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Entries in Social Entrepreneurs (3)

Saturday
Nov302013

Social Enterprise and The Evolution of Business Consciousness

There are many perspectives on what is a Social Enterprise. At its purest definition, Social Enterprises are those organizations that are impact first with a focus on meaning making that generates a sustaining cash flow. In this way, moneymaking is secondary to the impact of the organization’s mission. The purpose of its moneymaking endeavors is to sustain the organization’s operations and ensure the ongoing delivery of its mission to achieve its desired impact. Yet, Social Enterprises are more complex than this and I would suggest exist along a continuum that mirrors the path of human conscious evolution.

In addition to the definition above, there are two other places of note along the continuum of Social Enterprise. The first is the entry point where a business organization adopts an outward facing mission and institutes core values that are demonstrated in action. The outward facing mission has its focus on the customer experience through delivery of the organization’s product or service rather than on profit goals or growth objectives. Further, it is not enough for these businesses to have a set of core values; those entering the continuum of Social Enterprise have demonstrated them in the actions of their leaders and across the organization.

The second point of note on the continuum is where the business organization gains awareness of the greater eco-system in which it operates. This triple bottom-line perspective considers people and planet as well as profits for a broad consideration of its social, economic and environmental impact. In this way, the business organization is mindful of and demonstrates responsibility to all its stakeholders. From here, the final point on the continuum is the purest definition shared earlier.

Interestingly, this mirrors the path we take as humans toward greater awareness and higher consciousness from connection with our values and a sense of purpose to greater awareness of our environment and those we share this experience with to a sincere desire to be of service, giving back in some way and making a positive impact that leaves this earth and its inhabitants a bit better than we found them.

Just as it is with our individual transformation, taking that first step into alignment with its values and identification with a greater sense of purpose begins a process for the business organization that I believe quite naturally and organically continues to evolve along this continuum of Social Enterprise as a better future is created through business.

Sunday
Nov242013

A Vision for a New Economy

As a sustainable future is contemplated, it becomes apparent that a new economy is also needed – one that allows us to thrive individually and collectively while solving some of our greatest challenges. And while we may not yet know what this looks like or how it might work specifically, there are glimpses beginning to emerge. Let’s look first at some characteristics this new economy might have.

An emerging new economy that would also create a better future has several key elements:

  • Deeply connected with our selves – starts with the best of who we are as individuals and how we can bring that forward in a way that creates value for everyone. 
  • Based in community – this deep connection with our selves is then extended out in our communities to decentralize and re-localize the economy in a way that creates a strong sense of place. 
  • Sustainable and sustaining – greater connection with place, based in community, provides the mandate for creating a sustainable existence for the community and its people. 
  • Generative – with the capacity for originating new ideas and solutions. 
  • An entire eco-system view – considering all stakeholders and the various forms of capital as an inter-related system that functions optimally when considered as a whole.

A Convergence of Ideas

While a new economy is not yet fully manifest, there are some emerging ideas that when combined shift the paradigm, creating the real possibility for a sustainable economic future.

  • Community Capital – is an expanded view of capital, beyond merely financial assets and includes natural, human and built capital.
  • Local Investing – shifts our investment dollars from Wall Street and large, publically traded corporations (where those investments simply move money around) back into the small businesses of our own communities where those investment dollars actually create jobs, grow the local economy and strengthen the community.
  • Social Enterprises – are those businesses that bring the impact of meaning-making to the business of making money. In so doing, these enterprises solve real problems in the community and eventually across the entire world while also creating jobs and real wealth.
  • Impact Investing – brings another dimension to investment returns that includes the expectation of having an impact as well as making a financial return. Impact investors align their investments with their values, providing capital to social enterprises that are creating value while solving problems.

The convergence of these four ideas – an expanded view of capital where people are investing locally and also aligned with their values while expecting to make an impact through social enterprises – provides the very real means to solve our greatest challenges, create a better future and obsolete an economy that more often than not benefits a very few while creating problems for the greater environment that significantly impacts a sustainable future.

How This Shift Might Happen

I believe this shift is already happening and it begins with food. The local food movement has reconnected people with place and those who grow, harvest and produce their food. As people eat locally and connect more strongly with their community, they also begin to buy local and support the businesses and merchants in their own community. These connections create real relationships, as people personally know who is growing their food, producing their merchandise and operating the businesses they rely upon. 

