From Serving to Saving

Commitment. Community. Hardship. People. Relationships. Empowerment. Effective. Selfless. Engage. Purpose. Complicated. Understanding. Values. Working. Stewardship. Giving. Helping.

These are some of the words a group of Oregonians answered when asked: What one word comes to mind when you hear the word service?

The diverse choice of words indicate the breadth and complexity of what it means to serve.

If you live in a city, you can walk down the street and see homeless people struggling to find shelter or begging for food. We see regular pleas for help on social media and receive countless solicitations for financial donations to support organizations committed to ending the plight of the marginalized and downtrodden. We’re surrounded by sad images, hard realities and sometimes overwhelming expectations to answer the call to help solve complex issues. There are more than 1.7 million non-governmental organizations in the United States and social enterprises actively working to remedy or alleviate the many ills in society. The needs are monumental.

A lot of people seek to out opportunities to serve or dedicate their lives to service. Some people volunteer, others make financial donations or donate skills and services. Some people invest in meaningful careers to devote their time to a cause. People are called to serve because it is a religious belief. Some people serve because their moral conscience and sense of responsibility is activated. Others serve to feel good or better about themselves. An altruistic act is rarely truly selfless because we benefit so much when we are kind to others.

Service is also important. It brings us closer together. It connects us. It deepens our understanding of people and issues. It builds character. It strengthens society. It builds compassion and nurtures empathy. It provides perspective. And more importantly.

How do we know the type of service that people need or want?
What if someone doesn’t know how to articulate what they need?

Think about a time when you stepped up to serve and with hindsight, it may not have been the correct or wisest move to intervene to try and serve to ‘save’ a person.

It is easy to assume when we serve that it is the right thing to do. It is easy to judge. It is easy to choose on behalf of someone, especially if they’re vulnerable, undernourished, unable to think straight. It is easy to tell people what they “should” do. It is natural for many people to want to solve and tell people what they need. It is equally worth stepping back to think about the needs of others before we assume our role in service to save someone (whether for a day, week, year or lifetime). As one participant shared, an act of doing good is not about completion. Another participant reminded us that impact doesn’t tell the whole story.

Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project is a reflective and invigorating experience to open the mind, exercise listening and expand thoughts. Something we could all benefit from doing more often. 

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Finding Purpose in a Cone

There are only three ice cream or sorbet flavors in my world: strawberry honey balsamic vinegar with cracked black pepper, sea salt with caramel ribbons or lemon sorbet if there is no Salt and Straw nearby. What started out as a small-batch artisan ice-cream cart on NE Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon transformed the world of ice-cream (dramatic statement but true). At tonight’s Stumptown Speaker Series Kim Malek, CEO and Co-Founder of Salt and Straw validated that the company is a brand with a purpose to serve and nurture community. She did not have a dream to start an ice-cream brand, she found the purpose first.  Today it is a must-go destination in Portland, Los Angeles (and soon to be in San Francisco and Seattle), a place to indulge in a cacophony of ice-cream flavors that somehow belong together although on the other hand have no business being mixed together AND yet always leave you wondering how on earth Head Chef Tyler Malek cooked up yet another delectable treat. Life lessons: embrace the unexpected and let life surprise you.

Community comes to life in several ways at Salt and Straw:

  • Creating memorable Customer Experiences: The infinity line of customers out the door of the scoop shops – rain or shine – has never made standing in line more worthwhile (although this is not deliberate part of the customer experience). Malek shared that they’ve heard stories about marriage proposals, friendships and job offers while customers have mingled and waited patiently in line.
  • Investing in the Culinary Community: This year Salt and Straw will start an artisan program in Portland. They’ll provide future artisans with a support, a curriculum and share lessons about their own successes and failures to future entrepreneurs. Life is too short to learn everyone’s mistakes.
  • Caring for the Family: The army of dedicated Salt and Straw employees make it a special experience. They’re a key ingredient to the company’s success and well-cared for. Employees receive extensive training on topics such as conflict resolution, diversity and more in the spirit of  creating a respectful community. Philanthropy is small fraction of the equation.
  • Collaborating with Connoisseurs: Then there’s the community partners. They partner closely with local companies such as Olympia Provisions to fine tune their menu offerings.
  • Feeding the Soul: Knowing that food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation, there is nothing better than bringing Apple Brandy and Pecan Pie, Stuffing or Eggnog flavors to the Christmas family gathering in Minnesota

Community is a mindset and not a passing thought or aspiration. Building an ethical, resilient and sustainable way of running a business requires a vision, and a commitment to a distinct cultural flavor. They’re always values based companies. I’d fathom a guess that freedom, respect, humor, happiness and connection are at the heartbeat of this cultural gem.

