Connect with us

We believe the world needs a more ambitious vision for the future. By creating that vision together, we can empower the the next generation of innovators

Get updates and invites

Follow Us

Year: 2014

We go to a lot of conferences about social innovation and change. They are often held in very beautiful, expensive, impressive venues. Space is a critical aspect of design for inspiration and creativity, but we thought that if we’re talking bout social challenges, why not explore them in context. So we decided to host our conference in a beautiful, inspiring venue, but one that is part of a real community that is affected by the topics we’ll be exploring.

One that is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy and preparing actively for future resilience.
One where the landscape of jobs, manufacturing and the need for new skills is changing.
One where health is a critical issue and there are actual food deserts.

In addition to Brooklyn being the home of incredible innovation and creativity, our themes are inspired by the place we are holding our event. Our aim is to have as much impact on the actual place as humanly possible with an event. Our ticket sales are going to support local vendors, we are inviting local stakeholders to participate (NGOs and neighbors) and our final party will be a benefit for the area itself.

 

PastedGraphic-4

Our venue, Pioneer Works Center for Arts and Innovation, gathers artists, scientists and creative thinkers to collaborate outside the boundaries of traditional institutions where specialization often limits the application of ideas across disciplines. Through a community devoted to creative discourse and collaboration, Pioneer Works is a platform where ideas can manifest into their fullest expression.

So come join us and let’s create a feast of innovation and impact for Red Hook and beyond.

The Feast’s weekly round-up is a mixture of useful information and extraordinary inspirations. Is there something that should be on the next list? Let us know!

Having a fresh perspective can prove very useful. This young Egyptian challenges old beliefs about sending missions into space with a propulsion system that wouldn’t need a single drop of fuel.

Working on something revolutionary or just want to check out some areas that are growing quickly? Y Combinator, which invests in startups annually, gives a list of startup categories to inspire you.

Embed your pitch into your business card. IntelliPaper has found a way to use paper to create USB drives, with the added benefit of being mostly recyclable.

Finally, an easier way to work between many electronic devices. Now your smartphone can seamlessly interact with other displays.

Learn secrets to user experience design. A seasoned creative expert gives us an inside view.

Upgraded to Apple’s iOS 8? Here are some helpful ways to use new features.

Get sick from your daily commute? This apparel company is designing a jacket to fend off germs on public transportation.

A tasty way to reduce waste. Edible packaging is being re-packaged for now but could have a package-free future.

Don’t forget to ask the simple questions. Adam Savage discusses how they can often spur much larger thinking. “Whenever I’m having trouble understanding a concept, I go back and research the people who discovered that concept, I look at the story of how they came to understand it. And what happens when you look at what the discoverers were thinking about when they made their discoveries is you understand that they are not so different from us[…] we all start with the same tools.”

How does space affect the way you live and work? Victoria Thorton speaks to the importance of civic space, “If you think of Open House London as a program of community engagement, it’s reaching a million people around the world throughout the year.”

Feeling confident about your decision? This study indicates that confidence can be measured and is correlated to how long you’re willing to wait for affirmation.

Find young and creative talent. Attend the ADC Young Guns 12 Awards & Exhibition Party to see their work and meet the honorees.

A Merlot to end global disease. A California Chardonnay in a fight against breast cancer. And turning a Napa Valley Red into clean water for 3,658 people––for life.

ONEHOPE VINEYARDWe all know that a glass of red wine with dinner is good for us. Yet, did we know it could be as good as –

Founded in 2007 with an initial motivation to help a friend battle cancer, OneHope has grown robustly in just five years with its philosophy of giving back half of their profits. Today, it has given over $1.2 million in donations.

ONEHOPE TEAM

OneHope will be bringing impact and wine this October to The Feast conference! Join us!

ONEHOPE WINE

By Sharon Lee

Sharon is a scientist working in NYC, and volunteer-writes for Feast On Good as a start to creating social good through creativity. Check out her blog “Blackbird.”

Turn Your Biggest Critics into your Allies Tim Peek The Feast

Criticism —constructive and otherwise —seems to be a fact of life. And as often as we get called on the carpet, corrected, told why we are wrong, criticism is a bitter pill we prefer to avoid.

But what if we could turn criticism into the highlight of our day, and not just ignore it, but actually enjoy and celebrate it? Not only would we feel better, have fewer “enemies,”and enjoy a more positive self-image but we also would learn faster and succeed more often.

Yup, that’s right: inside every criticism is the seed of our flowering success.

The key move in turning criticism into success has nothing to do with how it’s delivered. Turning criticism to our advantage is all about how we receive it: do we take even the most withering condemnation from a posture of defensiveness or a posture of learning?

