Social Entrepreneurship

Pink Bank Accounts

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 by

rural bank for womenA pink bank account could be a tipping factor in reducing gender equality in developing countries. It is also one of the most fascinating potentially-emerging trends for women’s rights that I’ve seen in a long time.

The whole topic started with my resistance to go to Western Union and transfer cash to some ladies who were helping me on a research project in Ecuador (where our cacao is farmed and ground). As a third generation social entrepreneur, you don’t need to tell me how questionable ‘holding accounts’ are, regardless of the institution, and I have experienced first-hand the exploitation of my gender in developing countries, so the chances that my dear helpers can even access 100% of the cash I send is unlikely, without a bribe, a note, a kiss, a whatever.

A bank account is difficult to set up sometimes, especially if you’re from a rural area, inconsistent with finances and don’t have a clear local ‘backer’. I watched many times, the large lines in Guayaquil of agri-financing at a local government institution and the ‘uncles’ that would accompany some of the ladies who came in from the mountains to pick up their cash, only able to get the cash if someone ‘credible’ came with them.

I recently read a paper that made my heart click. And I thought, albeit it totally cliché, of pink bank cards. E-Cash payments can actually help bring girls out of poverty, and back-influence core gender inequality topics of schooling, disease prevention and reproductive health programs. The idea, is to target adolescent girls (because they are in the time / place to best learn and use new ways going forward).

The terms is called ‘financially-inclusive e-payments’, and it is a double-header, meaning to improve an adolescent girls’ access to financial services and to teach her about asset-building opportunities.

Adolescence is the time of exploration and learning, the prime opportunity to not only help a girl get work but know how to access her cash and what to do with it. I realise that the problem of over overall poverty, and even equal access to working opportunities is already highly unbalanced.

The UN has a massive program targeting this,  The United Nations Millennium Development Goal 3, to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women,” as well as Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation etc.

My personal approach in social entrepreneurship is to contribute small, do-able, meaningful actions that are closely related to something I can understand. It is not my skill-set, nor ability to affect HIV, but this idea of helping girls understand the fundaments of finance, is a very small but meaningful idea we could get behind.

Girl-centered asset-building strategies is what it’s called.

Over the past decades, we have seen e-payments for savings but there is still the big gap for specific invest, grow and leverage elements. Micro-credit has been a huge contribution in this area, but there is another level that can be achieved.

Overall, the idea is that it could provide adolescent girls with access to formal financial systems, help them get their formal identity and rights, help funds that support major girl-focused programs to achieve a better return on investment (and see where their schemes go), and of course, let’s not forget the banks, it helps them expand their customer base. I know, the last one sounds totally banal, but if there is one thing I have learned about ‘sustainability’, it is that every idea and program must be, end-to-end, a win-win for everyone in the chain. If that means a bank. Then so well be it. Another benefit is that social protection payments can go directly where it needs to be, and not filtered through a third (or seventh) party. This means that actions of great needs, like education and health can actually produce better results as the cash will be used with skill, and also directly sent where it is needed.

What about the other things you find stuffed into modern chocolate – sugar, milk and other animal fats (go on, check the ingredients list on the backside of your nearest chocolate). Remember the details of what you read on the packet guidelines of your favourite chocolate? This is where it starts to become relevant.

The multiplier effect is the core of any effect, from tipping point to purple cow.

The ideas range from in-school banking (via e-payments) to using the information of the bank account to target adolescent girls to be and feel independent, show to savings habits can be developed and what personal and community investment can mean. In over a dozen countries across the world, more than 50 percent of girls—and in some nations as much as 87 percent—do not complete primary school.

Globally, approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school at all. In Ecuador, thankfully that rate is higher, so we DO have a chance to access them in a systemised way.

Adolescent girls are the most vulnerable population on the planet. Between the ages of 10-19, there are over 580 million girls. At least 90 million of these beloveds are in low-income countries where the income is less than USD 1,005 per year per person.

They can either join the economy, or go to the kitchen or the fields.

Over 100 million girls aged 5-17 are involved in child labor, with the most of them doing dangerous work. Studies show they also do a lot of ‘informal work’ where girls are particularly isolated and vulnerable. The sooner they can be counted, and use methods to ensure that the benefits they work for come directly to them, the better they can influence other major topics such as health improvement.

Teenage girls are not only the answer to social improvement, but the World Bank has a study indicating that they are also the key to economic growth and stability. My family are all social entrepreneurs, and hardly did charity.

The difference, between charity and helping someone help themselves, in my mother’s words is dignity; in the end, it is empowerment. 

Adolescent girls are apparently the biggest contributing factor that can influence intergenerational poverty than programs targeting children generally. 

“Measuring the Economic Effects of Investing in Girls: The Girl Effect Dividend,” the World Bank’s Jad Chaaban and Wendy Cunningham wrote that if young women in Brazil were employed at the same levels as men, the annual national GDP would rise USD 23 billion. In lifetime income by that logic, they calculate that India would add almost USD 400 billion to its GDP.

Big steps, big goals, but something that is a little smaller and helped by technology could be e-payments targeting teenagers.

Making pink bank accounts and teaching fun finance school.. I am going to try this. Usually when I travel, I hold events about nutrition, and often reach out to areas of a society who are not well informed about processed food vs fresh food. I am often in areas of not desperate poverty, but where industrialisation spread it’s toxicity and supplies cheap candy and processed foods, and I teach about making chocolate fun and healthy. There is a chance in this, to slip in a few finance lessons.  That is a very do-able idea. Which can start now.  And will. On my next event.

For perspective, I looked around for some models, and in the developed world found that the Girl Scouts movement has a program for girl-focused finance development. Check it out here:

The barriers that exist for AGYW to access cash (what the academics call adolescent girls and young women) range from regulatory to physical, to cultural:


The Adolescent Girls Initiative at the World Bank

Launched on October 10, 2008, as part of the World Bank Group’s Gender Action Plan, the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) aims to help adolescent girls and young women make a successful transition from school to work.

The program is being piloted in 8 low-income countries–including some of the toughest environments for girls. Each program is tailored to the country context, with a common goal of discovering what works best in programming to help adolescent girls and young women succeed in the labor market. Each pilot includes a rigorous impact evaluation. With new knowledge of what works, successful approaches can be replicated and brought to scale.



Introducing the LOHAS Conference Pre-Event Workshops June 18th, 2013 Boulder CO

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 by

On June 18th LOHAS will have several pre-event, day long workshops focusing on impact investing, LOHAS marketing, social media and leadership. These workshops provide a deep dive into insights, strategies and best practices that attendees will be able to apply directly to their personal and professional lives. All workshop attendees will also be able to attend the opening sessions and reception of the LOHAS conference. Pricing varies and discounted for LOHAS attendees. Limited space for each.

Impact Investing Collaboratory
The LOHAS Conference in cooperation with The Boulder HUB , will provide a unique opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs to connect, learn and collaborate around the funding challenges and successes in the emerging sector alternately defined as impact investing, social entrepreneurship and sustainable venturing. As the market has matured, and investors are more educated, This workshop provides more sophisticated investors with an experience of unquestionable value, while treating aspiring investors to a dip into the deep end, and supporting qualified entrepreneurs to a rich environment.

