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Activism & Action

A Recipe for Justice

Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare at WE.Gordon Neighbourhood House Director Paul Taylor in one of their gardens, Salad maker ?? speaking with passersby, Exterior shot of the the building.
Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare at WE.Gordon Neighbourhood House. Photo by Dan Toulgoet

Last month, I set out to find examples of advanced feminist enterprises that were doing truly radical work, showing us what a socially just, post-capitalist enterprise and economy might look like.

FoodShare, a large and innovative Toronto-based food justice charity, emerged as a provocative example.

FoodShare was founded in the 1980s in response to an alarming increase in hunger and food insecurity due to the recession, with Indigenous and Black households experiencing the highest rates of food insecurity. It was meant to be a temporary organization dealing with a short-term issue, but as the number of food bank dependent and food insecure people in Toronto grew, so did FoodShare. Today, it is the largest food security charity in North America, entering another rapid growth period due to the pandemic.

FoodShare has more than a dozen income-generating and grant-supported programs including community garden facilitation, kitchen incubator, school lunch programs and a good food box delivered to subscriber doors. The organization employs 120 people of whom 54.8 per cent are women, 1.6 per cent transgender and 2.3 per cent gender nonconforming.  While most Canadian organizations are just beginning to embrace the government supported  50-30 challenge (which calls for corporations to increase representation of women to 50 per cent and BIPOC representation to 30 per cent on boards), FoodShare’s board of directors is already 62 per cent female and 85 per cent BIPOC.

Debbie Fields founded and led FoodShare for more than 25 years. Paul Taylor, took over as Executive Director (ED) in 2017.

Here’s what he has to say about FoodShare’s latest progressive initiatives. 

LiisBeth: Do you identify as a feminist?

Paul: Of course! I was raised by a bad-ass Black woman and come from a long line of bad-ass community minded, Black women. I was taught to listen and learn from women, and in particular Black women in leadership. I saw, through my mother’s eyes and experiences, how the patriarchy drives the kind of capitalism and neo-liberalism that’s wreaking havoc across the country. The pandemic has further exposed how much we still undervalue women in society. I think it’s horrific that we are just now starting implement a national childcare policy. If this was something that men depended on, we would have had a national childcare program decades ago.

LiisBeth: What do you think is the most radical change you have initiated since you joined the organization in 2017?

Paul: I would have to say our focus on implementing a standard-of-living wages, equal wages and wage-range compression policy.

Over the last few years, we have increased the lowest paid colleague salaries by 25 per cent. And we are not stopping there: we’ve got another increase that we’re working on that will be pretty significant and really important.

We’ve also tied the compensation for the lowest wage worker to the highest wage worker. For example, the Foodshare Executive director can make no more than three times what our lowest paid worker makes. From now on, we’re all going to be moving forward together — if we’re moving at all.

Given that CEOs and Executive Directors in the nonprofit sector often make many — sometimes 100 times — what the lowest paid employee makes, I think that is pretty radical.

We are also really committed to really thinking about how we challenge low wages for any kind of work, not just within our organization, but within the entire sector and within the food system. One of the directors on our board is a food delivery carrier.  He has been helping us think about the range of opportunities that exist to support low wage workers in the food system.

LiisBeth: Was the increase and wage compression policy a tough sell internally?

Paul: No, it wasn’t because it’s all about how we do board recruitment and who is on our board.

Traditionally boards look for directors who have certain professional designations like finance, legal, HR, or look for those with a C-suite title as a proxy for credibility, capability and intelligence. When we recruit on these terms, all we are doing is recreating the barriers that exist in society, for example, access to education.

So instead we flipped the norm on its head. Instead, we say, we’re going to prioritize recruiting board members that get the philosophical underpinnings of the organization, who have a commitment to equity, food justice, have lived experience with these issues to wisely design and implement new approaches, and who are willing to roll up their sleeves and dedicate resources to challenging those inequities.

