B Corps: Using the Power of Business to Create Social Change, with Rose DeStefano
Episode 53: B Corps, Using the Power of Business to Create Social Change, with Rose DeStefano
Rose DeStefano is a B Impact Fellow at B Lab, the nonprofit that certifies businesses as B Corporations. In this episode Rose talks about what B Corps are and how they are having an impact in the world, the Best for NYC initiative, her career and how her mentors have influenced her journey.
00:13 KW Hi, everyone. This is Kristy Wallace, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. I'm here with Maricella in our New York City offices, and we're so happy that you joined us today to listen to my interview with Rose DeStefano from B Lab. So Maricella, how's it going?
00:30 Speaker 3: It's going good, going good.
00:32 KW We are wrapping up a lot of busy times. I know last month was Women's History Month, we had International Women's Day, and we recently had Equal Pay Day. Yay!
00:46 MH No, no yay.
00:47 KW No yay?
00:48 MH No yay. Well, yay, 'cause we welcomed a lot of people to our community, but no yay because it kinda sucks. We're trying to figure out a good analogy to explain what Equal Pay Day is to people who aren't really familiar with that. So we were thinking, "Imagine if you go to happy hour, and you only get three quarters of your glass of wine."
01:09 KW That, I mean, that speaks to me.
01:11 MH Right?
01:12 KW Yeah, if I'm being honest. Or it's because I'm in the throes of money learning at Benjamin's second grade class, imagine if you ask for change for a dollar and you get 78 cents instead of four quarters.
01:29 MH Yeah, not cool.
01:30 KW Yeah, someone gives you three quarters like, "Yeah, here you go."
01:32 MH Take your three quarters and...
01:34 KW Yeah. And I'd say, "No, I want my dollar back."
01:36 MH I want my money.
01:37 KW That's what we ought to say: "I want my dollar."
01:39 MH Yes, you have to ask and get yours.
01:41 KW Yes, yes, yes. So, what are we doing today? We have got a poll or questions?
01:47 MH We do. We have some info. So Rose, as you said, works at B Lab. And for those of you who don't know, B Lab is a non-profit that certifies businesses to be B Corporations, which is... You tell us about it 'cause you went through the whole process.
02:05 KW Yes. Rose works at B Lab, which you'll hear more about in our interview. She's also heading up the Best for New York campaign, which is a great way to get businesses involved in the local community and thinking about the impact of business on our workers, on our environment, and on the local New York City community. So she's doing a great job with that. I know many other cities have launched that initiative as well or are talking about it, but if you are interested in learning more, feel free to ask us. Tweet at us @EllevateNTWK or check out Best for NYC. It's a really fantastic program. We're all excited to be a part of that.
02:43 MH Yeah, we are. We are very excited to be a part of Best for NYC, and also be a B Corp.
02:49 KW Yes.
02:50 MH So we did ask our members if a company's philanthropic and/or socially responsible policies matter when they are making purchasing or investing decisions.
03:00 KW Ooh.
03:00 MH Yeah.
03:01 KW I was at a conference recently, Women in the World, and they talked about... There's a panel of advertising execs from big brands and from agencies, and Queen Latifah was on that panel as well, and they talked a lot about the power that we have as women who are managing and deciding the majority of purchases to really spend money with our values. So, I would love to hear what our community says about this.
03:32 MH So, two things to that though. Imagine if we have so much power to make purchase and we make so many purchasing decisions, imagine what would happen if we actually got a dollar instead of 78 cents.
03:44 KW Yep.
03:45 MH Anyway, going back to the poll: Do a company's philanthropic and/or socially responsible policies matter to you when you're making purchasing or investing decisions? 45% of our community said, "Yes, absolutely"; 44% said, "Somewhat." So that's 90%, almost 90% of our members, who do care about this. 8% said, "Not really," and just 1% said, "Not at all."
04:13 KW Thanks for sharing that, Maricella, and thanks to our community who fills out our polls. If you are interested in learning more about our polls and engaging, subscribe for The Morning Boost. You can do so at ellevatenetwork.com. And every Tuesday, we include a poll where we want to hear from you, the women in the Ellevate community, and learn about what you think on top issues. So thanks again for everyone who participated in that poll, and we are now going to head over to my interview with Rose.
04:55 KW We are here with Rose DeStefano who is a B Impact Fellow. Rose, what does that mean?
05:02 Speaker 4: I'm working on a project for B Lab, and they launched a new pilot called their B Impact Fellowship. And so, it's my second year doing this fellowship and I'm working on a project called Best For NYC.
05:17 KW For those of our listeners that do not know, what is B Lab?
