Friends and extended colleagues:
We are honored to invite you to Middlebury’s Fourth Annual June Forum on “Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts” from Tuesday, June 9 – Thursday June 11, 2015 at our beautiful Bread Loaf campus (see this video and more here).
Our theme this June will be “Design and Social Innovation.” Building on the leadership of kindred spirits on many campuses, we will give Forum participants the opportunity to ask how design and social innovation, broadly defined, can help to improve what they do for their students. To put it mildly, we think that the timing for this conversation is ideal: three articles here illustrate the liveliness of the current conversation about the role of design in the liberal arts.
There’s more good news. This year the June Forum will overlap with the annual Ashoka U Retreat (Wednesday June 10 – Friday June 12) for their 30 Changemaker Campuses, which we will also host at Bread Loaf. This means that dozens of faculty and staff leaders from these top schools – the list now includes Brown, Babson, Cornell, Tulane, among many others – will be with us in Vermont. The Ashoka leadership team is thrilled about this opportunity to, in their words, “support and draw energy from this fabulous convening of passionate educators.” Our team at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship ( CSE) feels the same way.
Join us! These June gatherings at Bread Loaf have been smash hits in the last three years. Participants, many who become returnees, praise the beautiful setting, the flexible schedule, and above all the opportunity to share challenges and opportunities with fellow travelers. Around an evening bonfire, on a morning hike, or reclining in Adirondack chairs with glasses of red wine, June Forum participants find joy in connecting.
We invite you to register here.
– Early Bird (deadline May 1) — $475
– Regular (deadline June 1) — $575
This all-inclusive registration covers retreat lodging; delicious locally-sourced food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, an opening reception (with some of Vermont’s celebrated beers), and other activities sprinkled throughout the agenda. If you have any questions please reach out to Mustafa Babak at email@example.com.
The Bread Loaf campus, the location of our retreat, is in the small town of Ripton in the heart of Central Vermont. We are a four-hour drive from Boston, five hours from NYC. If you plan to fly, we are one hour from Burlington VT (the closest airport) and two hours from Albany NY (the next closest). (We recommend at least allowing for 2 to 2.5 hours of flexible time between landing in Burlington and the 2:00 PM beginning of the retreat on Tuesday the 9th.) If you want to take advantage of the New England setting, renting a car makes some sense; otherwise, we can arrange pickups at the Burlington airport.
If you’d like to come to the area on Monday or stay into Friday, which we encourage, please contact the Middlebury Inn and ask for the Middlebury College rate. We will arrange for an informal reception in Middlebury on Monday night for those of you who come early, most likely at our good pub Two Brothers. (And note that Burlington has also become a go-to destination for lovers of good food and drink. Hotel Vermont is a complete delight.)
We can’t wait to gather everyone in June, both new and veteran Forum participants, for this annual gathering. We cherish this time for collective action as well as collective rejuvenation. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.
With best regards,
The CSE Team
by Otto Nagengast ’17
During Ekow Edzie’s senior year at Middlebury College, he sent off application after application for internships across the country and abroad. By the time he graduated in May, with a degree in Environmental Studies and Biology, he had accepted three internships in San Francisco. He spent the next year zipping around the Bay Area on his bike going from the Antenna Theater where he researched for an environmentally-focused art initiative, to 826 Valencia where he tutored kids and built programs, and at night he would across the Golden Gate Bridge to Oakland where he taught swim lessons.
Although the work he was doing in San Francisco was exciting, Ekow says that he didn’t see how it was helping him to do the kind of work he really wanted to do. He applied to the Peace Corps, and a year later, he was off to the Dominican Republic. When Ekow arrived in March 2011, there was great political change underway. The president at the time, Leonel Fernández, appointed a new Minister of the Environment, Jamie Mirabal, son of Dedé Mirabal who is a national hero in the Dominican Republic. Part of Jamie Mirabal’s task was to reclaim control of the country’s natural resources that had long been exploited by wealthy land-owners. One of his first steps as Minister was to change the National Forestry School into the National School for the Environment in order to groom a generation of young Dominicans that would protect their country’s environment.
