Saturday, November 10, 2012

Five reasons why Connecticut is uniquely positioned to become a hub of social enterprise

1)  We have many local examples of social enterprise to brag on: Newman’s Own, Jackson Labs, Firebox Restaurant, The Walker Group, Good Cause Gifts, Kanai Sports...  Large, small, old, new, nonprofit and for-profit - each helps demonstrate the social enterprise model is not only viable but scalable, satisfying, and sometimes wildly successful.

2)  We have the money. Connecticut has a lot of wealthy people and many of these people are interested in impact investing – putting their money where it will create a positive social impact.

3)  We have important institutions:  Trinity, Yale, Wesleyan, Quinnipiac, Conn College, University of St Joe's, Uconn.  Each of this institutions either has or is in the process of introducing social enterprise into their curriculum in some way, in large part because there is a huge demand coming from students.  These are the social entrepreneurs of the future, and they are hatching here.

4)  We have reSET which has been building a coalition of interested parties and people and which has been working on ways to ensure that Connecticut becomes a hub of social enterprise:  Introducing legislation, creating an Investment Fund, creating a social enterprise competition, setting up a social enterprise incubator in Hartford.

5)  We have a history and a culture of social innovation. The Wadsworth Atheneum, Bushnell Park, Harriet Beecher Stowe, The boys and girls club. These represented revolutionary social innovation in their day.   It's in our blood.  Social enterprise is an opportunity to capitalize on all of this and reassert our heritage as social innovators.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The problem with Philanthropy...

Mohamad Yunus told a group of Socially Responsible Investors last month that "There is no room for selflessness in business because of philanthropy."  

What an interesting idea!  It fits with my feeling that we live in an increasingly bifurcated world - Democrates and Republicans don't talk; there's a widening gulf between the Haves and Have-nots; religions are becoming extreme and intolerant, (Remember when we all got along?).  In traditional business you're told (without anyone saying it) to leave your heart and your values at the door. When bad things happen you're told it's nothing personal - just business. And if you express the desire to go out on a limb to do the right thing you need a business justification for your do-goodism.  Philanthropy is lauded, but not as an integral part of business but as a nice way to spend the money you've made doing business.

And while we are increasingly compartmentalizing certain areas of our lives, we are at the same time increasingly seeing the breakdown of the wall between professional and personal: Who isn't checking work emails at home these days? Office dresscode and language has gotten more casual. Communication to our clients has gotten more personal.  Telecommuting is in.  Hierarchy is out.

Whether it's natural yin and yang or the pull toward something new it begs the question of which direction business will ultimately take with respect to our higher ideals.   Will we relegate it to the black and white world where business is only about money and philanthropy takes care of the doing good after the money's been made, or will will take a more holistic approach and allow our better selves into the business world.

When you mesh purpose and profit you get social enterprise.  You also get solutions to some of the worlds most pressing problems.  For instance, if you let humanity into the picture and allow your company to stray from it's focus on the bottom line then you are able to make the choice to keep local jobs even at the expense of profits.  You also get the opportunity to give people more than a paycheck but an opportunity to feel great about what they do.

It's time to reset the business paradigm, and unleash the philanthropist-business.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Whether you're a president, a parent, or aspiring professional you probably have days when it feels like a bag of bricks is resting on your back.  Getting out of bed in the morning becomes a monumental chore and  getting through the routine demands of the day seem overwhelming.  We know what sets us back - a poor performance, negative feedback, something or someone that lets us down.  But what get's us back on our feet, and feeling capbable, competent, and charged once more?  Resilience. 

It's magical stuff and yet there is now evidence that like a muscle we can flex it, feed it, and help it grow.  Here's how:

Go for a Walk:  This is my mother's recipe and it works.  Getting outside and moving is the simplest and healthiest way to feed yourself.  A trip around the block is all it takes. Spending time in the garden has the same effect.

Put something in order:  Check your watch and give yourself a 20 minute assignment to tidy up some area of your life that's in disarray... Pick a closet, or a room, or a corner of your yard and promise yourself to stick with it for 20 minutes.  It's amazing how quickly you feel resilience back swimming through your veins

Help someone else:   When we feel low the world closes in.  Pain tends to focus our attention, clearly, and specifically, which narrows our world down to that small circle of pain.  This forces us to pay attention, but when the pain is psychic we are better served by getting out of ourselves and refocusing on the world around us.  Find someone you can help.  Call a friend in need, sign up to volunteer, write a check.

