Part of a Social Venture Network (SVN) Series on Transforming the Way the World Does Business.
By Martha Shaw
Hundreds of social entrepreneurs and business leaders who are committed to transforming the way the world does business will gather in San Diego this month for Courageous Conversations, the theme of Social Venture Network's (SVN) Spring Conference, April 25-28. SVN has been fostering a movement toward a more just and sustainable economy for 25 years, and has spawned many of the world’s most successful triple-bottom-line businesses.
The historical significance of SVN is reflected not only in the role its members have played in transforming business, but in the many organizations which have sprouted, indirectly or directly, from the network over the years including B Corporation, BALLE, Net Impact, BSR, Slow Money, American Sustainable Business Council, Green America, Bioneers, and hundreds of others.
Among the business leaders who will be leading discussions at Courageous Conversations is Adnan Durrani, Founder and CEO of American Halal, Inc. As a prelude to the conference, SVN interviewed Mr. Durrani on courage and on the topic of his session, Big and Small Changemakers: Creating Smart and Effective Partnerships.
SVN: The theme of SVN's Spring Conference this year is Courageous Conversations. What kind of courage does it take to be an entrepreneur?
Adnan Durrani: My wife jokes that only if you are truly insane are you qualified to be an entrepreneur. You are taking something that is a dream, developing it into a vision, and then hoping to execute it into reality as a for-profit business. Indeed, it is very irrational, yet requires extreme discipline. Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 gig and one must have enormous passion and devotion. You need a certain amount of facts, research and knowledge on the ground, and good instincts. Also, of course it helps to have experience and you also need good luck. Underlying all of that is the courage of your convictions.
Having been involved in four successful start-up food companies, how do you stay sane?
I have been lucky. I’m on my fourth food company, and every one [of them] has been successful in turning something nascent into a market opportunity. To some investors they were silly ideas. For me, I continued to see healthy food trends in Europe and waited to see if those trends would cross to our shore. What convinced me to keep going was seeing the window opening on the other side of the Atlantic.
You are moderating a session at the conference. What can the audience expect?
If they are looking to make an impact in consumer goods, they’ll have a rare opportunity to hear stories from leaders of high-end mission-based companies that are transforming the way the world does business. One example is Errol Schweizer, the gatekeeper of Whole Foods in Austin. Because of Errol’s astute knowledge about innovative trends in the natural category, people clamor just to have a conversation with him. He’ll clue us in to Whole Foods and their cause, Whole Planet. The impact of Whole Foods is that it is one of the only retailers who will partner with an early stage start-up, and that has enormous social impact.
What role do partnerships play in social entrepreneurship?
When we launched our brand in Whole Foods, it was around the era when the tragedy of 9-11 was still raw. American Halal was among the first foods to appeal to the dietary restrictions of Muslims. The brand, Saffron Road, was developed not only to appeal to consumers who sought healthy, all natural, sustainably produced food, but to those whose spiritual principles guided their dietary needs. We were the world’s first halal-certified frozen entrée.
The launch coincided with the Islamic holiday, Ramadan.
Suddenly, there was an outbreak of bigotry in the blogosphere that became a media story. It was a tempest in a teapot. A heated religious debate was about to play out in the aisles of Whole Foods. But, they held their heads up high, taking pride in themselves as curators of culinary diversity. They weathered the storm like champions.
And thousands of American Muslim consumers flocked to Whole Foods stores for the first time to show their loyalty and solidarity with Whole Foods’ progressive values. Our sales soared 600 percent and we are now the No. 1 frozen entrée in Whole Foods stores nationally. It was a win-win. That is partnership.
There are hundreds of examples of partnership throughout our supply chain. Whole Foods is now requiring GMO labeling and Saffron Road is the first Non-GMO Project Verified entree as a result of partnership. Another example is our mutual relationship with our supply chain of organic chickpea farmers. These are the kinds of stories you’ll hear at the conference.
Adnan Durrani is the founder of American Halal, whose Saffron Road brand sells the first halal-certified frozen entrées available in mainstream supermarkets nationwide.
Find more Courageous Conversations, including interviews with Errol Schweiger of Whole Foods, and Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee of Lotus Foods, at www.svn.org.