Ekow was assigned to work with the director of the new National School for the Environment. Professor Jon Isham, who spent three years with the Peace Corps in Gabon, raised his hand during the talk to add that Ekow’s assignment is a “dream post” for a Peace Corps volunteer. For two years, Ekow taught at the school and worked to expand programming. In the summer of 2012, Ekow’s high school Spanish teacher and current Director of Curriculum and Program Development at Education First contacted Ekow to explore the feasibility of collaboration with the National School of the Environment.
Education First (EF) is the largest private education company in the world. For 50 years, they have enabled people, particularly young people, from around the world to travel and discover the world. One of their staple programs are student trips. George Stewart wanted to expand EF’s programming to include service-learning trips. Ekow knew that the interest and opportunity were there in the DR, but he didn’t know about the scalability and profitability. He reached out to other organizations, and found several more who were interested in partnering with EF. In May 2013, he was hired as EF’s Program Manager in the DR.
Ekow says that his time in the Peace Corps enabled him to see what his four-year investment of college was really worth. It also taught him key skills of social entrepreneurship, like how to get to know a place by listening to the local people. Drawing upon these skills, Ekow saw that trips built on detailed itineraries, the standard format for EF trips, was not possible in the DR. Instead, he is designing trips centered on themes, like youth empowerment or the environment. Ekow also saw that he may not be able to guarantee that a group can work on a theme because the opportunity may not exist all the time, but he can guarantee that they can learn about it through educational programming while in-country.
Ekow loves that his work not only helps the trip participants to travel and learn, but the trips also help local organizations financially, they creates jobs, and they have a positive impact on pressing issues in the DR. Ekow is transitioning out of his role with EF in order to pursue further studies, but he is grooming the current field director of the DR program to replace him. After their success in the DR thanks to Ekow’s work, EF is now expanding their service-learning programs throughout Latin America.
Many in the international development community focus on the education of women and girls, sometimes to the exclusion of educating men. While I believe it is vital to educate women and girls, I also believe it is a mistake to leave men out of the process.
My father was a successful businessman, well respected in the community. Though he was illiterate, he insisted that his children attend school. As the eldest child, I began learning to read at a local mosque. Soon, I was attending school.
I loved learning. After high school, I had the opportunity to attend a university in the United States, and my father was my biggest supporter. Though he was not what most people would think of as “educated”, he was knowledgeable, wise, very open-minded, and a just and honest man; because of this he was often chosen to mediate disputes.
After completing my studies in the U.S., I returned to work with my people in the Pakistan refugee camps. I found my people struggling with a lack of education, knowledge, wisdom and open-mindedness. Years of war had devastated our culture and torn apart the education and health systems, leaving people unable to adequately care for themselves and their families. The only thing they knew was survival and war.
Helping Afghans improve their lives through education
Working with refugee camp leaders, we began to train teachers and establish schools for boys and girls. I founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) and began supporting secret home schools for girls inside Afghanistan. Once the Taliban fell, we were able to operate openly and began working closely with communities to establish Learning Centers for women and older girls.
Our goal is to help Afghans improve their lives. In our schools and centers, students not only study the established curriculum, they also learn critical thinking skills, open-mindedness, wisdom and ethics – all qualities that my father, an “uneducated” man, had in abundance.
My father’s insistence on education forever changed the course of my life, and so I believe that a well-rounded education is the best way to improve people’s lives and to make lasting change for everyone – women, girls, men, boys, young, old. Educated, wise women help their families financially and raise educated, wise children. Educated, wise men do not abuse women or children and recognize the worth and value of women and children.
Boys demand education too
Let me tell you a story. One day in early 2002, I went with my female staff to visit one of our Women’s Learning Centers in rural Kabul. Suddenly a group of teenage boys with weapons appeared, blocking the road.
Our driver stopped the car and asked what they wanted. Pointing to me, they said, “We want to talk to her.” Although my heart was pounding, I opened the door, got out of the car and asked them what they wanted. Their leader said, “Every day we watch your car come and visit your centers for women and girls. They are learning to read. What about us? We have been fighting and living in caves since we were little boys. Now we are too old for school, but we want to study. What can you do for us?”
At the time, we only had funding for females, and I had no idea where to find funding for boys education, but I said, “Give me a week.” They said, “We will be waiting.”