What Marketers Need to Know About LOHAS Consumers
This hands-on intensive workshop provides insights for attendees on best marketing and communications practices relating to both conscious consumerism and mainstream markets. Leading edge data will be presented along with case studies of successes and failures on leading LOHAS companies communicating valuable messages including authenticity, transparency and social responsibility. Attendees will gain key insights and ideas to implement into their companies immediately.

High-Impact Digital Marketing for Challenger Brands
For many LOHAS brands, “digital marketing” has become just “marketing” as campaigns increasingly live solely online. Yet many young companies have found it challenging to build a solid digital strategy with limited time, budget and creative resources. This workshop will equip savvy marketers and entrepreneurs with high-impact strategies for best representing their brands on social media along with the trends shaping the way we communicate online. Digital novices and veterans alike will come away with the tools to efficiently drive brand awareness and engage their fans across the major social media platforms.. Get ready to share in a day of digital marketing inspiration!

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself
Break free from old patterns and emotions, and create a life with creativity, and more happiness, health and abundance, simply by changing how you think. Renowned author, speaker, neuroscientist, researcher and highly-successful chiropractor, Dr. Joe Dispenza combines the fields of quantum physics, neuroscience, brain chemistry, biology and genetics to show you what is truly possible. Now you can access these remarkable techniques in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. Rewiring your brain is grounded in scientifically proven neuro-physiologic principles that he explains that is entertaining and easy to understand.

We encourage both LOHAS attendees and other professionals interested in the insights we plan to share to attend one of these events. Register HERE today!


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

Good Investors Love Good Businesses…and Good Businesses Love the LOHAS Accelerator

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 by

Author: Cissy Bullock, Awesome LOHASIAN and CEO LOHAS Asia

We’ve got some seriously good news for LOHAS companies, because if you’re working for a sustainable future of our planet as well as your bottom line, there is a new generation of investors looking to help you expand across the globe, improving the lives of even more LOHAS consumers. LOHAS companies are already seeing rapid growth. Success stories like Patagonia and the delicious Innocent Smoothies prove that mission-based companies with LOHAS values embedded at their core, make very attractive investments.

The rise of conscious capitalism,  whereby consumers, producers and investors assess economic decisions based on their impact on the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit, rather than just economic growth, is frequently cited as one of the megatrends for this decade. As part of this, more and more individuals are recognizing the benefits of Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS), and are seeking out more eco friendly, socially aware and sustainable products/brands to support a more balanced way of life. Take a look out of your window any morning before work, you’ll see more and more people walking, running and cycling; if they’re putting that much effort into their health, you can be sure that it’s not the only thing they’re consciously doing to improve their lives.

According to research by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), 56 million consumers in the US, a massive 18% of the population, are LOHAS consumers and the market is estimated to be worth USD290 billion. Across Asia – the worlds fastest growing consumer market – the LOHAS movement is spreading rapidly amongst cultures who have lived with health and sustainability values, and the importance of balance, in their hearts for centuries. LOHAS Asia was set up in response to this movement, helping good companies grow alongside the Asian LOHAS community.

16% of Asian consumers, approx. 300 million people, are LOHASIANS. Ask a resident of one of Tokyo’s bustling city streets what LOHAS stands for and 70% of them will be able to answer correctly. No real surprises, then, why Coca Cola chose Japan to test launch their ‘I LOHAS’ mineral water in their cornstarch, eco-crush PlantBottle.

Across the rest of Asia, awareness of LOHAS is growing, and in China alone, the number of LOHAS consumers is estimated to be 110 million. As environmental concerns escalate, such as those associated with the recent choking smog in Beijing that led one US embassy employee to famously tweet the message “Crazy Bad” in one of their daily air quality posts, health and sustainability will only become more important factors influencing individuals’ consumption choices.

Sustainable product innovation is being driven by the enormous market opportunity that exists with Asian consumers and increasing numbers of LOHAS entrepreneurs are responding with new and exciting market disrupting businesses. LOHAS Asia has members with a widely diverse range of products like Shokay, a yak down fashion brand which supports the herding communities which supply the fiber, to Saught who makes jewelry forged from old Cambodian landmines while supporting mine clearance programs, and eco-friendly household cleaning products made exclusively from soapnuts, called Soapnut Republic. Last year LOHAS Asia provided funding for Arterro, a sustainable art company.

The investment community is studying these exciting developments with interest, looking for conscious capitalists who are aligning purpose with profit. These investors recognize that good businesses make good investments, music to the ears of LOHAS entrepreneurs looking to scale their business, but concerned that the cost of investment is a lessening of the values upon which their company was founded.

With LOHAS companies looking for investment and LOHAS investors desperate to find the best opportunities within the market place, we put together the LOHAS Accelerator program, a business incubator that brings LOHAS companies together with an extraordinary team of cross-industry experts from Accenture, Google, Ogilvy & Mather, Silicon Valley as well as some of our own successful LOHAS entrepreneurs.

The LOHAS Accelerator team provides LOHAS companies with all the training, advice and support their business needs to develop a business plan into an investment winning pitch ready to present to venture capital funds.

LOHAS companies that are based in Asia, or have an Asian element of their business (supply, production, plans for expansion) can apply to pitch their business to our panel of LOHAS investors. Provided they can make a captivating business case, they could receive investment of anywhere between USD50,000 to USD10 million.

I spoke to one of the LOHAS Accelerators consultants, Chen Ley Ong, a triple-bottom line Silicon Valley angel and Cradle Fund mentor, "It's exciting to be a part of LOHAS Accelerator program because it brings forth the new wave of entrepreneurship – enterprises with a mission that benefit society and environment, i.e. social enterprises. The traditional business model is no longer a sustainable option. The LOHAS Accelerator program prepares entrepreneurs to shape and grow their enterprises in a healthy and sustainable manner."

Our last round saw the successful investment of $100,000 in LOHAS Hub Member, Indosole, who craft a range of fashionable and functional footware from old motorbike tires, which are salvaged directly from landfills, sanitized, and then transformed by the Balinese community who make them. This investment has helped them transition to a larger production facility in Indonesia, allowing them to increase inventory, attract further investment and build their team of quality staff, brand awareness and sales.

“Application to the LOHAS Accelerator was one of the best business decisions I have ever made.” Kyle Parsons, founder of Indosole, “The process was smooth, comfortable and very supportive from start to finish. The LOHAS Accelerator gave me the ability to identify my business model and then put it into action with experienced and professional consultants from Accenture; and all for free! Fortunately for Indosole, we got the funding we needed to grow our business. Additionally, we gained a strategic partnership with a group of people who genuinely care and have the ability to take our business to the next level in SE Asia.”

These are truly exciting times for the LOHAS movement, the companies working for our planet as well as their profit margin and the consumers who are trying to live a little more LOHAS. The unique LOHAS Accelerator program links the new wave of social entrepreneurs to enlightened investors and the skills and experience of experts from some of the world’s top companies. If you are interested in learning more about the LOHAS Accelerator, either as a LOHAS business or a LOHAS investor, please contact Cissy from LOHAS Asia.


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

Wealth + Well Being = True Prosperity?