Waste time:  Jane McGonigal, inventor of the game SuperBetter explains that to create emotional resilience we need to introduce the positive emotion of winning, and we can do this with video games.   Oddly enough our hearts aren't overly concerned whether we do that by curing cancer or hurling birds into pigs or killing zombies.  So if you're feeling too low to even get moving try a round of Angry Birds and see if it doesn't give you the juice to get up off the couch. Then try one of the above.

And here's the best part.   You will not only feel better, but you will have flexed your resilience muscle, making it stronger and quicker to respond the next time you need it.  Realizing that you can exercise this muscle and improve your resilience over time puts you in the driver's seat and means that over time you can tackle more of the worlds problems knowing there will be setbacks but that you're up to the challenge.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Inspired by Muhammad Yunus

Had the great good fortune to hear Muhammad Yunus speak at the SRI Conference this evening.  What a gift to our civilization!  Here is a man who turned the banking system upside down and showed us what one person can do by focusing on making a difference rather than a profit.

He spoke about his first business, Grameen Bank, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize for building a bank which lends money, not to make money, but to help people.  He started Grameen Bank with $27 dollars and today it has over 13 Billion in annual revenues, loaning primarily to women with no collateral.

Here are a few tidbits:

  • "Whenever I see a problem I create a business to solve it."
  • "The problem with philanthropy is that the money only goes one way.  Repetition and expansion become difficult."
  • "Making money makes you happy, but helping others makes you super happy."
  • "We are at the stage in human existence where the distance between possible and impossible is shrinking.   No one should be poor, illiterate, unemployed."
  • "These things exist because of the system and we need to change that system!"
  • "Come up with an idea that will solve the problem for 5 people.   Then repeat it."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crow and Kitten Friendship

Crows are smart.  Kittens are cute.  There is absolutely no rational reason why a grown crow would decide to save and care for a sworn enemy but it did and in the process offers all of us a lesson in the power of compassion.

Crow and Kitten are Friends

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stories are the seeds of change

We spend a lot of time fixing process, training people, and working to make things better.  Change is happening every day, and yet sometimes it feels as though things will never change.  If you've bumped up against that wall, pay attention to the stories.

Stories grow out of experience but can take on a life of their own reinforcing a past you want to let go of or creating self-fulfilling prophesies, for better or for worse.  If you don't like the stories you hear and think they no longer reflect a new reality then you need to find the new stories to supplant the old and  consciously replace them.

Organizational change is a long, slow process, and there are many moving parts, but as human beings stories resonate on a level that org charts and procedure manuals can not touch.

Listen, share, and celebrate your stories of growth and change.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

23 International Leaders Visit Walker

The Walker Group was honored to host 23 Visitors from 23 different countries as a part of the US State Deparment’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The program objectives include examination of the role of social entrepreneurship in the US, networking with US counterparts, assessing the impact of collaborations, and understanding the role of new and social media in driving social entrepreneurship. 

The countries represented were Albania, Bangladesh, Botswana, Burma, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Jordan, Laos, Malawi, Mongolia, Motenegro, Nigeria, PR China, Portugal, Romania, Sinapore, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, and United Arab Emirates. Representatives include changemakers from the private, public, NGO, and traditional nonprofit groups, all seeking to understand the new movement in social enterprise. 

The group arrived on September 8th with a tour of Washington, and then on to New York, landing in Connecticut on the 16th where their first stop was Farmington to visit The Walker Group and reSET (Social Enterprise Trust). Kate Emery, CEO of The Walker Group and Founder of reSET spoke to the group about her company’s journey to becoming a social enterprise, and about the work that reSET is doing to make Connecticut a hub of social enterprise. 

Peter Drasher, CEO and founder of Altrushare, also spoke in Farmington about his experience in setting up the first nonprofit owned stock brokerage. Then it was off to Billings Forge Community Works in Hartford where Mike Miller provided them with an overview and a tour. On Tuesday they will tour one of Connecticut’s most famous social enterprise, Newman’s Own and its beneficiary The Hole in the Wall Camp. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

You are what you eat!