To be defensive is a natural reaction to any perceived attack —it’s what enabled our ancestors to survive. And while our defensive response is a great way to avoid being eaten by that saber toothed tiger, it’s not a good way to learn. When we are defensive, we literally cannot hear; our vision is limited; we focus solely on eliminating or avoiding danger; we contract physically and mentally.

Learning, on the other hand, opens us to new possibilities and is the key to survival in the modern world.

Here are some easy steps to move into learning in the face of criticism:

  1. Breathe. Our fear response constricts breathing, and we need oxygen to think. So put your mind on taking some deep belly breaths.
  2. Change your posture to be more open. Uncross those arms and legs and turn to fully face the person you’re talking to in an open, friendly way. (This move alone will defuse the situation and stimulate a warmer discussion.)
  3. Repeat back to the person what you’ve heard so you both know you got the essence of it (nothing worse than missing the point).
  4. Wonder. Start with this phrase: “Hmmmmmm, I wonder what I can learn from this?”Saying this out loud is key. The humming creates a pause and is an essential cue that tells our bodies and minds that it’s time to think, not run or fight. Repeat as needed. This is the real payoff: finding the learning inside the message, regardless of how it was delivered.
  5. Celebrate your critics. This will encourage them to give you more gifts of insight, and also allows you to leave any resentment behind. This is an especially important move for leaders who want to foster openness on their team.

My friend Kate Ludeman calls this “receiving the gift and ignoring the way it was packaged.”If you can drop defensiveness and move quickly into wondering about the lesson inside the criticism, you’ll not only find success more quickly, but possibly even find that you have fewer critics (as if you ever really had any to begin with).

What are your best strategies for turning criticism into an opportunity?

By Tim Peek

Tim Peek creates the ideal future with businesses, NGOs, and their leaders and advises them on ways to make it happen now: www.timpeek.com.

Montreal

1. What are you working on now? How did you get started?
Angelique: I’m figuring out ways that video games can be used to drive social change and teach kids about important global challenges at Decode Global.
Maya: I’m researching people’s hopes, hangups, habits and hacks to design products and services that support them.

2. Are there any challenges that you didn’t expect?
A: Overcoming people’s perceptions that video games only serve as entertainment, and views that video games are the equivalent of “junk food” for kids.
M: Big data has been a welcome challenge. There’s a sense that the answers are available even before we ask the questions. So we’re in overdrive to give it meaning and context and make it actionable.

3. Who (or what) has been the biggest supporter or catalyst of your work?
A: Youth! A constant source of inspiration, enthusiasm and ideas.
M: Kindness and curiosity.

4. How are you bringing your awesome to the world?
A: Through games – the most dominant form of storytelling in our era.
M: With humility, I hope.

5. What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?
A: Dream big and then dream even bigger.
M: Avoid the the temptation to become an “expert” – stay naive, curious and interrogative about the things that you know.

6. If you could name one thing, what would be the most important challenge for your city or country to tackle?
A + M: Channeling creativity with ingenuity. Montreal is overflowing with creative ability and an instinct for social progress, but we wonder if we tend to protest or demand important change more often than we generate it.

7. How/ why did you decide to become a Hub Leader?
A: To connect creators, makers, and dreamers!
M: To learn from and support people who push their practice to its edges.

Connect with Maya and Angelique on Twitter at @mayathegrateful and @angemanella. Or, join them for dinner at The Feast Worldwide, Montreal – sign up here!

Jake Harriman Nuru International

The Feast and GLG have partnered to bring you the stories of today’s brightest social entrepreneurs. Global, technology-driven, and nimble, GLG is the world’s largest membership for professional learning and expertise. GLG Social Impact connects social sector organizations with experts across industries and geographies for perspectives and expertise to accelerate the impact of their work, including through the GLG Social Impact Fellowship. Come back to feastongood.com every Monday for a feature on their Social Innovation Fellows.

Jake Harriman is Founder and CEO of Nuru International, the first self-sustaining, self-scaling, integrated development model to end extreme poverty in remote, rural areas in our lifetime.

What inspired you to start your organization?

I was a special operations marine in my former life and did a few tours of combat in Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and a couple of other places. There were a few intense personal experiences that opened my eyes to the connection between people in really desperate situations caused by extreme poverty and some of the desperate choices they’re forced to make to take care of their family and provide some kind of future for them. Many times, I would look into the eyes of our “enemy,” and instead of seeing some misplaced sense of hatred for the West that drove them to fight us with a weapon they didn’t even know how to use, I’d see that their actions were out of love for their little kid at home that was starving to death. When I made this connection, I realized that to combat the problem of terrorists and global instability we need a multi-faceted approach that includes a strategy to attack extreme poverty.

At what point did you realize that your vision had legs?

