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Relative Newcomer Cory Ames, Founder & CEO of Grow Ensemble and Host of the Grow Ensemble Podcast, Shares His Top 5 Takeaways and Reflections from the 2019 B Corp Champions Retreat

Want the audio version of this post? Check out the podcast recording here:

Leading up to the event, I felt excited and anxious. I was unsure what the experience might be, wondering if I had made the right decision to buy a ticket, book flights, and reserve a hotel — a steep investment for a business under 12 months old.

This was not my first Champions Retreat. I volunteered at the 2018 event in New Orleans (which I highly recommend for anyone curious as to what this Certified B Corporation community is all about).

I absolutely feel compelled and committed to using my creative and cognitive capacities, as well as my business, as a force for good. But feeling relatively new to this social entrepreneurship, B Corporation, or socially responsible business community, I can’t help but feel like something of an imposter.

Who am I? Just a dirty, unethical, slimy digital marketer? While I recently joined the 1% Percent for the Planet network, I can’t say I’m running a Certified B Corporation myself (yet).

Battling this imposter anxiety, I had reservations about coming to this event where my attendance lacked a feeling of “legitimacy.” And I wasn’t wrong — I surely wasn’t as legitimate as many of those present.

However, that didn’t turn out to be a bad thing. But, before we get to that, let’s briefly introduce the Champions Retreat.

What Is the B Corporation Champions Retreat?

This year’s event was hosted in Los Angeles at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, right below the Hollywood Hills. Best stated by the B Lab itself (the nonprofit behind the B Corporation Certification), the “Champions Retreat is an incredible opportunity to connect with B Corps and people united in using business as a force for good.”

Surely that’s true. But to me, this event is much much more. For me, it felt like 72 hours of immersing yourself in a community of true changemakers. The aims were twofold:

  1. Get a grasp for what’s being done already to make much-needed reforms to our economy and tackle the world’s greatest environmental and social problems.
  2. Learn and assess how you might be able to get involved, provide support, and further consider your own impact (positive or negative) as it relates to these social and environmental problems.

The people at this event are wonderful. They are terrifically kind and receptive. I can’t recount a single unpleasant interaction I had during the entire event. There’s an interesting balance of warmth, receptivity, and generosity in the atmosphere, as well as a prevalent undertone of seriousness and commitment to “do the work” and influence monumental positive change.

The event was focused on two particular reformations of our economy: to make it more inclusive and regenerative. Here’s my attempt at defining this further:

Inclusive

Creating an inclusive economy is creating an economy that doesn’t just benefit and service the traditionally underserved, overlooked, and marginalized demographics (although it certainly must include that). It’s also creating an economy that includes those groups. From the B Corp community, this is a call to action to see a more diverse group of business leaders.

Regenerative

A regenerative economy is an economy that isn’t purely extractive or exploitative, but an economy that gives back, or regenerates, the environment it’s a part of. This environment is not just the natural environment but also the community and the people. Wherever a business operates, it should be considering the implications of all its doings.

The regenerative aspect applies to making surrounding communities stronger and healthier as a product of the business’s existence. At a minimum, businesses must be cognizant to neutralize their impact on the environment they are in.

To expand on these themes, the conference included small breakout sessions (with 20–30 to a room), keynote speakers who addressed the whole conference, beautiful evening receptions and performances, as well as mealtime conversations inspired and prompted by attendees themselves.

The B Corp Champions Retreat is an event truly rich in content, culture, and community.

Nearly 700 people attended the 2019 B Corp Champions Retreat in Los Angeles. (Photo by Nate Barnes / @natebphotos)

Who Attends Champions Retreat?

Of course, this was a reservation of mine: Who should/can attend the Champions Retreat? Here’s who you might expect to bump into there.

Certified B Corporations (of course)

The for-profit businesses that have committed themselves to considering the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. These businesses are driven not just to be the best in the world, but the best for the world.

These are founders, CEOs, sustainability directors, marketing teams, and more. Many companies come well-represented with five or so members while others may be a solo founder or co-founder duo.

Aspiring, Pursuing, or Questioning ‘B Corp’ Members

People on the outside the B Corp community looking in, wondering if this community is the right fit for them, seem to be very welcome to attend.

There are also folks like myself, aspiring to achieve the ranks of Certified B Corporation under the unofficial classification of “Pursuing Certification.”

Nonprofit Partners

Nonprofits can’t themselves be Certified B Corporations, because B Corps are for-profit businesses only, but of course, the nonprofit partners of many of these businesses are critical to the success of this movement. You’ll run into these folks as they’ve often been driving factors of the impact “arms” of some businesses, either through on-the-ground work, partnered research, or leveraged expertise.

Academics

Likewise, academics are instrumental to the B Corp movement through their research, their mobilization of students, and their academic contributions to the community.

What Makes This Event Unique? Why Attend?

If you are in the business of making a social or environmental impact with your business, then I’d argue that this is your community. There are many things that make this event unique and will make it difficult for me to pass on any future ones.

I believe these are people who are doing the work. These are people who are extremely open and generous but also serious and considerate about their drive and sense of obligation to use their faculties to leave a positive mark on the world.

With that in mind, if you are seeking ideas, inspiration, and a call to action toward doing good, I’m not sure there are many better rooms of people to find yourself in. And before we dive into my personal takeaways from this year’s event, let me leave you with a few tips on attending.