With relationship comes a genuine interest in these business and a desire to see them succeed so that when they need capital for new equipment or to expand you might consider investing in them. Eating locally has become buying local and transitioned into local investing with the potential for a paradigm shift into an entirely new economy. 

Wednesday
Jul172013

All Growth Isn’t Bigger – The Consciousness of Business Growth

All growth isn’t bigger and continuous growth isn’t sustainable.  Across nature, there is a natural limit to growth.  It’s about efficiency as well as the consumption and allocation of resources. By contrast, out of control growth is known as cancer – the uncontrolled growth of a tumorous mass. And unless the growth can be arrested and even reversed, the organism eventually dies.  

In many businesses, growth is out of line with the principles of nature. We need a more sustainable view of growth – one that is also more conscious, finding a sustaining size for the organization and then shifting the focus to growing deeper and then broader.

Conscious Growth – Sustaining Size

In Soul of Money, Lynne Twist suggests the idea of sufficiency – finding balance with “enough”, rather than pursuing continuous growth. Here, sufficiency is a model of consistently profitable operations that support the employees, investors, supply partners and consumers – all sustainably and consciously. 

Crafting a sustainable existence involves developing the capacity for self-renewal where the guiding question becomes “is this action today replicable indefinitely”. The business operates with equal concern for its impact as well as its contribution and return. In this way the sustainable organization is not just surviving, but thriving with vitality and the sense of being alive, passionate and ever learning.

Deeper growth – Greater Awareness 

From here, the business organization shifts its focus from external growth of being bigger to an internal focus of going deeper and gaining greater self-awareness.  By knowing itself better – as a collective organism – the business also better understands its place in the world. This expanded worldview creates an ongoing and reciprocal loop of an ever-expanding realization of the organization’s relationship with a larger existence – all without consuming more resources or creating a greater physical presence in the world.

From this deeper self-awareness and expanded consciousness, the organization can build and strengthen relationships with everyone involved with and impacted by the business. It also has the opportunity to build and nurture community in the place it chooses to do business – creating deeper roots and a greater sense of home.

Broader growth – Collective Existence

The other method of growth that isn’t about being individually bigger is about being collectively broader.  The individual elephant, deer or eagle doesn’t get larger but the herd or flock may increase in population.  In this way a single organism doesn’t become so large that it dominates its environment individually but rather participates within a community of its own kind in harmony and synergy with its greater eco-system so that checks and balances in that eco-system keep the whole system in balance allocating available resources as individual populations fluctuate with seasonal availability.  It’s the natural order of being.

Broader growth is done with awareness of our collective existence, recognizing we are all in this together. The self-aware organization has a better understanding of how it fits into its ecosystem and what products and services best serve its customers while balancing an awareness of all the other aspects in its ecosystem.

Some of the ways a business organization might grow broadly include:

  • Increase your organizational knowledge and innovate – integrate new processes, methods and tools into the way you operate 
  • Develop complimentary businesses – rather than expand into new communities, explore complimentary businesses in your existing community 
  • Spread your business model – share with other organizations new and sustainable ways of doing business that you develop 
  • Enhance well-being – increase the health and well-being of your organization through employee services, programs and attention to the whole person 
  • Restore the natural environment – explore how you might operate your business more sustainably

From this perspective, the organization doesn’t necessarily get bigger as it grows broader. 

Evolution as Growth

This approach suggests that once a business finds its sustainable size – where its profits create a sustaining cash flow for the organization and all its stakeholders – that growth defined as getting bigger is no longer the central objective and that the organization begins to focus on growing deeper and more broadly. Here, the business begins to focus on meaning-making that also makes money. 

It is clear we are in the midst of great change and we need new ways of doing business that will take us into the future. Larry Page, CEO of Google, has asked “are you working on something that can change the world”. That doesn’t have to be the next Google or Apple to be impactful. The next round of change is likely to come from the bottom up – grassroots efforts at small businesses across the country that choose to approach business differently. Such organizations embrace evolution as growth and present the real possibility for a more positive future.