This was the second year in a row I was able to attend B Corp’s annual meeting of the minds in North America. Last year in Toronto, I had an uplifting and enlightening experience that introduced and welcomed me into the B Corp community. It was unforgettable. This year, the retreat was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, a physical space that has so many layers of history. Due to several factors — the location the retreat was held in, developments within the B Corp community, the global climate as a whole — the retreat definitely had a different feel to it. Last year, it felt celebratory. This year, it felt self-reflective. I felt like it was the moment right before you take a breath, roll up your sleeves, and do some hard work. Threads of self-reflection, inclusion, and forward progression were woven throughout the week as we discussed “Building the B Economy”: how to create an economy that works for everyone, for the long term.
Experiencing the poignant city of New Orleans
I had never been to New Orleans, or anywhere in the south for that matter, so I was very excited to have an excuse to go. I found the city beautiful, and very different than anywhere I had ever been before. It’s one of those places that I felt experiences things in a more intense and visceral way — joy, pain, triumph, hopelessness. Maybe it was the 30+C plus humidity, but it just felt more like Latin American to me than the United States. I won’t soon forget the sounds of brass bands playing on the street, nor the giddy feeling I would get just from listening to it.
There is darkness, but also resilience in this community. The energy of the place — a place that has seen so much pain and suffering — must have the continuing physical manifestation of that. Homelessness, mental health, addiction. The residue of a history that has divided groups and led to an unequal society, were on full display. Combine all of this with the hordes of tourists (many of whom are clearly visiting New Orleans to “let loose”), and I could certainly see why this place is considered to be intense.
I also participated in a morning of volunteering with the Friends of the Lafitte Greenway nonprofit. This group that has taken a decommissioned public area and turned it into a vibrant space that promotes the needs and desires of the community. They are trying to address so many issues: health, life expectancy disparity, and family, to name a few. This experience highlighted the grassroots nature of positive change. I saw resilience in New Orleans, a city which has had to rebuild itself before. And the people who have been there, doing the hard work. It certainly hasn’t been easy, nor is it complete.
Building the B Economy: Theme of the retreat
The themes that this city has grappled with were visited and acknowledged in different ways at the retreat. Race, gender, inequality, inclusion. Some of the talks were hard to hear. They were designed to help us acknowledge some uncomfortable truths. That until we bring everyone into the circle — not just the woke or those who are powerful, established, affluent, but the ones who have been historically left behind — our economy will not be inclusive. For that reason, the retreat this year welcomed not just B Corp companies, but also academics, potential B Corps, community members in the city that hosted us. Change was in the air, you could sense that the goals were getting even loftier than before. Why? Because we could all sense that the stakes were higher.
In many ways, 2018 feels like it’s been completely mad. Geopolitics, global trade, the changing climate. It’s been said before, but it’s undeniable now, that we are at a pivotal moment in the history of the world. There’s a growing sense of knowing that if we don’t change our course, the future is perilous. For all of us The B Corp community believes that it can provide a viable and powerful option for positive change. The opportunity we have now is to bring more businesses, organizations, individuals, and even governments into the mix. Just like New Orleans, the hard work that B Corps have done thus far certainly hasn’t been easy. Together, we acknowledged that it is far from being complete.
My personal experience and reflections
I had the privilege of co-hosting a breakout session on the topic of mindfulness with Seleyn DeYarus of At the Epicenter. Together, we led a group of retreat attendees in a discussion about the importance of mindfulness at this moment and for us in particular who are trying to “smash the existing system” and rebuild something more beautiful, functional, and inclusive. We discussed that you didn’t have to be a mindfulness guru or Buddhist monk to bring mindfulness into your life, that the trick is to find what works for you and commit to incorporating it into your life. Most importantly, we centered our minds and energies as a room and decided to utilize the retreat as a space to practice mindfulness. This experience was very rewarding for me, and I learned a lot by listening to the different people in the room.
The most powerful moment at the retreat for me came when my friend David Jackson of Impact Hub Oakland stood in front of the crowd on the first day, and reminded us that we need to do something. That it’s easy to look away from what doesn’t affect us, to focus on getting ahead, rather than the consequences that those who get ahead often disregard. That when some get ahead, others are left behind. That the any system which doesn’t include everyone’s voice and perspective, is ultimately unsustainable.
Why this movement is more important than ever
The themes that we discussed at the retreat have been coming back into my mind in the few short weeks since I left. There have been several events that, to me at least, encapsulate the moment, and show why we now, more than any other time, need to do something, and not look away any longer. A devastating category 4 hurricane making landfall in the US, as well as many other storms doing immense damage throughout the Americas — including in our own region of Costa Ballena. A UN report indicating that the global climate change situation is more dire than previously expected and most of us will see the exacerbation of its consequences in the next several decade. A lifetime appointment of a U.S. Supreme Court judge despite credible accusations of sexual assault against him, and the complete disregard for the woman who single-handedly tried to sound the alarm.
We are a small surf and yoga camp in Costa Rica. Perhaps some of those events wouldn’t be seen as affecting us. Yet if I have learned anything from the B Corp community, it’s that our world is intricately connected and we are all interdependent on one another. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and do something together, because there is much left to be done.
One thing we’re doing is hosting the 2018 Ocean Guardian Contest, and asking contestants to answer the question “How can individual action change the world?” Submissions accepted until October 20, 2018!