Earth Day | Five headlines

California is facing one of its worst droughts and taking unprecedented measures. Water is the hot topic. Read more.

In December, world leaders will gather in Paris, France to negotiate a new climate change agenda. Read more

Sudan is the home of the last known area male northern white rhino in the world and he is the last hope for keeping his species alive. Read more.

Philanthropic organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation is focused on investing in clean energy in India and beyond. Read more

Climate change and drought has an impact on the food chain. Villagers in a rural district of Kenya are getting a helping hoof from goats to adapt to climate change. Read more

Environmental issues are complicated, climate change is affecting every country and every citizen. Everyone has a role. Deniers need to get out of the way. Innovation is happening, it needs to continue, happen faster, be more deliberate and unrelenting.

New Zealand: Fairness, Sustainability and Entrepreneurship

We just returned from New Zealand and I fell in love with this country again. After two weeks in middle earth. (Get a taste of their cool factor by watching the Air New Zealand Safety video), there is so much to share about this country. We traveled to the South Island (we were on the North Island last year) and had a great adventure. Here’s what stands out from the experience.

Fairness: The United States and New Zealand share three similarities: they’re both open societies, democracies, both were born with British colonial origins. Yet, the differences are bold too and they hinge on values. New Zealanders have organized their society around fairness, a principle that arguably divides Americans. The timing of New Zealand’s industrialization has a lot to do with the societal values. Fairness is defined as “not taking undue advantage of other people” and should not to be confused with equality. Providing resources and conditions to create fair access to opportunity and shape people’s choices. This is the essence of the country. For example, everyone is insured against accidents — regardless of fault or cause (hence you find a lot of people walking around without shoes, at least in the university town of Dunedin)

There’s a very interesting book (although long) written by David Hackett Fischer called Freedom and Fairness: A History of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States that spells out the journey and differences that created the countries we know today.

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Conservation and Nature: The country has a strong sense of place, wonder and often undisturbed and protected. It is sparsely populated (the country’s population is between 4-5 million according to different quotes and sources). This means natural beauty is on everyone’s doorsteps and unexpected adventures too. From Te Anau, Fjordland (the Doubtful Sound rocks!) to Wanaka, Queenstown to Curio Bay, the Catlins (these are all places we visited). We stayed in a sparsely populated coastal town in a studio, beautiful views of Hector dolphins’ playfully swimming in the ocean. Hector’s dolphins are endemic to the coastal regions of New Zealand, they’re the smallest dolphin on earth (approx. 1.2 meters) and there are approximately 7000 left in the ocean. We went to bed with the sun and woke up all throughout the night to the squeaking, cackling, crying, whaling sound of the hoiho, i.e. yellow-eyed penguins that nested under and around the studio where we stayed. They are one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated total population in New Zealand of between 6000 – 7000. They’re distinguished by their vivid yellow eye band. We saw them at a nearby beach but not up close and personal. We only heard them very loud and clear. An unforgettable experience.

Entrepreneurship: New Zealand consistently scores high on the World Bank list. The country was recently identified as the second best country in the world to do business. It is easy to start a business in New Zealand. It is reportedly a great place to test products or products because of their openness to testing technologies. For example, Shuttlerock, was launched in New Zealand. It’s a platform that allows brands to aggregate socially sourced content on their own websites. They have great ideas and ambition. They push boundaries (think bungy jumping!), those people we met were very friendly, ambitious and curious, not super egotistical. Qualities that make a great partnerships work, build successful leaders and teams.

