Radical Business: The Root of Your Work and How it Can Change the World with David Gaines - Ep 22

This episode of the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast aired on Tuesday, June 6th, 2023. This episode can be found on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

0:00:01.3 Lauren Dekleva Haynes: On today's episode of The Social Enterprise Alliance podcast, we'll actually be interviewing my co-host, David Gaines. David Gaines is the Chief Visionary for La Terza Coffee and author of the new book, Radical Business: The Root of Your Work and How It Can Change the World. As David discovered the business model of social enterprise, he saw how all businesses could make the world a better place, and that realization changed everything. Well, welcome, David.

0:00:27.8 David Gaines: Well, welcome. That's pretty fun.

0:00:31.8 LH: Yeah, got a little bit of a switch-up here, very cool. Well, I'm so excited to talk about your book, Radical Business. It actually came out today. Is that right?

0:00:41.6 DG: Yeah, yeah, so here we are. It's been quite a journey that probably started 10 years ago that led me to social enterprise, and we'll get into that, I'm sure, but it is what I'm most excited about is this world of social enterprise and to be able to write and put all that together and to help people along the journey is just a dream come true.

0:01:06.7 LH: Amazing, amazing. Well, I actually got an advance copy of the book, which is… That's cool. That's the first time that's ever happened to me. So I enjoyed digging into it, and I just wanna say I really appreciate the tone of the book, first of all, it's very conversationally written, so I feel like it'll be… It's just very accessible for all levels of comfortability with the topic of social enterprise, which is I think your intended purpose, but it's also very optimistic, it's about setting gentle and realistic goals for increasing your social impact, and just that idea that all progress is important, so I think that's really cool, that's a really great way to approach a topic like this.

0:01:49.5 DG: Yeah, well, that's fantastic. You and I have not had a chance to talk about you reading the book. So that absolutely was the goal, and I think that when we think about the social impact that we have, it just can be so overwhelming sometimes, most people I know in the sector, other members, whenever we've gathered locally from SEA Chapter meetings or whatever, we all tend to be an optimistic bunch, but the work can also be very overwhelming and draining, and so I think it is important to realize the small things can make a big difference, and it's lots of little, small things that add up to the big things. So that's definitely one of the messages I wanted to convey, and I'm glad to hear it reflected back that that's what you're walking away with.

0:02:39.0 LH: Yeah, absolutely. Message received, for sure. So that kind of… I think there is an element of this book that is directed towards people who are already in this space, but when you were writing it, who is the target audience of this book?

0:02:54.3 DG: Yeah, that's a fantastic question. It really is not people that are in this sector, I think that there is a very specific message for social enterprise folks or entrepreneurs, and that message is, what impact are you doing now, how can we help you deepen that impact? But also if your area of work is going to be in a justice category, how are we thinking about the supply chain, so we have a lot of members that make and sell a lot of different products, and that's all really good and important work and huge components of what it means to be a social enterprise. Maybe the next conversation after that, after you become profitable and see some of your impact, you begin to ask other questions like, how can you make sure that the raw materials used to make that product are better for the environment? So there's always a little bit more I think that we can be working towards. And so that's hopefully a message that's part of the book.

0:03:57.9 LH: Yeah, absolutely.

0:04:02.9 DG: But for sure, the specific target audience is gonna be just a small to medium-sized business owner, more and more people that are taking over their parents' businesses or starting new mom and pop stores, and a lot of people that I know that are in the tech startup world, they are kind of automatically asking about, okay, well, here's what we're gonna do, but also this is an area of impact that we're looking into, and so I wanted to empower decision makers, so if you manage or own a small to medium-sized business, you can make decisions pretty quickly. And throughout the book I try to make case studies actually why social impact concepts are, at the end of the day, more profitable than a traditional business, so I really am trying to empower the decision maker and that's who I wanted to write the book for the most.

0:04:57.9 LH: That's awesome. Very, very cool. And how did this book come to be, what was the initial idea that you had, and how did it morph and change through the process?

