Since I am an admitted Starbucks addict (skinny vanilla latte, thank you) I am often gifted with Starbucks gift cards by people that know me well. As much as I love to receive free Starbucks, I absolutely hate, abhor, despise that you cannot recycle the cards. I ask EVERY time I use one: "since my balance is zero, where can I recycle these?" Every time I ask this question, I am told that gift cards are not recyclable. I am offered the opportunity to re-load of course.
Now given that I know some of the folks at Starbucks working in this space, I will say that recycling gift cards is NOT.EASY to figure out. I know it's a huge challenge. The team there has done great work managing a very complex operations framework and have made significant strides in cup recycling, among other things. That said, after a meeting at a Starbucks store today where this conversation came up again, I was inspired to list a few other items I think should be made more recyclable. With that, my top 5:
1. (Starbucks) Gift Cards (see above) - also see what Starbucks IS doing around recycling. It's a lot!
2. Phone covers/cases: I recently upgraded to a new iPhone. It was simple for me to recycle my old iPhone via Apple's takeback program, but recycling my old phone cases? Impossible. I looked everywhere. I even tried to sell them on eBay for virtually nothing. I do not want to throw these suckers in the trash. There are great sites like Freecycle and Earth911 but I feel the need to collect more non-recyclable items before launching into that space of effort. For now I am holding onto them with the hope that some creative art project will inspire me to use them (unlikely).
3. Yogurt containers. What is it with the way our municipal recycling system works that most yogurt containers are still not recyclable? I have to visit my local Whole Foods to make it work. With my yogurt containers I bring my Brita filters. Don't throw those away people!
4. Televisions: Granted I spent about 2+ years working on electronics recycling issues but it just about kills me when I see people leaving their huge electronics (think 1980s projection TVs) out on the curb. Those will not be recycled and in fact most will end up in a landfill where harmful chemicals may leach into our land and water. Not good. There are many ways to recycle TVs (and other electronics) but for the big 1980s pieces, it is hard to manage without a good delivery service. Check out www.greenergadgets.com for more options.
5. Clothes: I am a frequent Goodwill visitor. I donate many times throughout the year. And with the great programs Goodwill has underway I feel good about utilizing their donation services. That said, when I read this story on NPR about a woman finding a man in Africa wearing one of her Bat Mitzvah t-shirts from 1993 it made me wonder if the system of sending used clothing around the world is entirely sustainable. I don't claim to have a better option and frankly, if there is a method of relying upon used clothing as a form of livelihood in underprivileged communities, I am thrilled. I am not entirely convinced that this is the best and most efficient market transformation method, however.
What do others think? What am I missing? Tweet me @jsonenshine with other thoughts. Perhaps we can make a few calls and change some systems. What do you think, Starbucks?
In a conversation with a colleague from a well known NGO this week, I heard something for the first time. I heard a request to be irrelevant. My colleague told me in confidence that someday she envisions a world where all of the critical challenges facing undeserved populations disappear. She wants to be no longer needed. Ultimately my colleague wants to work herself out of a job and her employer out of existence.
How can that be? Simply put, my colleague works tirelessly to address some of our planet's biggest challenges - issues that many of us do not have to face each day - but that millions do . These include access to healthy food and clean water, a roof to provide shelter, healthcare, schooling and even a safe place to use the restroom. NGOs spend billions of dollars every year to address these and other complex and critical issues. Ensuring those dollars are well spent and issues comprehensively addressed makes NGO work inspiring and noble. Will there ever be a time, however, when NGOs are irrelevant? When these problems are no longer there? Will there be other challenges we must face? My colleague hopes and prays that in our lifetime there will be a time when NGOs are no longer needed. I loved hearing her speak so honestly and deliberately about the future she wants and works for.
Having spent several years working for an NGO, however, that idealism and the reality are not mutually exclusive. At the base of it, NGOs help solve critical, pressing problems that governments, businesses and academic institutions alone cannot address. Not one series of policies is going to solve every one of our global problems around poverty (as evidenced by the dozens of UN agencies, federal agencies and multilateral organizations working on bridging our poverty gap for decades.)
Are NGOs well poised to work themselves into irrelevancy?
We ARE making progress. As Bill Gates recently reported in the Gates Foundation 2014 Annual Letter, more than a billion people have risen out of poverty over the last fifty years and the trend is continuing.
“The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn't just mistaken, it’s harmful.” Bill Gates, 2014 Annual Report Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
That optimism fills me with a sense of joy and excitement and makes me more motivated. I am convinced that together we CAN solve some of our world’s toughest challenges together. I still question whether all NGOs feel the same way. Do they really want to be irrelevant? Some big NGOs have budgets in the multiple millions. Do their lofty visions match actual impact? Is there a method to managing non for profit work in such a way that ultimately their roles become non essential?
Some argue that businesses must take on the role currently held by NGOs. Others advocate for government to adopt policies that make permanent the work being carried out by non profit organizations. This may make sense when it comes to delivery of technical assistance, skills training, bringing together mutual interests and regulating harmful action. But can government alone solve problems that plague communities over and over, especially with rampant corruption and lack of transparency? Are businesses well poised to manage the tedious, and meticulous planning that NGOs take on in order to address hugely complex problems like access to water, shelter and nutrition?