I went back to my room, praying and wondering what to do. Suddenly my phone rang. It was a donor who was very supportive of our work. Listening to my voice, she asked, “What is wrong?” I told her. She said, “Start your center for boys. I will find the funds.”
And she did. Those boys went to school, studied hard and also learned about human rights, cleanliness, manners and ethics. Their parents were so happy! Soon they were able to transition into regular school.
All graduated from high school. Many went on to university or to study computers. Then and now, they have made sure that AIL has no security concerns in their communities. Today their daughters are going to school.
Open minds will make lasting change
There are those in Afghanistan who do not want women and girls to be educated. If we are to make lasting change, we need to open the minds of all who are still ignorant. They need to see that an educated girl or boy is not a threat to their culture, but is someone who will help to improve the whole community.
The women who come to our centers feel the same way. Men and boys need to be educated, not ignored. They need to be included in workshops and seminars with women and girls so that they can listen and exchange ideas and know that education is not a threat to them but is something that improves the lives of
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
The CSE welcomed a new member of the team this semester, Elana Dean. Elana and her husband, Professor Adam Dean in the Department of Political Science, come to Middlebury from Chicago. Although new to the Center, Elana is not new to social entrepreneurship.
After college Elana joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Honduras working on youth development projects. In this time, she says, “The same questions always came up. How do we know if this program is working?… It wasn’t clear how what we were doing was making an impact.” After the Peace Corps, Elana pursued a bMasters Degree in Public Policy. She says that they were learning “how to leverage social science research” for bpositive social impact.
Elana then joined the University of Chicago Crime Lab as a project manager. The Crime Lab describes their work as “ [using] insights from basic science to help government agencies and non-profit organizations develop innovative new approaches to reducing violence, and work with them to test new innovations using randomized trials.” Elana was responsible for coordinating the Chicago Police Department, Chicago public schools, and researchers at numerous universities to ensure that the insights from the research were translated into effective policy. She believes that “an important piece of policy are the tools of social science.” She added that research like that done at the Crime Lab enable us to ask, “In a political vacuum, what is good policy?”
This fall at the Center, Elana has been working with Professor Jon Isham, Director of the CSE, to create a system of assessment for Davis Projects for Peace. Founded nine years ago, the Davis Project for Peace initiative offers $10,000 grants for students who have a project that “promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties.” Projects range from youth programming like camps to microloans for low-income families in developing countries to business development projects like cooperatives for artists. To date, over 800 projects have been funded, and they span the globe. Elana says that with the assessment system she is helping to build, they hope to better understand “what is a successful project and what makes a successful project.”
Elana also works at the Open Door Clinic in Middlebury. The clinic aims to provide healthcare for all, regardless of someone’s financial circumstances. The Clinic, Elana says, helps many undocumented workers in the Middlebury area.
Elana says that the CSE is “asking really great questions.” She finds “the level of collaboration [at the CSE] between students and staff really impressive…[it’s] a really dynamic place and everyone is really passionate.” She added “the really cool thing about the center is that it works both in local and global spheres.”
The CSE is thrilled to welcome Elana to the team and to the Middlebury community. Her work will hopefully enable the Center to answer some of those really great questions.
CSE Friday Speaker Series
November 14, 2014
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Aifuwa Ehigiator lived in five different apartments with his two brothers and his parents before he was fifteen. Aifuwa says that he “grew up poor, but had a great upbringing.” In middle school, Aifuwa met an investment banker at a career day who revealed that he made between $150,000 and $400,000 a year. Aifuwa said that at that moment he decided he wanted to live that kind of life. In his senior year at the School of the Future in Manhattan, he received a prestigious Posse Scholarship to attend Middlebury. He knew that the trajectory of his life had changed. He jointed-majored in Women and Gender Studies and Economics and played on the rugby team. Twelve days after graduation, Aifuwa started at Bloomberg, the financial media company.
He spent six years at Bloomberg. During that time, he led an exciting life and learned many skills that later helped while launching Our Street. But Aifuwa felt that he had an obligation to use his talents to address the challenges that people faced, particularly back home in Brooklyn. While at Bloomberg, Aifuwa received a crucial piece of advice from someone at Morgan Stanley, the financial services firm. She said that when you’re debating changing paths, there’s a moment when you know that you have to do it. “I felt,” Aifuwa says, “that I was having that moment for weeks and weeks.”
