People, Planet Over Profit At Impact Showcase

Before the first ever Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities’ (SEA Twin Cities) Impact Showcase event even started, the energy in the room suggested movement. Colorful cards listing Minnesota-based social enterprise businesses by name flowed from a center tower. Multicolored building blocks served as the interactive centerpieces on high top tables. And people, known as disruptors and mission-driven leaders or socents (social entrepreneurs), moved about the space.

In the space known as Paikka, a modern, industrial event venue in the Vandalia Street Tower Annex, attendees shared deliciousness by Eat for Equity seated at community tables. Scott Cole, SEA Twin Cities board member, welcomed us and shared the mission: to empower the builders of the purpose-driven economy; and the vision: to create an economy driven by purpose over profit, in other words: people and the planet over profit. It is possible was a rising message speakers shared and commented on throughout the evening.   

And possible is growing. When Minnesota along with 26 other states made b-corps and public benefit corporations official January 2015, about 20 businesses were defining themselves in this way (StarTribune article). Now, thanks to strong local socent leaders and SEA Twin Cities, Minnesota’s access to resources, an uplifting community, and successful models including b-corps, commercial nonprofits and social businesses, continues to support and encourage social good businesses.

Tawanna Black, founder and CEO of the Center for Economic Inclusion and the executive director of Northside Funders Group and the evening’s emcee, shared perspective on the movement and where ten years of efforts to-date in diversity and inclusion have landed us. We’ve closed the gap a whopping 1%, which is shockingly low considering the great reporting, data gathering and structured programs we’ve all created over the past decade. This outcome suggests that we can no longer separate these initiatives within a business. Efforts need to be integrated and in order to do that, we must dramatically disrupt.

Social enterprises, organizations and companies that sell products and services in order to solve an environmental or social problem, are primed to disrupt as they are using business as a tool for social change. They create and measure social impact through the people they employ, products they sell, and/or the social missions they support. I also have to insert kudos here for the program book, designed by Pollen Studio. It had so many great graphics and easy-to-digest definitions that any newbie to the socent scene would have felt welcome and engaged.

With the stage set, Black introduced the first of the six SEA TC Ambassadors (coincidently the first b-corp in Minnesota) that would be highlighted over the course of the evening: Can Can Wonderland. They rolled a video where co-founder Jennifer Pennington talks about the public benefit corporation as an economic engine for the arts, prompting, if we can’t connect in a fun way, how will we ever come together to solve grand challenges?

With a poetic pause, we welcomed Brittany Wright, DJ Miss Brit, founding CEO of Visions Merging a digital storyteller, and become swept away with her reading. It centers on what it means to be visionary, an active part of a movement for change that creates a ripple of good deeds. What it feels like to cause others to divert their eyes, uncomfortable with her share as an agent for change. It’s like being in two worlds at once, she explains, only the other cocktail party guests don’t get it.

Next up is Amanda LaGrange of Tech Dump, an Ambassador In the commercial nonprofit category with environment and consumption, workforce development at the forefront of their model. I never tire of hearing Amanda’s story and way she speaks inspiration into people. The solution is possible. It’s right in front of us and we need to connect the dots.

Thomas Adams did just that with Better Futures Minnesota, a social business being recognized by SEA TC for their work. They are an organization that helps build lives after incarceration. Over 11 years of connecting men to gainful employment after incarceration, the organization has an impressively low recidivism rate of 4% as opposed to 60% outside of this program.

We next shift to Sunrise Banks, an ambassador, with Melodie Carlson, COO, sharing their story. Sunrise’s long history of serving local, inner city communities and their for-profit, public benefit corporation and b-corp status may still raise some eyebrows – really, a financial institution that cares deeply about the communities they’re in? Yes. It’s possible. Plus they like numbers and data, and their approach delivers positive recruiting and retention outcomes.

Greg Ackerson, co-owner of Apex, steps up to the podium as the evening’s second recognized business. Apex, the energy efficiency social enterprise working to address the environmental and social impact of aging facilities, contributes portions of its profits to employees and their foundation that serves local and global needs. In particular, Apex’s business model tends to find and retain motivated people who aren’t happy with the status quo and have the energy to move change forward.

Two empowered women, Amal Muse and Zikki Adem represented The Sisterhood Boutique, an SEA TC Ambassador with impact areas of youth + education, economic development and gender equity. They shared the creation of their community by and for east African women ages 14-23.  They are all about colorful clothing and safe spaces for women to support women while gaining personal and professional development skills. 

The evening’s third recognized business, Fair Anita, transforms some of the world’s poorest communities simply by employing women. Thank you, Joy McBrien for you story and drive that’s helped 8,000 women in nine countries. The business model sustains women in so many global communities in an artisan-partner model and right here in our community by addressing consumer consumption. (note to self: order earrings for Mother’s Day gift a.s.a.p.).

SEA TC Ambassador Eat for Equity addressed the audience next. As a commercial nonprofit in the impact area of food and health, and economic development, E4E founder Emily Torgrimson talked about the power of food. With outpourings of generosity through sustainable community feasts, she’s built wealth, health and equity and addressed dietary needs, volunteer activation and ways to allow people at any income level to partake.

The evening’s fourth recognized socent, Appetite for Change, built on Emily’s notes citing food as a tool for health, wealth and social change. Michelle Horovitz and Darryl Lindsey shared stats of impact including 600 people a year served through their community cooking workshops. Darryl discussed the work training they do with youth in the Broadway area, making lowest possible barriers to entry for jobs, instilling dreams for young people where none existed. Michelle ended with an invitation to reach out to legislators regarding food and access related bills; and attend the West Broadway Farmer’s Market Fridays June – October.

Then it was time to recognize the final SEA Twin Cities Ambassador of the evening, Element Gym, for-profit, specific benefit corporation. A video featuring owner Dalton Outlaw was shared and in it he says that social business is the future of our economy. He believes it’s possible to operate this way – putting people first – and he believes it holds businesses accountable. There’s also this lesson about putting forth effort and the rewards of that as a powerful driver for change.

Emcee Tawanna Black then wrapped up the eve, noting the 80+ nominations that were received, the six ambassadors, the four socents recognized, and the Ones to Watch. Scott Cole then returned to the stage to close out the evening with another round of thanks, encouragement to network and a reminder to become a builder in one or more of three ways:

1. Identify as a social enterprise

2. Collaborate with a social enterprise

3. Support and buy from social enterprises.

With that in mind, attendees stayed to connect over dessert and filled out cards that captured what attendees were working on in the social good space and their answers to: what does the purpose-driven economy need to thrive? I can’t wait to see the responses!

Congrats to SEA Twin Cities for hosting a great event and thank you to all of the social enterprise businesses in Minnesota who are doing the work of this movement to place people and the planet over profits.

—- This event recap is one attendee’s view and intended to capture some of the energy, themes and key messages of the evening. Let’s all continue to share, connect and invite others into the social good movement!