Leading up to the event, I felt excited and anxious. I was unsure what the experience might be, wondering if i had made the right decision to buy a ticket, book flights, and reserve a hotel—a steep investment for a business under 12 months old.
This was not my first B Corp Champions Retreat. I volunteered at the 2018 event in New Orleans (which I highly recommend for anyone curious as to what this Certified B Corporation community is all about).
I absolutely feel compelled and committed to using my creative and cognitive capacities, as well as my business as a force for good. But, feeling relatively new to this social entrepreneurship, B Corporation, or socially responsible business community, I can’t help but feel like something of an imposter.
Who am I? Just a dirty, unethical, slimy digital marketer? While I recently joined the One Percent for the Planet network, I can’t say I’m running a Certified B Corporation myself (yet)…
Battling this imposter anxiety, I had reservations about coming to this event where my attendance lacked a feeling of “legitimacy.”
And, I wasn’t wrong—I surely wasn’t as legitimate as many of those present.
However, that didn’t turn out to be a bad thing. But, before we get to that, let’s briefly introduce the “Champions Retreat.
What is the B Corporation Champions Retreat?
What’s this Champions Retreat all about?
This year’s event (2019), was hosted in Los Angeles, California at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, right below the “Hollywood Hills.” Many attendees arrived on Sunday and participated in opening day activities starting Monday morning, and then took off either Wednesday evening, or Thursday morning.
Best stated by the B Lab themselves (the nonprofit behind the B Corporation Certification), the “Champions Retreat is an incredible opportunity to connect with B Corps and people united in using business as a force for good.”
Surely that’s true. But to me, this event is much much more.
For me, it felt like 72 hours of immersing yourself in a community of true change-makers. The aims were two-fold:
1) Get a grasp for what’s being done already to address the much needed reforms of our economy as well as learn about actions being taken to tackle the world’s greatest environmental and social problems.
2)Then, with that in mind, the second objective is to learn and assess how you might be able to get involved, provide support, and further consider your own impact (positive or negative) as it relates to these social and environmental problems.
The people at this event are wonderful. They are terrifically kind and receptive. I can’t recount a single unpleasant interaction I had during the entire event. The event was a wonderful dedication to the “B Corp Movement.”
There’s an interesting balance of warmth, receptivity, and generosity in the atmosphere, as well as a prevalent undertone of seriousness and commitment to “do the work” and influence monumental positive change.
The event was focused on two particular reformations of our economy. And these are to make our economy…
1) more inclusive and…
2) make it regenerative, which together forms, as established by this community, the “B Economy.”
Here’s my attempt at defining these further, what it means to have an inclusive and regenerative economy (forgive me if something feels left out):
Creating an inclusive economy is creating an economy that doesn’t just benefit and service the traditionally under-served, overlooked, and marginalized demographics (although it certainly must include that).
It’s also creating an economy that includes those groups. From the B Corporation community, this is a call to action to see a more diverse group of business leaders than what we’ve traditionally seen (white males).
A regenerative economy is an economy that isn’t purely extractive or exploitative, but an economy that gives back, or regenerates the environment it’s a part of.
This “environment,” is not just the natural environment, but also the community and the people wherever a business operates it should be considering the implications of all its doings.
The regenerative aspect applies to the surrounding communities, making them stronger and healthier as a product of the business’ existence. At a minimum, businesses must be cognizant to neutralize their impact on the environment they are in.
To expand on these themes, the social impact conference included small breakout sessions (with 20-30 to a room), keynote speakers who addressed the whole conference, beautiful evening receptions and performances, as well as mealtime conversations inspired and prompted by attendees themselves.
The B Corporation Champions Retreat is an event truly rich in content, culture, and community.
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Who attends the Champions Retreat?
Of course, this was a reservation of mine—who should/can attend the Champions Retreat?
Here’s who you might expect to bump into there…
Certified B Corporations (of course) —
The for profit businesses that have committed themselves to considering first the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. These businesses are driven not just to be the best in the world, but the best for the world.
These are Founders, CEOs, Sustainability Directors, Marketing Teams, Etc. — Many companies come well-represented with 5 or so members while others may be a solo Founder or Co-Founder Duo.
Aspiring, Pursuing, or Questioning “B Corp” Members —
People on the outside of the Certified B Corporation Community looking in, wondering if this community is the right fit for them, seem to be very welcome to attend.
There’s also folks like myself, aspiring to achieve the ranks of “Certified B Corporation,” under the unofficial classification of “Pursuing Certification.”
Nonprofit Partners —
Nonprofits can’t themselves be Certified B Corporations, because B Corps are for-profit businesses only, but of course, the nonprofit partners of many of these businesses are critical to the success of this movement. You’ll run into these folks as they’ve often been key, or driving factors of the impact “arms” of some businesses, either through on the groundwork, partnered research, or leveraged expertise.
Likewise, Academics are instrumental to the B Corporation movement, and their research, their mobilization of students, and their academic contributions to the community have made them an integral piece.
What makes this event unique…why attend?
If you are in the business of making a social or environmental impact with your business, then I’d argue that this is your community.
There are many things that make this event unique and will make it difficult for me to pass on any future ones…
I believe these are people who are doing the work. These are people who are extremely open and generous but also very serious and considerate about their drive and sense of obligation to use their faculties to leave a positive mark on the world.
With that in mind, if you are seeking ideas, inspiration, and a call to action towards doing good, I’m not sure there are many better rooms of people to find yourself in.
And, before we dive into my personal takeaways from this year’s event, let me leave you with a few tips on attending:
Stay in the designated event hotel —
It’s always appealing to cut some costs on the event by staying in an Airbnb nearby. However, given the nature of conferences, I would strongly discourage that for three reasons:
1) 700 people flocked to the event this year, and many (if not most) of them stay in the hotel. There’s a lot of potential serendipity that can happen in the hotel’s lobby, bar, etc.