If directors lack experience or education in certain areas, say in interpreting financial statements, board governance or investments, then we say, how can we provide support? We invest dollars in building our board’s capacity instead of expecting folks to have gone through all of the hoops that society presents to qualify, hoops that we all can’t reach.

LiisBeth: When you changed your ideas about who qualifies as a board director, did that change the make up of your board?

Paul: Completely. Today, our board is headed by an Indigenous activist, Crystal Sinclair. Our board is now predominantly made up of BIWOC folks. It’s unlike any board for an organization our size that I’ve ever seen. It’s composition really affects the key decisions that we make and how we show up in these decisions. For example, when we’re having a conversation about things like defunding the police, we’re not talking as (white) allies, we’re saying stop killing our communities because we are part of those communities. It changes how we show up on these issues, where we locate ourselves in these issues, and how we advocate.

LiisBeth: What do you think prevents other organizations from doing what you’ve done?

Paul: A willingness to reframe what it means to do the work that we do and how we do it. I think if we don’t acknowledge that patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, anti-Black racism are actually deeply rooted organizing principles and profoundly embedded in the way we work, well, then we will never come up with the strategies, the policies and the ideas for dismantling those systems within our own enterprises.

People need to be thinking outside of the box.

They need to be committing organizational resources to tackling these things. Tackling these things is not a black post or a black square on Instagram. Working to liberate your organization from these harm perpetuating systems requires resources, time, and a leadership team willing to be vulnerable.

LiisBeth: What advice would you give to small enterprises who are looking to dismantle patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism in their own operating practices?

Paul: If you want to prioritize that work, which I encourage everybody to do, and if you don’t have that capacity within, then reach out and secure a consultant that is focused in that area and has the lived experience to draw upon. And compensate them accordingly.

The second thing I would say (and this may be brutal for folks to hear) is that businesses that leverage inequality to exist are not sustainable. People have only been able to make them sustainable on the backs of low-wage workers, on the backs of precarious work arrangements. That’s the hard truth. The conversation we need to have.

I think we have to say no to building enterprises on the backs of under-paid, under-cared-for workers. If we’re not paying living wages, we are unsustainable.

Food Insecurity By Household Identity in Canada

The prevalence of household food insecurity differs markedly by Indigenous status and racial/cultural group. The highest rates of food insecurity are found among households where the respondent identified as Indigenous or Black.1 (Data Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 2017-18). Higher rates of food insecurity in non-married households in Canada are largely attributable to women's socio-economic disadvantage

LiisBeth: Is FoodShare a postcapitalist business enterprise?

Paul: Good question. You know, we recognize, capitalism is why charities exist. It’s a system that ensures that society’s resources are disproportionately distributed, and we need to be calling attention to the way that capitalism and neo-liberalism have created the conditions that cause some people in this country to constantly worry about where their next meal is going to come from while others are dreaming up new schemes to avoid paying taxes.

The existence of billionaires to us is as much a policy failure as the fact that close to a five and a half million people are food insecure in Canada.

So, unless we’re talking about how we collectively dismantle capitalism, and acknowledge and compensate for the harm that it’s caused to communities, we are just feeding a system that’s been designed to keep us so busy we don’t have time to examine the root cause of so much of the inequities that we are now all forced to navigate.

I think all nonprofit and for-profit leaders need to be holding our government to account to make sure that equity is centred in legislation and public policy

FoodShare Staff and Volunteers Group Photo
FoodShare Staff and Volunteers Group -Photo by Sandro Pehar

LiisBeth: Who is informing, inspiring your work right now?

Paul: I am inspired by folks connected to the ongoing Idle No More movement, folks at 1492 Land Back Lane, Climate Justice Toronto. For me, these are the groups that recognize that the voices of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island and even across the world need to be heard. I would say I am inspired by the movement around abolition that has been led again primarily by Black women is one that dares us to dream of a world that isn’t preoccupied with punishment.  Other movements that I’ve gravitated towards for inspiration, for hope, are those that are centered on justice. They’re intersectional, and they prioritize those who have had the most stolen from them as a result of settler, colonialism, capitalism, and the proliferation of neo-liberalism.

