Can Business Create Sustainable Paths Out of Poverty?

An Inclusive Economy Works for Everyone

B the Change Weekly

Businesses are employers, places where people spend their days and sources of salaries and benefits for families. Businesses have purchasing power that can support communities. Businesses’ activities and products affect the global environment?—?and rely on it. With all of this intrinsic influence, businesses can (and should) be put to work building a more inclusive economy, one that creates opportunity for people of all backgrounds and experiences to live with dignity, support themselves and their families, and help their communities thrive.

These ideas don’t require government regulation; they can be realized through the leadership and stewardship of the business community. Take the deal term in Unilever’s recent acquisition of Sundial Brands’ $240 million portfolio of personal-care brands, which are serving the new majority market. As part of the agreement, and the latest example of how to sell without selling out , Unilever and Sundial are creating the New Voices Fund with an initial investment of $50 million to empower women of color entrepreneurs. The intention is to scale the Fund to $100 million by attracting investments from other interested parties.

Ideas like this unique, if not unprecedented, deal term for business stewardship and inclusion can take many forms, including those we’ve collected to share with you this week.

The Case for Better Wages

B Corp Flow Office Wisdom has a big stated purpose: to inspire and empower leaders by supporting their vision through mobilizing their plans and completing tasks. Flow’s work in business-administration services can take many forms, from consulting with finance or HR departments, to developing leaders, to creating effective social media strategies. The women-owned business adjusts to fit the needs of its clients by creating customized teams and plans of action.

That passion to inspire and empower leaders doesn’t stop with Flow’s clients. The company advocates for those who have not been given an equal start in life by providing ways for people living in poverty to achieve, inspire and lead. The company’s employees all earn above the local living wage, and Flow has undertaken an advocacy role for increased base income, whether that be basic annual income, a higher provincial minimum wage or living wage.

Inspired in part by the company’s participation in the first B Corp Inclusive Economy Challenge , Flow provided its staff with a training called “Bridges out of Poverty,” which focuses on working alongside those who have come from a low-income history and how to overcome any associated challenges. “We are partnering with other businesses to bring awareness of the benefit of paying a decent wage to employers who may be struggling with our upcoming significant minimum wage hike. [We] have been vocal about the benefits of piloting basic annual income projects and champion our local living-wage program,” shares Crystal Wilson, a partner at Flow.

“There is an incredible amount of data pointing to the positive impact of programs like guaranteed income, living-wage employment, and ‘decent work’ on business and economies,” Wilson shares in this in-depth interview on B the Change . “People who are not stressed about whether they can pay their bills and feed their families will spend money in their communities, and they will perform better at work. Feeling secure makes all the difference, and the positive ripples are undeniable.”

About Those Undeniable Positive Ripples

Rhino Foods’ Income Advance Program and People Against Dirty’s newest soap factory in the south side of Chicago are two examples of business leaders implementing positive changes that directly affect the lives of their workers. Rhino’s Income Advance Program helps employees cover financial emergencies without succumbing to predatory payday lender rates. The program has provided more than $300,000 in loans, improved the company’s employee-retention rate by more than 20 percent, and had a nearly 100 percent payback rate.

People Against Dirty (Method + Ecover) built the first factory in nearly 30 years in the Pullman District of Chicago. The factory is a renewable-energy-powered, green-roof facility employing local residents, and the company’s leaders hope the development contributes to the area’s future growth and revitalization. We went to the source and asked an employee of each B Corp—Justin Charron of Rhino Foods and Onnia Harris of People Against Dirty—to tell us, in their own words and based on their own experience, what working for a B Corp has meant for them.

You can watch (or read) the interview to hear how, as Harris says of her company’s values?, “It’s not just something on a piece of paper; we actually bring them to life.”

Bringing Everyone Along

Taking on complex problems is easier, more effective and more durable when you take collective action. In 2016, B Lab launched the Inclusive Economy Challenge, a call to action  for the community of Certified B Corporations to improve its collective impact, although any business can make use of the tools, articles and free best-practice guides. The Inclusive Economy Metric Set was built into the B Impact Assessment, the certification process B Corps use to qualify. The challenge participants were graded on several metrics, including worker ownership, supply-chain screening, living wage, workforce diversity, primary-caregiver leave, and board diversity.

The first year of the Inclusive Economy Challenge  ended in September 2017, and inspired 830 companies to engage with the free Inclusive Economy resources; 175 Certified B Corporations to commit and participate in the challenge; and resulted in 154 companies reporting at least one measurable improvement. That’s 154 new inclusive economy changemakers.

Learn more from B Lab’s 2017 Inclusive Economy Challenge impact report.