There's more than a little karmic justice showing in this interview with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.  Remember, this is the company that gobbled up Ben And Jerry's in a hostile takeover back in 2000.  To many this meant the death of a social enterprise at the hands of the uncaring capitalist machine.  But look what's happened now!   If you didn't know who was being interviewed you would suspect it was an idealistic social entrepreneur rather than the CEO of a multinational corporation.  It's exciting and makes you wonder - who took over whom?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Social Enterprise - The Fourth Sector

Heerad Sabeti - Cofounder at Fourth Sector Network explains clearly and in detail what social enterprise is, and the challenges we face in moving the compass.  A great article!

Friday, July 6, 2012

What kind of business would you start with $2?

Give a man a fish and he'll grab some chips and beer and go watch a football game,  give him a fishing pole and he'll grab some chips and beer and go fishing.  Give a woman two dollars and she builds a business for her family and community.    Where are you going to invest your impact dollars???  Only kidding.  But this is a great story about the power of microfinance and social enterprise (and yes, of women).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Peak Compartmentalism

Like most vices, specialization started out as not a bad thing. Without it we’d still be hunting and gathering in poorly dressed family tribes. But one of your ancestors came up with a brilliant idea – I’ll stay home and tend the crops if you’ll take care of the hunting and building of huts. Everyone wins: The good hunters hunted, farmers farmed, and sewers sewed. Life was good, or at least better.

If the farm is where specialization was born then the factory is where it found religion. The Industrialists took it to a whole new level. Farmers became factory workers became riveters became robots. And life was better… at least for the factory owners.

Specialization has crept into every aspect of our lives. Today, most of us wouldn't try to fix our own cars or plumbing, any more than it would occur to an octogenarian to call in a closet organizer. Your grandparents lived in a world without pet groomers, estate liquidators or personal coaches. .

Specialization has not only impacted the functions we perform but the way we think. We compartmentalize our lives in a way that would baffle our ancestors. We have a time to work, a time to work out, a time to play, and a time to think about God. We schedule phone calls, play dates, date nights, and down time (if you’re lucky). Creating wealth is done in one compartment called business which isn’t, by the way, personal. But don’t worry because there is another compartment called philanthropy or community service where your personal part is encouraged to give back.

But as with most great ideas, there comes a tipping point where the benefits diminish and the tradeoffs start to get silly. Many of us pay others to do the heavy lifting in our lives and then pay to work out at a gym. Or take philanthropy. Your 401K may well be invested in companies that create problems you try to help solve with your charitable contributions.

When we reach these tipping points there is a desire to go back and a need to move forward, to some new paradigm and there are signs all around that this is happening. The New York City Council has decided that is no longer content to give their Billions in deposits to big banks, and allow these financial beohemoths to do whatever they like so long as they deliver an acceptable financial return. Now, in exchange for their deposits they want banks to report what they are doing for the city. Joining other cities, New York wants to know - what are you doing in our city and for our city?

What a powerful question! It recognizes that not everything can be or should be compartmentalized. Investing in local businesses, or providing low interest loans to local entrepreneurs might not offer the sexy financial returns, but if it provides jobs, boosts the local economy, creates city rent and tax revenues, and helps eliminate the blight of boarded up store fronts, there's a lot more than simple financial returns to be considered. It’s a big, complicated, messy, human picture.

Smaller banks, community banks and credit unions get it. They understand that their existence is tied to the communities in which they serve. If our towns and cities invested in these smaller financial institutions that are invested in us, we all win. Big banks, not surprisingly, aren’t happy. They have benefited from the black box approach of highly specialized compartmentalization. It has enabled them to make huge profits regardless of the collateral damage. They argue that a city’s demand to consider the bigger picture is really increased regulation getting in the way of their ability to do their job. But it isn’t regulation, it is our right to think holistically and our recognition that focusing on one thing (financial return) means we ignore the externalities like climate change, peak oil, and pollution) that are mounting in costs and consequences.

Thank you New York!

We have apparently reached the tipping point – Peak Compartmentalization may be here at last, and we’re starting to reach beyond to a more integrated, holistic approach where we embrace our interdependence and the responsibility it entails. And it demands that our institutions play more than a one dimensional role in our communities.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Feeling uneasy about the state of the world? Here's why.