LiisBeth: Thank you so much Paul, for this interview and more importantly, for your incredible work as a badass feminist enterprise leader.

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Allied Arts & Media

Writers for the Real World

Kulbinder Saran Caldwell, founder and CEO, REALLIFE Pictures. Photo provided.

Not satisfied with the lackluster effort the TV and film industry employs when it comes to including people of colour in writers’ rooms, Toronto-based Kulbinder Saran Caldwell took matters into her own hands. She founded REALLIFE Pictures INC, a literary agency run by agents of colour to represent film writers of colour. The company also runs a film and television production house alongside the “boutique literary agency” that gives “diverse, neurodiverse and LGBTQ screenplay and television writers a voice in the entertainment industry.”

Saran Caldwell said she recognized a “hole in the market.” Producers were telling her they wanted to hire diverse writers, but “didn’t know how to find them.” Or, at least, that was the “excuse” they gave to explain their all-white writers’ rooms.

Initially, she spoke to agencies about carving “out this niche for you under your umbrella.” But, she said, “Across the board, they pretty much said, ‘no, thanks, we’re fine just the way that we are.’ One of them actually said, ‘Diversity is a bubble.’ So, I decided then – okay, fine, if that’s the prevalent kind of thinking (in the industry), I’m just going to do it on my own and I’m going to have to find a way to do it within (my) production company.”

Saran Caldwell said the disinterested response was, in part, due to people “being comfortable in their own lane and not wanting to address some things that may not necessarily be fair, equitable, or inclusive” in their field, but they’re happy—and successful—“doing business as usual.” Not only do people not want to “rock the boat,” doing so may feel destabilizing for their white clients, some of whom feel that diversity initiatives cost them work.

“You have to realize, to a large degree, these agents have been representing white showrunners and white writers for a very long time,” Saran Caldwell said. “When you are all of a sudden advocating on behalf of another group of clients…that becomes a difficult position to be in when they’ve been your client for a long time, right?”

REALLIFE PICTURES table read session. Photo provided.

White Washing: The Stats

Currently, writers’ rooms in Hollywood and Canada are overwhelmingly dominated by white men. In 2017, a study of Hollywood writers rooms found that only 13.7 percent were people of colour – out of 234 series surveyed. An overwhelming 91 percent of show runners were white, and that shows headed by white show runners had no black people in their writers’ rooms 69.1 per cent of the time. By contrast, 100 per cent of shows headed by black showrunners hired white writers. Many of the major production and streaming services—including Netflix, Amazon and Showtime—had either none or just one person of colour in their writers’ rooms for 90 to 100 percent of their shows. The report also found that when people of colour are included in white-dominated writers’ rooms, they often “tokenized.”

Saran Caldwell said that hiring people of colour doesn’t mean pigeon-holing the writer to work only within their specific racial or cultural background; what it really achieves is expanding the repertoire of writers’ rooms by adding in experiences, styles and talents it would not have otherwise. There’s an appetite for stories that are aimed outside the white experience, Saran Caldwell noted, evidenced by the huge success of Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and Kim’s Convenience (its recent abrupt cancellation tremendously disappointed viewers and producers.)

Saran Caldwell saw that appetite first hand when she ran a coaching program for BIPOC students from Ryerson University in 2019. She co-produced a couple of feature films and a web series, all with women of colour filmmakers. When she  realized there was a gap in the industry when it came to connecting BIPOC talent and filmmakers, she started building her agency with a roster of talent, spending a year “reading material, making contacts, figuring out how to present myself, as a brand… because we were new.”

Agent and COO Charanpreet Chall joined REALLIFE in 2020 and is “more hands on with the development,” according to Saran Caldwell. “We chat every morning about our day’s deliverables and divide work and conquer.”

Small-Town Start, Big-City Heart

Although she has called Toronto home for the past two decades, Saran Caldwell, who is Indo-Canadian, is originally from Terrace, a small town in British Columbia between Kitwanga and Prince Rupert. Her father immigrated from India to Kelowna, then moved north to Terrace to work in the sawmills because the wages were better. Saran Caldwell’s mother and four siblings soon came to Canada to join him in Terrace.

