Big city, big hearts, big ideas: From chocolate to palm leaves to elephant dung, New Yorkers are finding enterprising ways to make the world a better place.
I use the world "enterprising" deliberately, because it has multiple meanings and these New York business people qualify on several counts. Dictionary.com offers two meanings "characterized by great imagination or initiative" and "ready to undertake projects of importance or difficulty, or untried schemes."
Add to that the concept of making the world a better place and you have creative people undertaking projects that change the world, aka "social enterprise."
Take a look at how two New Yorkers exemplify social enterprise.
Working to create a more just and celebrated multicultural world for our next generation.
Sarah Endline, founder of Sweet Riot, had the imagination to combine America's love of chocolate and fear of fat with her deep commitment to social responsibility, a commitment so deep she wants to "change the world," as her website notes.
I am impressed by the psychology of her business as well as the social mission. She has developed a lower-calorie chocolate and packaged it in bite-sized pieces so consumers can consume in calorie controlled amounts. She has also sourced her chocolate directly with fair-trade producers.
Despite being a small company, Sweet Riot emphasizes the well-being of employees all the way down the supply line, from its Latin American growers to its New York City employees who get stipends for health care.
This isn't a feel-good project. Sarah has a Harvard MBA and a seriously good heart: Part of her profits will go to nonprofit organizations.
It hasn't been an easy journey. Finding the right cacao producers who provide quality product and fair working conditions was a trek. While not untried -- others import fair trade chocolate -- it was a difficult and important adventure.
Helping to make a difference in the world, one party at a time.
Michael Dwork's company, VerTerra makes non-toxic, biodegradable, durable dinnerware from fallen leaves and water. Yes, leaves and water. And they are beautiful! While the initial idea wasn't his -- he learned the basic technique in rural India -- Dwork made the creative leap that morphed a local handcraft into an award-winning company with nationwide distribution of its very stylish, environmentally friendly dinnerware.
What impressed me immediately about Michael is his entrepreneurial instincts, which he wears like a coat of armor. His innovative undertaking was based on solid business expertise – he was an investment banker in his prior life ‑ and a commitment to the environment. Michael wanted to make a difference. He does that by being “true to the earth,” which in Latin is “veritas terra,” from which comes the company name, VerTerra.
VerTerra products are made in South Asia, where the company has created hundreds of fair-wage jobs with income above the local average. The water used to clean the fallen leaves is recycled and no chemicals are added. Certainly an untried scheme characterized by imagination and initiative.
Working to save trees, elephants, and the environment, one ream of paper at a time
Dr. Karl Wald is a Brooklyn native who earned his doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology. He got bored, went to Sri Lanka, met some elephants, and now heads a company that sells paper products made from recycled elephant byproducts nationwide. The company, named Mr. Ellie Pooh, involves elephants and the Sri Lankan artisans who create quality paper ready for embossing, computer printers, and boxed note cards.
The paper is made from the plentiful pulped cellulose in elephant dung. He, too, morphed a local handicraft into a business. The paper is not only environmentally friendly ‑ no toxic chemicals ‑ but it saves the lives of elephants. By creating a revenue source based on keeping elephants alive, Mr. Ellie Pooh reduces the number of elephants killed by Sri Lankans trying to make a living from farming. His string of small paper-making and decorating collectives also eliminate clearing the land of trees in order to farm. The income from elephants is as good as the income from crops.
These three entrepreneurs epitomize enterprise: They've taken untried approaches to solving social problems and maintained the integrity of their missions while growing their businesses. It is possible.Here, in so urban a city as New York, entrepreneurs can see the world or pieces of it ‑ fallen leaves, cacao, elephant dung ‑ in a new way and build a business that's worth doing and does well: people, planet, and profit.
Geri Stengel is president of Ventureneer.com, an online peer learning service for small business, especially those making a social impact such as nonprofits and social enterprise, and Stengel Solutions, strategic planning, marketing and marketing research firm. An adjunct professor at The New School, she honed her online experience at companies like Dow Jones and Physicians’ Online. Geri co-founded the Women’s Leadership Exchange. Geri is a past Vice Chair of Governance Matters, a nonprofit organization that counsels New York-based nonprofits on issues of stronger governance and a past board member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)-NYC.