After the Marine Corps, the people I talked to about my idea were really supportive. Some of the other marines saw a lot of the same things I saw, and they also felt I could help make an impact by trying to tackle extreme poverty. So, I studied the problem for about a year-and-a-half to try to understand the players in the field, what was working, what wasn’t and why. I began to build an idea or model from my research, and I tried to get a job with some organizations first, but nobody wanted to hire me.

I wanted to build and scale a company that would have a global impact on this problem, so I enrolled in Stanford Graduate School of Business, still not sure that this would work. I was really amazed when I got there because a lot of my classmates rallied around this vision. About 30 of them got involved in building the different pieces of the model out, six faculty members mentored us, and I also received funding.

After inspiring some powerful and influential folks and my classmates with this idea, I began to think maybe we were on to something and that my idea was something that could really make a significant change. I started to see how by ending extreme poverty, we could create a lot more global stability.

“Entrepreneurs have to be a little bit crazy to be able to build something in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, especially if you’re designing a product or service that’s never been done before. You have to be able to think outside the box and believe that the impossible might actually be possible.”

What has surprised you most about being an entrepreneur and building an organization?

Probably how unequipped I am to run a company and how many mistakes I make, and yet we can still succeed.

I drastically underestimated the complexities involved in building a company and how difficult it would be to scale it globally. Entrepreneurs have to be a little bit crazy to be able to build something in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, especially if you’re designing a product or service that’s never been done before. You have to be able to think outside the box and believe that the impossible might actually be possible.

I failed so many times during the early days. I was really surprised by the fact that my early investors, classmates, friends and colleagues continued to believe. Once your vision and idea is very strong, people’s risk tolerance is often times relatively high, especially if what you’re trying to accomplish is going to significantly impact the world.

What has been the biggest catalyst for your project and in what way?

The first one is Philip Mohochi, my partner, mentor and dear friend in Kenya. He taught a lot about leading with vision, serving others, the power of an inspiring vision and mobilizing a large group of people around the cause and our products. My very first week in Kenya was pretty rough. I got struck by lightning. I got malaria. We got attacked by thieves. We had an earthquake. When I said, “Philip, I just… I can’t do this. This is just… It’s simply too hard. I need to bail.” He looked me and said, “You know, yeah, you really have had a bad week. There are thousands of farmers whose lives you’re going to change in the next couple of years and these folks are depending on us. They have a bad week every week. These mothers are waking up every single day trying to figure out where they’re going to get enough food for one meal for their children. They’re trying to figure out how to keep their kids alive because they have malaria and they’re facing really, really difficult challenges.” In the early days, I think I would’ve quit without his help and inspiration.

The second piece: we discovered early on that to tackle extreme poverty it was less about the right solution or the right program to implement, and it was much more about the people. We focused a lot on leadership, and we have found it to be catalytic in unlocking human potential and success in our projects. We’ve built our entire philosophy around this. A strong Kenyan woman equipped with the same skills and knowledge as I have is far more qualified to solve the problems in her community and regions within her nation than I will ever be. Really, it’s about being a catalyst to tap her potential and giving her the skills and capabilities she needs to realize that vision for her country.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered and can you recommend any strategy that helped you overcome it?

Philip passed away recently, which was probably the toughest challenge. We lost him in a tragic car accident earlier this year, and if it had happened a year ago, we would’ve lost the Kenyan project. At this point, the Kenyan project is empowering over 35,000 people out of extreme poverty permanently, and he had a team of about 280 Kenyans in the company.

The key to helping us get through that difficult time was his vision. He had done amazing succession planning. He wanted to retire, transition to the board and pass on the leadership of the project to someone a little younger with a little more vigor. An amazing woman named Pauline Wambeti came to be his understudy and prepare to take his place as the Country Director for Nuru Kenya. He was about a month away from retirement and the official handover when the accident happened. One of the reasons we chose Pauline was because she was not of the local Kurian tribe. Our vision is to scale beyond tribal boundaries throughout Kenya. When Philip passed, there was uncertainty about what would happen. Local chiefs said there was unrest and questions about whether they should trust this woman who was not from their tribe. Because of Philip’s intentional succession planning, he had done a lot of talking with the chiefs, farmers and other local stakeholders about Pauline. We put together a communication strategy to work with the chiefs, local politicians and farmers to set her up for success. And now, Pauline is effectively leading in Kenya with community support. We were able to get through and it really was because of Philip’s vision.

“If you want to bring about real change in the world, you have to be willing to serve others.”

Is there a basic principle or value that guides what you contribute to the world and what is it and why?

Love other people the way you want to be loved. It sounds funny coming from a marine, but I found that love is a very, very powerful force in this world. If you’re willing to sacrifice and give up yourself and everything that you have to serve other people, you can live a life that is so much richer and so much more rewarding than you ever could have imagined. People are drawn towards those who are willing to lead by serving, loving others, and putting other’s interests first instead of their own. If you want to bring about real change in the world, you have to be willing to serve others.