05:22 RD Good question. B Lab is a non-profit that certifies businesses who score on an assessment really well in areas of social and environmental responsibility. So Ellevate Network is a B Corporation because you are supporting women-owned businesses to thrive and succeed. And that is something that we consider certifiable as a B Corporation.
05:52 KW And if I understand correctly, which I hope I do because we are a B Corp, B Corps are for-profit businesses...
05:58 RD Yes.
06:00 KW Focused on using the power of business to do social good and to drive social change, so businesses like Patagonia, Etsy, Warby Parker, Ben and Jerry's, and 2,000 others worldwide that focus on their environmental impact, their impact on workers, their impact on the community, and really looking at the structure of their businesses and every aspect of it to ensure that the businesses that they're running are having a positive impact on our world.
06:31 RD Exactly.
06:32 KW So you mentioned you're specifically focused on the Best for NYC.
06:37 RD Yes.
06:38 KW What is the Best for NYC?
06:40 RD Best for NYC is a partnership and a campaign that is between B Lab and the city of New York. So originally hosted and launched by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, now it's being hosted by the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development. And the goal is to bring them the same concepts and also the same resources and sense of community around social good in your businesses to businesses that are not necessarily going to certify as B Corporations, but are run by businesses who have values-aligned owners or values-aligned missions in their companies.
07:31 KW So I attended the first Best for NYC Award Ceremony last year, and to give a little context... And Rose, please help me out here. Some of the organizations we're talking about could be smaller organizations, say, an electrician or a restaurant, but those that potentially offer paid leave to their employees, or they're offering fully subsidized healthcare, or they're creating a culture in a business that's really thinking holistically about the impact on not just their bottomline in profits, but on how they can create a positive impact on their community and for those that are working for them.
08:14 RD Absolutely, yeah. And I'd say the difference between our companies that are participating in Best for NYC, and our B Corporations, is that most of our B Corporations have, at the center of their business, an impact business model. So, one of the main focuses for their business is to drive impact. And with Best for NYC, a lot of times, the main focus of the business is to run a plumbing company, or to run a dance studio, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't also participate in getting education and support and resources around understanding how to be a social business and to do good.
09:00 KW Sure. And as we think about ourselves as consumers, and we know that women particularly yield a lot of power when it comes to our buying and purchasing decisions, and we make most of those decisions. Putting your money behind a company that you believe in or that's aligned with your values is huge. That's a transparency we haven't necessarily had in the past or conversations that haven't always been taking place but are increasingly taking place now, and particularly due to the efforts of organizations like B Lab, where when I went to the NYC Awards ceremony last year, as an example, I saw local restaurants that are down the street from me that had taken part in this initiative, stores, people that I knew that I hadn't realized were part of the efforts. And to me, it created such a sense of community because I'm like, "Alright, I live and my kids are growing up in communities that have business owners that believe in this." But also, I made sure to be a patron of those organizations because their values align with my values. And so, it was very empowering for me as individual to say, "Okay, I have the tools and resources to really make more informed buying decisions."
10:22 RD This is the first time that B Lab has done a partnership with local government. And last year was a pilot, this year we are looking to launch many more Best fors, and there are five Best fors that are lined up, ready to go. So you can keep your eye out for Best for Philadelphia, Best for New Mexico, Rio De Janeiro, Best for Cascais in Portugal, Best for Colorado as well. And so, yeah, I think it also just brings that local level back to the business owners that are mission-aligned and values-driven.
11:03 KW So B Lab, as a whole, is really focused not just on being a community but on the improvement in the ongoing education of that community, which I love because that's very much what Ellevate believes in and supports as well. And Ellevate's been proud to work with B Lab on its most recent initiative, which is a more inclusive economy. Can you talk a little bit more about that effort?
11:31 RD Yeah. So B Lab recently launched an effort to ask all of their B Corporations to improve on three of their metrics. So as I mentioned, B Corporations are asked to use an assessment, what we call the B Impact Assessment, and within that, there's over 200 questions. And a good amount of those questions are focused on creating a more inclusive economy. And so some of those questions that businesses, B corporations, can improve on and focus on to create a more inclusive economy include a wage equity question. So there's a question that says, "What is the salary differential between your highest paid employee and your lowest paid employee?" There's another question that asks about the gender diversity of your management. There's another question that I love around intentional hiring and, "What kind of practices do you have to recruit and bring in and also train employees with chronic barriers to employment, which include employees who may have been formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, refugees, immigrants, folks of that nature?"
12:50 KW Love it, love it. So Rose, let's talk about you, Rose.
