If there was a theme behind the success of media mogul Bryan Welch and many other countless social entrepreneurs, it would be combining personal passion with their work.
That’s the message the leader of Ogden Publications, which publishes 10 magazines including Mother Earth News and Utne Reader presented as a True Confessions speaker at Social Venture Institute (SVI) Hollyhock Sept. 13. The annual sessions ask a successful leader to share the highs and lows of growing a mission-based business.
Welch says he had a suspicion that combining doing what he loved with his vocation was a good idea the day he bought Mother Earth News, which focuses on two of his passions, sustainability and farming. Since then, it’s become one of North America’s top magazines, confirming Welch’s belief in the power of combining one’s interests with their vocation.
“I’ve seen thousands of other examples of how that creates success in the world, how that creates change, how that creates innovation, beauty, abundance,” he told the nearly 140 social entrepreneurs.
“It is the most important fuel for human enterprise.”
Welch, who is a Social Venture Network (SVN) member, credits two unlikely mentors for helping him discover his passion that would lead him to building a social business. The first was his grandfather, a contagious storyteller who’d take Welch to small cafes almost every day to engage in conversations with the locals.
Then there was a trailer park owner named Tim, who employed Welch at age nine to milk goats and tend the garden, leading Welch to discover the magic of the natural world.
This compelled Welch to pursue a career where he could combine his two loves – essentially telling stories about milking goats – becoming a journalist and editor at small papers in America’s southwest.
A stroke of luck resulted in an invitation to study at Harvard University, where Welch learned an important lesson about successful people: they tell others what they want to do until someone is able to support their dreams.
This helped Welch muster the courage to express his desire to start a media company focused on self-reliance and sustainability. While laughing at becoming a tireless dinner companion, Welch was able to convince a newspaper publisher to invest in his business idea.
Ogden Publications was launched in 1996 and has had its share of bumps along the way, but Welch credits Mother Earth News as the engine of growth. Key to its high readership is its focus on stories about regular people doing good things for the world.
“We think it’s the most sacred part of what we do in our media business, to describe the kind of world that we human beings wish to create,” he says.
While attending a conference focusing on growing social ventures, Welch cautioned labeling social business as different than any other human endeavor.
“Why shouldn’t every enterprise seek to create value at every point in its production and distribution cycle?” he asked.
“I see that realization coming to dawn. I see a time coming when you are at the controls of the most powerful force for positive change in human society, far more powerful than any government ever was.”
Ogden Publications is gearing up to launch its latest publication Mother Earth Living, focusing on sustainable lifestyles, mid-October.
SVI took place Sept. 12-16 convening 140 social entrepreneurs for an interactive inquiry into the day-to-day challenges of running a socially-conscious enterprise.
Photo Credit: Sara Dent