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May 26, 2009

SVNReaders of my blog know I’m grateful for my participation in Social Venture Network (SVN), and have been a member of this extraordinary organization for the past 5 years.  If you’re not familiar with SVN, it’s a member organization of 500 CEO's, investors, and nonprofit leaders running some of the most cutting-edge socially responsible businesses and nonprofits.

SVN is currently calling for nominations for the “2009 SVN Innovation Awards” to honor and support the “next generation” of social entrepreneurs.   Winners will be honored during a special ceremony at the 2009 SVN fall conference in La Jolla.

If you’re a social entrepreneur, or know of any worthy candidates, please read below!

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Winners will receive a free year of membership in SVN, waived registration and travel and hotel expenses to attend the fall conference, waived registration for the 2010 SVN Member Gathering, recognition on SVN’s website for a full year, publicity in other media outlets, and advice and mentoring from members of the SVN community.
 
To be eligible, applicants must currently hold positions as C-level executives (CEO, President, Executive Director, etc.) at a business or nonprofit having a positive social or environmental impact, and their organization must be less than five years old.  
 
To learn more about the Awards or to download an application, please visit http://www.svn.org/awards 

“Being honored as an SVN Innovation Awards winner made a huge difference to REC. I’ve made a lot of great connections, received mentoring from several SVN members, and have partnered with a number of the network’s leaders who are helping me think strategically about how to achieve greater social impact,” commented 2007 SVN Innovation Awards recipient, Morgan Simon, the co-founder and Executive Director of Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC).

2008 Innovation Award winners included: Timothy O’Shea (CleanFish), Kirsten Tobey and Kristin Richmond (Revolution Foods), Michelle Kaufmann (Michelle Kaufmann Designs), Jonathan Lewis (MicroCredit Enterprises), Jeannine Jacokes (Partners for the Common Good), and Willy Foote (Root Capital).

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Posted: May 26, 2009 4:52pm
Apr 28, 2009
Using the power of business for good is essential for a sustainable future.  However, it’s often tough going and controversial as we wade into unchartered waters.  Thus, some of my favorite conferences each year are the Social Venture Network (SVN) gatherings which bring together socially responsible business leaders for three days each spring and fall.

These are no ordinary business people.  SVN members include the founders of Stonyfield Yogurt, Ben & Jerry’s, Calvert Funds, Honest Tea, White Dog Café, Greyston Bakery, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, IceStone, Utne Reader, Working Assets, Odwalla, Clif Bar, and many others social venture pioneers.  It’s always invigorating to be among so many passionate, capable individuals who truly “get it” and are working toward building a just economy and sustainable planet.

This past weekend was SVN’s spring gathering in Chicago.  One of the highlights for me was a session called "To Sell or Not to Sell: Strategies for Expanding Your Impact."   In the socially responsible business world, one of the most controversial subjects is always “what happens after the founder leaves / or sells the company?”   Even among SVN members, there tend to be two lines of thought: 
  1. it’s better to stay "pure" and not sell to a big company
  2. it’s more effective to be part of a larger company that can rapidly increase distribution and get far more people using the product/service.

In this particular session (and there have been many others on the topic), the panelists were all involved in full or partial aquisitions: Seth Goldman, from Honest Tea (recently invested in by Coca Cola);  Gary Hirshberg, from Stonyfield Farm (sold majority stake to Danone); Terry Mollner (who was involved with the Ben & Jerry’s sale) and Sheryl O’Loughlin (formerly with Clif Bar, now building a collective of eco-responsible companies called Nest Naturals).  

The results of the investments/purchases have been somewhat mixed.  It’s probably too early to tell for Honest Tea and Nest Naturals.  Stonyfield is growing like gangbusters while maintaining its mission.  Ben & Jerry’s has been a tad more controversial (there are a lot of folks who believe the company lost its heart when it was taken over by Unilever).   

My personal perspective is that what’s right depends on the company: whether "doing good" is inherent to the DNA of the products/services, or if it’s more of a marketing approach that could be stripped by an acquirer that doesn’t share the same values.   There’s no doubt that in some cases hitching a ride to a giant can create a bigger impact faster, and the do-good culture can permeate and change the giant for the better.  But, it’s also true that some world-changing companies have been derailed too early through acquisition.

The panel conversation was fascinating, and it was interesting to hear the provisions some of these companies were able to negotiate to protect their mission.  Gary at Stonyfield, for example, runs his company as a nearly autonomous unit (in fact, in some ways even competing with its US counterpart, Dannon… which is a bit awkward), as Danone recognized that Stonyfield had something special going and they didn’t want to mess it up.  Unilever actually agreed to have two Boards for Ben & Jerry’s (one for the mission, one for the financial performance) though it sounds like that has been a bit more difficult (as one might expect).

Of course, no one ever said changing the world would be easy.
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Posted: Apr 28, 2009 9:58pm

 

 
 
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Randy Paynter
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Hillsborough, CA, USA
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