REBBL Tea: The Rest of the Story

In my Forbes post today, I dig into the Right People, Right Place, and Right Time that the team from Not For Sale created and the ideas that generated in that moment leading to the creation of REBBL Tea (you can read the whole post HERE)

But beyond that, there is the awesome story that REBBL Tea has the chance to be one of the first truly sustainable companies that is directly tied to and launched by a non-profit. The ideas of the Philanthropreneur that I first started writing about here in 2008. REBBL is working extremely hard to show they're not just a "do good company that has some products to sell" but that they are a full fledged best in category tea beverage.

"We're not trying to guilt people into buying our product," Mr. Batstone told me. "That's not sustainable. What we are doing is creating the best tea company out there. It just so happens that we are a part of a much bigger movement in the process." He then went on to tell me that their marketing and in store retail displays will not resemble the current typical "guilt wear" products that are out there. "It is essential that the reason people buy REBBL is that it is a great product and not that they feel bad for others. The first is a sustainable business the second is a fad."

"Slavery is a business," says Samuel Baker, Director of Business Development for Not For Sale, "And, we're going to fight it with business."

To learn more, check out this video below and go to causes.com/REBBL

Home First, Then Abroad?

Did you watch the KONY2012 video, get mad, and then share it online a few weeks ago? Did you read the reports about Trayvon Martin and then feel a similar level of outrage and share it online this week? I woke up this morning and poured my first cup of coffee and came across two articles that gave me pause. The first a terrific read in The Atlantic about the "White Savior Industrial Complex" and how it is the fastest growing trend in the privileged communities in America. (Yes I am talking to all of us that made sure to get a picture of us with some cute kids in a third world country and use it as a Facebook Profile picture.) Taking aim at KONY2012, Nick Kristof, and Oprah, it is worth taking some time to read through this eloquent rant about the convenient approach that we take towards going good, as opposed to the inconvenient work that it takes to make real change.

The Atlantic: The White Savior Industrial Complex

There is a lot in there to chew on and think about any kind of work that we believe in and want to see done abroad. But then, as I poured my second cup of coffee, I came across a piece reminding me that the killing of the young and the innocent isn't just something that happens "over there." The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of an over zealous neighborhood watchman who thought he "looked suspicious" is a tragedy on a lot of levels. What is even more tragic is that this kind of stereotyping still happens in our country. But what is the worst is that the same people that got ramped up and mobilized about innocent kids being killed across the ocean have been pretty quiet about it happening in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

White People, You'll Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin

I want to say that what KONY2012 has brought to light is a bigger story because it has been going on for years and that Trayvon Martin's murder is an isolated incident. What I want to say is that Invisible Children (an awesome organization by the way) has been building their audience for years and that is why they were able to bring such a voice to KONY2012 and there wasn't a group rallied to roll out the call for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. But I don't think those ideas are actually what I want to say at all.

As I pour my third cup of coffee, I'm realizing what I found myself asking this morning about these two points of view is this: is it sexier and easier to think about a problem that is half way around the world than it is to think about and doing something about a problem that we all know exists right here at home?

Good Overload

I don't have the capacity to actively care about all of the things that are wrong with this world. But, because of the incredible speed at which information is now shared, I know a lot more about it than I would have otherwise. For better or worse. There is such a thing as good cause overload. There are wars in Africa. There are kids without shoes in South America. There are people being sold as slaves throughout Asia. There are a billion people worldwide without access to clean water. There are homeless people sleeping under the awning of the sushi place downstairs from my apartment in New York. There are people that I care about battling diseases and medical conditions that aren't known for having happy endings.  There are countless other atrocities and disasters that we all see on the news and in the lives of people we know or even people we don't. The number of worthy causes out there is incredible.

The interconnected information world that we live in has the ability to open our eyes to all of the causes that are begging for our attention and show new ways in which we can participate in making a difference. But there is a certain point where we start becoming numb to the requests and images of those in need. Or worse, we end up in a state of paralysis because we believe we should help all of the people who are asking for our assistance and can't decide where to begin, so we don't.

In an effort to avoid paralysis and numbness, the choice I've made in an effort to make my impact count the most is focusing my giving and my personal participation in specific causes and groups that I have spent a good amount of time getting to know and understanding how my resources can best assist their efforts. I am far from making the meaningful impact that I hope to, but I do believe that by concentrating my efforts in a focused way I can make a more intelligent impact faster.

By focusing on depth rather than breadth, my hope is to achieve the thing that Steve Jobs feared impossible when it came to giving, to get increasingly better at it and actually measure the increase in impact each year just as I would my investment portfolio.  It is a work in progress, but thus far it has allowed me to be decisive and intentional in what I say "yes" to and what I have to say "no" to.

Here are a couple of past posts talking a little bit about the groups that I have invested time into getting to know better:

Birthday Fun

Measured Impact

There Still Aren't Words

And good luck to all my mustache growing Movember friends. Make sure your whiskers grow quickly so you don't end up pulling a Derek Holland.