If you have the feeling the bad news is picking up speed, this video will confirm and explain.   In it Dr. Albert Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Physics at University of Colorado at Boulder explains why the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.  In a studio lecture he delivers the most compelling explantion I've heard as to why I have such a queasy stomach these days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Trickle down justice

Tanya McDowell is a homeless woman in Norwalk, CT and for her, life has been tough. After being laid off from her job and evicted from her home, she’s now been arrested and charged with first degree larceny for stealing a kindergarten education for her 5 year old son. She’s facing up to 20 years in prison and having to repay the town of Norwalk more than $15K because she lied about where she lived in order to enroll her boy in school.

Justice today seems to be trickling down just as ineffectively as wealth. Because of the large and monstrous crimes perpetrated on all of us by unscrupulous hedge fund hucksters and derivatives con men our towns are hemorrhaging red ink and have to crack down wherever possible. And while we don’t seem capable of arresting, indicting, fining, or imprisoning those irresponsible frauds at the top, we’re left rendering justice on those at the bottom.

I’m not suggesting that what McDowell did is right, but stealing bread for your starving family, or an education for your child is a little more defensible, and a lot less damaging than screwing everyone so that you can earn a few more million in your bonus.

The greediest among us figured out a way to scam everyone else , and the richer they get, the less likely it is they’ll ever have to pay for their wrongs. Let’s focus our energy and the righteous arm of the law at those who really warrant it, recoup a little of the money they owe us from their outsized bonus payouts, and then maybe our towns and schools can afford to look the other way when a mother bends the law in order to give her child the benefit of a good education – something that benefits us all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Poetic Justice in a Forgery

Pierre Lagrange spent 17 million to buy a Jackson Pollock painting that turned out to be a forgery. Now the hedge fund executive is suing to reclaim his investment. . Poor Pierre. A painting that looks like a Rembrant but isn’t, is, at least, still beautiful, but a Jackson Pollock forgery is just so much paint flung against a canvas. What a shame. It kind of reminds me of what the banks and hedge fund managers like Pierre did to all of us back in the Jackson Pollock days of derivatives, credit swaps and other financial shell games.... just sling a bunch of crap at the wall, and if anything sticks, give it an A+ rating and watch the suckers line up to buy the junk.

Here’s what I’d like to see: Recover the $17million and return it to its rightful owner – the public, all the poor schmucks who got suckered by the idea that we can expect a system which rewards profit and greed to deliver something for the rest of us other than profit and greed. And Lagrange can keep the painting-there’d be poetic justice in that. He could rechristen it “My Mess”

Monday, February 20, 2012

SEB Legislation is Coming to Connecticut

Social Enterprise may be coming to Connecticut!  A bill is now being considered by the Commerce Committee that would create a new Social Enterprise Business (SEB) designation.

This is good news to all!  I've been asked a few very good questions that I wanted to share:

What makes SEBs different from another type of business?
With this SEB designation a company
  • needs to be mission based, and this mission must be for social benefit, and be spelled out in the by-laws
  • needs to plow at least 20% of any distributed profits back to the mission
  • needs to disclose the compensation of the highest earners
  • can not return to a traditional for-profit status, and if it is to be sold then the assets will go to another SEB or a nonprofit with a similar mission.

Why not just set up as a nonprofit?

Entrepreneurs who start a social enterprise business own that business, can earn a return on their investment and sell the company for a profit. There is no real "owner" of a nonprofit organization in that traditional sense, and the founder can not turn around and sell it for a profit.

Then why not just set up as a regular for profit?
Think about Ben and Jerry's Icecream. They had a social enterprise philosophy and ran their company accordingly, but without this designation, when they sold the company to Unilever, the guts of the philosophy got sucked out of the company and all that is left is the husk of their intention which is used as a marketing tool. If they had been able to set up as an SEB it would continue to run as they intended today. A social enterprise designation allows an entrepreneur with a conscious to combine purpose with profit.

With this legislation we have an opportunity to create a business designation for those people who want to use business to solve community problems.  Business is a huge and powerful force, and with this legislation we can help make it a force for good in Connecticut!

Perspectives change when things change

Your kid gets his liscence and suddenly you look back at all the carting around you did with wistfulness.  A flood in the basement and all that stuff you couldn't part with because so much flotsam and you can't wait to get it out of your life.  All the daily pressures and inconveniences get you down until a house fire makes you grateful for the mere existence of those you love.  

Wouldn't we be wise to conjur up these moments to help us sort out our priorities every day.  Things are changing all around us and we're moving to a future most of us can't imagine.  Either we stay focused on what is really important to us and let that guide our choices, or we'll find ourselves grieving the lost time and opportunity.