0:05:07.2 DG: I can tell you exactly where I was at when I asked myself a question that began this whole process. So as you mentioned, I own a coffee roasting business here in Cincinnati, I did not start that business, a friend of mine did, he was amazing at coffee, and at that moment in my life, I owned a small business, I cleaned carpets, and I had one or two employees, but it was mostly me doing the work, but I was really only doing the work about half time. The reason why I started that business was so that I could work at a non-profit without having to depend on that organization for my salary. So I was successful in terms of, I did accomplish that, but I had a pretty low ceiling, I couldn't grow the business beyond me working, I couldn't really have the impact that I wanted to do, I wanted to do more work in impact spaces, but I was always tied to choosing to make sure I could earn income and pay my bills, as well as seeing what kind of social impact I could have.

0:06:18.6 DG: So I entered the space by consulting my friend, I was reading a lot about business, I was always trying to think of… I am more of a future thinker, so I'm trying to think through strategy and branding and marketing, and my friend was not really… He didn't care about any of that, like he just loved coffee and serving people, and so I connected with him and was starting to do some consulting work, but what was fascinating about his motto was, here he was as a for-profit business, but the more that he grew his organization, the more impact he would have, like they were very related. So just in the coaching aspect, it became clear that it was a good fit for us to become partners essentially, and he could go do the coffee and the thing that he really cared about the most, and I could help think through growth and strategy and ultimately deepening our impact, but through that process, I was like, okay, he is a "good company". Well, what other good companies are out there and what does it even mean to be good? And those two questions are what led me down this path of what social enterprise is, I wasn't even familiar with the phrase social entrepreneurship or social enterprise at that moment in time.

0:07:38.1 DG: So yeah, that's the question. It's a really hard one to answer. And that's what… I wrestled with that for a long, long time, and asked lots of different people what their opinions were, and those conversations are really what led to the framework of the book.

0:07:55.4 LH: That's great, yeah, that's awesome. It definitely feels informed by a lot of that experience in the field and figuring out some of these concepts for yourself while also pulling from a community of impact workers, so that's awesome. You talk about how you didn't really know the term social enterprise, and I think that's probably a really relatable thing for a lot of people that are gonna be reading this book, but you also talk about the importance of the social enterprise label. Towards the beginning of the book, you tell the story of a friend of yours, Maggie, who has a wellness organization, and she was saying… She told you, "I'm not a social enterprise, I don't do X, Y, Z that would make me a social enterprise," and you challenged her with the question, well, how are you not a social enterprise? And she struggled to answer that question, and I thought that was an interesting thing, and you mentioned this several times throughout the book, these interactions that you have with businesses that you know that are doing really amazing work, but maybe not necessarily accessing that social enterprise label, but you also talk about how empowering it is when they are able to resonate with that label and adopt it, so what are your thoughts on all of this? Why do you think this is?

0:09:11.1 DG: Yeah. I would say that that story is one of the reasons why I wanted to write the book in the first place. I think for Maggie, her definition of social enterprise meant she had to be a non-profit, and I think if you have had the opportunity to think about social enterprise, many of us, historically it does come from the non-profit sector, and so maybe that's where a lot of people are getting their start, so I think that that's where she began, without question she did feel like she was making a level of social impact, she was trying to change corporate America at that moment in timing, and consult large organizations, really helping C-suite people at the top think differently about wellness, even to the basics of not viewing employees as numbers, but really human beings, so she was aware that she was having an impact, but she was not associating this social enterprise label to that. But I think one of the reasons why it's so difficult is it goes back to my question about what is good and what isn't good.

0:10:29.3 DG: The more I asked the question to people around me, the more I realized that everybody has a little bit of a different answer, and so very quickly you realize this word good is not this binary thing, like who is in as a social enterprise, who is not in as a social enterprise is all a little bit squishy, so when it comes to defining what good means, we all probably can agree on some causes that organizations are a part of that are trying to make an impact like clean drinking water, rescuing women from really difficult situations, or even modern-day slavery, but other social causes exist that our society does not have a clear consensus on something that is good or not good. We are currently seeing that in our society today, really in the political landscape, and we see organizations supporting both sides of multiple issues, so they would both argue that they are doing good work, even if one organization may be exactly opposite of my perspective, and so it gets really squishy fast and I think that that's one of the things that's challenging.