12:55 RD Okay. [chuckle]
12:56 KW How'd you get here? What was your career path look like? I wanna know, we wanna know.
13:02 RD [chuckle] Oh, my gosh. It's been a windy road, I'll say that. Yeah, I started out in the social work world. I got my undergrad degree doing social work and decided to go into grant writing, mostly because I found that that the non-profits that I had volunteered at and interned with, the biggest thing that they spoke about was issues around cash flow and keeping their programs alive. It makes sense, so I thought, "Okay, it doesn't sound like the sexiest job but it seems like the most needed."
13:38 KW The highest impact.
13:40 RD And that's what I was most interested in working in. Where can I be the most helpful? Where is the need for the highest impact? So I did some grant writing in America here, and then I moved to South America and landed in a really cool job in Bolivia, worked in the international adoption space and did some grant writing for her as well as some advocacy work down there, and eventually found myself in India. I worked for a non-profit called Calcutta Rescue that is a medical nonprofit and had clinics all over the city and were offering free services, any kind of service. And the impact was so tangible and real, and I just loved my grant writing work there. And they actually didn't have any kind of donorship or stewardship program in place, and so a big part of my work was just setting that up and then training individuals who are locally based there to continue the work forward.
14:42 RD I came back to America, and we were in the middle of an economic crash so it was a little bit of an interesting time in 2008/2009. I did work here in California, in Sacramento actually, at a non-profit. And while I found that the grant writing was still impactful and useful for the non-profit, I had a lot of doubts and questions about how impactful the role of the non-profit was in driving impact, and my position on that has changed since then but at the time I felt that we were doing a lot of work to keep the non-profit alive, to keep ourselves employed, and not necessarily bringing forward the most amount of impact for our clientele, for the consumers and for those that we were hoping to serve. And not to the fault of the non-profit, I think that that also just speaks to the larger non-profit system in America and that there's a high competition for money and everyone is hoping to have their own services be different and to be seen as different by funders. And at some point, I realized, "This is not sustainable for me and I also think that there's a better way that we can be thinking about creating positive impact." And I decided to take a break from social work and grant writing, and I ended up going back, getting my business degree as a Green MBA which focused on sustainable business and social enterprise mostly.
16:25 KW It's called a Green MBA?
16:26 RD Green MBA, that's California for you.
16:31 RD And yes, there was a heavy...
16:32 KW Did you have no books, no paper books, nothing?
16:36 RD No, we had a lot...
16:37 KW This is full in...
16:38 RD I definitely took my finance classes and accounting and all of that, so... But it was a three year program where it's usually two years for MBAs because of that added focus on understanding the social enterprise world and understanding what metrics are out there that companies are using to drive impact forward, and that was where I first learned about B Lab. And while there's a lot of different organizations out there and different kinds of ways to measure impact, like GRI and lots of different labels and certifications as well that businesses can and should pursue, my attention continued to come back to B Lab because of their holistic nature, because of the way that they're driving forward, not just with businesses but also in policy, and I just felt like they were doing it the right way, whatever the right way was for me. And that was where I came across the fellowship, which was why in my last semester of school there, I applied randomly and... It's never that random, I guess, but...
17:49 KW Yeah.
17:50 RD I had decided to move out of the city at that point, and I was living in Oakland, I moved down to a farm in Santa Cruz and said, "I'm just gonna be a farmer instead and I'm going to live the life of the land and... " [laughter] And I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with my business degree, and then I got an email from B Lab that said, "Will you move to New York City." And of course, I said no.
18:19 KW Because they're so similar. I mean...
18:21 RD Yeah. [laughter]
18:21 KW Farm, New York City.
18:23 RD I just thought, "The timing of this is... "
18:24 KW There's a zoo here, but...
18:26 RD And I actually got a phone call from one of the founders when I was... I remember I was walking around the farm and I was standing by this giant lavender plant and just soaking in the beauty. I'd never been happier there. And the founder, one of the founders of B Lab, called me and just talked to me about the opportunity that was there in front of me, and he was right. And so I decided to take a chance and move away from Santa Cruz mountains and leave my cat there and come to New York City, and I'm so happy that I made that decision not just to work with B Lab or to work on this project or to work with local businesses, but also because I love New York City.
19:11 KW Oh, yeah?
19:12 RD Oh, my gosh. I love New York City.
19:14 KW What do you love about New York City?