Friday, March 1, 2013 by

What is genuine prosperity? Whether you are an individual devoted to growing Conscious Money, a LOHAS company committed to delivering value to your customers, or an architect of economic policy, it serves you well to contemplate that question. When you do, you may find yourself wanting to distinguish true prosperity from the mundane variety that may dazzle at first, only to unravel because it is highly unsustainable. Many are tempted to define prosperity in strict economic terms. Metrics are handy and besides, we’re talking about financial matters, aren’t we? 

Not entirely. As Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968, “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play … It does not include the beauty of our poetry . . . our wisdom . . . our compassion . . . it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
RFK’s moving remarks are especially pertinent today because, despite continued inequities, glaring injustices, and distressing environmental developments, an initial level of economic well-being is within reach for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and some of the more prosperous countries of Africa and the Middle East. For this reason, I would argue that the potential for people to practice Conscious Money is becoming a truly global phenomenon. That statement holds enormous ramifications for the LOHAS movement.
But how on earth do we factor in the many and deep dimensions of life that as Robert Kennedy told us, cannot be measured by what some call “the numbers”? 
Introducing: The Legatum Prosperity Index
True prosperity requires us to examine a complex set of human factors that encompass human values and consciousness. Determining and measuring the factors that sustain prosperity is the work of the London-based Legatum Prosperity Index, a global database that defines prosperity as wealth and well-being.  The Index’s findings often defy traditional thinking about who is prosperous and who is not. For example, the United States, often deemed the world’s wealthiest nation, ranks as only the tenth most prosperous. And the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, which is hardly considered well-to-do, ranks number 46 on the Prosperity Index, a few notches higher than oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which comes in at 49th. One intriguing and positive Index metric shows that the people of sub-Saharan Africa are more optimistic about entrepreneurship than those of many richer countries.
The Prosperity Index evaluates 110 countries (comprising 90 percent of the world’s population) on eight foundational factors of prosperity: economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, and social capital. Except for “economy,” which might be construed as purely financial, these building blocks of prosperity, in one way or another, gauge or reflect human values or higher consciousness. 
For example, education raises human awareness: higher education levels generally point to greater possibility of conscious choice. Entrepreneurship requires hope, a core human value. Security frees the human spirit to engage in productive activity, including economic activity. Social capital, which the Index defines as cohesive community and family networks, relies on the value of trust, the lack of which is highly detrimental to prosperity. 
As the potential for Conscious Money expands globally, we can see the world anew, envisioning fresh opportunities for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, to live, work, and invest in a world of peace and prosperity. But as the Legatum Prosperity Index demonstrates, it is not economics alone, but economics infused with shared consciousness cultivates the right conditions for a rich, fulfilling life. The Index also shows us that money, values, and consciousness are seamlessly intertwined in the dynamic of human economic evolution here on planet Earth. 
That bodes well for the future of the LOHAS movement and its continued international expansion.
Patricia Aburdene is one of the world’s leading social forecasters and an internationally-renown speaker. She co-authored the number one New York Times bestseller Megatrends 2000. Her book Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism launched a business revolution. Patricia’s new book, Conscious Money: Living, Creating, and Investing with Your Values for A Sustainable New Prosperity, published in 2012, is a finalist is the Green category for the “Books for a Better Life Award.” Read Chapter one of Conscious Money at Patricia was named one of the “Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Behavior” and serves as an Ambassador of the Conscious Capitalist Institute. Patricia’s journalism career began at Forbes magazine and she was a public policy follow at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA. Her website is

LOHAS Impact Investing Collaboratory - Bringing Money and Ideas Together

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 by

The time is nearing for our long-anticipated LOHAS Impact Investing Collaboratory on June 12th 9:30-5:30, cohosted with HUB Boulder! This is a special event seperate from the LOHAS Forum and focuses on the subject investment for entrepreneurs and investors relevant to LOHAS.  

If you haven’t yet registered, please do so as soon as possible so we can reserve your spot.  There is a great line-up of speakers and events taking place, so this is not to be missed!  For what to expect and more information, view the original post.

You can register on the LOHAS Conference Registration Page. The Investing Collaboratory is $225, which includes the day, plus lunch, and the opening evening of the LOHAS Forum.  HUB Boulder Members and LOHAS Forum attendees pay $150 (HUB Members contact Emily Higgins — emily [[at]] hubboulder [[dot]] com to get your discount code, or find it in your Members Newsletter).

To get you excited about the event, here is the agenda!

LOHAS Impact Investing Collaboratory
Working together to increase impact enterprise funding.

Theme : What’s the deal?  People with real-world experience talk about making and raising investments that balance financial returns with positive impact, on the regional economy, on the environment, and on social equity.

9:30 – 10:00 amNETWORKING and COFFEE

10:00 – 11:00 amOPENING
Introductions, welcome and frame-up.
Interview:  Kimbal Musk is one of the more successful entrepreneurs in Boulder.  The interview provides attendees with a rare insight into his world view, and perspective on impact, entrepreneurship and investing.

  • Kimbal Musk, Board Director, The Kitchen, Tesla, SpaceX
  • Bill Shutkin, President, Presidio School of Graduate Management (Moderator)

11 – 12:30 pm - CONCURRENT DISCUSSIONS – Thematic Issues
A. THE EXIT: What does it mean to cash-out of an impact deal?   Investors expect to make a financial return, and entrepreneurs seek to create the most impact possible, presumably over the long term.  How do we provide both outcomes, and leave all parties satisfied?  What does this mean for structuring the investments from the beginning?

  • Greg Berry, Managing Director, HUB Boulder (Moderator)
  • Rich Hoops, Board Member, HUB Boulder, SVP Boulder County, Center for Education in Social Responsibility, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado
  • Zenia Tata, Owner, Zenia Tata, Inc.
  • Lopa Brunjes, Managing Director, The Biochar Company

B. THE LONG RUN: What does it take to last in the impact field? Where are the jobs?  What values make people successful? Why have some people stood the test of time, while others have washed out?

  • Steve Schueth, President, First Affirmative Network (Moderator)
  • Kathy Leonard, Vice President, Investments, UBS
  • Al Doerksen, CEO, iDE

12:30 – 2:00 pmLUNCH & NETWORKING

  • By discussion topics at multiple local restaurants.  Topics to include:
  • Impact Investing In The Public Markets (Kathy Leonard)
  • Move Your Money: Localize Your Banking
  • State of Crowdfunding Today
  • Foundations & Investing: PRI & MRI (Caryn Capriccioso)
  • The 25% Food Shift: Local Food System Infrastructure Investing
  • HUB Ventures — Program Overview (Evan Steiner)
  • Impact Investing Fund on The Front Range (Elizabeth Kraus)

2:00 – 3:30 pm - CONCURRENT WORKSHOPS – Practical Balance of Impact and Return
A. DUE DILIGENCE Workshop (accredited investors only)
Over the past year, the Toniic investor network has gathered, cataloged, and synthesized best practices in due diligence in impact investing from their members, who include some of the most sophisticated impact investors in the world.  George will present some of the findings in that process, and will lead an interactive discussion to help improve the quality of due diligence in our community.