Saran Caldwell attended the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver for the first year of her post-secondary education then enrolled at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) to study marketing. She was the first of a family of six to go to university, saying it “wasn’t easy to get permission to go since no one else had gone before me.”

While living in Vancouver, she started REALLIFE as a music video company then shelved the project in her late 20s when she took a job as a news writer for CP24 and moved to Toronto. The position was only supposed to be for the summer, but Saran Caldwell “fell in love” with Toronto and stayed. She resurrected REALLIFE when she was “bitten by the production bug” following work on a pair of short documentary films with South Asian women directors. “I was trying to find out — how can I utilize all of these skills, and my passion to support new and up and coming filmmakers, female filmmakers, and in particular, women of color?”

In 2020, Saran Caldwell went to the Canadian Media Producer Associations (CMPA) Prime Time event in Ottawa; her goal was to build a “rolodex” of 30 people interested in her agency; she came back with 40. Production companies were excited about the agency and to work with her; they wanted to add “diverse storytellers” with “lived experiences” to their writers’ rooms. “I started chatting with production companies… and broadcasters, and all of them loved the concept. They said, ‘This is brilliant, this is exactly what we need!’”

But Saran Caldwell realized that many writers on her roster need help to get “market ready.” Often they were non-union and, due to financial and time constraints, had never attended film school or had access to workshops. To make sure their writers would be ready when they went to pitch their ideas, REALLIFE Pictures started an inhouse professional development program, reading and providing notes on “every single script” that was sent to them.

That personal mentoring is critical, said Caldwell, because BIPOC are often left outside of industry-linked social groups – largely white, middle-to-upper-class people, who have families or friends in the industry or have gone to school together for years. “(Many of my clients) have been overlooked for a very long time, and many of these individuals don’t know how the business side of the business works – how to negotiate, how to ask for what they want (in terms of) working conditions.

Saran Caldwell said she is building an inherently feminist company with a mandate and goals in line with the values of “collective feminism” — “a fair playing field, for everyone.”

At present, the agency represents about 20 writers, with “five more on deck waiting for us to read their scripts,” said Saran Caldwell. Although it’s still early in the process for original projects, Epic Story (Luna, Chip and Inkie), Wildbrain (The Snoopy Show), Frantic Films (Baroness Von Sketch) and KGP (Narcoleap) have all either hired or signed shopping agreements with writers represented by REALLIFE Pictures.

The company is working on expanding into the U.S. and international markets but, Caldwell said, what’s important at a baseline level is the success and happiness of the people they represent.

“What long-term success looks like for me is a very satisfied roster of writers and directors that we’ve worked with for years, and they’re happy–and the industry is happy–with where they have ended up in their career,” says Caldwell.

“I want to know that we have made significant change in the industry, that it’s not putting these individuals in little boxes and then just ticking them off for the sake of funding, or diversity or access, or whatever it happens to be, that (these relationships) are authentic and … have really resulted in positive change.”


Publishers Note: Fifth Wave Labs is Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for womxn in digital media. It is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and social justice into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner and ally. Interested? Apply here.

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Innovate This

Deb Day (left) enjoying a rare social visit with colleagues James Woods and Julie Reis—and office dog Bubba—during the COVID-19 pandemic in November 2020 (Photo provided).

Since the pandemic hit, Deb Day’s been holding a daily virtual meeting with her team that’s been like no other marketing and digital content studio has conducted. They open with a wellness check-in and bookend with a gratitude practice. There’s no talk of clients, projects, or deadlines. Instead, they talk about priorities and everyone shares one thing they’re grateful for. It could be anything: supportive partners, the roof over their head, coffee, a good TV series to pass lockdown leisure hours.

“The team’s not worked in the office since March 13, so it was a priority for me that we adapt our connection with each other,” says Day, who founded the Toronto-based strategic marketing enterprise, Innovate By Day, in 2010. “Virtual meetings can be very  transactional — ’just get ’er done.’ It’s a bit soul destroying, so we’ve put systems in place to connect with each other more and differently.”