19:16 RD Ah! The number one thing I love about New York City is the density of diversity. I take the train everyday and I have never been in a place where I've been in one little car with so many different people from different walks of life. And one of my favorite things about taking the train is the way that people care for each other, that they allowed children to sit down even if they're tired and they just got a seat. Yeah, it's just this really interesting way of how humans can interact with each other that I think we know we lose out on some of that in California just because we don't have public transportation in the same way in New York City, but also there's just more of a spread out nature and more of an isolated type of environment as well, so, yeah. I love being surrounded by different kinds of people all of the time. And also, New York City is a place where dreams come true, right? So...
20:17 KW Yes, it is.
20:19 KW So which one of the founders called you?
20:21 RD Jay.
20:21 KW Jay. Jay! I'm gonna talk quickly about that part of the story because that's pretty huge. It's a big indicator of an employer and the type of employer, and we talk here... And Sallie, in her book 'Own It', talks a lot about doing your due diligence about employers and really doing the research and understanding what is their culture, who are the people that work there, what's the senior leadership like, do they invest in their employees. And so to have the founder of this organization to call you personally and to talk to you about that decision, that must have blown you away. That's really... That means a lot. That's really important.
21:07 RD Yeah. It definitely blew me away. [chuckle] Yeah. And I've been working at B Lab now for a year and a half, and the proximity to our founders... There's about 60 employees or so, so it's a medium-size company now, but the founders make themselves very accessible and we have certain mechanisms in place so that we can be communicating with them regularly. I don't know if you know what Slack is, but it's a...
21:39 KW Oh, yes, we do.
21:40 RD Okay.
21:40 KW We are big lovers of Slack over here.
21:43 RD We love Slack too. And so we have a Slack channel called Founder Rounder where employees can either post with their name or post anonymously questions to ask the founders anything that they want, any questions, and there's some fairly controversial things that cross that, and the founders always approach those questions with grace and humility. And we also have, every couple of months, there's a, during our staff meeting, time for the founders to address some of those questions that are either submitted ahead of time or actually during our session together. And then on top of that, I have the wonderful experience of having one of the founders specifically who's overseeing my project. He interacts with us and sits in on our meetings every other week. He also provides a lot of his own strategic insight and knowledge, and it's not something that I've ever experienced in any organization, that kind of humility and just proximity that the founders keep to their staff. So it's definitely something that B Lab believes in and they promote in their B Impact Assessment that they're also following through with in a very strong way.
23:00 KW So from that day leaving Oakland for the farm, to now where you're working with the largest city to create something bigger and better, how do you feel about that?
23:11 RD I hadn't really thought about it actually until you said it that way. [laughter] Yeah, I feel really grateful. I think, now that we're having this conversation and I think that there are some ways that I still haven't quite processed, my leaving from California and the Bay Area, but I'm sure in a lot of ways that my time there and the ways that I felt like I couldn't make change or I didn't know how to make change in Oakland, has been a big driver for my work here in New York City. I'm most excited about the policy side of the work that we're doing, which is still very new, but it is helping... The work that we're doing on the policy side with Best for NYC is mostly around helping the city to understand how to determine who to give contracts to. And we know that a lot of development happens that oftentimes drives some of the negative implications of gentrification, these other things that we're talking about.
24:24 RD But if there is a way that we can bring in metrics that help the city to better determine which kinds of employers and which kind of people should be getting those contracts and should be developing and building out our city, that... We want that growth to happen, everybody does. Then, I think that there is a way for us to do something different as we continue to expand and grow. I'm not sure if we're there yet, and I'm sure it'll be another year or so before we can really speak in a concrete way around what kinds of policies we'll be able to put in place. But even just knowing that the City of New York is standing behind supporting businesses, providing resources to businesses, and driving marketing dollars to businesses, they care about their workers specifically, it's a very job-focused campaign, that to me is... It's a huge accomplishment, and I feel so beyond grateful to be a part of that work.
25:30 KW Great. Thanks so much, Rose.
25:31 RD Thank you.
25:36 KW Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars, and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNTWK, that's Ellevate Network. And become a member, you can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com, that's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E Network.com. And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks; and to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Deputy Director of Small Business Initiatives and Job Quality
NYC Mayor's Office of Workforce Development
Rose DeStefano leads the Best for NYC campaign, a partnership between B Lab, the non-profit certifying B Corporations, and the NYC Mayor's Office of Workforce Development to advance the social business movement from a grassroots and policy-level perspective. As a Senior B Impact fellow, she has worked with hundreds of companies across New York's five boroughs to improve their social and environmental impact. Rose received her GreenMBA from Dominican University in California, where she led... Continue Reading
Join Ellevate Now
In our community of experts, you’ll meet professional women committed to helping you succeed. We use the power of community to help you take the next step in your career.
Already a Member?