud, “How in the world could I have lost?!”.  The lumberjack responds calmly, “You never stopped to sharpen your axe”.

This served as a poignant and cautionary tale to all of us in the room, but especially young social entrepreneurs like myself.  We all know that feeling, of becoming so immersed in the myriad daily challenges of running a business, that we forget there’s a whole world out there that we still have so much to learn from.  I had the honor of attending SVN thanks to the Bridge Project scholarship, which gives vital opportunities for young up-and-comers.

The theme of event, “Courageous Conversations” was apt, as I heard them happening nearly everywhere I went.  Where else do you have the opportunity to share ideas with so many like minded entrepreneurs and thinkers?  One minute I’m listening to a young woman discussing her experience with microfinance and social enterprise in Uganda, and the next I’m talking to a guy who I’m sure knows just about everything there is to know about sustainable chocolate production.  My mind was blown many times over.

Throughout the course of these few days at SVN I was challenged, entertained, and inspired.  I return not only with a sharpened axe, but with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose that I bring to everything I’m doing.

How Whites Can Navigate the New Digital Divide

Posted on: May 3rd, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

This weekend, at SVN’s 2013 Spring Conference, Cheryl Contee brilliantly called on white business leaders to Wake Up! and help bridge what she calls the New Digital Divide.

Cheryl Contee was the only young black woman entering the tech world at Yale when she realized that she really didn’t stand out that much. Everyone in tech at that time was weird—the job was really about helping people navigate this new world of technology.

Now with 15 years of interactive expertise, spearheading successful online media sites like Jack and Jill Politics, Fission Strategy and Attentive.ly, she shared some valuable advice for businesses that are sleeping on data that shows that non-ethnics (whites) have the lowest percentage of users on social media sites like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.

Watch her talk from SVN’s 2013 Spring Conference in full below: