This is a guest blog written by SVC Lifetime Member Rose Penelope Yee, co-founder of Green Retirement. Note from Rose: This article is written from my viewpoint as a co-leader of #WeTheChange, and is solely my own opinion.
What can we do together that none of us can do alone?
This was the question that drew 65 B Corp women CEO’s to a gathering hosted by Eileen Fisher in April 2018. We received the invitation to gather together at a time when the prevailing national sentiment seemed to be that of unease and uncertainty about the future of the country. It seemed incomprehensible that a person seen by many as a misogynistic, egoistic, and multiple bankruptcy-filing businessman got elected to the highest office in the land. It felt like the national political scene was definitely in flux, it felt unsettling, There were a lot of hand-wringing, a lot of questioning. There was a dreaded awakening to the fact that institutions we thought existed to represent us, the people, in reality did not.
Women did not yield to despair. Instead, we picked ourselves up. The Women’s March of 2017 was the largest single-day protest in US history with estimates of 5 million plus people marching. The #MeToo movement exploded into national prominence. #TimesUp movement started. And a number of women who would never have thought of it gathered up courage and ran for office.
It was in the context of these times that the B Corp women CEO’s met to see what we might do together as a collective. We were a unique group of women, accomplished leaders in our own fields leading businesses that have met the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility. We dug deep and brought up issues that were near and dear to our hearts: universal issues like economic inequity, the ever growing threat of climate change, racial injustice, and gender specific issues like access to capital and the hurdles that women entrepreneurs face in building and growing their businesses.
Starting a movement
The energy, enthusiasm, and engagement of all the women gathered at Eileen Fisher was so palpable we could feel ourselves enveloped with the warmth of it. The richness of conversation was food for the soul. The wealth of experience, expertise, and knowhow openly shared was the inspiration from which we knew a movement would spring forth!
Sara Schley, CEO of Seed Systems, who first brought up the idea of convening our group of women CEO’s to Eileen, Kim Coupounas, B Lab Global Ambassador, and I formed the leadership team that would guide this movement. Action groups centered on issues we identified as key leverage areas that we should focus on were formed. Women leaders stepped up to lead these action groups: Political Advocacy with Diana Marie Lee of Sweet Livity, Equity Diversity and Inclusion with Anna Colibri of Colibri Digital Marketing, Shifting Capital with Anne Chambers of Buy Certifiably, CEO Peer to Peer with Kristy Wallace of Ellevate, and Grow Your B which I co-lead with Carolina Miranda. More women since have volunteered as co-leaders and group members.
One of the first things we set about doing was to articulate our reason for being. What are we all about? Here is our declaration, WeTheChange:
We are empowered women* creating a radically inclusive and richly regenerative global economy.
As women leaders of certified B Corporations and other purpose-driven enterprises, we believe in business as a force for good to generate abundance and prosperity for all. We are building a world where business is in harmony with nature and all life thrives.
We commit to economic, racial, environmental, and social justice and a world where women are equally represented in positions of power and influence. We welcome all allies.
We honor and protect the Earth for future generations.
Advance women’s leadership, prosperity and well-being
Promote sustainable business practices and innovations
Increase the flow of capital to women-led enterprises
Advocate for systemic changes to uplift marginalized identities
Align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals
*This community of “women” –also known as “womxn” — is comprised of and welcomes a broad spectrum of gender identities, including cis-gender, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming leaders in business.
This declaration was signed by B Corp women CEO’s, amongst them Eileen Fisher, Kat Taylor of Beneficial State Bank, Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power, Mandy Cabot of Dansko, and Nancy Green in her then capacity as CEO of Athleta. We now have 439 signatories and it is growing.
A radically inclusive and richly regenerative global economy
As women leaders of certified B Corporations we all strive toward a B economy that works for everyone with a shared and durable prosperity for all. Indeed, in each of our companies, stakeholder interest is baked in and is part of our business DNA. Through an arduously comprehensive certification process, we make certain that we meet the environmental, social and governance standards required to become a B Corp. A B Corp by its very nature is a business that is a building block for an economy that is best for the world, for people and for planet.
So what does radically inclusive mean? It means that everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, geographic location or by any other measure that our society has tended to classify and divide people, are all participants and beneficiaries of the economy. It means that human beings’ basic needs are met, that no one goes to bed hungry and that there is a home with a bed to go to. It means that when we drive by 5th Street in Oakland or any other streets in our cities and towns, we do not see tent cities where the homeless are driven to live. It means that a mother and father do not have to work two or three jobs in order to provide for their families. It means that families don’t have to worry about going bankrupt if a sudden illness strikes. It means working people shouldn’t be living on the edge with no savings to meet a $500 emergency. It means that children are safe and not have to undergo armed intruder drills in school. It means that girls are given the opportunity and the means to fulfill their full potential. It means women are empowered and safe. It means that all of our interests are represented by our elected officials. It means that all of our voices are heard and all of our votes count.