  • George Deriso, Director, Toniic Network (Moderator)
  • Robert Fenwick-Smith, Managing Director, Aravaipa

We will conduct a review of multiple pitches which have each been used successfully in raising money in the past year.  The session will include a round of critical feedback from people who have seen hundreds of pitches, and an open round of questions from the:

  • Ian Fisk, Executive Director, William James Foundation (Moderator)
  • Elizabeth Kraus, local investor (Panelist)
  • Gregg Bagni, Managing Director, White Road Investments (Panelist)
  • Evan Steiner, Director, HUB Ventures (Panelist)
  • Zubaida Bai, CEO, Ayzh (Presenter)
  • Ali Cherry, CEO, Snack Packers (Presenter)

3:30 — 4:15 pm - CLOSING CIRCLE: Building An Impact EcoSystem
Attendees shares the one action they are going to take forward to help build the impact entrepreneurship economy in their home – whether it’s Boulder, Denver, Tokyo or Des Moines.

Get people connecting with new contacts, and create opportunities for prospective deals to break out and have private discussions.
One on One Networking
Speed Dating?

Your ticket to the collaboratory also includes:

5:30 — 7:00 pmLOHAS RECEPTION, Boulderado
Maybe the best night of networking in Boulder all year.  400 company CEOs, 50 thought leaders, beautiful people, kindred spirits.

The Redeming Power of Capitalism

In an age of increasing cynicism, more people are recognizing that we can’t change outcomes unless we change the rules of the game.  How do consumers, investors, and workers find companies they want to support? Learn how a growing community of leading LOHAS businesses and investors is passing legislation across the country to create a new kind of corporation that meets the needs of the LOHAS community. We welcome you to share your own thoughts and experiences during this interactive audience roundtable.
Jay Coen-Gilbert – Co Founder, B Lab
Bryan Welch – Publisher, Ogden Publications
Kim Coupanas – CEO, GoLite
Blake Jones – President, Namaste Solar

9:00 pmLOHAS AFTER HOURS – Spotlight on Boulder


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

Top LOHAS-ish Fall Conferences for 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011 by

LOHAS crowdHere it is mid August and already I have to start working on my conference attending schedule for the fall of 2011. It seems like I have to do this earlier and earlier each year primarily because there are so many LOHAS oriented conferences being added or are catching my attention that I did not know of before. I have done a post on what events I think are important the past 2 years and here is my 3rd installment of top green/health and wellness/social enterprise/sustainability/leadership conferences worth considering as you plan your conference schedule for the fall.

For those new to the conference scene, there are two seasons – fall and spring. There are associations and organization that provide 1 or 2 events a year usually during those months. This is primarily because summer is a time when many set up personal vacation time and winter has more holiday time and weather issues.

Conference strategy
In determining which event is best for you take a look at the speakers and topics that will be presented. It is also important to look at the sponsors and how the event is presented via the event website. This will give you a feel on the type of companies that will be attending the event and what type of audience the event is trying to attract. By viewing the agenda content you can get an idea on how in depth they plan on going on topics. Also look at the networking opportunities that are in the program. Some events consciously embed them in the program via receptions, meals and outings and others do not. It is really up to you to make the best of the time for your own networking purposes.

On site
I find attending events to be incredibly stimulating. However I also find them to be extremely exhausting. Make sure you eat right, drink plenty of fluids, keep to a good sleep schedule and maintain a steady energy balance. For the large trade shows make sure you wear comfortable and supportive shoes for those hours on the exhibit floor. There are plenty of after party events to attend at which you can have some great business talks. It is up to you to make sure you know what formula works best for you. Set up meetings in advance if you can. That way you have some anchors to build the rest of the day's plan around and not get too lost in the shuffle of things - especially if they are large trade shows.

Women in Green - August 30-31st Santa Monica CA
Focuses on women in leadership positions that promote green business. Although all the speakers are women you don’t need to be of the double X chromosome to attend. This is the second year of the event and according to people who attended last year it was about 200 people. This year there should be more.

Conscious Capitalism - OCT 12-14 Austin TX
You need an invite to attend this prestigious event that brings many CEO’s together to discuss conscious leadership within organizations. It is a relatively small event with around 200 attending. John Mackey of Whole Foods co-founded this and has people ranging from the CEO of the Container Store to Jean Houston speaking on how business can drive conscious change.

Green Initiatives Conference Sept 29-30th Ft Lauderdale FL
A new event on my radar that has some interesting presenters and sponsors. The event team that is putting this on look like they have a tech background and may be one of the main focuses of the event. There are larger corporations participating such as DOW, HP and Coca Cola. It looks like they will focus on sustainability within larger companies and case studies from experiences.

SXSW Eco Oct 4-6 Austin, TX
SXSW music festival looks to sing a new green tune this year with the addition of a green event. Former LOHAS speakers who will be presenting include Simran Sethi and Philippe Cousteau. This is thier first year and the B2B event looks interesting. A great idea tagging it onto SXSW.

Opportunity Green Nov 9-10 Los Angeles, CA
OG is in its 3rd year and brings together green business and sustainable design in LA. They have about 800 attendees from all walks of life – corporate, entrepreneurs, media and of course Hollywood. They hold a great green design competition and it is a high energy event with interesting sessions and booths ranging from LED lighting for studios to BMW to water filters.

BSR - Nov 1-4 San Francisco, CA
The big one for the larger corporations that has been around a long time focusing on the corporate responsibility of multi-national corporations. Last year they had over 1000 in attendance. If you are looking to connect with the bigger companies on CSR initiatives this is the one to check out.

Funding and Finance
SOCAP Sept 7-9 Fort Mason, San Francisco CA
A vibrant event focusing on investing into social entrepreneurship. This event brings together large funds and banks with social entrepreneurs. Competitions on business plans are submitted ahead of time for a competition for funding and there is great education on raising capital for the startup and social enterprises.

SRI in the Rockies OCT 2-5 New Orleans, LA
A flagship event for social responsible investing(SRI) that brings SRI funds together with financial advisors. They also bring in a mix of speakers who focus on humanitarian, social and environmental impacts such as Jane Goodall, David Bornstein, Hunter Lovins and Bill McDonough. If you want insights on SRI and where it is headed this is THE event to attend.

Slow Money OCT 12-14 San Francisco, CA
Slow Money is a network of food activists, investors and entrepreneurs who nurture a range of conversations in order to actively develop funding and investment channels for local and sustainable food enterprises. Like Slow Food, they have local gatherings and a larger main event promoting a slow and steady investment into businesses who are seeking an alternative to the conventional Wall Street type investor.  Speakers include David Suzuki, David Orr and Vananda Shiva.

Investor's Circle OCT 26-27 Philadelphia, PA
A membership organization that  support a great entrepreneurs that are addressing social and environmental issues. They look at 10-15 high impact deals that are seeking investment.  They also provide a due diligence process that starts once the event is complete. It is about 200 people in attendance who are angel investors, fund managers, family office managers, foundation executives and trustees, wealth, financial and philanthropic advisers and their clients and other accredited investors.

Industry Specific
EcoTourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference Sept 19-21st Hilton Head SC
With over 30 inspiring sessions, 50 leading industry partners, and impactful and engaging keynote presentations, the ESTC 2011 (Hilton Head Island, SC, USA, September 19-21, 2011) sets the platform for ongoing dialogue promoting innovative ideas and practical solutions, driving change in global tourism.