On March 30, 2014, Aifuwa quit Bloomberg and launched Our Street, a real estate crowdfunding startup that invests exclusively in low to moderate-income communities. Drawing upon his own upbringing, Aifuwa knew that housing was becoming increasingly unaffordable for low and middle-income families. He also knew that part of the lack of economic prosperity among lower-income families in inner cities was a lack of opportunities for long-term investments. Combining these two issues with his background in finance and business, Aifuwa hopes to use Our Street to enable low to moderate-income families to invest in real estate in their communities. “Let’s come together to own our communities” reads one Our Street’s posters.
An individual can go onto Our Street’s platform and invest between $100 and a $10,000 to buy a share of a piece of property. Our Street uses 60 percent of their own capital and 40 percent crowdsourced capital to purchase and renovate the property. Our Street then rents the property out at reduced prices, and the revenue from the rents are distributed among investors according to their respective percent shares. Our Street already has $110,000 in commitments from 168 users.
They believe that they will succeed because similar crowdfunding real estate sites focus on luxury property. Our Street is the first to focus exclusively on low to moderate-income communities, where they believe they have a strong connection. Aifuwu and Our Street are still navigating the necessary legal channels before fully launching, but they are getting outside help, including from fellow Middlebury alumnus, Pier LaFarge ’10.5.
“Our social mission is just as important as the profits,” says Aifuwu. Launching Our Street has been “a scary experience but an exciting one.” Aifuwa has returned to the place he came from to address an issue that affected his own life using all that he learned while he was away. He has lived a truly remarkable life thanks, in part, to a weird confluence of events.
CSE Grant Recipients and Davis Project for Peace Presentations
October 24, 2014
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
Last spring, five Middlebury students received grants of up to $3,000 for projects relating to social entrepreneurship, and one student received a Davis Project for Peace grant. The projects were diverse in their locations and the issues that they addressed, but they all aimed to create positive social change. On Friday, the students shared their projects and experiences.
This summer, Jacob Eisenberg ’15, Maddie Li ’15, and Nathan Kowalski ’15 teamed up to launch Agora, a start-up application aspiring to connect local investors to local crowd-funded projects. Crowd-funding is when an individual or a project raises funds from a large number of people, typically via the internet. The crowd-funding industry has grown from $1.5 billion in 2011 to $5 billion last year, and it’s projected to grow to $10 billion this year. Crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been successful, but there have been cases when funds don’t reach the most deserving projects; someone raised over $60,000 dollars for a project to make a potato salad. Drawing upon their academic work in geography, Jacob, Maddie, and Nathan saw that crowd-funding may be more effective if people could invest in projects in their community. The project is called Agora, which aims to aggregate projects across several platforms into one platform on which someone could sort projects by geographic proximity and type. People could even browse projects on a map. This summer, the team explored the viability of Agora, refined its design, and created a mock website. During the course of this year, they will create the actual platform, and they hope to release Agora in spring 2015.
With her CSE grant, Naina Qayyum ’15 launched Involving Women for Social Change, which aimed to address the lack of opportunities given to young women in Pakistan. Naina is from Chitral, a small city in northern Pakistan. This summer, Naina returned to Chitral and brought together nineteen young women ages 19 to 24 for five days of workshops that sought to “empower [them] to solve problems that face their own communities.” Naina says that it was a big step in Chitral for nineteen girls to be allowed to meet in a hotel for a session like this. She taught them the precepts of human-centered design, the design philosophy of the famous design firm IDEO. The participants were placed into four groups, and they had to come up with solutions to issues facing their communities. The groups proposed projects ranging from an anti-sexual assault center to an initiative to promote recycling. Naina says that the experience “helped me to understand the power of creativity in a community.”
Patrick Tang ’17 led and expanded Empower with Code with his CSE grant. Founded in January, Empower with Code says that, “through coding, we hope to bridge educational disparity and teach teens basic problem solving skills, logic thinking abilities, and improve their academic performance.” Over the summer, Patrick and a handful of other Middlebury students hosted weekly sessions at the Hannaford Career Center. If the participants attended enough sessions during the two-month program, they were given a laptop that would enable them to program on their own. Last spring, Patrick and his fellow Empower with Code mentors had only three or four participants in each session. But they’ve had over twenty participants in the past two sessions, and they are even planning to bring in professional programmers this semester.