Indeed, Day stirs up a lot of “business as usual” approaches, which has helped the company innovate to meet the challenges of the pandemic — surviving without having to lay off a single person.

When she launched, she even resisted the term “strategic marketing” for what her company does as it’s associated more with capitalism and consumerism than the feminist and social-justice values at the heart of her studio.

Innovate By Day primarily works within the cultural industry — film, television, art, music, publishing, nonprofits and broadcasters — building online communities and creating audiovisual content such as TikTok videos, Instagram lives, company sizzle reels. Day’s thoughtful about who she works with, teaming up with clients who align with her company’s values. “We would never do something that was pornographic or overtly racist or provocative for the sake of being provocative. I have to be able to align with them at some level, as does the team.”

To accompany the CBC documentary Girls’ Night Out, based on the Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book Drink, the company created the #RethinkTheDrink campaign, a cross Canada peer-to-peer talkback tour and impact campaign at colleges and university campuses featuring custom content and marketing materials. It also created a legacy toolkit to keep the conversation going to combat binge-drinking culture after the in-person tour wrapped.

On another campaign, Day’s team was engaged to support the discoverability and online conversation of the powerful six part documentary series Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade for and its international release on specialty channel EpixHD in the US, BBC Two in the UK and CBC in Canada. Their role was to curate content, write messaging and moderate the conversation online on the selected social media channels. 

“Those projects are meaty and they’re really, really satisfying,” says Day. “Sure, we’re not making the same money as someone who’s selling iPhones and cigarettes, but we’re okay with that. Our goal is to not become bigger and massive. It’s to do meaningful work. We love empowering new businesses and new projects to really define who they are and to reach their audiences.”

Design mockup of the Bachelor Canada predictions game, created for The Bachelor Canada Season 3 (2017) (Image provided).
Design mockup of the Bachelor Canada predictions game, created for The Bachelor Canada Season 3 (2017) (Image provided).

Day has taken the same approach internally, empowering her employees with a human-centric, feminist approach to the way she runs her studio. They embrace anti-oppression and anti-racist values, supporting staff to be their best and truest selves.

Early on, Day developed an employee benefits package by asking her team what kind of coverage they wanted. As a result, the company developed a package that includes health and dental insurance and more sick days and time off than Ontario’s minimum employment standards — in an industry that often relies on freelance “gig” workers.

She also flattened the hierarchy. Employees aren’t pigeonholed into defined roles and responsibilities. Being a smaller team helps. So does encouraging people to stretch themselves in different ways based on their interests and abilities. For instance, a UX/UI designer became the lead coordinator on a project completely unrelated to their role. A social media specialist produced content outside their skill set. Says Day: “Due to the nature of our company, we have to be flexible and really lean into how we can evolve ourselves at the same time as we’re evolving what we’re offering to the clients.”

She adds that anyone who wants to work a regular nine to five schedule and stick to a job description wouldn’t want to work for her company. “We have to be far more agile and adaptive especially in these times.”

On the other hand, anyone who wants to be playful and innovative can thrive. Four years ago, the company secured their own IP to evolve their offerings for their clients, leading to the development of one of their most successful projects yet, the “Innovate Prediction Game Engine.” Teaming up with some of the biggest reality television franchises in Canada, the studio created an online game that lets people bet on who they think will get knocked off of The Bachelor Canada or who they think will win the Head of Household on Big Brother Canada.

Evolving is something the company has had to do a lot this past year. When the pandemic hit, 50 percent of the company’s business was either paused or cancelled. They battened down the hatches as COVID-19 cases went up while marketing spending went down. They applied for every funding program they qualified for. They checked in on their clients and contractors to see how they were doing. They teamed up with a business coach to ensure their cash flow was stable. They put a plan in place in case someone got sick. And it all paid off. The company retained all of the staff, including nine full-time and four part-time employees, as well as a handful of contractors.