What is most exciting about the world of social innovation for you, and what hidden pockets of potential do you see?

The field of social innovation has the most potential to transform the world we live in today and to bring about greater global stability and peace in our world. It has much more potential than the aid industry. It’s much more capable than government or markets strictly by themselves.

I liken it to the big idea guys in Silicon Valley. Like tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, social entrepreneurs have a big idea—a big idea that can be disruptive. To change the world, you have to be willing to disrupt markets. For too long the aid industry has been a behemoth that isn’t very innovative. The focus has been on alleviating the problem instead of ending the problem of extreme poverty. Social entrepreneurs think differently. If you really want to be able to make change, you have to be able to address the problem from a different perspective.

In fighting extreme poverty, very few people believe that we can actually solve the problem. So the first thing we have to do is actually to believe that the problem can be solved. I often tell people that if Nuru International exists in 30 years, then I’ve completely failed my entire life’s mission. Our job should be to work ourselves out of the job.

A key factor that’s helping to increase the effectiveness of new models is that leading thinkers are moving away from the old World Bank definition of extreme poverty—which is living on less than $1.25 a day. That’s not an adequate definition for social entrepreneurs. There are people getting behind a larger scale definition about extreme poverty really being a lack of meaningful choices for basic human rights. When we address that problem and that definition of extreme poverty, the solutions we design and innovate upon are very different. It becomes a lot less about number of wells, railroads, schools or medical clinics built and a lot more about the number of leaders who can innovate, design and create ecosystems where communities can thrive and lift themselves out of poverty permanently.

In your area of work or interest, what do you think is most needed, how could other entrepreneurs or initiatives contribute to the answer in a collaborative or parallel ways?

One is human capital. As a global community, we need to realize extreme poverty is the greatest crisis of our time. In the next ten years it will affect all of us, no matter where you live. We need to attract the most talented leaders and minds out there to end this problem. We as a social sector can do a better job of recruiting talent into this space: hiring them, making great careers for them, making it attractive for them to stay in the space and retain them as well so you can build institutional memory.

The second is financial capital. There’s a gap in the market right now. A lot of really great ideas die on the cutting floor because they can’t make the jump in capital requirements to go from idea or R&D to limited scale up and then rapid scale up. On one end, a lot of investors get excited about new ideas and love to fund start-ups. On the other end, institutional funders are willing to fund really large organizations who are already doing work on a global scale. There’s a real gap in the industry with a lack of mezzanine capital for ideas that have gone through proof of concept and are ready to scale, but can’t get the injection of 15 to 25 million in capital to really take the ideas to scale.

The last thing is transparency and humility. As an industry, we need to commit to failing fast and learning from those failures; admitting when we’re wrong and admitting when we’ve failed. People and funders in the social sector are terrified of failure. The technology sector is able to foster such amazing innovation because of rapid prototyping. There are nine failures for every one success. That’s how you find the next Facebook. You have to be willing to fail. And we, as practitioners, also have to be willing to fail. But we have to be good at documenting our failure, understanding it, publishing our failure and then learning from it. We can learn as an industry as well by sharing our failures with our peers and investors, so that we can grow. But the investor community needs to be more willing to take on more risk.

Only by taking risks can we actually make significant gains and tackle the problem of extreme poverty.

What is your theory of change?

We’re trying to disrupt the market. It goes back to our basic philosophy, which is that a strong Ethiopian, Kenyan or Somali woman who has the same skill set and the same knowledge base that I have is far better qualified to solve the problems in her community than I will ever be. We see an opportunity to be a catalyst and help remove the barriers around her preventing her from realizing her potential. This plays out in our process of training leaders to deliver integrated impact in agriculture, economic development, healthcare and education. Through this integrated approach, we design solutions with those leaders so they have a sustainability engine that grows and scales. Over time, we exit and the project is completely locally led.

Our goal is to give those leaders all the skills and resources they need. We equip them with the skills they need to be able to design world-class solutions to fight poverty in four areas of need. We give them the project management skills to be able to scale those ideas over time and throughout the country. And then we give them access to a reliable market-based capital source through a for-profit social enterprise we build in each country. With this model, we’re able to equip a team of leaders to have a nationally-owned solution that continues to scale impact throughout the rural areas of their country.

What is the long-term vision for your organization and how it impacts the world?

I see a real gap in the market. What I experienced in combat in failed states were families with no choices being forced into doing a lot of things they wouldn’t otherwise do. I saw a real need to provide meaningful choices. The challenge is, in a lot failed states and in conflict areas, it’s very, very difficult for NGOs to go in there and do work to help provide those meaningful choices. The military can’t do it. As a marine, I was trained to do military operations, not teach farmers how to increase crop yields. So I saw a unique opportunity to create an entity—combining my security operations experience from the military with the international development expertise of an NGO—that is able to work in a failed state region and build out what can essentially become an effective nation-building platform.