0:11:40.4 DG: The other thing I think that is challenging specifically with Maggie's story is that she was doing a level of good, but she wasn't like giving back, and that's what her definition was including, but a lot of different businesses and organizations are doing some level of good, even in their most basic service. So like I'm a coffee roaster. I have a three and five-year-old kid, and just having really good coffee in the middle of a 5:00 AM wake up call that is unexpected is kinda nice, right? So there's this level of social good that I feel about giving really good coffee to parents that are getting up at 5:00 AM like me, as well as, of course we're making a difference in other places of the world, and so the idea of good, car manufacturers helping us think through increasing safety of vehicles or different transportations options or all of these things are trying to increase our society and better our society in some way, shape or form, so that's also where this definition good gets it really… It's just really complicated because lots of things can be considered good, lots of things that some people consider good are not good by others, and how much is good enough?

0:13:12.3 DG: If we give back 10% of our profits, is that good enough or should we strive to give 11% back? Again, if we give 10% of our profits away, but in order to make whatever product that we have, we are ignoring the environment, does that make us still good or not good? And you know what, I don't know the answer to that question. I think we just have to keep asking, how are we showing up in all these different spaces, and what's the next thing that we can do to be better at it?

0:13:43.3 LH: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, and all of that ties into a spectrum concept of social enterprise that you discuss in the book, and I wanna get to that in a second. Also I'm just curious, do you think that the label of social enterprise, adopting that label for yourself, what kind of an impact do you see that having? Just kind of recognizing, oh wait, yeah, I am a social enterprise, I don't have to like, rose boxes… Like, what kind of an impact does that have on these social entrepreneurs?

0:14:13.0 DG: Yeah, for sure. No, that's a fantastic question. And it's funny because if you listen to what I just said, I'm kind of like, everybody can be in. And that is definitely one of the messages that I wanted to portray in the book, that said, I do think it is very important to have a strong definition of what social enterprise means. I really love SEA's definition of social enterprise, and what helps me to do if I'm talking to whoever, it could be a brewery, it could be another coffee roaster, that definition that's clearly defined helps me to kind of point people, hey, this is what we're gonna try to get to. So it's really helpful in that regard. It's also helpful for the consumer. When there is a certain level of vetting that has happened, what we're trying to do is give as much information to the consumer, these are good organizations, here's what they're doing, and we vetted them. They are actually doing the thing that they say they're gonna do. And when you're armed with information as a consumer, then you get to make the choices to where your dollars go.

0:15:20.6 LH: Yeah, that's awesome. That's super helpful. So back to this concept of the spectrum of social enterprise, I'm just gonna read a little section that you wrote about it, so you say, "For the purposes of this book, I'd like to view social enterprise as a spectrum as opposed to a concrete set of criteria. My goal is to encourage and empower any and all businesses to start making a positive impact today, no matter where they currently stand on the spectrum of good. I believe that when you boil it down to its simplest form, every business can be a social enterprise." And then you go on to say, "That means no matter what your business' model is today or what labels you have or have not put on it, you can start making a beneficial change right now." So you have kind of shared a little bit about that already, but I'd love to just dive into this a little bit more like, what does that kind of mean? And why is it so important?

0:16:10.7 DG: Yeah. Well, and I think that part of my personal belief, and what I cling to for my own optimism is that there's a little bit of good in everybody. Well, that means businesses are made up of people, and so I kind of start with this fundamental belief that there's a little bit of good in every business, and if I want to see the impact that I envision or that I hope to see through our network of SEA even, we really need as many people to take part as possible, so as I was unpacking and talking to other people, sometimes I would just see the reactions like, well, but I work at… Name whatever Corporation. What good am I gonna be able to do? And I'm like, no, no, no, you don't understand. You can be a part of the supply chain and trying to think through better decisions, and we're seeing corporate America make some changes, we're seeing a focus of how do we use DEI in our supply chain, how do we add diversity in our hiring practices, how do we have a clean impact, how do we source raw materials without destroying everything in the process, so they are participating.