2) Conference agendas can often be jam packed leaving little “recharge” time. If you are like me, and you need an occasional 10-15 minutes to recharge in silence, it’s much easier to jump up to your hotel room versus lodging off the event grounds.
3) Anecdotally, I feel much more part of the experience if I’m staying in the same place as everyone else. Might not be the same for you, but I do appreciate that extra sense of connection to the larger “group.”
Sign up for and attend optional activities, especially if you are new —
A month or so before the event, the B Lab sent out emails announcing some additional opening day and closing activities. I signed up right away. I knew they’d be smaller group settings (relative to the total size of the conference) and I really appreciate those. I think they make a great opportunity for some more intimate connections.
I attended a facilitated mentorship session with Defy Ventures’ Entrepreneurs in Training on opening day (see more on that below), I went on a run in Hollywood Hills with a group one morning before breakfast, and I took an indescribably beautiful regenerative farm tour to close the event.
Each event provided a great opportunity to connect with new people, and the experiences themselves were extremely enriching.
Enough of the tips, on to the takeaways.
5 Takeaways from the 2019 B Corp Champions Retreat
1. If you want to be in the room, you are going to be held accountable to take action.
While at first glance, this takeaway may seem rather exclusive, believe me, it’s not. It’s not an explicit pointing and jeering that influences positive action, rather it’s a seamless effect of being in connection with these people.
Whether it’s main stage speakers like Denise Tascherau from Faireware proclaiming, “We are marketing to drive , not to drive sales,” or Collective Action Groups (see below) in breakout sessions laying out their proposals to address greenhouse gas emissions or dismantle institutional racism, you can’t help but feel compelled to take action yourself.
These retreats make a desire to want to change the world delightfully contagious.
And the best part: taking action towards making a better world isn’t as hard as you’d likely believe. With so many guides in this community, you can join someone who’s already doing work you admire. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
2. Every action you take as an entrepreneur (not just social entrepreneur) has consequences.
Emcee Lynn Johnson of B Corp Spotlight: Girls repeated this message from the event open to the event close:
“What you do to the land you do to the people, and what you do to the people you do to the land.”
There is no escaping responsibility. No matter your business, no matter your occupation, your actions (or lack thereof) play a part in a greater ecosystem.
Accepting the gravity of that, in what small ways might you act differently?
3. We all need to take responsibility to influence positive social & environmental change & we need to work together to do it.
The urgent and necessary needs of our economic and natural environments cannot be addressed by one sector—public, private, nonprofit, academia, etc.
No matter the sector and no matter the coalition, we must work together in order to take serious social and environmental action necessary to make the economy work for everyone and ensure the planet will be a safe and hospitable place for all.
In a time like now, where we can’t count on the government to take necessary action, NGOs, Academics, and the Private Sector must work harder and together.
That does not mean we shouldn’t vote all climate deniers out of office come 2020.
Collective Action was a large theme of the event— a call to ensure that members of the B Community weren’t working isolated in silos, but were banding together to multiply the impact of potential partners.
Collective Action Groups took main stage at one point in the conference, and invited the greater community to get involved, whether that was…
- #We the Change: empowering women to be leaders in this new economy;
- The Dismantle Collective: a person-of-color led group, committed to breaking down institutional and cultural white supremacy;
- The B Corp Climate Collective: B Corporations dedicated to taking action to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change;
- B Local Chapters, where community members can get involved with others to localize their efforts with regional B Corporations; or
- B Academics: educating students, and researching to support this movement.
4. Challenge Your Biases & Discomforts
As mentioned earlier, I attended an opening day activity, a facilitated mentorship session hosted by Defy Ventures. The goal of the event was to provide previously incarcerated individuals (“systems impacted people,” a term I learned during the week), with resume and job interview training.
We also discussed “open hiring” practices, like those of Greyston Bakery.
The experience was deeply impactful. These returning citizens are widely stigmatized, discounted, and overlooked. However, for all intents and purposes they have already “served their debts” to society.
But, are we really giving these folks a second chance? I couldn’t help but confront some existing thoughts and beliefs.
5. Wildly inclusive & connected group of people—jump on in!
Although this event intimidated me at first, it need not have.
If you are interested in making change, social entrepreneurship, the intersection of business/social impact, then I recommend you dive in.
Maybe it’s the previous “conference experience” I had in the digital marketing and sales sector that had built up these preconceptions of what this group might be like, but I was so pleasantly surprised that it was nothing like that.
This B Corp Community (those Certified and those surrounding) is/was generous, so resourceful, and extremely open.
A quote was posted on the main stage from the to-be winner of the Hal Taussig Award, Diana Marie Lee, from the B Corp Sweet Livity.
“I ground in unconditional love for people and trust them to be their best selves. And in the interim, I can hold space while they get there.”
This award is the “community’s highest honor” awarded to an individual each year at this gathering who “has lived the values of the B Corp community in their fullest expression.”
Despite not yet connecting with Diana personally, I think with those words she’s so fittingly represented my experience of the greater B Corp community thus far and of course seems so deserving of its highest honor.
Until the next retreat!
Co-Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble
Cory is the host of The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast, where he’s interviewed well over 150 leaders in the space of better business, social impact, and innovation. Prior to Grow Ensemble, Cory was the CEO of a digital marketing agency, a position he earned at the age of 22. There, he became an expert on all things digital marketing & SEO.
Cory Co-Founded Grow Ensemble (with his partner, Annie Bright) as a vehicle to raise awareness of and inspire action around some of the world’s biggest problems and problem solvers.
He blogs, podcasts, and publishes video on all things leaving the world a better, more just, equitable, and habitable place for all.