The desperation that is created by extreme poverty creates a ripe environment for instability, terrorists movements, insurgency, coup attempts, various armed groups and rebellions. If you have a large population base that is empowered with economic choices, you can change the game. It no longer becomes an unstable area where terrorists can recruit young children into their groups because their parents have no other choices. My vision for Nuru is to look at countries like Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, CAR, DRC and to help end the failed state problem. If we can solve extreme poverty, we can stabilize these regions and create a safer world, not to mention unlock a lot of the world’s economic potential.

When do you feel you are personally at your best?

I’m at my best when I’m in the field, when my shoes are muddy, when I can wear ripped t-shirts and cargo pants and have messy hair and a beard. That’s when I feel I’m at my best.

I’m an operator. I love being in the field. I love seeing the transformation in lives firsthand: visiting farmers, sharing a meal and talking about their dreams and what they want to see for their families. That’s when I come most alive. That’s where I’m at my best. I’m at my best also when there are a lot of fires to put out; when I’m needed to mobilize the team to step into chaos, make sense of it and come up with a solution.

The last question is, if you could give one piece of advice to a budding social entrepreneur, what would it be?

I’d say, “Your idea is amazing. Go with it. Run with it. Take the risk. Jump into the gap. And stay humble.” I’ve found a lot of power in humility. I made so many mistakes early on thinking that I had the best answer, that I was the smartest kid on the block, that I didn’t need to listen. Again and again, I got hit over the head with a 2×4 to teach me the lesson of humility.

The principle of servant leadership that I’ve learned over time has really helped me stay humble and grow as a leader.

Project Inkblot OUSHRA ALMUTAWAKEL

This is a guest post by Project Inkblot, a​n ​online magazine for artists and ​social + ​creative entrepreneurs. Through in-depth interviews, Project Inkblot profiles a vibrant international community of ​creatives contributing groundbreaking work. We are especially committed to powerfully shifting the media representation of women and people of color, from that of marginalized communities, to communities with the capacity to be innovators, creators, and change makers.

If you live in the West, you’ll probably find it difficult to believe that one of  Yemen’s first women photographers first picked up a camera in the 1990s. Boushra Almutawakel is celebrated for not only breaking the gender barrier in regards to Yemeni photography, but her provocative and engaging works have yielded interest internationally, landing her in The New Yorker, Rachel Maddow’s blog, The Economist, and in prestigious galleries in embassies and museums around the world.

The globetrotting mother of four spent some of her childhood and early adulthood living in the U.S. Her homebase is currently in Yemen, where she lives with her daughters and her husband. It is through the lens of her camera that Boushra most boldly negotiates her Western sensibility with her life in the Middle East, where an interesting narrative unfolds.

What do you find compelling about images through photography? Why not painting, or some other medium?  

I was always intrigued by the arts, including photography.

I got into photography by chance, and it’s something that happened over time. I wanted to learn about photography as part of a bucket list. I did not expect to fall in love with it as I did. It was like magic! Also, it started it out as just a hobby that became a bit of an obsession. Eventually, I was invited to exhibit, my work started selling, and I was hired to do some photo projects. In the 1990s I was honored along with several other Yemeni women pioneers, as the first woman photographer in Yemen. Photography is a very powerful medium in the arts, journalism, the internet, and in the media. It is instant, real (although it can also be deceiving at times), communicates in a way everyone understands, and freezes moments in time allowing the viewer to leisurely study an image over and over again. I love creating and observing photographic images. There are images that are forever burned into our psyche. Although I am a photographer, I am also interested in other art forms and multimedia. If it were up to me, I think I would have been a painter.

“IN THE 1990S I WAS HONORED ALONG WITH SEVERAL OTHER YEMENI WOMEN PIONEERS, AS THE FIRST WOMAN PHOTOGRAPHER IN YEMEN.”

How long have you been a photographer? 

I have been doing photography since 1992, but professionally since 1998.

What do you shoot with?

Currently I shoot with a Canon 5d, and hope to get back to shooting medium and large format film.

Your work obviously comes from your subjectivity as a woman, but why is it that you photograph so many women subjects, including self portraits?

I have photographed many other topics, but I do love photography related to women. I am a woman, I have four girls, and so it comes most natural for me to photograph women or issues related to women. It is what is closest to my heart and what I know most about. I hope my work regarding women will generate curiosity, conversation, and debate, especially in the areas of social norms and stereotypes, and women’s rights. As women, we have sooo many issues to contend with, so many wrongs that need to be corrected, not just for women in the Middle East, but women everywhere. There is a lot of repression, oppression and misogyny–some of the things I would like to address in my work.