Armel Nibasumba ’16 received a Davis Project for Peace this summer to expand his project Twese for Peace in his home country of Burundi (‘twese’ means everyone in Kirundi, the lingua franca of Burundi). The project initially started with a CSE Summer Grant after his first-year at Middlebury. Burundi shares an ethnic divide between Hutus and Tutsis with neighboring Rwanda, which experienced a brutal genocide in 1994. Armel was born into these times of war, genocide, and intense ethnic strife. After attending an international boarding school in Swaziland, Armel began to wonder why kids from all over the world with different languages and cultures could get along at his school but there was so much ethnic conflict in Burundi. The first summer, Twese for Peace had twenty participants, and they all commuted to the camp. The aim was to teach them conflict resolution and entrepreneurship, because Armel believes that you can’t have peace without economic prosperity and you can’t have economic prosperity without peace. This summer, Armel used the Davis Project for Peace grant to scale up Twese for Peace. Out of 168 applicants from 15 of the 17 provinces in Burundi, Armel and his colleagues selected 35 students hailing from 10 provinces. The participants, most of whom were girls, stayed for 12 days at the camp. At the end of the program, participants presented their ideas for innovative initiatives to address issues in their communities. “They were amazing!” Armel says.
The CSE Summer Grant program enabled these students to carry out extraordinary projects that changed the lives of others. The CSE is looking for a new group of students to create their own amazing project for this upcoming summer. Applications for the CSE Summer Grants for this coming summer are open through March 31.
More information can be found at: http://mcse.middlebury.edu/engage/portolio/
CSE Homecoming Weekend Speaker: Rick Tetzeli ’83, Executive Editor of Fast Company
October 17, 2014 – by Otto Nagengast ‘17
As Executive Editor of Fast Company, the cutting-edge business magazine, Rick Tetzeli ’83 is responsible for showcasing entrepreneurs who are reinventing business. As Rick describes it, he gets to shine a spotlight on people who have found their mission and are living it out. And through this work, Rick is living out his own mission.
It took time, however, for Rick to find his mission. His father wanted him to be secure and follow a conventional path—entering a company at the bottom and spending his career working his way to the top. But after his third D in economics while at Middlebury, Rick decided to forge his own path. He aspired to be a fiction writer and went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa as an Independent Scholar. Ultimately, Rick entered journalism and was Deputy Managing Editor of Fortune as well as Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly before joining Fast Company in June 2010.
In his talk on Friday night, Rick shared what he learned about finding one’s mission through his work of profiling business innovators. “Some people,” Rick said, “know their mission from the very beginning.” This was the case for the actor and musician Jared Leto; he always knew that he wanted to create. He founded the band Thirty Seconds to Mars and realized that in the tough music business the band had to innovate to be successful. He turned to technology to boost the band’s popularity. Thirty Seconds to Mars has over two million Twitter followers, and they are among the top ten touring bands in the world. Although Leto always knew his mission, he had to innovate to live it out.
“For most of us, [though], finding a mission won’t come easy,” says Rick. Like Rick did, one will often have to search for it. He told the story of Shauna Mei. When she was a young girl, Mei and her family moved from China to the middle of Wisconsin. She excelled and went off to Harvard for both her undergraduate degree and her MBA. She then joined Goldman Sachs. Her first client at the firm was Tampax. After asking for a larger client company, she was given Playtex. It was clear that her colleagues were not taking her seriously, so she left and founded Aha Life, a company that connects high fashion with ordinary customers. The lesson from Shauna Mei is that one may have to take a chance, give something up, and try something else in order to find their mission.
Rick also shared the story of Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Studios. Catmull once said: “Your mission may not be what you think it is, and it may not even be all that sexy.” Catmull was an early pioneer in digital animation, but he eventually realized that the people around him were more talented. He went into management, and Rick considers him the best manager in the world. “I discovered that managing was itself an art, one that I could study the way I had studied animation,” reflected Catmull. Sometimes finding one’s mission can require embracing the unexpected.