The Path of Good Intentions

I had the itch to play kickball in the park. I suggested to a friend of mine that we should organize a game. He thought it was a great idea and then said, "And we should do it to raise money for a charity!" And, while I am always up for doing a little good, I just wanted to play kickball. In a recent article on the Harvard Business Review, Dan Pallotta makes the claim that Steve Jobs was the World Greatest Philanthropist even though very little is known of his actual charitable contributions. Mr. Jobs did not have a huge foundation like fellow technology titans like Bill Gates. He didn't have a foundation at all. He did in 1985 but then shut it down because he didn't have the time and effort to devote to being the best at giving away money.

"In order to learn how to do something well, you have to fail sometimes...the problem with most philanthropy-there's no measurement system.. you can really never measure whether you failed or succeeded...So...it's really hard to get better." 

In this same article, Mr. Pallotta makes an observation about the crop of recent college grads that are obsessed with "social good."

"Our youth are growing up with the strange notion that the only way to make a big difference in this world, or to be of service, is to work for a nonprofit organization, or become the next Bill Gates and establish a private foundation, or to start some kind of "social enterprise," often without any understanding of what that means."

I remember when I graduated in 2004, just about everyone I knew in the business school had an idea for the next best coffee shop. Each and every business plan bore the personality of its author and all but one (check out WellCoffee) never made it off the powerpoint deck. In the same way, I am seeing socially conscious business plans flying left and right these days. Every idea has a social good hook. Every conversation about building something new has some intention of giving back being built into the core mission and P&L statements.  And any time people are thinking about how to make a bigger impact, that is a good thing.

What is not a good thing is when that added layer of good intentions gets in the way of the underlying value that the organization or business was built to create. The point of building a business is to provide a product or service that is of value to the world. If there is good that can be done on top of that, terrific. Think about TOMS Shoes. While it is absolutely awesome that for each pair of shoes that you buy a pair of shoes is given to kids in need around the world, the reason it works is because TOMS Shoes are awesome shoes. If the shoes sucked, I would have bough one pair, gotten my social good credit for the semester, and never bought the next 5 pairs I own.

The energy, excitement, and brainpower that is flowing around "social good" right now is terrific. But, the movement is approaching a tipping point and there is a level of saturation that I believe the marketplace is approaching. In the same way that 5 years ago, there was a significant push to "green wash" the business world and people became immune to noticing, the "good washing" may share a similar fate. Or worse yet, the job and value creating companies that intended to also do good will never get launched in the first place.

Kinda like that game of kickball I wanted to play.

Profitable Purpose

This year at SXSW at the CNN Grill, I was introduced to Adam Braun from Pencils of Promise. Since then, I've had the chance to learn more about what he and his team are doing and the growth of their impact through the world. He recently gave a talk to Google Zeitgeist and walks through what he believes is the future of social good, the ideas around Profitable Purpose. Tying in a lot of the ideas that I am kicking around as it pertains to the mindset of a Philanthropreneur, I thought it was definitely worth sharing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND5BjWd2xo4

Measured Impact

On of the most important things for me in the organizations that I choose to get involved with is measured and managed results. Earlier this week I wrote a post about how much I enjoy being a part of Kiva and offering some invitations for other to get involved. I was pumped to see folks take me up on the offer. But even more exciting than that, they then invited some of their friends to get involved. And then they invited their friends. And, less than 12 hours later, 26 people had joined up with Kiva and made 31 new loans to help entrepreneurs in 17 different countries.  I was able to pull all this information together because of Kiva's awesome website and being able to see the impact that each person chose to make.

And, as I recently revealed, I carry Crayola markers in my backpack. Over coffee this morning I made my own version of an Infographic to depicted the spread of the impact.

Thanks to everyone who got involved and big props to Kiva for making this initiatives something that was so easy to be a part of and so transparent to show the reach of the impact.

Invitation to Get Involved

I've talked about how much I like Kiva before. I've even said that I think more people should get involved. And, as of today, there is a pretty cool way to make that happen. Kiva has a limited number of $25 credits that they're giving to new partners, and I've been given the chance to give some out. If you've never helped an entrepreneur on Kiva before, it is a pretty awesome thing. You can lend as little at $25 to help small business owners around the world. Kiva then keeps you posted on their progress and the way that your funds are being used to help that person help their family and their community. Then, over the course of a couple months, your loan is repaid you get to reloan the money to someone else and make that impact again.

I have made 18 loans so far that have helped entrepreneurs in 13 different countries throughout Latin America. These loans have gone to help buy supplies, fund new equipment, and assist with the sale of the products of the businesses. To see more about the people that those loans have gone to help, check out http://www.kiva.org/lender/andyellwood

All that being said, if you go right now to http://kiva.org/invitedby/andyellwood you can have Kiva give you $25 to help make your first loan. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Create Jobs : End Poverty

In an awesome interview on his amazing home on Necker Island, a few very fortunate and awesome entrepreneurs had a great discussion with Sir Richard Branson. The whole interview is worth watching (but a little long at 40 minutes) But, there was on line that Branson shares that ties right in with the ideas of the Philanthropreneur:

"Creating business in themselves can solve social problems. By being an entrepreneur you create businesses that create jobs and by creating jobs you can help take people out of poverty."

To see more on what else businesses and entrepreneurs need to be doing to bring about social change, check it out here and skip ahead to 13:41:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDTX5UVoDxQ&t=13m30s