Expo East Sept 22-24 Baltimore MD
Attended by as many as 25,000 industry professionals and featuring thousands of exhibits, Natural Products Expo East is the largest natural, organic, and healthy products trade show on the East Coast. With the newest and best-selling products and branded ingredients available this show features the best in organic at All Things Organic/Organic Products Expo-BioFach America, offers an extensive retailer training program and provides an advocacy platform through a strategic partnership with Natural Products Association East. Natural Products Expo East is ranked as one of the top 200 tradeshows in the US.

Greenbuild Oct 4-7 Toronto Canada
Greenbuild is the green building industry's can't miss event. It's where we go to learn about what's new in green building practices through the extensive educational sessions, see the latest technology and innovation in the exhibit hall, and perhaps more importantly, where we go to do business.  Greenbuild is a one-stop shop for credential maintenance. From pre- or post-show LEED workshops to sector-specific summits, from green building tours to concurrent educational sessions, you will find the education you need at Greenbuild. Most sessions at Greenbuild will be approved for continuing education credits for LEED and other professional credentials, allowing you to maintain your credential with ease.

Natural Beauty Summit Oct 6-7 NYC
This is a smaller and formal event for the natural and organic beauty industry that brings together the mission driven companies such as Dr. Bronners and Weleda with the larger corporations such as Este Lauder, L’Oreal and Avon. It is more of a lecture format and a lot of presentation intake. If you are a data hound you will get your fill. If you are a networker you will need to work for it but there are good connections to be made. The group is a bit insular if you are an outsider but if you are seeking to enter the luxury skincare market it may be worth considering.

Green Spa Network - Oct 9-12 Sundance, UT
This event is made up of a group of spa resorts and products that want to go the extra mile in promoting green efforts in the spa industry. The event has about 100 passionate people who want to move the spa world in the direction of holistic and sustainable integration. They are a very open and friendly group that welcomes newcomers (and new members). Plus the events are always at pristine green resorts.

ISPA - Nov 7-9 Las Vegas
If you are in the spa industry you have to go where everyone goes which is the International Spa Association Conference. Every other year they have their annual event in Las Vegas which brings investors, products and service providers, spa techs and directors together. This is THE most well groomed event I have ever experienced with exhibitors providing facials, teeth whitening and massages. There is good data provided on the spa world and great sessions specific to spa owners and employees. ISPA provides great data on the spa market as well. 

Social Venture Network Oct 27-30 Philadelphia, PA
SVN is a membership organization of successful social entrepreneurs ranging from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, creators of Ben & Jerry’s, to Van Jones, former Green Czar to Obama, to Tom Szaky founder of Terracycle. It mixes sustainability with community building and innovation and a ton of passion. You can’t leave this event without 2-3 bonding hugs. It is a great place to seek mentorship, collect ideas and also potential funding from successful entrepreneurs and community leaders who are interested in helping others. This overlaps with the Investor’s Circle previously mentioned.

Net Impact Oct 27-29 Portland, OR
Net Impact is a large event that brings 2500 students and corporations together. They have chapters associated with Universities all over the country with a large membership and the event focuses on social enterprise, green business strategies, and nonprofit work.

Public Events
Yoga Journal Conference Sept 18-25 Estes Park, CO
For yoga die hards and trainers interested in the business of yoga or just to improve their own yoga practice. Famous yoga instructors such as Rodney Yee, Sean Corn and Shiva Rae have taught classes here. There is a vendor area as well.

Greenfests are the creations of Green America and a designed to celebrate green and diversity in various regions. Their flagship event in San Fran pulls in 30,000 attendees and they have some amazing keynote speakers such as Dr. Weil, Deepak Chopra, Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower and many more. Companies large and small mingle together with the public selling their products and services. I think these are great not only to see what is being sold but to see who is buying and the similarities and differences each region has as it relates to green. There is always a colorful audience at Greenfestivals.
New York  10/1-2
Los Angeles  10/29-30
San Francisco 11/12-13

Bioneers San Rafael, CA 10/14-16
Bioneers is where ecology meets activism meets celebration. I could spend hours in the parking lot just reading all the bumper stickers on people’s cars (mostly hybrids). If you are into fighting injustices of the underserved, hearing the wisdom of traditional cultures and the stories of animals and unique journeys of people this is an event for you. There are workshops on business, youth, art, peace and more.  It draws about 3-5,000 who are all there because of the larger mission Bioneers embodies. Networking is great but you will need to be selective on who you connect with since there are so many types of people there.


Of course these are just a few of the many events out there of interest to me. There are many others that are international that I did not include. If there are any other events you see I am missing please feel free to comment and add.


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

10 Things That Make the LOHAS Forum Unique

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 by

1. Cross section of attendees is like no other event. Where else will you find Fortune 500 companies shoulder to start up entrepreneurs next to mainstream media and celebrity. It is a great networking event for those who want to stretch their comfort zone and meet new people.

2. Permission to drop the armor of image is granted and expected. Everyone at the event wants to know who each other is at heart first and then get to professional interests second. This makes the attendees really open to each other and sincerely attentive to each other’s needs.

3. On the cutting edge of what is next. Many events have large corporations as the core of their speakers where at LOHAS you see more of the larger corporations in the audience learning how to enter the LOHAS market.

4. Boulder City is the epicenter of LOHAS activity. Despite being just over 100K in population it is the hub of organics, clean tech, outdoor industry, spirituality, alternative medicine, technology, entrepreneurship and is beautiful place to be in June when the LOHAS Forum occurs.

5. St. Julien Hotel & Spa is the best hotel in Boulder and has a very accommodating staff and has fully embraced sustainability. They provide the measurements for landfill alleviation for the LOHAS forum and organic and locally sourced meal options. Last year we were able to recycle 87% of our waste from the event. We strive to do more this year. The spa is top notch as well. 

6. The LOHAS gift room is legendary. Rather than provide a pre stuffed conference bag of brochures that are typically dumped in the hotel room we provide a gift room of various items from LOHAS companies that attendees can pick and choose from. Attendees love this and the gift bags are usually quite stuffed when people leave the room!

7. Market data worth thousands of dollars is presented by a variety of green market trend specialists. Those that are interested on what is happening in the LOHAS space can collect a tremendous amount of insight from these highly sought presentations.

8. Program content transcends green business to include elements to connect with the human spirit and community in a way that is energetic and inspiring.

9. A paperless program for this year and digital signage. The program will be on an app that is also a mobile website. The app will be downloadable on iTunes and will allow those who are not attending to see what is happening by reading the social media feeds, text alerts and uploaded images by attendees. Conference signage are flatscreen monitors that double as media centers for video.

10. Not just a conference but a community celebration! We have a variety of ways built into the event ranging from morning yoga and meditation to musical entertainment to after parties to engage the senses for attendees.

If you are an attendee and have other elements I have forgotten I would love to hear them. Please share!


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

CSR today is derivative

Sunday, May 1, 2011 by

by Scott James

This month we took in a conversation with David Batstone, whose current job titles include Professor of Business & Entrepreneurship at University of San Francisco, President and Co-Founder of the Not For Sale Campaign, and Managing Partner of Just Business Fund. Let’s hear what David had to say:

telenorScott: What country should serve as a model for the U.S. community of CSR professionals and why?

