In December, 2017 my company, Connective Impact, became a B Corporation. Are you familiar with B Corps? Maybe you’ve seen the big, bold B label indicating a company has been certified as a B Corp? Perhaps you’ve heard B Corp Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario share why being a socially and environmentally minded company is so important both to the consciousness and bottom line of Patagonia. You may have even seen the B Corp logo when eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. B Corporations are certified companies balancing purpose and profit. They are companies as big as Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Kickstarter, or Eileen Fisher, or as small as Connective Impact, using business as a force for good. Does it matter whether businesses care about purpose? Do conscious missions drive profits? Can businesses shape a new paradigm to advance opportunities that heal us or advance us?
You can read my take in my new book Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact, out May 22nd.
You can also see mention of the role purpose and mission play in corporate decisions the world over if you pay any attention to how companies are evolving in the new generation of millennial leaders. What a company says, does, invests in, produces and how it advocates (or not) for certain issues matters. The B Corp movement is deeply involved in advancing the message that business can and should be a force for good, politically, socially, environmentally and economically.
As a B Corp, and a woman-owned business, Connective Impact is also part of a unique group of companies run by B Corp Female CEOs (18% to be exact). As one of these unique creatures, I was invited this past week to attend a convening at Eileen Fisher’s Learning Lab in upstate New York with 100 other B Corp Female CEOs to discuss how we, as women leaders, can effect the greatest change with our businesses, within our communities and our partners. Over the course of 1.5 days we worked within working groups, in small listening sessions, brainstorming about inspiration and challenges, fears and opportunities. We addressed ways to engage on political issues like climate change and gender equity, we discussed ways to shift capital so women-owned businesses (and especially diverse-women-led businesses) can get better access to funding, we talked circular economy, peer-to-peer networking and business development. We had delicious food and even more delicious dialogue.
To kick off the day we heard from Eileen Fisher herself, a pioneer in the mission-driven business space, as well as Nancy Green, CEO of Athleta and Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power. These women leaders shared unabashedly their own inspirations, sense of fears, struggle with balance and feelings of opportunity for the future. Capping off their presentation was the signing of the We the Change Manifesto (see below), which we all signed in support of a paradigm shift led by women-owned businesses.
The day was about focus, intention, authenticity, honesty and shifting power. It was about Purposeful Profits, women support, collaboration at its finest, and a commitment to make a change for future generations that is built on respecting our planet and each other. There’s nothing more pertinent in the notion of being a B Corp that that.
If you aren’t yet familiar with the B Corp movement, visit BCorporation.net. To learn more about the B Corp Women CEOs working groups, contact me anytime.
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, a partnership strategy advisory firm helping mission-driven companies advance social, environmental and economic impact through collaboration, and author of ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact and Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact.
We were asked to compile a list of the best ways to find new partners for mission-driven businesses looking to increase their impact, while staying focused on their business. Rather than keep those creative ideas close to the vest, we wanted to share with our readers. We hope you find one (or more of these ideas) useful!
If Connective Impact can be helpful as you seek new and diversified partners (for funding or project development) reach out to us! Our new course, Partnerships, Purpose and Profit is also available to help you develop your partnership strategy and advance your mission.
In 2014 when I launched the company it was because I knew mission-driven companies and organizations needed more direction for finding the best partners to amplify their impact, particularly in supply chains and in rural communities where companies are often dependent upon inputs, ingredients for products and raw materials. Back then I developed the methodology that we still use, focused on prioritizing goals in the first place, developing strong partner relationships and being clear on roles and responsibilities.
Inevitably companies, nonprofits and even governments can’t address every challenge or impediment alone. By relying on partnerships, any mission-driven company can succeed and advance impact with the focus that we all so critically need.
So what have we learned in the last 5+ years on partnerships, and why are we going back to basics?
1. We want to keep our focus on the importance of partnerships in delivering impact. Any combination of actors can and should work together if the outcome leads to greater results than what an actor can do on its own. What is needed for effective collaboration is a process for stakeholder engagement and strategy development that is based on (1) preparedness, (2) critical listening, (3) role identification and (4) quality measurement. To get started, an organization must prioritize its goals and understand the space in which its goals are achievable. We call this “priority setting” (nothing revolutionary here folks).
2. I would argue that almost always, true aspirational social impact goals MUST involve others. Alignment may not be perfect but if missions do not overlap, there is a large risk of imbalance and ultimately failure.
3. Listening to each other and ensuring a level of honesty and direct communication is paramount for effective partnership building. Organizations need to understand the other players and their roles. Who are potential collaborators? What groups are already out there? Where is the best place to start the effort?
4. Niche identification and role assignment ensures a level of clarity and efficiency in the collaboration. Not every actor has the same strengths, and tasks must be distributed to ensure the appropriate use of resources and for effective delivery of outcomes.
5. No partnership, project or collaborative program is effective without the right measurement of progress, impact and adaptive management.
Consistent throughout is the right preparation and consistent communication. That and a central organization or leader to guide the collaborative group down the path of strategy development. That's why Connective Impact is still playing an important role in this space! Want to try our methodology? Contact us here.
In response to many requests from orgs interested in dabbling in our methodology, we’ve also developed an online platform to take you through our partnership strategy process through in your own time and at your own pace. You can access it here.