What type of socio-cultural-political commentary have you covered in your works so far? Especially relating to Yemen, and Islam?

I have photographed women and children in very remote areas throughout Yemen, photographing things related to education, health and development. I did a series under the title of “My Father’s House,” a British Council project, where I photographed interiors of homes of different socio-economic backgrounds. Before that I photographed a series on contemporary Moslem life in Yemen, looking at the integration between religion and tradition, where one begins and the other one ends. My latest series is on the veil. It is an ongoing series that I started in 2001.

What are some prevailing themes in your life right now that you would like to translate to your photography?

I have so many projects I would like to continue or start some of which are photographing key Yemeni women, women who have made it or brought about positive change, etc, as a way of honoring them, and highlighting these women and their stories to other women and girls, to possibly inspiring them in fulfilling their dreams; continuing my series on intercultural couples, which I find fascinating, and motherhood–the magic and the madness.

“…I LEARNED TO BREAK OUT OF SOME OF THE LIMITING CUSTOMS AND BELIEFS THAT I WAS BROUGHT UP WITH, TO BREAK THROUGH SOME VERY REAL FEARS THAT WERE JUST IN MY MIND…”

For the complete story, head over to the original post.

Words by Boyuan Gao

Photography by Boushra Almutawakel

Buddha-Walks-into-the-Office_CVR

We’re honored to have the exclusive privilege to share up the first excerpt from our colleague and friend Lodro Rinzler’s new book. Lodro, a leading young Buddhist teacher, offers meditation and Buddhist wisdom outside of the choir in an accessible, genuine, fun manner. May it be of benefit!

~Waylon Lewis, ed.

 

The Buddha Walks into the Office: Be Who You Want to Be

When I was seven years old, my first-grade teacher asked everyone to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. I remember walking around my classroom during parent-teacher night with the room plastered with drawings, learning all about my classmates’ long-term aspirations. Who knew? It was a room full of aspiring astronauts and baseball players.

I have to admit, I was the odd man out. My picture portrayed a man hunched over a typewriter, working away at his book. Even recalling that image today makes me sit up straight at the keyboard.

A few years ago, at dinner with my friend Laura, I was talking about my writing she about her impending graduation from social work school. Both of us felt on the cusp of something career- like but we had to pause and acknowledge that this year was the first time in our lives we had really revisited that old idea of “what do you want to be when you grow up.” We started mapping out the trajectories for all of our mutual friends. They too had hit their late twenties and were all of a sudden scrambling to figure out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.

It occurred to me that given the current educational and economic situation in the United States, maybe the question of what you want to be when you grow up is outdated. This conversation steered me toward what is perhaps a better question for the thoughtful young person of today: “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

I found that in determining who you want to be when you grow up, it is helpful to physically map some things out for yourself. And a mandala can be useful as a map. One translation of the Sanskrit word mandala is “circle.” It is a diagram often used in Buddhism to depict the abode of a deity or a microcosm of the universe. A mandala can be viewed in some respect as a sort of organizational chart.

mandala

The idea is that what is at the center of the mandala influences everything else in it. We can think of our lives and livelihood in those terms. Here is a fun exercise I encourage you to engage in:

1) Copy the diagram above by drawing a circle, then drawing three to five circles around it, in a concentric manner

2) Meditate for ten minutes

3) Toward the end of that meditation session, ask yourself, “What qualities do I want to cultivate in myself?”

4) Write those qualities down on a separate piece of paper. Be concise—just a few words will do. It might be kindness, sincerity, wisdom, or something equally personal to you.

5) Look at those qualities. Let your mind rest on them. As you rest your mind, discern which feel most pertinent.

6) If there is one that really stands out, write that down at the center of your mandala. For some people it might read feeling less stressed-out all the time or being more gentle or practicing compassion. Try to make it a quality rather than a job title.

7) In the circle outside of that core, write down some people or things that are important to you. You might write the names of family members or the name of your partner, or hobbies you engage in, or (I recommend this one) what you do or aspire to do for a living. Continue in the next circle out with other aspects of your life. Do you run? Put that in there. Do you like museums? Singing? Put those down. Continue to fill out the circles you provided for yourself with various aspects of your life. The more important they are to you, the closer they belong to that innermost circle.

8) Draw a line from the core of the mandala to each of those things you have written down.

9) On each of those lines, write how you might want your core motivation to influence that aspect of your life. For example, if you wrote down kindness, what would shift in that connection to your boss? What would shift in how you spend your money? What would shift in how you exercised?

10) When you are done writing, place the paper aside and rest with whatever feelings have come up. Then return to formal shamatha meditation, staying with your breath for five minutes.