Day says that none of it would’ve been possible if she hadn’t taken care of herself first. As an entrepreneur with a teenage daughter, a husband, and father living in a care home, she often finds herself pulled in many different directions. And as an extrovert cooped up indoors with little contact with people, she’s found working virtually challenging. What keeps her going are those daily gratitude practices and daily walks, which are non-negotiable. “It’s really important to take care of myself because I won’t be able to take care of others,” says Day.

She remembers the early days of having to convince clients that marketing was worth spending money on. It’s easier now convincing clients the value of connecting with people, not only because the pandemic makes that so difficult but also because it’s a value that is deeply rooted within the company itself.

“I’m building a company that I would’ve loved to have worked for,” says Day. “A company that feels supportive and is respectful and collaborative.”


Publishers Note: Fifth Wave Labs is Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for womxn in digital media. It is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and social justice into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner and ally. Interested? Apply here.

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Our Voices

When the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Make a New One

I can’t quite remember when it finally clicked. Maybe it was when enough people realized the word entrepreneur wasn’t a good descriptor for the kinds of businesses us “non-business” folk were interested in building.

The first push for a new definition, I recall, was “social entrepreneur.” It came into my awareness sometime in the early to mid-2000s, and I remember feeling really liberated by the idea that I could have a business with social, rather than economic, drivers as its engine. It felt like a homecoming actually, like someone finally gave me words to describe something I previously could not articulate. Social entrepreneurship inspired me to experiment with turning our café in Berlin into a salon that would host different kinds of conversation events exploring interculturalism, philosophy, city-building and language exchange events.

Over the past two years I’ve been very involved in researching and designing training for a new form of entrepreneur: the creative entrepreneur. Again, taking up this qualifier for entrepreneurship has been really exciting. What would businesses look like if creative people drove it? What would artists, writers, filmmakers, illustrators, designers, playwrights and any other creative professional bring forward as a business model? What could their efforts mean for our communities?

Working in this domain has brought me back to consuming more art and performance, while also creating art. The push on the definition has inspired me to venture into completely new places; it’s caused me to challenge my own understanding of what commercial exchange is in the first place and what it could mean in the future.

And although I’m in my fourth year as a freelancer/consultant, I’m only now realizing a new term has emerged for my breed of professionals: solopreneur. Our motto? Have no boss, be no one’s boss.

Rather than turn myself into someone who perpetuates hierarchies of power and/or income, I’m much more interested in exploring collaborations, collectives and partnerships. What does it look like when people of different skills sets come together to work on projects, to organize our own learning, to band together around our collective interests, and to support one another without replicating old models of doing so? I feel incredibly excited to think about what new ways of organizing will look like among all of us independents.

Out With the Old

In the past, the word entrepreneur only really included a small sliver of the population, primarily males interested in growing very profitable companies. The vision was not that appealing to anyone who did not find thoughts of monopolies of distribution channels, IPOs and complicated cash forecasting techniques something to look forward to.

For those of us looking to create something for ourselves, rather than fit into what was on offer for us, we only had these guys to look to as examples of what it meant to run a business. If we were on a social or cultural mission, then we only had non-profit models to aspire to. The past decade has changed all that. Entrepreneurship has been disrupted and it’s happened as a result of creative, heart-and-soul-filled people who prioritize mission, purpose, significance and impact above the instrumental approaches to business that were birthed from and supportive of industrialism.

When I think of it like this, it all feels kind of revolutionary. We’ve managed to snatch entrepreneurship away from those who have benefited from it the most. We’ve pulled it out from underneath the feet of a male-dominated technocratic start-up scene. By taking up a social mission, we’ve challenged and exposed sclerotic non-profit institutions and organizations that have lost sight of who they are there to serve.

We’ve stretched the definition of the possible to fit a larger group of people who are not looking to establish large corporations or institutions, are not looking for investors or funders, are not motivated by the possibility of growing rich and who are not business school grads. We are people who are in this to try something new, not to replicate the methods, cultures, values and techniques of those who’ve already made it.

