Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

“What matters to you and why”, with Elizabeth Ready, Director of John Graham Housing Services Center

Reflection Friday March 4
By Grant Olcott


Elizabeth Ready spoke with Daniel Adamek ’18 at the CSE’s spring semester’s first Reflection Friday. The conversation covered some of her experiences in the Vermont State Senate and John Graham Housing Services Center, but focused more on philosophy. To the question, “What matters to you and why?” Elizabeth said justice. In her ideal world, everyone belongs to a place or community. This hope connects to some of the main tenets of Buddhism, which inspires her outlook on life and passion for service. The CSE lists the four steps of the changemaking process as reflect, connect, analyze, and engage. Elizabeth focused on the first.

Reflecting on personal awareness can bring change to the world. From one conversation, Elizabeth realized the size of the ego inherent in any opinion. After she told a friend about an Iranian family she helped in the shelter, the friend opposed it. He had grown up on a Kibbutz, and he didn’t want anyone coming to the country whom he associated with any anti-israeli feelings. The topic of the conversation changed as they talked more and more about the nature of opinions. Any opinion is merely an extension of the opinion bearer, they determined.

When one becomes an activist in any context, one should reflect and become aware of personal reasons for why that cause is important. Embracing this awareness helps throughout the changemaking process. When it comes time to act, the first impulse is just one impulse. Other thoughts and opinions are just as valid. By removing the self from reflection, one improves judgment and reduces selfishness.

The story also reveals insight into unlocking the power of fear and anger. Beneath one’s fears is a place of vulnerability. The friend truly wishes for peace everywhere and the health of all refugees, once the painful memories are stripped away. Becoming a changemaker involves allowing oneself to live in that space.

Elizabeth’s Reflection Friday talk was more spiritual than most. While justice is her cause, she values the concept of understanding the most. Understanding means seeing people as people. Despite the somewhat revolving door at the homeless shelter — she often gets the homeless into homes only to see them return a few weeks later — she understands them as people in need of help. Giving up on the problem would deny individuals that help. To illustrate this point she used the refugee crisis as an example. To those who think it is a bottomless pit: is a child washed up on the beach, a child in need or a bottomless pit?

To Elizabeth, an ideal world is one where everyone asks: what serves here? People reflect on their values and strengths and discover how they can best serve each other. They appreciate the interconnectedness of humanity, and use it to create beneficial and supportive places. They come to an understanding.


The Rainforest Alliance: Promoting Sustainability from the Ground Up

April 3rd, 2015 – by Otto Nagengast ’17


The United Nations estimates that 150 to 200 species go extinct every day. Much of this is due to the staggering scale of deforestation in the world today, which is also responsible for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Over one half of the world’s forest have already been destroyed, but the Rainforest Alliance (RFA) is fighting to stem the ever-increasing rate of global deforestation.

Seventy percent of forest removal is for agriculture. The RFA’s model is built on creating sustainable livelihoods for farmers around the world, so that the farmers don’t need to chop down precious forests to make a living. With around 400 staff working in over 100 countries, the RFA works to promote supply chain sustainability from the ground up. At the farm level, the RFA collaborates with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) to evaluate farms along 10 criteria, ranging from Ecosystem Conservation to Fair Treatment and Working Conditions for Workers to Community Relations. Richard Donovan, Senior Vice President and Vice President of Forestry at the RFA, says that for farms “the baseline is not injuring [the environment]…we want to push them to improve.”

At the corporate level, the RFA works with companies like Hershey’s, Unilever, and Dunkin’ Donuts to help them source their products more sustainability, not only for the sake of the environment but also in the interest of profits. When the banana producer Chiquita transitioned to more sustainable sources, they reduced costs by 12 percent and increased productivity by 27 percent. Unilever reduced paper costs by $5 million by switching to a sustainable producer. Both Lipton and McDonalds increased market share by over 6 percent by offering sustainably-sourced products. Thanks in part to the RFAs work, firms now expect to be able to trace their sources back all the way, whereas before the RFA had to convince firms why traceability mattered.

There have also been enormous economic benefits for indigenous communities thanks to the work of the RFA. By helping 1.1 million farms in 43 countries gain certification for their sustainable practices, the RFA has helped indigenous communities earn around $38 million dollars. Today, over 30,000 households are supported through community forest operations.

But deforestation still occurs on a massive scale and the RFA is constantly evolving to address the ever-changing challenges deforestation presents for a sustainable environment. The very word “sustainability,” says Richard, has become stale and the RFA is still debating using more language like “eradicating deforestation” instead of “promoting sustainability.”  The RFA is among the first wave of NGOs to use matrix management. Instead of siloing talent into separate departments, the RFA has teams of people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise that work together on projects. This allowed Carly Fink, who graduate in May 2014 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Geography, to smoothly transition into her position at the RFA. She has spent the past year working with RFA president Tensie Whelan on exploring new initiatives. Richard says that today it is becoming increasingly important to have an area of expertise, but also a broad understanding of how your expertise fits in with others that you’re collaborating with.

Carly says that at Middlebury she learned about the countless problems that ail our world, but that it is “exciting to work with the Rainforest Alliance on actually solving those problems.” The RFA has already done hugely consequential work, and they’re striving to do even more.



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