If you’re looking for a holiday destination, playground for new ideas or a new adventure, New Zealand may be your calling. I’d move there in a heartbeat if the opportunity came around.

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How to Connect with Socially Conscious Consumers

Go Green 1Every day companies are introducing sustainable, socially conscious products and services, engaging in public-private partnerships and working to alleviate social and environmental challenges to fulfill business commitments and goals (financial, environmental and social). Research indicates that more and more consumers aspire to align their purchasing decisions and lifestyle with their values. This is commonly referred to as ‘conscious consumption’. At the same time, employees’ values are showing up more prominently in the workplace. Environmental Leader recently reported that corporate social responsible (CSR) activities have been proven to improve job performance. As employers compete aggressively for talent, they’re learning about the importance of creating compelling experiences that match individuals’ values such as flexibility, shared responsibility and transparency.

Last year Sustainable Brands reported on Nielsen’s findings that 50 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for socially responsible products. Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2014 indicated that Millennials are disappointed in business and government leaders, and expect improvement in CSR. Sixty-three percent of Millennials donate to charities and 51 percent—more than any other generation surveyed—told Nielsen they would pay extra for sustainable products. As more and more digital natives show more interest in buying socially responsible brands and the number of micro-audiences increase, organizations are facing a more daunting or complex task of engaging and influencing consumers.

Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  author of The Myth of Apathy, keynote at GoGreen Portland #GoGreenPDX (October 2014)
Renee Lertzman, Ph.D., author of The Myth of Apathy, keynote at GoGreen Portland #GoGreenPDX (October 2014)

At this week’s Go Green Portland conference, Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  author of The Myth of Apathy shared insight about the challenges of engaging and motivating communities of stakeholders in sustainability. She advocated the value and importance of getting smart about the psychological and social dimensions of the stakeholders that we connect with. Assuming that most people share the desire to have impact there is more to consider besides people’s values, beliefs and opinions.

Lertzman explained the complexity of everyday decisions and how people relate to environmental issues. We face dilemmas each day. Think about a person’s decision whether to work from home to reduce their carbon footprint. If a person stays at home they may spend less time emitting carbon on the roads, however the power and energy to warm their home may equal the carbon emissions of a commute. Which option minimizes the impact on the environment? Lertzman argued that people’s capacity to understand issues will directly affect the appropriate engagement strategy to reach these people.

Instead of only focusing on appealing to individuals’ behavioral motivations and triggers, Lertzman pointed to the value of focusing on the emotional and experiential dimension of engagement.

  • Meet people where they are: Capitalizing on the energy that exists, mobilizing people to co-create and discuss solutions can help audiences rationalize their situation and negotiate dilemmas and conflicts.
  • Show compassion: Knowing that every human being has a fundamental need to have an impact, yet deals with anxiety in decision making, positive reinforcement and compassion breeds understanding and lends itself to promising outcomes.
  • Listen: Listening and being inquisitive helps us from jumping too quickly to conclusions and making assumptions. If people aren’t engaging its often because they are overwhelmed. Its often nothing to do with the fact that they don’t care or aren’t motivated. Listening to people, understanding their circumstances can be more effective in driving change, as opposed to pressuring individuals.

General Mills’ Position on GMO

I’m an active consumer. I selectively engage with brands via email, social media, phone or by chatting directly with team leads or store managers when I have something to share – complaints and compliments alike, which has often resulted in action or positive changes. When I read this post on Linked In: General Mills speaks up about state GMO labeling laws; I was intrigued to read their position on this hot topic. The author, Debra Atlas provides the verbatim reply and concludes, “If they are in favor of a national labeling act, why assiduously fight every state – and with so much capital expense – to defeat any mandatory labeling? Do they truly want consumers to know what’s in their food, or are they simply blowing smoke? It has to make you wonder.”

I give credit to General Mills (GM) for providing a pretty thorough reply. Their position to support national legislation is pretty consistent. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they support giving consumers the information that they want. After all, they’re a brand that generally has a good handle on transparency, they understand the power of consumers and their demand for greater clarity (likely born out of horror stories over the years about food supply chains).

