As women-business owners, we are always interested in stories that share our individual and collective awesomeness. We believe these stories need to be shared with our youth to help inform them and encourage them, especially our girls, to realize nothing is impossible to them.
The Founding Mothers of the Social Enterprise Revolution
The other day I was bopping along, doing my content-marketing-specialist thing when a headline attacked me. It demanded to know “Can Women Lead The Social Enterprise Revolution?” I thought the question was strange but continued reading.
The article described a study that found women are almost twice as likely to reach the top ranks in social enterprises as in mainstream businesses and noted that while “Women always worked in social occupations (teachers, nurses, mothers)…philanthropy has always been the domain of wealthy men.”
Can women lead the social enterprise revolution? I say of course we can, and I’m not alone in my belief. In Daughters of the Declaration: How Women Social Entrepreneurs Built the American Dream, Claire Gaudiani argues that America’s women invented social entrepreneurship to realize the philosophical implications of the Declaration of Independence.
Cultural psychologist Alana Conner suggests that it was actually women’s position outside dominant institutions that helped them see “the damage that laissez-faire capitalism, slavery, disenfranchisement, [and] unregulated labor practices” wrought.
Regardless of their reasons, there’s no denying that history is full of females who pioneered the act of doing good. Take a short walk with me through U.S. history and today’s social enterprise landscape and you’ll see that women have been leading the social enterprise revolution here for 200+ years, and there’s no reason we can’t continue to do so brilliantly.
* Disclaimer – My decision to focus on women in the United States is motivated by my limitations. I know U.S. history best and I set out for a short walk, not a global trek. I urge anyone with more diverse knowledge to share their own examples in the comments below.
1. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Elizabeth Ann Seton was determined to provide for her family after her husband’s death left her alone with five children. In 1809, she joined her sisters-in-law and four other women in Emmitsburg, MD to start what would begin as a girls’ boarding school and become the foundation of the Sisters of Charity.
Seton and her followers set up a free orphanage, a school for poor children and a hospital. At the time of her death, more than twenty communities of the Sisters of Charity had been created to provide for the poor.
Today, there are women of every denomination serving those in need. One fabulous example is Anju Bhargava, the founder of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), which advances seva (community social responsibility), interfaith collaboration and social justice.
2. Clara Barton
When the Civil War struck in 1861, Clara Barton organized a campaign to collect supplies for troops. Following her success, she received official permission to spend the rest of the war going from battle to battle with her supplies, nursing skills and managerial capabilities.
Barton later traveled to Europe to provide relief assistance during the Franco-Prussian war and learned about the International Red Cross. She brought the concept home and founded the American Association of the Red Cross.
For the sake of my general argument, I’d also like to mention that Barton got much of her support from members of Ladies’ Aid societies. You know – the 7,000- 20,000 groups women formed during the Civil War to provide for wounded soldiers.
While the American Red Cross is alive and well, Barton’s work can also be seen as a forerunner to contemporary initiatives like the nonprofit SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine).
Co-founded by Stanford grads Kiah Williams, Adam Kircher and George Wang, SIRUM enables safe peer-to-peer redistribution of medicines. It allows those with unopened, unexpired medicines to send them directly to those in need. To date, SIRUM has helped over 20,000 patients get the medicine they need.
3. Jane Addams
In 1889, Jane Addams co-founded Hull House, a settlement house in a poor Chicago neighborhood, to create a space where individuals from different social classes could meet to enjoy civic, cultural, recreational and educational activities.
As she studied the needs of the working-class immigrants that populated the neighborhood, Addams amended Hull House’s offerings to include social services like day care for children with working mothers, low-cost housing, night school for adults and a public kitchen.
To increase their efficacy, Addams and ~25 other women at Hull House pioneered statistical mapping techniques to study disease, truancy and other troubles that disproportionately plague the urban poor. Addams also worked closely with female faculty at the University of Chicago to found its School of Social Work. Later, she became the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Correction and won a little something called The Nobel Peace Prize. NBD.
