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Annual Gathering of North American B Corps Builds Movement of Business As a Force for Good
When a company joins the community of Certified B Corporations, it signs onto the community’s Declaration of Interdependence, committing to a shared vision for a future where all people use business as a force for good. All B Corps are also signing on to work year over year to improve the positive impact of their businesses — and to help other companies do the same.
Therein lies much of the power of the Champions Retreat, the largest annual gathering of B Corps in the U.S. and Canada. Representatives and champions from B Corps across North America come together to share ideas, rejuvenate their spirits for the ongoing work, learn new strategies — and make new friends in the long road to systemic change.
We talked with B Lab Chief Marketing Officer Anthea Kelsick and co-founder Andrew Kassoy to learn more about where the community is heading and how Champions Retreat plays a vital role in moving B Corps forward toward our shared vision.
How does the B Corp movement align with other purpose-driven business movements and what do B Corps offer the world that complements and builds on these other movement-makers?
Anthea Kelsick: There are a lot of purpose-driven movements today, borne out of the many social and environmental crises happening all around the world. In general, they tend to focus on a particular issue, such as Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice Warriors, #MeToo, gun reform and beyond. And what is true of these movements, or any movement building, is that they are created and propelled by passionate and committed people who believe in the power of change.
Similarly, the B Corp movement is driven by a passionate and committed group of people who believe that business needs to play a critical role in not only tackling but solving the world’s biggest challenges. And business intersects with all of the other movements working to address global crises. Anyone who is building a movement to address the climate crisis, the lack of gender and racial equity, and so on, must care about the role of business.
The unique and really exciting thing is that B Corps are proof that businesses can not only help but can actually be a solution. And the certification offers up real, tangible, clear steps for anyone to take their company on that journey.
Andrew Kassoy: The B Corp movement is one critical part of a larger movement to use business as a force for good. There are many amazing organizations, business leaders, and others who are helping to build that larger movement. The unique contribution of the B Corp movement is that it both takes a systems view that we need to replace the source code error in capitalism — shareholder primacy — with an inclusive economic system that creates benefit for workers, communities, and the environment, while also building a community of leaders who are having a direct impact on those same stakeholders while advocating collectively for systems change. That’s a powerful model that we have to offer to the world, and it’s a model we can offer only because of the incredible commitment, the choice that each B Corp makes when they decide to throw in their lot to do together what none can do alone.
What are the key steps in the next three years that business needs to make for business as a force for good to reach a tipping point?
Kassoy: We need to speak collectively, powerfully to the capital markets and policymakers about what an inclusive economic system looks like. We need to help large multinationals make the transformational changes that will allow them to join the B Corp movement and, thus, help us become a more powerful movement. We need to grow globally to meet the needs of the stakeholders of an economic system that goes beyond borders. And as we do all of that, we need to recognize the rightful claims to voice, power, and equity of people and communities who have traditionally been marginalized by business — and we need to recognize and respect our natural systems in the same way.
Kelsick: Businesses have been addressing purpose for decades now, and we have seen a shift in understanding from the add-on purpose ( “we make products, then we donate to charity”) to building purpose into the business model itself (“we’re not a business with a mission, we’re a mission with a business”). The next generation of purpose-driven companies need to go a step beyond these models to actually create value for the world — to go beyond a mission-driven, do-no-harm approach to actually creating new value that leaves the world a better place than it found it. Companies like those that practice regenerative agriculture and leave the soil healthier than when they found it. Or companies that build and help maintain wealth in communities. These are areas where we see B Corps leading the charge.
What are your hopes for this movement?
Kelsick: My hope is that the B Corp community will continue to be the leading visionaries and examples of what businesses should look like. They will be the center of innovation for the future of business and continue to move the needle and push the boundaries of the role of business in society. And I hope that their continued efforts will inspire more companies to behave the same way so that we move closer to a truly inclusive economy.
Kassoy: My hope is that the B Corp movement, alongside so many others, can change our economic system so that it serves our society and our planet, not just a few wealthy shareholders. This community sets the example, and our job is to turn that example into the norm for business.
What role does Champions Retreat play in helping the community move forward?
Kassoy: Champions Retreat, since the very first one when we were literally lost in a desert, has always been about community. As a community, we are able to inspire each other, learn from each other, challenge each other, and ultimately build something together that we could never do alone. I know that there are real financial and environmental implications of being together physically — we have to acknowledge and minimize those as best we can — but there is something different that happens when the people who make up the B Corp community are in the same room. It’s magical.
Kelsick: Champions Retreat is, as Andrew says, the forum where B Corps can come together and connect around their shared sense of purpose and find a support network to continue doing this hard, incredibly important work. What makes the community so different is that everyone shares best practices for others to adopt and optimize what their company is doing for a better world. Champions Retreat is a combination of new people becoming invested in the movement and also the leading-edge, longtime B Corps talking about all the work they are doing to tackle the problems and crises in the world today. While there may be other conferences that align culturally around tackling the world’s challenges through business, there is no other gathering or group of people like the B Corp community with real, tangible solutions for how to make this work.
What is the top message for B Corp champions to share with their employees, consumers, friends and family to help move our community forward?
Kelsick: While awareness of Certified B Corps is high in the business community, we have work to do in building that level of awareness among the public. And the way we’ll have the most impact on that effort is to have the whole community talking about being a B Corp with a shared message. So I encourage everyone at Champions Retreat to help their employees, their customers, their families and communities to understand what it means to Vote Every Day with B Corps. That by buying from, working for, and doing business with B Corps, people can vote for what they believe in and impact the world every single day.
What is the biggest threat to the B Corp community achieving a shared and durable prosperity?
Kassoy: I see two threats. One is that it’s hard — especially when the system was built to prevent it. It’s not just about an individual’s heroic choice to act differently; it’s about doing that in the face of a set of rules that say to do the opposite. We have to work together to change those rules.
Second, the more successful we are at doing that, the more of a threat we become to existing power structures — which is all the more reason I’m grateful we have such a strong, cohesive, and talented community!
Register now to join B Economy leaders September 16-18 at 2019 Champions Retreat in Los Angeles!
This article was originally published by B Lab. B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
B Lab’s Vision for Systemic Change: How Champions Retreat Pushes the Movement Toward that Goal was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.