Defining the New

What that “new” is and exactly how it will be done is still in the making. We know that most of us are interested in nurturing practices, values and spaces supportive of a more humane way of living together. We also know that we need to earn a decent living doing so or none of our visions will stand up in the material world. But we have, by no means, landed on a clear understanding of exactly what these new attempts at building businesses and means of organizing will look like. And because we don’t have a clear path ahead of us, we are all invited to take a crack at shaping what entrepreneurship will look like in the future and how we will use it to build our world.

So on that note, I’d like to put forward the essential meaning that I hold when I approach entrepreneurship — socially, creatively and individually. I don’t see it as a process or a destination but rather, I see it as an overall approach to interacting with the world around me. Being an entrepreneur to me means:

Being someone who appropriately relates to the environment I operate within, who is able to remain flexible enough to perceive and respond to changes and cues from that environment in a way that is satisfying to both me as the entrepreneur and those I serve.

Put more simply, I believe being an entrepreneur is about being good in relationships. There is no, one-size-fits-all approach to define what being good at relationships is. Rather, the definition varies depending upon the partners involved in the exchange. That’s why no one can give you specific instructions on how to be good at relationships and even if they do, it doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to do it. Relationships always involve a dynamic and delicate interplay between at least two people.

Of course you can be in a relationship and not be good at it. Think, for example, about parenthood or leadership or teaching. Just because you get the title does not make you good at it. The same goes for entrepreneurs. You can start a business and be manipulative. You can thrive on exploiting other people. You can be an egomaniac interested primarily in power and prestige. You can grow rich as this kind of entrepreneur. That’s a choice you can indeed make, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.

Creative, social and solo entrepreneurs, amongst others, are at the forefront of creating new relationships with those they serve and by doing so, are challenging the very way in which business is conducted. They are questioning the tenets of our economic system, they are challenging the divisions between for-profit and not-for-profit models, they are pushing themselves to take action to make art, products and experiences that shake up our world and invite more people into the process of world-making.

If you think about it, being in relationships with others can help us strive to be the best people we can possibly be; entrepreneurship can and should be the same. Building a quality relationship between you, your business, those you serve and the community you all exist within can be the primary focus of an entrepreneur. The commercial exchange that happens as a result of that relationship comes second.

Or at least, that’s how I see it. You are completely free to contest that definition in any way you want so please do so. This is our world to make, so let’s get to it!

Originally posted on www.allisonhillier.com by Allison Hillier.

 

 

Categories
Our Voices

When the Shoe Doesn't Fit, Make a New One


I can’t quite remember when it finally clicked. Maybe it was when enough people realized the word entrepreneur wasn’t a good descriptor for the kinds of businesses us “non-business” folk were interested in building.
The first push for a new definition, I recall, was “social entrepreneur.” It came into my awareness sometime in the early to mid-2000s, and I remember feeling really liberated by the idea that I could have a business with social, rather than economic, drivers as its engine. It felt like a homecoming actually, like someone finally gave me words to describe something I previously could not articulate. Social entrepreneurship inspired me to experiment with turning our café in Berlin into a salon that would host different kinds of conversation events exploring interculturalism, philosophy, city-building and language exchange events.
Over the past two years I’ve been very involved in researching and designing training for a new form of entrepreneur: the creative entrepreneur. Again, taking up this qualifier for entrepreneurship has been really exciting. What would businesses look like if creative people drove it? What would artists, writers, filmmakers, illustrators, designers, playwrights and any other creative professional bring forward as a business model? What could their efforts mean for our communities?
Working in this domain has brought me back to consuming more art and performance, while also creating art. The push on the definition has inspired me to venture into completely new places; it’s caused me to challenge my own understanding of what commercial exchange is in the first place and what it could mean in the future.
And although I’m in my fourth year as a freelancer/consultant, I’m only now realizing a new term has emerged for my breed of professionals: solopreneur. Our motto? Have no boss, be no one’s boss.
Rather than turn myself into someone who perpetuates hierarchies of power and/or income, I’m much more interested in exploring collaborations, collectives and partnerships. What does it look like when people of different skills sets come together to work on projects, to organize our own learning, to band together around our collective interests, and to support one another without replicating old models of doing so? I feel incredibly excited to think about what new ways of organizing will look like among all of us independents.