Rick and his longtime friend, Brent Schlender, have been writing a biography of Steve Jobs to be released next year entitled Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. Rick and Schlender found that while Jobs always knew his mission, which was to put technology in the hands of everyone, he had to adapt many times to be able to live it. He had to learn to inspire his employees, not berate them, for example. He often had to enact radical change in Apple in order to be successful. Through much personal evolution, Jobs ultimately lived his mission.
Finding and living one’s mission can require persistence, sacrifice, change, and uncertainty. But as Rick showed, those who are committed to finding and living their mission accomplish remarkable things.
Howard E. Woodin Colloqium Weekly Lecture
Sarah Finnie Robinson, Founder WeSpire and Practically Green
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
In 2010, Sarah Finnie Robinson received her MA from the Breadloaf School of English. During the previous two summers at the Breadloaf campus near Middlebury, she wrote–a lot. But during her time in the Green Mountains, she also realized that climate change was a serious challenge, and she was galvanized to take action. She co-founded what later became WeSpire, a company that provides, “technology-based engagement programs to inspire employees for measurable impact.” At the time, says Sarah with a laugh, she thought that she would “do WeSpire for six months and then go back to writing her yet-to-be published bestselling novel.” Four years later, WeSpire is thriving, and Sarah continues to be a leader at the company.
At the core of WeSpire’s software is a platform that individuals can use to measure their sustainability impact. Initially, WeSpire offered their platform to consumers, but they quickly discovered that companies were interested in having their own systems to encourage their employees to adopt more sustainable practices. Now, WeSpire offers personalized versions of their persuasive technology platform to individual companies.
In essence, however, the platform works the same across the different versions. Individuals earn points for adopting different practices, or as WeSpire describes it, taking different steps. The points reflect the relative impact of each step. A person can earn five points, for example, by not rinsing their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Or, they can get ten points for using public transportation instead of driving. Included with each step is a “Why this matters” section that describes the importance and impact of the step. Steps are organized into projects like Zero Waste Workplace or Healthy Lifestyle. Individuals’ progress can be shared with their friends and co-workers. As part of the personalization of the platform, WeSpire will also help companies create their own steps and projects.
WeSpire now has 38 client companies that all started on three-year contracts. Some of these clients include eBay, the front office of the Major League Baseball team the Seattle Mariners, and McDonald’s corporate headquarters, where WeSpire has a remarkable 14 percent engagement rate. Client companies have even tied incentives, like trips and bonuses, to the WeSpire platform to encourage participation. At eBay, they used data from their WeSpire platform, Little Bits of Good, to calculate their employees’ total impact on reducing eBay’s environmental footprint. WeSpire’s dream is to make the data from their platform so streamlined that it can conform seamlessly to accounting conventions. This would enable firms to not only calculate their employees’ impact, but to see how much this impact was worth in dollar terms to the company and to the greater world.
“I never could have imagined that checking-off boxes on my smartphone would be my contribution,” Sarah says. Though unexpected, the contribution of Sarah and WeSpire to the fight against climate change is significant, innovative, and inspiring.
CSE Friday Speaker Series, October 10, 2014
Spencer Williams ’95, President and Owner of West Paw Design
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
After graduating from Middlebury College in 1995 with a degree in German, Spencer Williams returned to his home state, Montana. He bought a small company, Pet Pals, based in Bozeman that made plush dog toys. “I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” says Spencer with a chuckle. But thanks to his liberal arts degree, Spencer says, “I knew that I could solve the problems that came to me, and I didn’t need a traditional education.” When Spencer bought Pet Pals in 1996, it consisted of just a handful of employees hand-stitching dog toys. Now, eighteen years later, the company has over seventy employees. They rebranded themselves as West Paw Design, a name coined by Spencer’s wife, Kerry, whom he met at Middlebury. West Paw Design is renowned for its sustainability and management practices. Its products are sold in 2,800 stores in 25 countries, and they are almost all made in Bozeman.