0:17:30.5 DG: I'm not saying that corporate America is gonna become a social enterprise any time soon, but if I want them to take their impact further, like I use in the book, like a scale of one to 100, and let's pretend I have an opportunity to meet with an executive, if I want them to see a way that they can make a difference, I think it would be detrimental to the conversation if I would list out all the things that they do horribly wrong, even if that is all true. I wanna start with the good first, like hey guys, this is what you're doing really well, here's how I see you doing, adding diversity in your supply chain, here's how I see that you're coming alongside your employees and wellness and starting to make some traction. Did you know that you could also do this? Like one small shift in your thinking could maybe add second chance employment, 'cause you're already doing some valuable training work over here, you could add a training program to what already exists in you and a new focus, and add in second chance employment as one of your initiatives and make a significant impact.

0:18:38.6 DG: That probably still would not make that corporation a social enterprise, but if it's on a scale of one to 100 instead, and they're already out a one or a two, think about the impact that a large organization could have just by going to a three, right? If that's the thing that made 'em into a three. I'm a small business, whatever impact I might have at the end of my run, they would dwarf it just by moving the needle one degree, and I think that that's what's really important to keep in mind as we're trying to think about how we all can be doing this, and it's gonna require… The change that we wanna see in the world is going to require that all of us are participating.

0:19:16.7 LH: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, that's so cool. I think, like I mentioned before, there's just a very optimistic tone to this book, which I appreciate, and you've shared a little bit about that too, even in the section where you talk about the spectrum, you kind of share about someone who is maybe lower… Like a lower score earlier on in their social enterprise journey, that's exciting because there's so much impact potential that they have, even more so than an organization that's already doing well and already making an impact, so just kind of framing it through the lens of this opportunity and this potential that we all have, I think is a really cool way viewing it.

0:20:01.6 DG: Yeah. Well, and it's really fun for me when I get to meet… There was a story, I think I share this in the book too, of a young woman that was making candles in the Cincinnati area, and I got introduced to her and she's like, "I really… My kids have allergies, and so I'm trying to get really good ingredients to make candles," and I was like, "Oh, you're a social enterprise," [chuckle] 'cause again, I love starting there, and she hadn't heard of the term, and so then I was unpacking it and I'm like, "You're making my home safer, you're giving me an option that I didn't know existed, that's something that I want," and you got to see her eyes light up and realizing the impact that she was having in a new way, it only helped her think about, "Oh wow, that's interesting." Well, yeah, so if I'm doing that, how am I treating my employees? It's like, once you start down this path, it's really hard to not see how you can have impact in so many different other ways.

0:21:03.6 LH: Yeah, that's awesome. That's a powerful way of viewing it. I love it. So the majority of the book is centered around the concept of this… You call it the Seven Seeds, so I wanna give you the chance to talk about what are those seeds, what does that mean, and why did you choose that metaphor for this book?

0:21:21.3 DG: Yeah, well, it's kind of a summary of what we've talked about, how the whole thing is an opportunity of growth. So the title of the book is Radical Business. And for me, one of the definitions is, how do we get back to the root of what we're really talking about? And one, we talked about how I think all business have an opportunity to do something good, they're probably already doing something good, but even the most radical definition is this idea of, I think what we might be talking about here is treating other people the way you wanna be treated, which is what we all learned in kindergarten, and so radical in Latin means root or origin. It's where we get the word radish as a root vegetable, and so there's this play on the plants and growth that is throughout the whole book, and so if the root definition of social enterprise is this poster that we learned in kindergarten, then the question quickly evolves into, Well, if I'm a business that's made up of a person, and my role in my business is to treat other people the way I wanna be treated, what people groups do I interact with?

0:22:36.5 DG: Our story at La Terza begins in our supply chain, how do we pay living wages, but it very quickly evolves into, if I'm about living wages in another part of the world, I really need to be about living wages here in the US, and with my team, and also I like to have a good team culture, and I like coming to work every day where everyone enjoys each other's company, so that's another people group. Right? And then I started just to ask, well, what are all of the other peoples in their really seven groups? So our customer, how do we treat them the way we wanna be treated? For us the way that looks like, we wanna be high quality and social mission is the second category, they're like neck and neck, but we want you to buy our coffee because it's amazing, and of course it has social impact too, like you can't untangle them. But the quality is our first focus, and that's kind of our internal way to say we wanna treat the customer the way we wanna be treated, because we don't wanna manipulate you to buy our coffee, like we want you to buy it because it's really good, not because it has this cause to it. How do we treat the community? Not everyone that lives by our roastery buys our coffee, but they're still my neighbor. How are we impacting our competitor? That one's really tough, but our perspective is we wanna radically change how we buy coffee from around the world. Again, I'm not gonna be able to do that by myself.