I don’t have the answer to this complex question but do hope that one day the role of NGOs is no longer needed. In my idealist vision, our economies and markets are self regulating, and business is a permanent force for good. What do others think? Tweet me at @jsonenshine with your thoughts #NGORole
I attended a conference this week sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on “Accelerating Sustainability." The event was designed to help companies consider what comes next after setting sustainability goals or reaching critical milestones. Representing some of Americas largest, most influential companies like Dow Chemical, 3M, Keurig Green Mountain, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Veolia and UL, attendees were deeply engaged in the dialogue, asking questions like: how do companies grow and scale with sustainability initiatives at the heart of their business? How do they work together to make greater impact? What is the most effective way to collborate? These were all questions we covered in a deep and rich series of plenary conversations and breakouts. I particularly liked the task of developing an innovative approach to solving a particular collaboration challenge that we presented before panel members in a “Shark Tank” style contest.
In one presentation, a group suggested a “Match.Com” version for sustainability practitioners, allowing companies to obtain necessary information on partners available to help manage certain challenges. Rather than relying on assumption or pure guess, companies would be able to make informed decisions about entering into the right partnership, a step all too often forgotten in partnership creation.
We don’t always know who are the right partners.
This resonated strongly with me since one of Connective Impact’s primary goals is to ensure the right partners are working together around issues of critical social, environmental and economic impact so collaboration and effective engagement is possible. I have often found that companies jump into partnership development and other collaborative work without taking the time to evaluate the scenarios in front of them, truly understand the challenges and gaps, and THEN identify the partners to address those gaps. Taking a few simple steps makes the process easier and more effective.
With the right process in place to identify partners and understand mutual goals and joint outcomes, collaboration and effective engagement with others can be made much more actionable.
In addition to May 1 being International Workers’ Day, when we recognize the power of laborers as the foundation of economic stability, it also happens to be Women Owned Business Day. This was a surprise to me as I never knew such a day existed. It turns out this celebration is quite new. Created by UrbanGirl exec Hannah Diamond to raise the awareness of women business owners and increase consumer traffic to women-run websites, more than 400 businesses from around the world participated. While a great effort to draw attention to those of us in the driver’s seat can only help, I am optimistic that a time will come when a business is simply a business, whether it’s run by a man or a woman. I am a few days late to this year’s celebration, but wanted to provide a few thoughts for other women out there like me yearning for the independence, excitement, joy and wonder of working for yourself. With that, my Top 5 Lessons Learned in just 4 short months at the helm of Connective Impact:
1. Working for yourself is empowering. It is tremendously freeing to make decisions entirely on my own. Everything from how I budget to how I draft client proposals is determined by moi and only moi. This feeling of autonomy is unlike any I have felt before. In my fifteen years of working for someone else, I always trusted my decisions but never felt empowered to make any on my own. Those days are gone and it feels really great.
2. You can operate on a shoe string. In this day and age of technology and constant interconnection, if you are in a service business, what you need is an internet connection, a device to tap into the world of social media, emails and Google, and your brain. Having a budget for other items will be critical down the line (i.e. conference travel, taxes, administrative costs, perhaps staff) but until you start bringing in a large income, a shoe string is perfectly acceptable. For me, having a presence on social media has been the most valuable investment. Having a navigable website, a twitter following and LinkedIn connections have allowed me to reach a broad audience at the touch of a button, leaving much of my time spent on ensuring I have the right content to provide them.
3. Utilize your network. Having an extensive network of solid contacts and strong relationships from my last fifteen years has proven tremendously valuable. I have made great friendships over the years and my network has been able to vouch for me and my ability to provide a service. Without a strong network, I could not have gone out on my own. Spend the time to make good relationships. They will serve you well for eternity.
4. Trust your instincts. When I started the brainchild of Connective Impact, I was neither scared nor unsure. I simply believed that my mission would guide me and my drive would sustain me. I was right. Although only 4 months in I am more convinced than ever that this decision was 100% right for me and will be viable as an income generator for me and my family. I have always been a believer in trusting your instincts and that is as true with running your own business as it is with anything else.
5. Take risks. It may sound cliché but nothing gained has ever come from sitting around and waiting. I have always considered myself an aggressive decision maker (in other words I am borderline rash) but by taking a few risks, speaking from the heart, trying new methods or working with unconventional partners, the brilliance of independent success can be won.
6. Ask for help. I am incredibly lucky to have a very strong support network keeping me buoyed and positive through the transition as I get Connective Impact off the ground. I have also had to let my guard down a bit and ask for help at times. This can be uncomfortable for me as I am one of those women who thinks asking for help makes me seem weak. It doesn't! There are things I cannot do alone, no matter how much money I may make, knowledge I have or people I know. We all need help sometimes. And it’s ok to ask for it.
7. Just do it. If any part of you is looking outside of yourself, wondering what ‘could’ be if you put all your energy towards making something better, go for it. Don’t hold yourself back. Take the risk, jump off the diving board and watch how big a splash you can make!