Out With the Old

In the past, the word entrepreneur only really included a small sliver of the population, primarily males interested in growing very profitable companies. The vision was not that appealing to anyone who did not find thoughts of monopolies of distribution channels, IPOs and complicated cash forecasting techniques something to look forward to.
For those of us looking to create something for ourselves, rather than fit into what was on offer for us, we only had these guys to look to as examples of what it meant to run a business. If we were on a social or cultural mission, then we only had non-profit models to aspire to. The past decade has changed all that. Entrepreneurship has been disrupted and it’s happened as a result of creative, heart-and-soul-filled people who prioritize mission, purpose, significance and impact above the instrumental approaches to business that were birthed from and supportive of industrialism.
When I think of it like this, it all feels kind of revolutionary. We’ve managed to snatch entrepreneurship away from those who have benefited from it the most. We’ve pulled it out from underneath the feet of a male-dominated technocratic start-up scene. By taking up a social mission, we’ve challenged and exposed sclerotic non-profit institutions and organizations that have lost sight of who they are there to serve.
We’ve stretched the definition of the possible to fit a larger group of people who are not looking to establish large corporations or institutions, are not looking for investors or funders, are not motivated by the possibility of growing rich and who are not business school grads. We are people who are in this to try something new, not to replicate the methods, cultures, values and techniques of those who’ve already made it.

Defining the New

What that “new” is and exactly how it will be done is still in the making. We know that most of us are interested in nurturing practices, values and spaces supportive of a more humane way of living together. We also know that we need to earn a decent living doing so or none of our visions will stand up in the material world. But we have, by no means, landed on a clear understanding of exactly what these new attempts at building businesses and means of organizing will look like. And because we don’t have a clear path ahead of us, we are all invited to take a crack at shaping what entrepreneurship will look like in the future and how we will use it to build our world.
So on that note, I’d like to put forward the essential meaning that I hold when I approach entrepreneurship — socially, creatively and individually. I don’t see it as a process or a destination but rather, I see it as an overall approach to interacting with the world around me. Being an entrepreneur to me means:

Being someone who appropriately relates to the environment I operate within, who is able to remain flexible enough to perceive and respond to changes and cues from that environment in a way that is satisfying to both me as the entrepreneur and those I serve.

Put more simply, I believe being an entrepreneur is about being good in relationships. There is no, one-size-fits-all approach to define what being good at relationships is. Rather, the definition varies depending upon the partners involved in the exchange. That’s why no one can give you specific instructions on how to be good at relationships and even if they do, it doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to do it. Relationships always involve a dynamic and delicate interplay between at least two people.
Of course you can be in a relationship and not be good at it. Think, for example, about parenthood or leadership or teaching. Just because you get the title does not make you good at it. The same goes for entrepreneurs. You can start a business and be manipulative. You can thrive on exploiting other people. You can be an egomaniac interested primarily in power and prestige. You can grow rich as this kind of entrepreneur. That’s a choice you can indeed make, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.
Creative, social and solo entrepreneurs, amongst others, are at the forefront of creating new relationships with those they serve and by doing so, are challenging the very way in which business is conducted. They are questioning the tenets of our economic system, they are challenging the divisions between for-profit and not-for-profit models, they are pushing themselves to take action to make art, products and experiences that shake up our world and invite more people into the process of world-making.
If you think about it, being in relationships with others can help us strive to be the best people we can possibly be; entrepreneurship can and should be the same. Building a quality relationship between you, your business, those you serve and the community you all exist within can be the primary focus of an entrepreneur. The commercial exchange that happens as a result of that relationship comes second.
Or at least, that’s how I see it. You are completely free to contest that definition in any way you want so please do so. This is our world to make, so let’s get to it!
Originally posted on www.allisonhillier.com by Allison Hillier.