0:24:00.1 DG: So how do we cheer our competitors on that are also doing it really well, and the ones that are not, how do we encourage them to join the party? And I love the coffee sector, I really think that we have an opportunity to set a new standard for international trade, because there are so many roasters that are doing something similar to what we're doing, so that's really difficult, but very, very important if we wanna think about large impact. And then how are we treating the environment? And of course we're all part of this world, and so that should be a consideration. And then finally, the one I think is the most difficult actually… Or at least is for me is, how do we take care of ourselves? And so most people that I know who are in this sector, we are really good at taking care of other people, putting other people first in line. At some point, we do have to put our own oxygen mask on and take care of ourselves so that we can continue to take care of other people. And so that's really the seven seeds laid out, and then I continue with the analogy, every one of those sections has a plant, water, grow.

0:25:08.9 DG: And so what I want you to do is to think through like what is the thinking behind it, and what's the own internal planting of the seed of the idea to treat yourself the way you wanna be treated, how do we take that concept and let it sit in your mind, what is in the practical application, probably more on your personal side, than it is your business side, and then the grow being how do I take it to my organization and really help them take that? So the story I like to share with the plant section is, for me what was one of the more impactful moments of owning a coffee roasting business was going on a trip to Honduras, it was a direct trade relationship we had with a woman-owned farm, and we walk up to this seventy-year-old woman, just sorting the different coffee beans, and basically there's three categories: Specialty coffee, that's what I'm buying, mid tier coffee, that's typically what's gonna be at a Starbucks, and then instant coffee, so that's not very good, but it is what it is.

0:26:14.5 DG: So someone's job is to sort that out, and I did not know that job existed, and when we walked up to the table, she had just this huge smile, she just had so much joy doing her work, I felt good because I knew that her wages were, you know, she was earning a living wage for her community, and I walked away from that realizing that's why we work so hard to be really good at what we do, 'cause our work is really a reflection of her work, so that seed of the idea is what took me and the sourcing seed into a more practical application.

0:26:49.4 DG: So now when I think about a grocery store, what I learned in that moment was there are so many jobs that exist that I'm not aware of, so when I go to the grocery store and I'm buying a package of chicken, here's an animal that gave it's life, here is someone who's probably standing on their feet for very long hours, probably underpaid and probably not a great working environment. There is someone who raised the chicken, so got up at 5:00 AM to feed it, all of these things are… And all of these people are required to put this together so I can buy, spend $10, buy three breasts of chicken and go grill it and have dinner, so the mindfulness of that is I think the most important piece as we all begin the journey. So for me it might be a split second at the grocery store, or to actually take 10 seconds to essentially meditate and thank all the people that were involved and just be aware that they exist and are necessary for this product. So I think of that, that's an example of the plant section of the supply chain and the more awareness we have, and then how does that translate into the more products we buy as individuals, and then ultimately how does that translate to our organizations and our procurement policies?

0:28:09.5 LH: That's awesome. Yeah, I love to see how this metaphor just kind of continued on over the course of the book, and how it really is, it really is a planting process and you have to tend to it. You have to water it. You have to let it grow. And I think that there's just so much opportunity for impact and potential. Well, I'd love to end by asking you, where can people buy your book?

0:28:32.2 DG: Yeah, no, well, again, it came out today, so this is really great, but yeah, ultimately this is why I do the work for SEA, this is why I love serving the organization, and it's available now everywhere you buy it, so if you buy your books on Amazon, feel free to buy it there, reviews are super helpful in the way that they put their algorithms together. If you buy it from your local book store request it, if you wanna get it from your library, request it, it is in all the major distribution channels, so it's available wherever you buy your books.

0:29:06.2 LH: Fantastic. Awesome. Well, thanks David, this was so much fun to chat with you and reverse the roles a little bit and good to hear about this awesome book that you've been working on.

0:29:16.4 DG: Great, yeah, thank you so much. And we'll both be back next week.

0:29:20.2 LH: Yeah.