When you engage in an exercise like the ten steps earlier, you are switching your focus from questions about what you ought to be doing with your career and instead embracing an idea of who you want to be. This will be helpful as you engage your career path, because you can always cultivate the qualities that are important to you, whereas you may not always be able to make a living doing exactly what you want to do.

Now, imagine for a moment a world where an entire generation took the view that it is more important that they determine who, not what, they want to be when they grow up. Some would still become baseball players and astronauts, but they would engage their work with the values that are most important to them.

~

Adapted and excerpted from The Buddha Walks into the Office, by Lodro Rinzler, © 2014 by Lodro Rinzler. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. In bookstores September 9th, 2014. www.shambhala.com

 

About Lodro Rinzler:

Lodro Rinzler is a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the author of the books “The Buddha Walks into a Bar” and “Walk Like a Buddha”. Over the last decade he has taught numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout North America. Lodro’s column, “What Would Sid Do”, appears regularly on the Huffington Post and he is frequently featured in Marie Claire, Reality Sandwich, the Interdependence Project, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma and Good Men Project. He is the founder of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, an authentic leadership training and job placement organization, and lives in Brooklyn with his dog Tillie and his cat Justin Bieber.

The Feast’s weekly round-up is a mixture of useful information and extraordinary inspirations. Is there something that should be on the next list? Let us know!

 

Is the beginning of the end of phones? Researchers have created non-invasive technologies that could let you communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world through your brain.

New life from used plastic bottles. Instead of sending plastic bottles to landfills and into the ocean, the Petomato, a bottle cap filled with seeds lets you re-purpose them into home herb and vegetable gardens.

Global peace at a glance. The Vision of Humanity’s interactive Global Peace Index map shows how peaceful have been over the past seven years. You might be surprised.

The future of our economy? With 60 percent of Millennials self-identifying as entrepreneurs, to get a glance of the direction of our economy, we need only to look at this rising demographic.

The most detailed map of galaxy to date. New research has found out more about our place in the universe called Laniakea, the super-cluster of 100,000 galaxies.

Need help thinking? Take a walk.  Research shows that people are significantly more able to come up with big picture new ideas when they walk.

A simple and cheap solution to desalination. Indeed, the simplest solutions are the best. MIT has begun to solve the problem of inadequate drinking water with sun and graphite.

Can design solve our packaging waste problem? Sweden-based designers have created food packaging that both cooks and serves the food as well as decomposing after its use.

New discoveries for an old site. Scientists have found that Stonehenge is actually part of a much larger ancient complex.

Check your watch instead of your wallet. Studies show that thinking about time can make you more honest.

Group decisions made easy. Next time you need to make a group decision, try Google Ventures’ “Note and Vote” method to make good decisions in 15 minutes.

Use both sides of your brain. These 9 design work suggestions show you how to get creativity and analytics to work together.

Originally posted on Shared Value Initiative’s blog, shared with permission by Matter Unlimited.

Think about the brands you know and love that have been around for generations and are still going strong. Those are the brands that are becoming part of the fabric of our society. You may notice they all share some characteristics: a strong mission, a focus on quality, a focus on customers, and a very competitive spirit. It’s remarkable how many of these brands attribute at least part of their continuing success to their social commitments. In many cases, their social commitment is actually central to their origin story.

Of course, brands succeed or fail for all kinds of reasons and “doing well by going good” is not a guarantee against failure. It does, however, drive long-term economic success in a great many cases.

Brand north startimage via

Shared value promotes brand longevity. Companies with a higher purpose are always mindful of the social impact of their actions and of the important role that business plays in society. They are guided by their own personal North Star.

Unlike some business strategies and many media campaigns, which have a beginning, a middle and an end, shared value is a way of life and a way of thinking. A company’s shared value commitments do not have an end because purpose and values, in business just like in life, are what define us, guide us and sustain us. Our purpose and values are unchanging so our shared value commitments live on beyond the next quarter, the next campaign, the next CEO.

We founded Matter Unlimited with the specific purpose of helping brands, foundations and non-profits find their North Star so they can do well by doing good. What we have seen is that, for many brands, finding the North Star is a lot harder than it seems. Most brands do not have decades or centuries of shared value heritage to draw upon. Nor are most brands young brands like Patagonia or Starbucks or Whole Foods founded specifically with social impact in mind (although, fortunately for all of us, this is changing). Most brands, in fact, have legacies and histories that hold them back and thinking that has to evolve and change. Their North Star may be hiding in plain sight but it still has to be found before it can be followed.

Everything old is new again. Given all our recent advances it is easy to miss the point that today’s shared value — or conscious capitalism or profit with purpose, whatever we choose to call it — is actually a return to earlier business ethics and values. We are literally coming full circle.