David: Norway. I’ve been impressed with both their government and private sector initiatives. Their largest telecom company – TeleNor – was the 51% investor to bring launch Grameen Phone, the very successful mobile telephone company in Bangladesh. I wish our own country’s administration could begin encouraging business models and investments like this. We’re missing the boat in the U.S. to create local enterprises in other countries which offer both better return and a better chance of success because they are locally embedded. There are real business opportunities for – and with – the bottom billion. Let’s not lament the troubles involved; we must rethink who our market is and expand it to include this group.

Scott: Where are we (the US-based CSR community) succeeding?

David: Our private sector green protocols and investments are working. They represent cost savings, but also bring alternative energy and waste reduction to Corporate America in ways that you are not finding in other regions of the world. For example, last year Intel bought 1.4 billion kilowatts of renewable energy. Think of what that does for both new and existing renewable energy companies in terms of capital flow and attraction of investment dollars.

Intel is just one company; imagine if we were to see 10% of the Global 500 match Intel’s commitment! This is much more encouraging to me than any type of government compliance work around climate change. The private initiatives coming out of a strong CSR commitment are making much more headway than is our government.

Scott: How about our failures, where we are not succeeding as much as we could?

David: There is a real sense of ambivalence about CSR right now. It’s like a trip to the dentist; you know you have to do it but it’s not a pleasant experience. It does not provide inspiration and vision for most companies. But there is hope.

There are a selected few companies that are taking CSR to the very core of their business and corporate identity. It’s beyond starting a soup kitchen here or a HIV clinic there, although those are very important things. It’s about how our employees care and engage with this on a daily basis. They’re not just making widgets but tied to something bigger.

Stonyfield Farms (now owned by Dannon) used to do a lot of diverse philanthropy, but they’ve focused their CSR investments now to help farmers transform their dairy businesses from hormone-based to organic farming. And the small farmers are core to Stonyfield’s supply of high quality healthy products and brand identity.

Scott: Tell me about a company doing something in CSR that is a model for our future.

David: The G-III Apparel Group, which owns the U.S. license for Levi’s jackets and other name brands. As they are converting their supply chain, they’re thinking well beyond just CYA to create a story behind their product. They are reshaping what it means to be a retail brand by enhancing the lives of everyone who comes in contact with their product. G-III is sourcing organic cotton from an area in the Amazon heavily afflicted by human trafficking.

They are working with the Not For Sale Campaign to source from that region specifically to benefit the producers and communities, bringing the material to a Cambodian manufacturer also committed to a fully transparent supply chain. This enables retailers to communicate an authentic supply chain story, creating an emotional link for the end purchaser of the apparel. The new driver is consumer experience, not just price point and distribution.

Scott: What question are we not asking ourselves that we should?

David: Most of CSR today is derivative. We look for the easiest path, the plug-and-play CSR solution for our companies. Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “How do we become the Apple of social innovation?”

Teatulía Tea

Saturday, April 30, 2011 by


As an avid tea drinker, I’ve been called a ‘tea addict,’ ‘tea-aholic’ and ‘tea obsessed.’ My friends know that when they come to my house, they will be offered a cup of tea, then a choice of tea from my cupboard full of various types and brands of teas. From locally made loose leaf, to the tried and true Celestial Seasonings, I’ve accumulated a good size collection, which I am constantly adding to. That being said, I enjoy tea, and even more, I love to try new teas and learn about different companies and their unique ‘tea practices.’ When I had the opportunity to try Denver based Teatulía, how could I say no? I’m glad that I didn’t.

Teatulía is named for the region where the tea is grown in Northern Bangladesh. Grown from a single garden in an organic cooperative, Teatulía plants are cultivated by hand, and nurtured by Mother Nature. The garden is located in a pristine environment, nestled against the Himalayas to the North and the Brahmaputra and Ganges Rivers to the South, which offers the perfect climate and location for the plants to thrive. Teatulía is grown 100% organically without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilizers, and the taste of the tea reflects the love and care given to the gardens.

Teatulía offers a line of 9 organic teas, each unique and delicately tasting in its own way. From the smooth, subtle flavor of Black Tea, refreshing White Tea, Spicy Ginger, floral Earl of Bengal, herbal infused Tulsi, energizing Peppermint, earthy Green Tea and more, Teatulía teas are exceptionally high quality, and outshine any of the other teas in my personal collection. Although I enjoyed trying all of Teatulía’s flavors, I have to say that my two favorite were the White Tea and Green Tea, both offering a subtle, smooth flavor that lasts and lasts. Green Tea

As a self-proclaimed green tea addict, I was naturally drawn to Teatulía’s Green Tea, which has a pure, delicate taste. The green tea world is vast, and within it are many different types of green tea, but from my experience trying various green teas, I’d say that Teatulía’s falls at the perfect medium of ‘not too grassy’ and ‘not strong enough.’ It’s subtle, yet very flavorful, and the tea bag lasts for at least 2 full cups of tea. I will definitely be buying this one!

Teatulía’s White Tea is equally delicious in its own right, and offers a very distinct white tea flavor. Some white teas have the tendency to be weak, or have a more floral taste, but Teatulía’s White Tea is very smooth, yet crisp tasting. At first glance, it doesn’t look so much like a white tea, and is almost brown. However, once you get a taste of its magic, you won’t want any other!

In addition to the company’s delicious, organically grown teas, there’s more. As a company, Teatulía is dedicated to sustainable business practices, and social responsibility is engrained in their DNA. When it comes to environmental integrity, all of Teatulía’s packages are handcrafted and made from biodegradable materials, and each Teatulía tea bag is made from corn silk, which is also biodegradable. In addition, the Teatulía Cooperative creates sustainable prosperity for Bangladeshi women, men and children through education, entrepreneurship, health and cattle-lending programs. Who knew that one tea company could make such a difference in the world?

Whether you are a tea connoisseur, or tea novice, I highly recommend trying Teatulía. In my opinion, there are only a few others out there that can even compare to the high quality offered by this company, in addition to the environmental integrity and social responsibility they stand for. On that note, I’m going to pour myself another cup! Cheers, and as Teatulía says, “To Health. To Life. To Tea.”

Preparing for the Pitch

Thursday, April 8, 2010 by

Preparing for the Pitch:
Tips for Mission-Driven Startups Seeking Outside Capital

By Matt Lombardi

Raising capital for a LOHAS mission-driven venture is exceptionally challenging and is a key element of successful green business strategy. One obstacle that social entrepreneurs face is a scarcity of traditional funding sources. Conventional investors tend to avoid double-bottom line companies for fear that such investments would yield lower and slower returns. As traditional investors dominate the venture capital arena, finding investors with two bottom lines is not an easy task. 

While there is no single way to attract mission-aligned investors, there are practical guidelines to help social entrepreneurs locate viable backers, understand their needs, and avoid the most common fundraising mistakes.

Where to Find Mission-Aligned Capital
Angel networks, which are groups of individual investors who provide capital to startups, are a viable option for for-profit socially responsible investment ventures. Individual investors tend to consider a broader range of deals than most venture capitalists. An extensive list of angel groups can be found at the Angel Capital Association’s website ( One of the more established groups listed, Investors’ Circle (, is a national network comprised of individual and institutional investors dedicated to backing for-profit social entrepreneurs.