Stay in the designated event hotel.

It’s always appealing to cut some costs on the event by staying in an Airbnb nearby. However, given the nature of conferences, I would strongly discourage that for three reasons:

  1. More than 700 people flocked to the event this year, and many (if not most) of them stay in the hotel. There’s a lot of potential serendipity that can happen in the hotel’s lobby, bar, etc.
  2. Conference agendas can often be jam-packed, leaving little “recharge” time. If you are like me and need an occasional 10–15 minutes to recharge in silence, it’s much easier to jump up to your hotel room versus lodging off the event grounds.
  3. Anecdotally, I feel much more part of the experience if I’m staying in the same place as everyone else. It might not be the same for you, but I do appreciate that extra sense of connection to the larger “group.”

Sign up for and attend optional activities, especially if you are new.

A month or so before the event, B Lab sent emails announcing some additional opening day and closing activities. I signed up right away. I knew they’d be smaller group settings (relative to the total size of the conference), and I really appreciate those.

I attended a facilitated mentorship session with Defy Ventures’ Entrepreneurs in Training on opening day (see more on that below), I went on a run in Hollywood Hills with a group one morning before breakfast, and I took an indescribably beautiful regenerative farm tour to close the event.

Each event provided a great opportunity to connect with new people, and the experiences themselves were extremely enriching.

Enough of the tips—on to the takeaways.

Volunteers from the B Corp Champions Retreat volunteer at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest service provider for LGBT people.

5 Takeaways from the 2019 B Corp Champions Retreat

1. If you want to be in the room, you are going to be held accountable to take action.

While at first glance this takeaway may seem rather exclusive, believe me, it’s not. It’s not an explicit pointing and jeering that influences positive action, rather it’s a seamless effect of being in connection with this group.

Whether it’s main stage speakers or Collective Action Groups (see below) in breakout sessions laying out their proposals to address greenhouse gas emissions or dismantle institutional racism, you can’t help but feel compelled to take action yourself. These retreats make a desire to want to change the world delightfully contagious.

And the best part: taking action toward making a better world isn’t as hard as you’d likely believe. With so many guides in this community, you can join someone who’s already doing work you admire. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. (If you want some ideas, you can look to guests on our podcast — very honored that previous interviewees, like Bernie Geiss, were celebrated for their work out in the world over the last year.)

2. Every action you take as an entrepreneur (not just social entrepreneur) has consequences.

Emcee Lynn Johnson of B Corp Spotlight: Girls repeated this message from the event open to the event close:

“What you do to the land you do to the people, and what you do to the people you do to the land.”

There is no escaping responsibility. No matter your business, no matter your occupation, your actions (or lack thereof) play a part in a greater ecosystem. Accepting the gravity of that, in what small ways might you act differently?

3. We all need to take responsibility to influence positive social and environmental change, and we need to work together to do it.

The urgent and necessary needs of our economic and natural environments cannot be addressed by one sector — public, private, nonprofit, academia, etc.

No matter the sector and no matter the coalition, we must work together to take serious social and environmental action necessary to make the economy work for everyone and ensure the planet will be a safe and hospitable place for all. Collective action was a large theme of the event — a call to ensure that members of the B Corp community aren’t working isolated in silos but are banding together to multiply the impact of potential partners.

Collective Action Groups took the main stage at one point in the conference, and invited the greater community to get involved:

  • #We the Change: empowering women to be leaders in this new economy.
  • The Dismantle Collective: a person-of-color led group committed to breaking down institutional and cultural white supremacy.
  • The B Corp Climate Collective: B Corporations dedicated to taking action to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.
  • B Local Chapters, where community members can get involved with others to localize their efforts with regional B Corporations.
  • B Academics: educating students, and researching to support this movement.

4. Challenge your biases and discomforts.

As mentioned earlier, I attended an opening day activity, a facilitated mentorship session hosted by Defy Ventures. The goal of the event was to provide previously incarcerated individuals (“systems impacted people,” a term I learned during the week), with resume and job interview training. We also discussed “open hiring” practices, like those of Greyston Bakery.

The experience was deeply impactful. These returning citizens are widely stigmatized, discounted, and overlooked. However, for all intents and purposes, they have already “served their debts” to society. But are we really giving these folks a second chance? I couldn’t help but confront some existing thoughts and beliefs.

5. It’s a wildly inclusive and connected group of people — jump on in!

Although this event intimidated me at first, it need not have. If you are interested in making change, social entrepreneurship, the intersection of business/social impact, then I recommend you dive in.

A quote was posted on the main stage from the to-be winner of the Hal Taussig Award, Diana Marie Lee, from the B Corp Sweet Livity:

“I ground in unconditional love for people and trust them to be their best selves. And in the interim, I can hold space while they get there.”

This award is the “community’s highest honor” awarded to an individual each year at this gathering who “has lived the values of the B Corp community in their fullest expression.” Despite not yet connecting with Diana personally, I think with those words she fittingly represented my experience of the greater B Corp community thus far and of course seems so deserving of its highest honor.

Until the next retreat!

Cory Ames, Founder & CEO of Grow Ensemble.

Want more insights from Cory and Grow Ensemble? Check out these episodes from the Grow Ensemble Podcast:

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.


What’s the B Corp Champions Retreat Like for a Budding Social Enterprise? was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Originally posted on B the Change - Medium by Grow Ensemble.


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