The Power of Partnerships in the Social Impact Movement

5 min read

Last week, I had the privilege of attending The 2017 B Corp Champions Retreat in Toronto. I met the leaders of some amazing companies that, like Prosper Strategies, are committed to using business as a force for good, and I was inspired by the innovation they’re driving and the impact they’re making across the world.

But for me, the best part of the retreat was, without question, the on-stage conversation between Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of the B Lab/the B Corp movement and former CEO of AND 1, and John Mackey, founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement and CEO of Whole Foods.

Why?

Because it signaled a long overdue shift toward less competition and more collaboration between two key players in the social enterprise/social impact space. My only question is why it’s taken so long to get to this point.

What we need now are powerful partnerships between all players in the social impact space. Click To Tweet

Watch the conversation between Jay Coen Gilbert and John Mackey beginning at 1:42.

Mackey has long been skeptical of the B Corp movement, as he addressed head-on early in his conversation with Coen Gilbert.

“I had my doubts,” Mackey explained. “I always thought B Corp was a good idea, a very idealistic idea, and I saw that as a fellow traveler with Conscious Capitalism, but I didn’t really think it was necessary. I thought, ‘you have a stakeholder model, you take care of all the stakeholders, what do you need this legal model for?’”

But in the process of Whole Foods’ recent acquisition by internet behemoth Amazon, Mackey said he had a change of heart.

He explained that, as Whole Foods faced several years of declining profits and increasing competition, the company’s shareholder activists began to make moves to take over the business, likely with the goal of selling it to another supermarket chain that was poorly aligned with Whole Foods’ mission, purpose and consciousness. Even when Whole Foods began to close in on a deal with Amazon, a company Mackey felt closely aligned with, questions about how to preserve Whole Foods’ commitment to making a positive impact on the world once the company was acquired remained difficult to answer.

“Boy oh boy did I wish we were a B Corp,” Mackey said. “I would love to have tested the model of stakeholder activism versus B Corp. So I feel like I kind of owe you and the B Corp movement an apology.”

While he insisted an apology was unnecessary, Coen Gilbert responded just the way everyone in the crowd seemed to predict he would:

“Amazon doesn’t have to become a B Corp, but Whole Foods still could become a B Corp,” he said.

“I’m not going to go ask Jeff Bezos if he wants to become a B Corp,” Mackey said. “But we certainly in any case could join the B Corp community and adhere to the principles and qualifications you need to follow.”

“I really think we should work closely together,” he continued later in the conversation. “Our overlap in consciousness and values is very very close, I think we can help one another.”

“I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we’d like nothing more,” Coen Gilbert answered. “What we see in this arc of history is the evolution of capitalism from one phase that’s focused on shareholder privacy and sort of a shareholder dominant capitalism to ushering in (and you’re helping us usher in) a new era of stakeholder capitalism. Let’s work on it together.”

“Let’s do it man,” Mackey said. “It’s going to be so much fun.”

The crowd cheered, clearly excited at the prospect.

And we should be.

The Time is Now to Collaborate

For far too long, there has been an unspoken but powerful sense of competition between these two organizations and other groups in the space. We’ve spent far too much time trumpeting up our specific memberships, certifications, labels and bubbles, and far too little working together to spread the word about the common underlying principles that drive us all. We’ve put walls around ourselves with an “us” versus “them” mentality that has stunted our progress, but finally, it seems like those walls may be starting to come down.

However, we can’t stop here. A commitment to improved collaboration from the founders of the B Corp and Conscious Capitalism movement is just the beginning.

What we need now are powerful partnerships between all the players in the social impact and social enterprise space. It’s time for B Corp and Conscious Capitalism to align with other organizations like SOCAP, The Social Enterprise Alliance and Ashoka to launch a global awareness and engagement-building effort that promotes using business as a force for good and applying market-based strategies to social problems. Together, we can achieve so much more than any one of our organizations could alone. And while we’re at it, let’s not limit that kind of collaboration to business and social enterprise. Let’s find a way for every group that attracts people who care about leaving the world a bit better than we found it, whether for-profit or nonprofit, public or private, to come together to advocate for our shared ideals. Just think of the change we could drive if we re-allocated even one tenth of the energy we’re all pouring into promoting the individual organizations we belong to toward promoting the underlying principles we all share.

We don’t have to wait for permission to take action. Whether your organization is a B Corp like Prosper Strategies, a member of Conscious Capitalism, SOCAP, the Social Enterprise Alliance or another organization, or just a business, social enterprise or nonprofit committed to making a difference, reach out and start forging partnerships with people who are part of different groups, communities and sectors. Be more vocal about the need to use our collective talents, strengths and resources to create positive change than you are about the labels you put on your organization. Do that, and we’ll start to learn what interdependence really means.

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