A radically inclusive economy is the foundation by which a richly regenerative one is built on. It is extremely difficult, nay impossible, for someone to think about the harm of plastic straws on our environment when she is dying of thirst. A working mom juggling two or three jobs to feed her family does not have the luxury of choosing to buy organic. A homeless man cannot contemplate the extinction of polar bears when he is huddled beneath the awning of a building trying to escape an unseasonal barrage of fist-sized hail brought about by climate change. The unimaginable grief of the family of a black teenager killed by those who have sworn to protect the people cannot even begin to entertain thoughts of a regenerative economy.
A richly regenerative economy, on the other hand, will support a radically inclusive one. Based on the fact that we have one common home and that the human species can only survive within a certain set of environmental parameters, it is incumbent that we fashion an economy that values the earth as an economic asset. We cannot use up resources without regard for its depletion. We are now past the 350 degree carbon threshold and face an existential threat from climate change. This cannot be the legacy that we leave to our children. It is therefore imperative we have all hands on deck as we build a regenerative economy where our natural capital is preserved through circularity and sustaining our environmental resources. We need to right the trajectory of spaceship Earth so that generations after us will continue to thrive.
The need for structural and systemic change
We know that we can only achieve true shared prosperity with an economy that is intentionally inclusive. We know that our bold and audacious vision of a radically inclusive and richly regenerative global economy means that successfully growing our community of B Corp businesses is not enough. In the 12 years that B Corps came into existence, much progress in growing this community has been made, but that progress is not enough.
It is noteworthy that there are, as of this writing, 3,086 companies in 150 industries in 71 countries that are B Corp certified. And there are now multinational corporations like Danone that are B Corp certified. It is, undoubtedly, an outstanding growth of the B Corp movement. These companies have demonstrated social and environmental responsibility with the additional requisite that they formally recognize and act in the best interests of all stakeholders. It bears, with no question, that these companies are, indeed, best for the world. But this is not enough. It is a wonderful beginning, but we need to do more.
The societal changes required to bring about our vision need to be structural and systemic. When the women CEOs wrote #WetheChange, we acknowledged that equal representation was not the goal. That having equal seats at the table does not equate to true inclusivity if the table stays the same. We need to redesign the table, that is, redesign the economy so that it is structurally and systematically inclusive. When the structure and systems that make up our economy are built on the foundation of justice, on economic, social, racial and environmental justice, then those seated at the table, be they women, men, gender nonconforming, black, white, indigenous, mix-race, differently abled, working class, professionals, intellectuals, rural or urban, will be leaders of an economy that will truly and continuously benefit all.
How do we start building a radically inclusive and richly regenerative global economy? We began by articulating a vision/mission/values framework. As B Corp women leaders we identified our impact on the advancement of women’s leadership, prosperity and well-being as the biggest leverage point we have towards achieving our vision. Three components go towards this: amplifying our progressive business women’s voice to influence #WeTheChange issues, growing #WeTheChange businesses, and increasing the number of #WeTheChange women elected officials.
In essence, the amplification of our progressive business women’s voice will serve as a countervailing force to the corporate voice dominating our national conversation. Growing #WeTheChange businesses means building the economic power of our women led companies and, as a consequence, that of all of our socially and environmentally responsible businesses as well. Increasing the number of #WeTheChange women elected officials means that when budget appropriations are being considered or when policies and legislation affecting the economy are on the docket, decisions will be made in favor of the side creating positive impact on the lives of working women and, thereby, working people everywhere.
We will not be silent when policies such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) signed into law by President Trump was being bandied about. We will articulate why the TCJA is beneficial to big corporations but harmful to the poor and the middle class and accelerates the ever-expanding wealth gap. We will actively join the conversation as a business women’s collective about the benefits that policies like Medicare for All offers those who are the most economically disadvantaged which tend to be women and people of color. We will advocate for legislation that will serve to jump start a green economy that curbs fossil fuel use, seeking to halt the existential threat of climate change to humanity.
#WeTheChange women have formed active action groups that are the first steps in creating the necessary structures, strategies, and processes we need to succeed. Women are called to action and offer their precious time and energy to the movement. New action groups are being formed as I write. We now have a Global Action Group headed by Laura Giadorou-Koch, CEO of Argentinian Dolium Wines. Laura invited South American women leaders to an organizing meeting in September, expecting 30-50 to show up. 120 women did. She has also started organizing women leaders in Europe and working on Asia and Africa.. Kim Fuller of Phil has stepped up lead our Canadian women. Several others are joining to lead chapters in Costa Rica and Colombia and we are seeing more women interested in joining the movement all across the globe.
We are resolute in our commitment to collectively change the global economy and build one that we know will usher a society where women and everyone thrives. Women love. Women care. Women lead. We welcome all women leaders and like minded allies to sign #WeTheChange. We are the change. Join our movement!
Rose will be facilitating a session on the #WeTheChange Progressive Business Women’s Movement at our annual conference, “Welcome to the Next Economy”, from November 13-15 ! See the full agenda here.