When we think about the history of older companies we see that many of them started out considering their impact on society. It was part of who they were, what they were concerned about, what they talked about. We all have our favorite examples. One of ours is Cadbury.

Cadbury was one of the three major confectionery companies in 19th century England. The second-generation Cadbury brothers, Richard and George, had already innovated by transitioning the company from tea and coffee to chocolate. Now, they took the radical step of moving their operations to a green field site in Bournville in 1879. They were motivated by competitive advantage, operational efficiency, and profitability. They wanted access to transportation to key markets by rail and canal and the ability to expand their operations. They knew that better working conditions and competitive pay would improve worker productivity. But they were motivated equally by their ethics and personal values: in 1893 they created a model village for their workers and families. The typical Cadbury worker now lived in a community with better living conditions, medical services, a school, and a healthier environment with open spaces and recreational facilities. The Cadbury brothers practiced shared value a full century before the term was coined.

Today, Cadbury is still a thriving brand, owned by Mondelēz International. Interestingly, one of their original competitors, Rowntree, now owned by Nestlé, embraced similar ethics and values.

Strategies change with the times but values are timeless. In the modern era, Howard Bowen is considered by many as the seminal thinker on corporate social responsibility. In his 1953 book “The Social Responsibilities of the Businessman” he offered a formal definition: “It refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.”

Bowen’s point about policies and actions that fit society’s objectives and values is instructive. It explains why we can agree today with Cadbury’s 19th century values on education, health and the environment: values are relatively stable and enduring over time. And it also explains why we might choose a different solution today. In the 1890’s the idea of a model village was the height of enlightened thinking, today some might consider it utopian social engineering and we would devise strategies more suited to our times.

So, as Cadbury knew, and Bowen and subsequent thinkers such as Michael Porter have reminded us, business was always about both profit and purpose. But somewhere along the way in the brand era of the past 50 or 60 years, many companies lost sight of their North Star. Brands were created, evolved and were advertised to increase consumption all without much consideration given to purpose. For many brands, the challenge today is finding or reconnecting with their North Star, recovering their heritage and rediscovering their purpose.

The bottom line for companies is that their social purpose must be baked in not bolted on.

The value of moving the brand towards social impact and shared value is about long-term competitive advantage and ROI, so the brand’s social impact must be fully integrated with economic value creation. It cannot be disconnected from the brand, an afterthought, a disposable feature. Shared value is rightfully becoming a reputational issue and stakeholders demand transparency and are too sophisticated, savvy and skeptical not to recognize authenticity when they see it. Companies know it is a long road. One global survey in 2013 showed that nearly 80% of corporate executives think we now live in a “reputation economy” but only 20% agreed their company is “ready to compete.”

The ROI of shared value is like compound interest, because shared value is a lifelong commitment and attitudinal change is a long-term process. Creating shared value works because it leads over time to attitudinal and behavioral change in consumers and other stakeholders. Shared value therefore drives KPI’s like brand preference, brand loyalty and usage frequency, attracts more valuable customers, and supports the customer lifetime value of the brand which impacts directly on market share, margin improvement and profitability. Yes, we can measure the ROI of shared value — or anything else — on a quarterly or annual basis, and of course we should. But when we do that we may miss the larger point which is that shared value is an investment that keeps on giving. It has a compounding effect. It makes us a long-term strategic investor not a “market timer.” It is what makes competitive advantage sustainable.

This is a very different type of effect than we see with traditional media campaigns, where adstock modeling (which predicts the effects of advertising on consumer purchase behavior) tells us that the impact of advertising decays over time and that saturation leads to diminishing returns. The adstock model is still a good model for traditional marketing but it does not explain so well the cumulative long-term impacts of shared value initiatives on consumer decision-making.

Consumers are now starting to make decisions on the basis of shared value, closing the loop between social impact and financial impact. In other words, this is the sweet spot where the consumer and her identity, the brand and its purpose, and ROI connect. It’s an emotional, deeply personal connection. It is the proof that when social purpose is fully integrated with marketing consumers will recognize the brand’s authenticity and reward it by voting with their pocketbook, and the brand has found its North Star. Surveys increasingly show, and sales data will corroborate, that a growing number of consumers prefer to support a shared value brand than give to charity, and are more likely to choose a shared value brand if price is at parity with the choice alternative.

The race to the top is on, but how many of our leading brands have found their North Star? We still have a long way to go.

By Nancy Elder, Chief Strategy Officer at Matter Unlimited

Nancy is a founder and chief strategy officer at Matter Unlimited and former CMO and communications executive at some of the world’s largest brands. Matter Unlimited, a founding member of the Shared Value Initiative, is a strategic and creative communications group that helps clients align their business and their purpose-driven actions to tell a true, compelling story of who they are and what they do.