I have read that the state by state GMO labelling will create a cost and could very likely create confusion in grocery stores (The Shelby Report posted an excellent summary on this topic here). I’m inferring that GM realizes that every stakeholder group will pay some price if the piecemeal approach continues. The state by state strategy is positively increasing awareness of GMO, however I’ve also read that the details in the state by state proposals are very vague and don’t serve consumers very well. The topic is complicated and not a topic that consumers deeply understand. Most of the legislation focuses on how the food is put together but not what it contains.

If GM doesn’t believe that piecemeal legislation addresses the core issues of GMO’s that matter to stakeholders then their strategy makes sense and it is likely cost efficient to fight states. I’m most interested in learning about GM’s proactive strategy for nationwide legislation if they believe this is the right road to transparency, this would provide a true-up picture of their desire to respond to consumers.

Entering the Real-World of Social Enterprise

This weekend, I’m wrapping up a 9-month Business of Social Innovation certificate program with Impact Entrepreneurs, at Portland State University led by Cindy Cooper and Jacen Greene – two gifted business professionals and academic coaches. I have a wealth of gratitude from this experience, more than I can capture here. Its been an episode of deep learning and exploration. It is the most hands on university program that I have participated in during my fifteen year career (at this point, I could move forward to carry out a thorough business plan to raise funding for my proposed social enterprise). I’ve continued to learn about myself, especially my desire to excel as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (the latter is a better fit right now). The experience further validated my love of purposeful learning and desire to use my business background to be a changemaker or wavemaker (not the squishy, feel-good stuff but the real, long term kind of self-sustaining change).

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While this was primarily an online course, in the past two week we spent three-days visiting social enterprises in the fashion, coffee and IT industries and more.

  • Central City Concern has demonstrated the innovative and persevering leadership in transforming the lives of people who ,
  • My Street Grocery, Amelia Pape has built a platform for community led food access.
  • Seeko Designs has an amazing story about empowering women and bridging communities between high and low income countries while raising the integrity of fashion
  • Sustainable Harvest demonstrated the systemic, sophisticated innovation behind supply chain for some people’s favorite beverage.
  • Grammen Intel is delivering, sustainable locally designed and adapted IT solutions to improve agricultural yields, economic development and maternal health into low-income communities.

Practicing my listening skills, increasing my understanding of the real social business world was an outcome I sought at the start of the course which I achieved. I also added new tools to my toolbox (more to come on the business model canvas), met friends and future entrepreneurs who I’m confident with catalyze change. My head and heart are full contemplating the possibilities.

Common Language for Sustainability

Mike Barry, director of sustainability at Marks and Spencer said it best at the 2014 Skoll World Forum, “as soon as you start to challenge language its like cussing in Church.” This is a clever, humorous, true and convenient point. The debate about the choice of words that people use to discuss the meaning of sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and so forth matters however it has been exhausted and we’ve been left without clarity and consensus. For me the baseline is that sustainability is the destination. It refers to living within limits, understanding the interconnections among economy, society, and environment and the impact and consequence of decisions on each part of the ecosystem and thirdly, the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.

Cover of the Economist magazine, Aug. 30-Sept. 14, 2014
Cover of the Economist magazine, Aug. 30-Sept. 14, 2014

This week’s Schumpeter column in the Economist magazine make a serious point about a deficient common language. Without a definition there is “no basis for coherent policy.” Policy innovation is arguably as important as product, service and business model innovation to help rectify or overcome the social problems at the heart of society – from water access to homelessness, maternal health or access to education and training.

Play. Have Fun.

It’s been an active, fun-filled summer. We travelled to Washington DC, Southern Oregon and California Redwoods, Yachats, Oregon, San Jose and Santa Cruz, California, to make a few places. Ceri, my eldest sister joined me for some of the adventures. With seven years between us, we have been on many adventures together. When we get together it is a bundle of laughter, peppered with some serious conversations about career, the workplace and jobs. Above all, the one thing that my sister always brings out in me is fun.