Spencer says, though, “it’s not the products we make, but the people [in our company] that are important.” He sums up his approach to management with the acronym MAP (Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose). Spencer tries to give all of his employees these three things. He tries to hire as many employees as possible for career-track positions, because, he believes, “people need dependability in their lives.” West Paw uses open-book management, so that any employee can see exactly how the company is being run. Employees are encouraged to take initiative. The results of this approach are happier, more effective workers.
A great example of Spencer’s MAP approach is the story of Jane, a member of the production floor team. After working for twelve years on a dairy farm, Jane left and joined West Paw. A large source of waste at the factory was the heavy injection plastic molding machine. It wasted ten percent of the plastic used to make each item. Jane, who has a college degree like sixty percent of the members of the West Paw production floor, set out to figure how to use the discarded plastic to make other products. West Paw now recycles half of the discarded plastic thanks to Jane’s work, and in March they will begin recycling 100 percent of the plastic waste. “No one asked her to do it,” says Spencer, “she was driven.”
“When we started you couldn’t buy a head of organic lettuce in Bozeman” Spencer says. Now, West Paw ships top-quality, environmentally-friendly pet products around the world. West Paw’s success and vision has established them as one of the leaders in the B Corps movement. B Corps are a group of 1,100 companies that meet a set of “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency,” according to the B Corp webpage. West Paw scored 95 on the B Impact Report. The average score is 80. At the Annual B Corps Champions Retreat hosted last month in Burlington, the US Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, gave a speech in which he praised B Corps for embodying what he sees as the future of labor. At the same conference, the B Corp community recognized West Paw Design as a Builder of the Movement.
Spencer sees his work and the work of his company as part of a much greater purpose: creating social and environmental change through business. As his wife Kerry pointed out during the talk, what is remarkable about West Paw Design is that this is not just Spencer’s belief. This is the belief of the entire company.
CSE Friday Speaker Series, October 3, 2014
Alexandra Peterson Cart, Co-founder and Director of Strategic Development at Madeira Global
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
When Alexandra graduated from Middlebury College in 2008, she wanted to go make the world a better place like, as she says, “any liberal arts student.” She found a job with a non-profit, but after several years she became disenchanted with the non-profit world. She felt like she spent her time navigating bureaucracies instead of making an impact. “The amount of red tape was slightly obnoxious,” she says.
Alexandra jumped into the financial world, where she thrived. She enjoyed the fast-paced and results-driven work. But after getting settled in her new career, she missed working to make the world a better place. Combining her desire to do good for the world and her talents in finance, she co-founded Madeira Global, an impact investing firm, in 2012.
What is impact investing? Explaining impact investing to potential clients and dispelling their many misconceptions is, in fact, one Alexandra’s biggest challenges. Impact investing is using an aggressive outlook to find investments “where impact is in the DNA of the company.” This means that “the success of the company depends on the impact,” says Alexandra. Sectors like alternative energy and biotechnology are some of the primary targets of impact investors.
Alexandra believes that impact investing is one the key ways that young generations will use to address the world’s problems. To solve problems, she explains, we need to move capital. Until recently, this almost always meant philanthropy. But Alexandra believes that “we need to deliver solutions through for-profit structures.” Whereas philanthropy depends on people’s generosity to move capital, impact investing depends on people’s profit motives. And profit motives can move a lot more capital than generosity can.
The field of impact investing is filled with firms who have superb marketing but little substance. Alexandra and Madeira Global are trying to make impact investing a reputable business in the world of finance. This has forced Madeira to make some sacrifices, like less publicity, until they feel that they have proven themselves. The firm even turned down a cover story opportunity from Fast Company because they believed that they had not yet accomplished enough to deserve it.
Madeira concentrates on investing in middle-market companies in the United States by offering loans to the firms. Madeira aims to offer investors a shorter time horizon for their investments than the seven to ten year lock-up periods, the amount of time that investors must wait for returns, that are common in impact investing now. In order to raise impact investing up to the same level as other sectors in finance, Alexandra believes that impact investors need to translate impact into data, the language of finance. Madeira has crafted their own system of metrics that enables them to compare the impact of their investments across sectors. With this system, Madeira can compare the impact of investing in a charter school in Texas to the impact of investing in a farm in Africa.
“I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen…in the next five, ten years. I think [impact investing] is going to legitimize.” Ultimately, she says, “I think impact investing is here to stay.”