Now, there are more organizations doing social work in the U.S. than I can count. One particularly creative endeavor is the Old Skool Café, a restaurant founded by juvenile corrections officer Teresa Goines.
Goines tired of seeing optimistic teens leave detention only to encounter the same rough circumstances, so she started Old Skool Café. The restaurant is run and staffed by teens from difficult circumstances, providing them with jobs, career training and a support system. Life coaches help participants find housing, medical care, and a viable alternative to a life of crime.
Like Addams’ Hull-House, Goines’ Old Skool Cafe provides the urban poor with new opportunities to build happy, healthy lives.
4. Rachel Carson
Dubbed “The Mother of the Environmental Movement,” Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and writer whose work educated the public about the harmful effects of pesticides.
Carson’s increasing concern over agriculture’s heavy use of pesticides inspired her to study conservation. She began collecting scientific findings on pesticides as carcinogens, their bioaccumulation in plants and animals, and their impact on bird populations.
The book Silent Spring warned the public that indiscriminate and enthusiastic application of pesticides was poisoning plants, animals and other people. Though it wasn’t until after Carson’s death that the Environmental Defense Fund won a lawsuit against the government asserting citizens’ rights to a clean environment, its victory depended heavily on arguments she made. The founding of the EPA can also be linked to Carson since she highlighted the conflict of interest that resulted from tasking the USDA with regulating pesticides and promoting agricultural interests.
Carson’s work laid roots for the deep ecology movement, environmentalism, ecofeminism, and today’s green and sustainable businesses. One contemporary organization whose mission aligns with Carson’s work is Food & Water Watch (FWW), a nonprofit founded by Wenonah Hauter.
Hauter spent time working at the Union of Concerned Scientists before she founded FWW. The nonprofit works toward a world “where all people have the wholesome food, clean water and sustainable energy they need to thrive.”
Another Carson-esque crusader is Helaine Lerner, founder of GRACE Communications Foundation (GRACE). The Foundation works to “increase public awareness of the critical environmental and public health issues created by our current food, water and energy systems.”
It isn’t hard to image Carson, if she were alive today, working alongside Hauter and Lerner to promote sustainable practices that keep people – and the planet – safe.
5. “Lady Bird” Johnson
Known to many as “The Environmental First Lady,” Lady Bird made environmental conservation a national priority. Her efforts to “beautify” America weren’t just asthetic – she advocated for “clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of…great parks and wilderness areas.” She also backed policies that addressed social issues like mental health, public transportation and crime.
Due to Lady Bird’s efforts, 200 different laws relevant to the environment passed during the Johnson administration. She created a Committee for a More Beautiful Capital that planted native flowers, shrubs and trees in Washington, DC. The committee visited low-income areas to clean up buildings and streets, refurbish schools, install recreation areas, and implement a “Projects Pride” program that employed students.
Lady Bird served as the National Chair of Head Start and saved the program when funding was threatened. She hoped it would save families “lost in a sea of too little of everything — jobs, education, and most of all perhaps — hope.”
Now, efforts to create beautiful, clean cities are all around us. A quick look around the Sustainable Cities Collective site reveals interest in creating recreational spaces in disadvantaged neighborhoods (KaBoom!) and sustainable, affordable public transportation (Embarq). A social enterprise called River of Flowers founded by Katherine Lwin supports the inclusion of native wild plants in agricultural and urban development. It’s hard to image these projects without the groundwork (no pun intended!) laid by Lady Bird Johnson.
I hope that this sporadic romp through U.S. history has highlighted how women have always played a key role in driving social and environmental change and that by the looks of things, we’re just getting started.
Which women do you see as pioneers of social change? Do you know of other social enterprises that might have drawn on the legacies left by the ladies mentioned above? Tell me about it in the comments below!
