By Mehrunisa Qayyum
Multi-national corporations boast a cadre of lobbyists, or “Government Relations” departments to watch out for their industries or champion their latest Corporate Social Responsibility project. But what about local entrepreneurs who do not share the resources–or arguably the “big business” philosophy of maximizing profits? Who champions their small business interests and philosophies? How do small businesses remain “slightly optimistic,” according to Gallup’s latest findings?
Nonprofit, Think Local First (TLF), may argue that small businesses must champion each other, which is why they held their second annual, one-day, interactive conference for entrepreneurs in Washington, DC. TLF partnered with a variety of social enterprises to host the Do Good Summit - a consortium of businesses that believe economic growth must start locally and within their communities across retail, services, and the arts.
“Without a sustainable community, you won’t have a sustainable business,” explained Stacey Price, Director of Think Local First. That is why the Do Good Summit facilitated two big themes delivered by keynote speakers Maggie Anderson and Judy Wicks. Throughout the day, a participating entrepreneur could get the answer to questions to integrate into her own business plan for maximizing profit and relationships with both people and the planet:
- How do you use crowdsourcing for community development?
- How do you leverage trends in sustainability?
- What’s the art behind selling your business narrative?
- How do you engage your community to build your brand?
- Which crowdfunding venues may promote your business growth?
- What are the benefits in becoming a Benefits Corporation–aside from the legal recognition?
After a new small business gets the financing, sells its narrative, and streamlines its operations, how does it ensure that it sustains its philosophy and profit margin?
Anderson provided the citizen engagement perspective through an MBA consultant lens. On the flipside, Wicks provided the business engagement perspective through an entrepreneur lens that could not ignore the activist component within her community. Both of these women, who recognize the power of organizing local consumers and producers, described how to empower communities to make better choices that ultimately build community. Their storytelling revealed how informing their community patrons about more socially responsible consumer choices drives community AND business growth.
“Empowerment Experiment”: Growth implications for businesses & communities
Anderson described how her family committed to the “Empowerment Experiment”: patronizing only African-American owned businesses for one year. EE produced more than just data for a Northwestern university study. If small businesses contribute to American growth, and local business growth supports communities, then a variety of communities will risk losing opportunities at both economic, social, cultural, and business development if we ignore local initiatives.
The experiment transformed from a business case to a real sociological problem that continues to represent many communities across the United States: by forgoing local patronage of our community businesses, we risk losing the role models that sustain our vision of what positive growth really means. Sustaining local businesses within a community is not just about economic growth, it is also about learning about the social causes and projects affecting our communities.
Anderson both informed and entertained – “info-tained” – the attendees with powerful stories. But the story that best underlined the connection between business and community empowerment was Andersen’s decision to hire a local contractor who also contributes to a youth mentoring program. Had she opted for the Orkin man, she would not have supported a business that would have used some of the profit to fund a community program. Is this not a more pure form of corporate social responsibility without all the large-scale bureaucracy?
Reinventing business growth by ”maximizing relationships, not profit” explains how Judy Wicks co-founded the nationwide movement to support local businesses, “Business Alliance for Local Living Economies”: BALLE. Wicks is example of an entrepreneur leading with a socially responsibly agenda that sustains her community’s environment. Wick’s West Philadelphia establishment, the White Dog Cafe, was the first to buy one-hundred percent of its electricity from renewable resources in its area. Her reasoning, like the decision to pay more for farm-raised chickens, meant that her local suppliers also sustained their healthy, unadulterated production while feeding her community patrons high-quality food. If the quality is excellent, then the community will return to patronize White Dog because responsible entrepreneurs have invested in bilateral relationships, which include the vertical supply chain.
The biggest takeaway from the Do Good Summit speaks to impact. According to the organizers’ data, which is corroborated by Minnesota’s “Buy Local Twin Cities” initiative, the triple bottom-line comes into play: for every dollar spent at a local business, 68 cents goes back into the local economy. Moreover, local businesses are twice as likely to give to local charities. With this type of impact, local businesses must root for their neighboring businesses to co-sustain themselves.