If you receive any of my regular emails, you may notice a repetitive attention paid to leveraged funding opportunities, particularly as government agencies release new calls for proposal. Does anyone wonder what the heck I am talking about? It occurred to me that perhaps my casual way of communicating about leveraged funding presupposes that my audience actually knows why leveraged funding is so important to advancing our sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Let’s use the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announcement around their Annual Program Statement (APS) as an example. MCC prepares their APS to inform potential partners (companies, financial institutions, foundations, universities, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, development agencies, and other U.S. government agencies) about priorities for the next year (or two). In this year’s APS, MCC indicated in its press release that its intent is to "co-create, co-fund, and co-implement partnerships that support MCC’s ability to achieve its mission and programmatic goals." Why is this important? It means that MCC’s funding (in the billions), which will be used for these (and other) programs: (enabling the use of data by and for women’s economic empowerment; enhancing analytical capabilities in various subfields of environmental and natural resource economics, including water resources, natural resource accounting, and climate change; working to help MCC successfully and sustainably address the barriers to women’s and ideally youth entrepreneurship and sustainable business growth) is available to ADD ON TO and advance. If a company with a vested interest in youth entrepreneurship in an MCC country, for example, wants to affect real change (i.e. build out physical and technological infrastructure, engage with governments to advance policy making, shift how market financing is developed, create effective safety nets for low income communities that may be future employees, customers or suppliers, etc) then what better way to do so than by partnering with a private government entity like MCC, which has billions of dollars to invest in these and other programs? Talk about long-term sustainability.
Collaboration is all about joining forces to impact change. Leveraging private sector funding with MCC investments allows for systemic change that is nearly impossible in any other scenario (i.e. a company investing in NGO activity without support of infrastructure that an MCC could help build as an example). Companies, alone, can’t invest at that scale. Governments alone can’t build out private sector investment without those partnerships. Finding economic engines to drive local production and consumption helps propel tax revenue, keeps engagement high and provides for a more satisfied population and workforce. Partnership and leveraged funding between government sources (in this case MCC) and the private sector is what can change the paradigm in impoverished countries. MCC reports on these successes often.
What about the Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC) 2X Women’s Initiative? I had not heard about the more than $1 BILLION being invested in women’s empowerment programs in developing countries until this week. How did I miss this? OPIC is looking to invest in women entrepreneurs, women-owned businesses and in partnership with the private sector. How many private sector companies have goals around supporting women entrepreneurs? There are dozens. Think about how beneficial it would be to partner with OPIC (and each other) to both address these goals each entity has in place, but also to scale and amplify the real impact that’s possible. This amplification of funds and impact is leverage.
Nowadays it seems every call for proposals, every challenge that addresses the SDGs, each impact investment, is looking for ways to engage the private sector. There’s a reason for it, though. With private sector ‘leveraged’ funding, other investors (public, impact investors, even NGOs) can be assured that perhaps with their investment there is more opportunity for long term impact. Companies’ investments in sustainability are about building long term returns that allow for future production, more dependable consumption patterns, more predictable supply, even assurance around workforce availability. Government donors and NGOs often operate on a much shorter time frame (think under 10 years). Adding private sector leveraged funding to the mix allows these partners to see a greater, longer-term impact with their dollars.
Collaboration between funding streams like those coming from MCC, or OPIC (or agencies like DFID, USAID, etc) and the private sector, nonprofit sector, academic sector, etc. helps advance economic development around the SDGs in a way that is more market focused, economically advantageous to the communities in need of large scale investment and better for competition of prices and supply. For these reasons (and likely more unmentioned) leveraging funding is critical to advancing our SDGs.
Looking for ways to engage on these and other funding opportunities? Subscribe to our bi-weekly update. Schedule time to chat with us about your funding needs here.
What would it mean to ‘disrupt’ a sector to the point where we no longer recognize it? In the space of social impact and environmental sustainability, have we fully disrupted any sectors such that the new is now old?
Some may interpret disruption as simply using more advanced technology. Others, and I am in this particular camp, believe full disruption is based on advancement in all things social, economic and environmental. It takes a lot to get there.
To some extent the pulp and paper sector has seen full disruption, moving away from issues like illegal logging and poor labor practices to more sustainable land investments and a more circular economy centered around recycling for pulp. One could even argue that we are in the midst of chemical disruption, whereby individuals shy away from harmful chemicals, dyes, flavors or materials in their food, beverages, consumer products and even clothing. Would we notice a change in taste or flavor or utility if some of our favorite foods, clothing brands, technology were "disrupted"?
Take chocolate for example. Anyone working in or around the cocoa sector knows how challenging issues like deforestation, child labor, women’s rights and proper livelihoods are for cocoa farmers. What can we ‘really’ do about it? Are customers even aware of what's happening? How could full disruption both improve the status quo for cocoa farmers AND ensure the future for the sector (which is what consumers most care about)?
The reality is, behind the chocolate we eat and crave, farmers are largely suffering. Acumen, an organization dedicated to advancing social entrepreneurship to help eliminate global poverty, has been asking questions about disruption for years. According to Acumen’s latest report “COCOA INTERRUPTED: THE ROLE OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN COCOA SUSTAINABILITY”, which I was honored to participate in, we learn that “70% of the world’s cocoa production lies in West Africa where farmers live on less than $1 per day.” This is not an unknown fact to anyone working in the cocoa sector. What may be unknown is the latest move by one of the largest chocolate companies, the Hershey Company, to explore the opportunities for social enterprises to join forces with the company in cocoa-growing communities to test new models and approaches to building out long term sustainability in cocoa.
The Hershey Company has been a leader in testing new methods for advancing social and economic impact for decades (you can read all about this in Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Companies Making a Positive Global Impact, out May 22). Now, in partnership with Acumen, they are exploring how the emerging scope of social enterprise in agriculture can fully and truly disrupt cocoa in the way many of us define it – by changing the paradigm and success potential for cocoa farmers for generations to come.
My hope in working on this project with Acumen is that the cocoa sector, in full disruption, can both change the lives of its farmers for the better, and also help advance full disruption in other sectors where change is desperately needed. Watch this space. It's time for full disruption!