This article was originally posted to RoundPeg’s blog on May 13, 2015 by the amazing Allison Klein – read more of her articles. She’s awesome!
How are we Best for the World? We earned a score in the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations on the B Impact Assessment, a comprehensive assessment of a company’s impact on workers, the community and the environment. That means every day our fellow honorees and we are creating stronger communities, high quality jobs and a healthier planet.
As a B Corp, we’re leading a global movement to redefine success in business so one day all companies compete to be not only the best in the world, but best for the world. We join over 1,200 other companies committed to using business as a force for good. Check them all out at bcorporation.net.
Taking people and planet as seriously as our profits is at the heart of our company’s mission. We couldn’t do that without the support of people like you who believe in our mission – people who prove that doing good is good for business. Thank you for helping us succeed where it truly matters. We are proud to be Best for the World.
Please check out our fellow honorees – along with those who are Best for Workers, Best for Communities and Best for Environment – and help us spread the word.
If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you’ve had that internal debate at the end of the parental leave about what your next professional steps should be.
While finishing my second maternity leave, I was looking forward to reintegrating into the workforce, but I also wanted to make it count. I had been working in a wonderful not-for-profit for over five years, but I was ready for my next challenge.
Truth is, I wanted to have it all. I wanted to be able to spend quality time with my two daughters, but I also wanted to expand my professional skill set and move up in my career.
While looking for a new job, I wondered many times if I was being too bold, or too selfish. Was it even remotely realistic to have a gratifying career and balance it with life at home with two kids under four years old? Should I put my career on the back burner, while I focus on my girls’ upbringing?
I didn’t give up my resolve, and eventually, I stumbled upon Top Drawer Creative. Perhaps what appealed to me most is the agency’s commitment to being a B Corp.
Being a B Corp means that a company has a high level of transparency, and offers a better way to do business, which ultimately benefits your professional career. B Corps also create higher quality jobs and improve the quality of life in our communities.
I knew that Top Drawer would have to walk the talk. They are serious about fostering rewarding careers, along with work-life balance for their employees. As a bonus, I’m proud to be able to reduce my carbon footprint, and take part in initiatives that make the world a better place for the next generation.
Since becoming an account manager at Top Drawer, I’ve been encouraged to grow – both professionally and as a human being. Employees here share recipes, work out tips and are encouraged to be physically active through a range of programs and incentives. Let’s face it: exercising at the end of the day or early in the morning before my children wake up is next to impossible, and if I have any energy left I want to use it for a good night sleep.
If you are a parent, I am sure you have been bombarded with articles convincing you that you can have it all, namely a great career and a wonderful personal life – the “work-life balance” that we should all be thriving in. But the reality is, it is very hard. I would be hypocritical in saying that I have found that perfect balance, but working in a B Corp has helped tremendously in making it a more realistic goal.
(This blog post originally created by Top Drawer Creative team member Vero Destrube, aspiring Supermom, one project at a time. Top Drawer Creative and OneSeventeen Media are certified B Corps.)
The article “Can you get pregnant when u r in the pool?’: young people’s information seeking from a sexual health text line” is available in the online version of the journal.
The Young Families of Indiana Network sponsored a state-wide conference in June 2012: The 2012 Pregnant and Parenting Teen Conference – Stepping Stones to the Future, Promising a World of Possibilities.
BrdsNBz National Text Line Director, Kennon Jackson, spoke on “What Are They Really Asking: Adolescents’ Questions About Pregnancy”.
The Future Promises Program of Marion County includes a teen father’s program, a formal partnership with Indianapolis Healthy Start, and a regional/state resource for teen parents, their parents, and professionals. To reflect their expanded mission, they changed their name in 2012 and are now known as the Young Families of Indiana Network (YFIN). The Future Promises Program is one program within YFIN. The name change reflects their intent to be a service leader for this special population. Organizationally YFIN will remain a division of the External Affairs Department of Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County.