Archives for category: Social Good

The local food movement cannot be missed from small community development corporations to the national cheerleader of the local movement, BALLE. The local food movement has lofty, but very important goals that if accomplished have tremendous strengthening effects on the community. Here are four reasons:

1)      The multiplying factor.  The multiplying factor says that a dollar spent at a locally owned business recycles itself over and over again in the community creating economic opportunity and community development.

2)      Increase food stability in a community. By buying locally, you are strengthening food producers’ capacity to grow their business and reduce a community’s dependence on imports and exposure to fluctuation in prices.

3)      Reduce carbon footprint. The definition of local is not concrete, but typically refers to a 100 mile radius of a community. By sourcing a community’s food from a small radius, it relieves the burden of trucking or shipping food from across the country or across borders.

4)      Healthier families and individuals. We all know there’s a lot of crap in the food we buy from GMO to processed; it’s amazing when you read food labels what’s in there. Buying locally cuts a lot of the mystery out of the meals allowing families and individuals to eat more wholesome, natural foods.  Moreover, the time it takes to prep and eat food can create valuable family time that is scarce today.

OK so where do you buy all this wonderful local food? Well, there are niche grocery stores here and there like New Seasons in Portland and in.gredients in Austin, but across the country farmers’ markets are where you can buy good, local food.  Farmers’ markets are great, and have been a long standing tradition in many communities; however, in some communities, the market has been saturated. All the people who care about local food already shop at the market and the people who are either ignorant or apathetic towards local foods do not patronize the market.  In order for the local food movement to radically change the food buying behaviors in a community, the majority of residents must participate in farmers markets.  The traditional route of incentivizing people to come to farmers’ markets is to brand the market as a party – bring in a band, crafters, pop-up restaurants, etc. Those tactics have worked for the people who are already inclined to do their grocery shopping at a farmers’ market, but I think that setting up a “party” atmosphere weakens the case for the urgent need to change food buying and eating behaviors.  So here are some of my ideas on farmers’ markets can increase foot traffic and sales.

1)      Having shopping baskets available for shoppers to use. Baskets would make it much easier for shoppers to gather all of their items and transport them around the market.

2)      Provide shopping bags or have a vendor that sells reusable bags.  The ability to carry your groceries home impacts how much you will buy, if at all.

3)      Compare produce prices with traditional grocery stores’ prices. The notion that buying local is more expensive than buying local is not entirely true. Having price comparison signs above produce might ease the concerns of price sensitive shoppers and incentivize them to buy local.

4)      Prepare meals on-site. Meal preparation can be a burden to working families, so what if a farmers’ market had a volunteer-run vendor booth that prepares the just-bought produce into simple meals.

5)       Organize food with like produce. Instead of each farmer having separate stands, combine like produce to make the look of the market feel more like a traditional grocery store.  Produce stickers would indicate which produce belongs to which farmer.  Of course, this tactic might be more harmful to farmers but it might incentivize more buying. Seeing all your options in one place and choosing from those options has been customary in our shopping.

6)      Have the checkout at one place not at each individual farmers’ stand to appease to the convenience-oriented shopper.

7)      Have the farmers’ market in a grocery store’s parking lot/entrance to encourage buying local foods vs. imported produce. This would allow the shopper to do all of their shopping in one place. A step even further is to have the check-out line in the grocery store so there is only one check-out process.

I am aware that ideas 5-7 would probably create some logistical, political, and ideological nightmares.  But the problem is urgent and calls for bold action. Collaboratives all around the country, including Nourish Yamhill Valley in Yamhill County Oregon, are looking for innovative solutions to curb rising food insecurity, weakening local economies, and skyrocketing health problems.  Buying local food is just one piece of the puzzle.

What are some of your ideas to encourage shoppers to buy local food?  Is farmers’ markets the route to go or is influencing grocery chains? Do you know of farmers’ markets that are implementing new, innovative ideas?

P.S. Don’t know what a CSA box is? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Community members pay a subscription to receive in-season produce from their local farmer on a weekly basis.


I am often reminded how big of a hypocrite I am.   With absolute certainty I can say that all the clothes, including lady garments, I’m wearing today were made in deplorable human-rights violating factories and child labor was probably used at one point during the manufacturing process.  And while my words speak against such facilities, my actions say that I condone the violation of fundamental human rights.

Ugh, doesn’t sit too well.

So what options are there to buy socially and ethically responsible clothing?

First, there are always second hand stores like SalVal, Goodwill, and the numerous independent thrift stores, in which the despicable origin of the clothing is redeemed through the act of recycling.  I try and try again to shop at these stores but I just can’t do it.  I don’t like the clothes, I hate how disorganized everything is, and I usually don’t have the patience or creativity to sort through racks and racks to find cool stuff.  (Hey, that’s a business idea – personal thrift store shopper.)

Then, there are the “social enterprise” companies that slap an Ed Hardy-esque graphic on a t-shirt and give the proceeds to charity.  Sure, they use American Apparel t-shirts so everything is OK, but American Apparel is not picture perfect with sexual harassment lawsuits and sexist advertisements. Wherever you stand on the issue, clothing companies that give proceeds to charities without regard to their vendors are simply band-aids and are not fundamentally changing anything; not to mention the business model is less than exciting.

There’s also the vertically integrated companies that buy their materials through direct trade, pay living wages, and are deeply invested in their community of operation.  Companies like Oliberté and People Tree are doing great things and producing high-quality clothing. However, the trade off is a price point that is out of reach for the vast majority of people.  As much as I want to support these types of companies, my budget can’t support a wardrobe of cotton dresses and shirts at 70 bucks a piece.