Ceri makes fun a priority but it is not surface-deep or an effort. This is who she is and values greatly. For an extrovert, this is not hard. On a continuum, I’m probably a hybrid introvert and extrovert. I’m a dreamer and more thoughtful in my actions. This doesn’t matter. It only shows that fun comes in different flavors. Its a great prescription for renewal and recharge. During the many trips, it was liberating to be distracted from needless worries and to escape the immediacy that we can easily impose on ourselves in our professional lives. Mark Williams is quoted in the book Thrive, Arianna Huffington (page 61), that the brain’s alarm signals start to be triggered by current scares, past threats and future worries. Essentially, we constantly live in the flight or fight mode.

Frank Moore, WWII Veteran, TEDxPortland (April, 2014)
Frank Moore, WWII Veteran, TEDxPortland (April, 2014)

A couple of reflections from TEDx Portland resonated during our travels. The words of a wise and lovable 91-year-old WWII veteran named Frank Moore reminded us, “Don’t think too much” and “you must work hard at the art of living.” Cody Goldberg, founded “Harper’s Playground,” a North Portland playground paradise for children of all abilities. He reminded us that play seeks out novelty, fosters empathy and inspires vitality.

The United Nations declared play the right of every child. I’d love to think that every adult holds the belief that the right doesn’t change after turning 16, 18 or 21 years-old. We always need fresh new ideas, perspectives and experiences. I’m brimming with plenty.

#Icebucketchallenge vs. #droughtshaming

The #icebucketchallenge has taken the world by storm as the ALS validated in their recent blog post. Celebrities, sports personalities and business leaders have stepped up to the challenge to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS) by pouring a bucket of ice water over his or her head and challenging others do the same and/or make a donation to fight ALS within twenty-four hours. The campaign has raised more than $15.5million dollars (as of mid-August). An interview with the ALS Association chief chapter relations officer Lance Slaughter provides more details. The bottom line is that there is no known cause for this disease (although they know that 10 percent of cases are hereditary). At least 30 percent of ALS Association’s expenses are invested in research, another larger proportion supports research at their 40+ certified centers and to mobilize communities in partnership with the federal projects. There’s an estimated 30,000 Americans who may have the disease at any given time. Knowing this and having read the stories about people with ALS, the need to find a cure is great and the millions of dollars from the #icebucketchallenge has the power to have a major impact on the lives of many people.

But what about all of the wasted water? The #droughtshaming conversation is gaining steam on Twitter.

Notice in the AirBnB, Willow Glen, CA.
Notice in the AirBnB, Willow Glen, CA.

In the course of producing 1 million+ videos, there has been a lot of water wasted. Period. It has often been said that water is the oil of this century. Credit to those people who have taken the #icebucketchallenge in a garden or a lake such as my company’s CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin. I’m water-sensitive because of the drought conditions on the West Coast. After visiting California last weekend, I got an up close and personal look at the drought (blame game and policy discussions aside). It is sad and having a negative impact on people’s wellbeing, our nation’s food supplies and economies. According to the UN Water a person needs 20-50 liters of water a day for basic needs. At the same time, humans are over-consuming natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Water scarcity affects every continent. The UN predicts by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. Water.org reports that a child dies from a water-related illness every 21 seconds. The data and impact of the drought in the US, lack of access to water and sanitation in low and middle-income countries is a real problem. The solution requires systemic changes to our infrastructure, policies and innovation. It requires a lot more action than not dumping a bucket of water on someone’s head.

I’m really glad that people are raising the issue of water scarcity, I’m equally glad that ALS is higher on the social agenda. I’m unhappy that we’re facing water scarcity and we don’t have a cure for ALS. I know first-hand that everyone has a cause that they are very passionate about. I’ve also never come across a social or environmental cause or non-profit that does not deserve the level of support and attention that the #icebucketchallenge has created for ALS. Granted challengers could have taken the alternative #icebucketchallenge 🙂 but we have to be rational, put things in perspective, seize the moment and look at the big picture (with or without a challenge). The sun will go down on the #icebucketchallenge soon. ALS will still be fighting the good fight to find a cure, Charity Water will continue to find ways to deliver clean and safe drinking water, and Xylem will keep innovating to find global water solutions.