Several double-bottom line institutional lenders and venture funds have sprung up over the last couple decades. A few examples of these institutional investors include RSF Social Finance, Calvert, and SJF Ventures. A comprehensive list of socially responsible funds can be found on Columbia’s Research Initiative on Social Entrepreneurship (RISE) website located at   

The U.S. Small Business Administration ( is a helpful resource for ventures seeking loan opportunities.

Mission-driven ventures that take a non-profit form should consider the extensive list of grant resources found on, a website dedicated to supporting social entrepreneurship. A more traditional list of funders can be found at Foundation Center Online at 

Matt Lombardi is the Entrepreneur Services Director for Investors’ Circle, a non-profit national network of angel investors, institutional investors and foundation officers who seek to balance financial, social and environmental returns.

What Do Socially Responsible Investors Look For?

The array of investment criteria is overwhelming in breadth, however most double-line investors zero in on a few key factors when it comes to making the right investment decision.

Before shopping your idea to investors outside your immediate circle, you will want to be confident in the following:

1.) Strong and relevant industry experience. Investors are said to invest in entrepreneurs, not ventures. If your team lacks experience in a specific area, be forthcoming about your plans to fill that gap. Developing relationships with reputable advisors will also help build credibility.    

2.) Attractive and realistic financial projections. Enough with the hockey stick projections! Being overly optimistic is a sure way to lose credibility. In the same vein, take care not to be too conservative. While being realistic, make the opportunity compelling from an investment standpoint.

3.) Firm understanding of competition. Refrain from minimizing your competition. Acknowledging your competitors demonstrates that you understand the market and are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.  

4.) Traction in the marketplace. Demonstrating that there is a demand for your product or service is key to peaking an investor’s interest. Documenting letters of intent from strategic partners and potential distributors will also strengthen your value proposition.

5.) Built-in values. Socially responsible investors favor ventures whose mission is core to the company’s business model, rather than just an afterthought.

Fundraising Tips

Investor meetings can vary from a cup of coffee to a full-scale pitch before an investor group. Regardless of the level of formality, keep these tips in mind to avoid common fundraising mistakes: 

1.) Keep it simple. Avoid getting lost in non-essential details. Start with a concise encapsulation of your business concept to draw in your audience from the start. Then deliberately hit the key areas of interest to investors (i.e. competitive advantage, market size and trends, business model, social or environmental impact, management team, financials, and the potential exit).
Practice presenting until your delivery time is consistent
and appropriate for the occasion.

2.) Come prepared. When meeting with an investor or group of investors, a concise 5-15 minute PowerPoint presentation is standard. Come prepared with an updated business plan and executive summary. If applicable, bring a prototype or product.

3.) Engage the audience. Avoid text-heavy slides. Presentations should guide viewers through your key points, not serve as your script. If you want the audience to remember verbal points, provide a handout sheet at the end of the meeting.

4.) Attitude Matters. Appearing “too confident” or “egotistical” is a common mistake that entrepreneurs make at investor meetings. While it’s critical to come across as both passionate and competent, an approachable demeanor will help open a dialogue between you and your potential investors. Simple tactics such as smiling and making eye-contact are essential to making a good first impression.  

5.) Interview your investors. Due diligence should not be a one-sided process. It’s essential to trust and respect potential investors before signing term sheets. Sharing a common vision of the company’s future (as well as the investors’ exit) will help reduce conflict as the company matures.

LOHAS Venture Fair Not to be Missed

For LOHAS oriented companies or values based investors please check out the LOHAS Venture Fair. This event is developed from a partnership between Investor's Circle and LOHAS and is a great opportunity for you to interface with likeminded prospects and peers. It also coincides with the LOHAS Forum June 23-25th.


Relationships, Relevance, and Results

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 by



Every day, thousands of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies encounter the challenges and the benefits of working in an increasingly multicultural society. From reaching out to potential customers, clients, donors, and taxpayers to providing critical products and services, every organization in today’s society must make effective communication in a multicultural context a key priority. It is an absolute necessity for organizational success and for building healthy communities.

Taking a multicultural approach to communication increases the relevance and impact by recognizing, respecting, and engaging the cultural backgrounds of all stakeholders and framing communication in ways that invite real participation and dialogue. Effective multicultural communication unlocks new resources and brings additional perspectives and talents to the table to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to our most challenging social, environmental, and economic issues.

An analysis of the raw data highlights the significance and growth of our nation’s increasingly multicultural population. Take ethnicity statistics alone: ethnic and racial groups account for 30 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 90 million people. By 2050, communities of color will make up 49 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 209 million people.

Through our work with leading businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies, we have distilled eight principles for effective multicultural communication. You will see that many of the principles make great sense for communication to all audiences and are built upon well-established communication and social marketing theory.

1) Check Your Assumptions at the Door: Begin With Yourself
Before beginning to work with any group that is culturally, ethnically, or racially different from your own, it is critical to step back and identify any assumptions, preconceived beliefs, or stereotypes that you might hold about that population. Your best intentions may be undermined by old assumptions or isolated experiences that can impact your ability to develop a sound strategy that effectively achieves the behavioral, attitudinal, or systematic change you seek. It is also essential that you not assume a particular group holds the same set of values or beliefs as your own.

2) Understand the Cultural Context(s) of Your Audience: Do Your Homework
The goal of any communication is creating shared understanding. As communicators, when we relay a message (language, symbols, images), it is with the expectation that the receiver can interpret as the sender intended and has the ability to take action accordingly. This is not always the case. Various cultural groups have unique ways of perceiving, organizing, and relating to information. They may have different needs, values, motivators, and behaviors. The norm for one group may not necessarily be relevant or appropriate for another group. The message must fit the cultural context (the norms, ideas, beliefs, and totality of meaning shared by a cultural group) of the audiences you want to reach.

3) Invest Before You Request: Create Community-Centered Partnerships
Historically, there has been a tendency to reach out to organizations serving special populations at the point when businesses, issue advocates, or other organizations need help accessing a community or seek to expand service or products to a community. Too often the first introduction is a request for assistance in conducting outreach, sharing information, facilitating market research, or referring participants to programs. In many cases, communication has been one way and self-centered—what can this person or organization do for us? By investing in the community—learning about organizational needs, attending events and community forums, and participating in community-based efforts—you can build trust and the foundation for long-term engagement. By taking this step first, before you have a specific programmatic request, you invest in building connections that lead to long-term partnerships.

4) Develop Authentic Relationships: Maintain a Long-Term Perspective
Authentic relationships are those that engage community members in idea generation, feedback, and decision making. Such a relationship is patiently developed because there is no need to rush to get to know and understand each other. The relationship is based on a true sense of shared values and shared mission and is focused on ongoing collaboration rather than a specific project. Communication, contribution, and commitment are all two-way.

5) Build Shared Ownership: Engage, Don’t Just Involve
As you seek to engage the community in your work, look for opportunities for the community to become vested in the mission that drives your work and its outcomes. Identify opportunities for leadership roles for members of the community and engage them as decision makers and owners of strategy. Actively seek their guidance and input in evaluating and refining strategies and messages. When there is more than one cultural group that you wish to engage, identify the needs, values, and motivators that the groups have in common and use these to develop messages and strategies that help unify the groups. This approach helps build community, ensure that groups do not feel they are in competition for attention or resources, and also helps to identify and elevate shared community needs and values that help shape ongoing community dialogue.

