The beginning of the New Year almost always brings with it some welling up of a sense of newness, and the fruit of possibility hangs just a bit closer to our reach. We often feel that change is possible, and rather than fearing it, we are catalyzed to dive head-first into transformative commitments. What we’re feeling, of course, is hope.
Tonight, after a typical evening of cooking, cleaning, and playing with my four-year-old daughter, I caught an effervescent breath of hope. In spite of all the disappointing, scary, and downright horrible things going on in the world, time with kids has the power to bring out the bright spots. My daughter’s choice of book for the night, The Smile That Went Around the World (I’m sure many of you know this one), tracks a young boy’s smile as it passes from one person to the next, and so on, until it magically makes it way to China and back again, just when the boy needs it most. Along the way, that single smile has given hundreds of people a moment of happiness. The childlike simplicity of the idea, is, of course, the core of the book’s brilliance. As preoccupied or jaded as my adult mind may be, reading this story never fails to brush away the cobwebs of incredulity.
The pure, positive feelings evoked by Patrice Karst’s book made me feel grateful for our current burgeoning world of social enterprise and entrepreneurship. A friend of mine’s sister owns Tin Lizzy, a Fair Trade clothes truck. That a business like this is viable says a lot about the current marketplace and the maturing of the conscious consumer. And while the simplicity of Karst’s story can certainly bring on pessimistic eye-rolls, the mounting evidence shows the truth of the matter:
In the stone-faced world of finance, social Impact Investing has become not only an accepted part of the conversation, but an inevitable piece of portfolios. Indeed, whole investment funds are putting their money on a horse named Ripple Effect. Start-ups and small businesses are toiling away, using best for-profit practices calibrated for creating measurable Social Good. Non-profits and Not-For-Profits are achieving new levels of success through intelligent use of data and refined processes. There’s a font of caring, inventive, dynamic youth out there, graduating with determination to make a difference. Follow the breadcrumbs, and it’s not too far afield to note that in China, young, affluent, and educated people are leaving the cities to take up organic farming. One person at a time, we are realizing that the old way of doing business will no longer cut it.
Did you hear that? That reverberating thud was the fall of the myth on which for-profit capitalism is based: that humans are mostly self-serving and competitive and that the best way to engender economic activity is to appeal to people’s self-interest. Good riddance. Research from some of the finest minds and institutions in the world is showing evidence that cooperation is, quite literally, written in our genes.
The gravity of my responsibility as a father is both inspirational and grounding. Watching her on the playground with her peers, I occasionally have portal-crossing visions of her as a grown woman, and how her foundation now will affect the woman she becomes. On our way to a classmate’s birthday party, she asked if we needed to bring a present, and I explained that Stella asked to only receive donations, half of which would go to her savings account and the other half would go to poor people that don’t have enough money. (True story.) “Oh! Daddy!” was the excited reply, “So Stella can give the money to those people, and then they will give it to other people, and they will give it to some more people, and it will go all the way around the world!!” A proud daddy could only smile, and say “Yes, honey, you’re absolutely right.”
A smile can travel the world, we are all interconnected, and a wave of collective consciousness is moving us -- businesses and consumers alike -- toward a new paradigm that not only values but demands positive social impact.
Kelly Markgraf is a professional operatic baritone and founder of Teema Teas: A mission-driven tea company that empowers and uplifts women and their families by supporting microfinance initiatives. With Every Sip, You Give Back.