I know I’m not alone.  The dilemma between upholding values and personal finances is extremely challenging.  The counter argument, of course, concerns consumerism and the frivolity of the fashion industry but we’re not going there today because at the end of the day everyone needs clothes.  So how can fashion companies make socially and ethically responsible clothing at a price point that the masses can afford? Or, more specifically, how can a social enterprise make humanely-made underwear at a price that competes with Hanes? Not, is it possible, but HOW can it be done.

This question is slowly becoming a deep-seated obsession of mine and is a critical question to answer in order to achieve fundamental change in manufacturing.  In order for a social enterprise of this impact, cross-sector collaboration is a core catalyst in order to share business risk and raise the funds needed to support such a venture.  Sounds like a task not for the faint of heart.

A couple of weekends ago I traveled to Vancouver, B.C. for a weekend excursion with some friends.  I had never been before so I really didn’t know what to expect.  We had the good fortune of visiting just days after the riots because we saw the heart of the city.  For blocks, vandalized windows were boarded up with plywood marked with thousands of messages apologizing for the damages
and expressing their love for their city.  Apparently, the day before we arrived there was a massive community cleanup. I assume most of the messages were from community members part of the cleanup, but we also saw artists and passer-bys take a moment to contribute to the collective community art throughout the weekend.  There was also a kindness flag project during the weekend calling on community members to create and hang up flags around downtown to promote peace and kindness.  Seeing the community band together was so amazing and humbling! But what totally blew me away was some people had written on a police car and posted post-it notes on it, and instead of the police stopping it, they condoned and promoted it by putting the car on display for community members to continue posting their thoughts.  I don’t know about you, but I find that remarkable.

My weekend in Vancouver had me thinking a lot about the power of community.  With community, a lot of good can happen.  So, I wonder about social ventures that are founded by people not part of the community the venture intends to serve.  We talk a lot
about sustainability referring to the business model and the environment, but what about the sustainability of the “roots” or “soul” of a venture particularly if the venture was not grown out of that community.  If the venture does not invest in the local human capital or nurture community spirit, the venture is merely exercising their ego and privilege of circumstance.  A community when brought together and encouraged can create or overcome anything as demonstrated as simply in Vancouver to as paramount as the Tunisian revolution.  The role of social enterprise should be to create the space to unleash the power of community to creating lasting social change.

“I want to start a non-profit because I want to help people and money is not that important to a non-profit.”   I hear that often from well-intentioned people; unfortunately, they are setting themselves up for complete failure.  Society has conjured up a false view of the non-profit industry.  Yes, industry.  The non-profit world has its lingo, best practices, industry-specific jobs, and its fair share of political games and financial scandals.  Moreover, non-profits are probably more concerned with money than for-profit entities because funding is unstable and competitive. What society has forgotten is that non-profits are really just a type of business entity.  A non-profit IS a business.  A business whose business is doing good and whose structure is to redistribute its profits back into the organization/community to continue doing good. Non-profits have become synonymous with doing good, but social enterprise argues that doing good is not limited to one business model.  A social enterprise could be a not-for-profit, for-profit, co-op, or an emerging model called L3C.  For some examples, check out, SCRAP, a non-profit whose mission is “to inspire creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior by providing educational program and affordable materials to the community;” KNO Clothing a for-profit clothing company fighting homelessness; Evergreen Cooperatives a conglomerate of four cooperatives roviding job creation, wealth building, and sustainability to Cleveland, Ohio; and MOO Milk Co. an L3C promoting farm preservation and economic development by organic dairy farming.  Doing good is not limited to non-profits and does not discriminate; there are many paths to doing good.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article “Tech Boom Hits New York.” The article highlights an up and coming e-commerce, fashion eyewear company, Warby Parker.  The company is attracting investors left and right, in fact, they are turning away investors.  What’s interesting about the article is that it does not mention once a critical component of Warby Parker’s business model – “for every pair of glasses sold, we provide one to someone in need.”

Warby Parker’s success is an excellent example of how profit and social impact aren’t mutually exclusive; but, where’s the plug for social enterprise? Is it necessary?

Social enterprise is nothing new, and over the decades, acronyms, catchy phrases, and terminology have shaped the concept of social enterprise to become a unique sector.  Vocabulary has its role, but has it stifled the potential of social enterprise to impact mainstream business by segregating itself? I think WSJ’s article on Warby Parker points to an underlying sentiment in the traditional business world; it’s great if you do something good for the world but it’s still the bottom line that matters.   If the goal of social enterprise is to change the way business is done, maybe it’s time to ditch the semantics and work on creating killer business models.

There are a myriad of definitions and opinions on what social enterprise is and isn’t depending on what circle you run in.  I’ve heard if a non-profit uses sophisticated metrics to measure its impact, then it is a social enterprise.  I’ve heard if a company has a philanthropic branch or if a non-profit has a revenue generating arm, then they are a social enterprise.  I personally believe that  those definitions of social enterprise are superficial and probably do more harm than good.  I’ve heard social enterprise only pertains to microfinance and green companies are not social enterprises.   I think those opinions are either too exclusive  or not inclusive enough. The working definition I maintain is: a social enterprise is an enterprise that works to solve social, ecological, and economic problems through market solutions.  Social enterprises come in many different sizes and flavors.  They can be a for-profit entity or a non-profit entity. They can focus on a particular function(s) of an enterprise like human resources, supply chain, product management, etc.  (more on that later). The overall goal of social enterprise is to do the most good and be financially sustainable entity while doing it.

SE Toolbelt, a free open-content community resource center for social entrepreneurs, has some good information on social enterprise if you’re interested in learning more basic background information on social enterprise.