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
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
“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.
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.