"You have to be ready to compete… And then, from there, doing it in ways that are following fair trade practices… You have to be that much more on top of your game."
By Carol Sanford
Part of the Big Promise Entrepreneurs series on Talkback
In this series, we tell the stories of real life Big Promise Entrepreneurs and how they pursue and pull off seemingly impossible feats of social change. The first post explores the lessons of the company Indigenous Designs.
Social entrepreneurship is on the rise. That is a good thing – but it is not even close to enough, either in speed or deed! Every day we get reports of deterioration in oceans, watersheds and escalating inequity and injustice in society. We know it is not acceptable. But, the sad part is that social entrepreneurship and social enterprises, as currently conceived, will not make a dent.
What will make a difference are what I call Big Promise Entrepreneurs (BPEs), a particular form of game-changer. The big promise entrepreneur’s path is to build and grow a business with the intention to make fundamental changes well beyond being a good business itself, or even ensuring the values embedded in its way of operating are right.
Nodal Actions for Change
BPEs pursue “nodal” actions to change industries, social systems, cultural paradigms and governance infrastructure. Nodes are points where different orbits intersect and the best place, therefore, to have a huge impact. Nodes are how acupuncture works and why one needle can shift so much. Knowing how to find and affect those nodes is critical to our collective future.
We have a responsibility to build an increasing number of such intelligent and wise entrepreneurs, whether internal to enterprises or independent in start-ups and growth business, and to do so much faster.
Revolutionizing an Industry
Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds, co-founders of Indigenous Designs, have taken on the second most polluting industry in the world… the textile and apparel industry! They are creating pure, impeccable beauty in design and manufacturing.
To revolutionize an industry they must attend to four facets—successfully. This month, we examine the first, with others in later blog posts. The first is perfecting your offering.
Perfecting Your Offering
No business changes its industry with an average product or even a good product. Even in the world of seeking to bring what is right into the conversation, the game-changer must be seen as a premier creative and effective player. Speaking about change is only heard when you cannot be drowned out by critiques of your offering. If you lose premier creative status, you lose your platform for change.
Indigenous Designs has created a platform where they are working with other game-changers in the industry. Eileen Fisher is a premier brand in high-end clothing that has committed to using organic fibers. Indigenous Designs has met Eileen Fisher’s standards and become a primary supplier.
In an interview with Matt and Scott, I asked them why they chose business as a route, instead of a not-for-profit, given their strong commitment to indigenous peoples and processes. They made it very clear that real change can happen on a large scale only when you are taken really seriously. They always look at their business from a product offering standpoint:
“You have to be ready to compete, in terms of best in class, with mainstream conventional brands. In our case, that means in fashion, color, style, quality. And then, from there, doing it in ways that are following fair trade practices, and using all natural organic materials. You have to be that much more on top of your game.”
Transparency of Choices
They are very competent in regard to traditional business practices and are able to tap into distribution channels to make the mission successful. It’s a fusion of two worlds: they have to succeed by traditional measures to lead.
Now, with that platform and level of offering, they can lead a much larger change. The node they are focusing on is “transparency of choices.” Walmart used the same tactic, with the advice of Jeffrey Hollender, founder of Seventh Generation, when their major change was to make all suppliers “reveal their impact” on everything they sold to Walmart.
Matt and Scott have promised to make supply systems fully transparent in their industry; believing it will, and is, moving the entire industry toward non-toxic production and manufacturing processes.
Their new venture in that nodal intervention, created in collaboration with Worldways, is the Fair Trace Tool. It makes it possible for brands to share, in a transparent way, their story of fair trade and story of the artisans whose lives are transformed by it. Through the Fair Trace Tool, everyone can see who makes what they wear and grows what they eat. Customers become closer to them and see their well-being as connected to the business. Such transparency will have a positive impact on thousands of artisans around the world.
Indigenous Designs is sharing the Fair Trace Tool technology with other brands that are otherwise unable to afford it, and fund research that proves that fair trade is life transforming. (For Indigenous Designs to be able to do this work donations are needed to support the project.)
Influence through Excellence
Because of an extraordinary product, one that can compete at the front of the fashion industry, Indigenous has their voice heard and respected. First, they get their own products and services to be industry leading; then, because they have such high respect as a leader in their industry, they can influence others.
More About Carol Sanford and Big Promise Entrepreneurship:
Two recent articles by Sanford introduced the four archetypes or approaches to take entrepreneurs’ good intentions and develop from them the game-changer path. The first of these is published at the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The second – “How Big is Your Promise?” – is at CSRwire. The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game-Changing Archetypes, my latest book, will be out in 2014.
The Responsible Entrepreneur Institute offers community, courses and business acumen mentors on finding nodal interventions that change industries, social systems, cultural paradigms and governance infrastructure.