6) Walk Your Talk: Lead By Example
All of us have had experiences in which the message conveyed by an organization is inconsistent with its actions and behaviors. The classic example is a retail business with a huge welcome sign in the window and a staff that ignores you. This is just a manifestation of the challenges audiences experience when the message doesn’t match the experience. If you say that your programs are flexible, open to all members of the community, and based on community needs, then that must be what your audience experiences. If you commit to collaboration, then you must behave collaboratively. If you are committed to providing services to “everyone” in the community, your organization’s staff, governance, and partnerships need to reflect the community, and your resources need to benefit that community.

7) Relate, Don’t Translate: Place Communication Into Cultural Context
Successful multicultural communication requires more than just translating English-language content. It requires embracing the social nuances of diverse cultural groups and markets and actively engaging them in the creation of relevant communication strategies, tools, and messages that have the best opportunity to achieve the desired action. When existing strategies are deemed effective, the process of adaptation for new audiences is much broader than the words on a page. In fact, more important than deciding which language to use in your materials is ensuring that the content resonates with the culture and identity of your audience.

Effective multicultural communication entails appropriate interpersonal communication dynamics, the right context, and appropriate usage of culturally relevant imagery, vocabulary, vernacular, metaphors, or slang. Translation makes things readable, not necessarily relevant. A better approach is to make a conscious choice between translating existing concepts that work, relating existing concepts into new images and words that convey ideas more effectively, or developing completely new creative (message frame, copy, imagery).

8) Anticipate Change: Be Prepared to Succeed
Bringing new people and new perspectives into your organization, especially those from a cultural group that has not been previously engaged—be they staff, volunteers, clients, customers, members, investors, donors or community partners—will naturally change the dynamics of your organization. It may change how the organization is structured, governed, and staffed. It may impact how consensus is built, how meetings are managed, and how decisions are made. It may impact how a product is reformulated or how a marketing campaign is planned and executed. When conducting multicultural communication, answer the questions: “Are we prepared to succeed?” “Are we ready for change?”

Cases Study Examples:

The YMCA offers many examples of community-centered partnerships.

Issue: The YMCA of the Columbia-Willamette in Portland, Oregon, was interested in connecting with the fast-growing Latino population in the area. It wanted to increase Latino participation in programs and encourage that community to volunteer and become potential donors to the organization.

Strategy: The YMCA’s president was new to the area, recently relocated from Los Angeles, where he had worked extensively with Latino youth and families. He reached out to a local Latino-led community organization that served children and youth through a variety of programs. He offered transportation, access to facilities, and staff to lead nutrition and fitness classes free of charge.

Results and Impact: The pilot program sparked multiple on-site programs and joint fundraising efforts over several years. The Latino organization gained access to quality facilities, expert staff, and curriculum about health, fitness, and nutrition to supplement its educational and workforce development programs. Hundreds of children and teens benefited from year-round health and fitness programming. Over time, this relationship led to new Latino board members, an increase in Latino volunteers, and an increase in the number of Latino youths and families attending YMCA programs and services (the original goal).

New Seasons Market is a good example of investing before requesting.

Issue: New Seasons Market is a chain of Oregon grocery stores committed to building strong communities and supporting a healthy regional food economy and environment. Unlike many stores that carry a wide array of natural and organic foods, New Seasons has opened several stores in underserved neighborhoods that include the established African-American community, a growing Latino population, and many new Southeast Asian and Eastern European immigrants. These stores are in locations that were abandoned by traditional grocers decades ago. New Seasons needed to establish community support to build the stores and a strong customer base in neighborhoods other grocers had considered unprofitable.

Strategy: New Seasons’ CEO and other leaders began attending neighborhood meetings prior to siting new stores. They learned from community members that a major need and priority was bringing a grocery store with healthy food into the neighborhood. They garnered community feedback on store location, product mix, and service needs. They began hiring and recruiting from the neighborhood for jobs in their other stores while new stores were in development. They participated in priority neighborhood projects, from street tree plantings to sponsoring a youth entrepreneurship program at one store. They advocated as an ally of the community for improved transit and other needs.

Results and Impact: New Seasons opened two large stores in neighborhoods without a grocery store and hired staff at all levels that reflected the local community. The diverse customer base from the neighborhoods has made both stores very successful. New Seasons has forged strong community partnerships and relationships, providing it with allies on priority issues of food policy. In turn, New Seasons has been engaged as an ally for community development and economic equity priorities. Further, local communities have pointed to New Seasons as an example of the expectation they have for other companies that benefit from doing business in their neighborhood.

The Lee y serás campaign (an initiative of the National Council of La Raza, Scholastic Inc., and Verizon) is a good example of “relate, don’t translate.”

Issue: Currently, 86 percent of Latino fourth-graders and 91 percent of Latino eighth-graders in the U.S. read at or below basic skill levels. Fewer than 25 percent of Latino 17-year-olds can read at the skill level necessary for success in college and the increasingly high-tech workplace. This achievement gap actually begins before children enter kindergarten. A major goal of this national bilingual early-literacy initiative is to empower parents and childcare providers to play a first teacher role.

Strategy: As the education system has increasingly encouraged learning English, non-English speaking parents do not receive encouragement for and may even be discouraged from reading to their children. Also, the traditional message of “Read to your children so they will be better prepared for school” does not resonate as well in the Latino community due to a belief by some segments of the community that learning begins in school, not at home. Clearly, traditional literacy frames would not work with this audience. New materials and a unique creative approach were needed in Spanish and best developed within a cultural context that the various Latino subpopulations could relate to.

The campaign’s focus group research guided the development of a message framework that centered on succeeding in life, rather than the dominant literacy message frame, “Read to your child so they can succeed in school.” Latino cultural strengths such as storytelling, rhymes, and singing were emphasized. Further, based upon an understanding of the work-life demands (another cultural context factor) of the primary audience, the message frame highlighted how talking, telling stories, and singing to children could be incorporated into parents’ daily activities. 

By recognizing that many parents have multiple jobs and cannot meet the demands of traditional messages that call for a set amount of time spent reading each day, the campaign created a culturally relevant frame that was effective with parents and primary caregivers. Six pilot campaign markets were selected to reflect cultural needs of specific subpopulations such as Chicanos and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, Cubans and South Americans in Miami, and Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York.

Results and Impact: Initial impact assessments in the six markets show very promising success. Parents involved in the program clearly and enthusiastically articulate and act on their first teacher role and articulate the core messages of the campaign in their own words when describing what is important for their children to succeed. Cultural aspects of the program such as rhymes, stories, and songs have been particularly well received.

Effective multicultural communication is a critical factor in engaging and garnering support from the full spectrum of voters, donors, customers, constituents, and stakeholders that make up the American mosaic. By applying the eight principles, your organization can better advance your goals and help create a stronger and more equitable society. While there are many nuances, approaches, and perspectives to learn and apply, ultimately it all comes down to what we like to call the 3Rs: Relevance, Relationships, and Results.

Metropolitan Group is a full-service social change agency that crafts and integrates strategic communication, resource development, and creative services that empower social-purpose organizations to build a just and sustainable world. More information is available at