Coming Together for Systems Change 

People and Planet First, the Emerging Social Enterprise Verification System

As part of a trend that’s been growing for decades but gained steam in 2020, more and more businesses—and the talent pool from which they hire—have planted their flags solidly in what’s being called the “social economy.” 

This means many things to different people. Some create volunteer opportunities for their employees or sponsor more charity drives. More and more are creating enterprises that are built from the ground up to be mission-focused on addressing specific social needs: these we call social enterprises. 

Some of these businesses are embedded in nonprofits, while others are regular for-profit companies. But the point is, we seem to be returning to a time in our (not so distant) history when companies were built to benefit people – and not just for profit. 

In mid-2023, the United Nations issued a historic U.N. Resolution recognizing social enterprise as a powerful emerging economic force worldwide. 

Many countries have developed systems and policies to support the social business sector – in much the same way the 501(c)3 designation benefits nonprofits. The United States is now officially entering this global community – and considering how to create the levels of change that U.S.-based social enterprises need to grow and thrive. 

And this year the movement has taken a huge leap forward with a new global system for identifying a “social enterprise:” People and Planet First

People and Planet First: A New Global Framework

The People and Planet First verification system, powered by the Good Market platform, officially launched in October 2023. It is rolling out rapidly with the help of a broad network of official verification partners, of which the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) is one. 

Stewarded by the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) globally and Purchasing with Purpose for the U.S., People and Planet First is the first attempt to verify and register all the social enterprises currently operating worldwide. Today, that ecosystem includes the U.S.

The term "people and planet first” emerged as a unifying concept and was chosen collaboratively in 2023 by SEWF and dozens of global partners. It is a descriptor that can accommodate a wide range of organizational structures. In 2023, this network of networks agreed to adopt the"people and planet first” language for the global verification campaign. 

“Originally the verification badge said ‘SEWF verified social enterprise,’” says Rebecca Dray, a co-founder of the new Purchasing with Purpose network, formerly known as Buy Social USA.  “But in reality this business model and way of working is encompassed in many different forms and structures throughout the world, and called many different things in different languages. So rather than focus on an English terminology, SEWF consulted with global network partners and decided to reflect, instead, the shared value system and principles in the name of the verification. Something almost all groups can identify with: putting people and planet first, instead of shareholder returns.” 

The term has helped overcome the persisting ambiguity in defining "social enterprise," a concept that has failed to gain widespread acceptance in the States. Similarly, the term “social procurement” has remained mostly misunderstood in the U.S. 

Dray is originally from the U.K. She’s been active in the push for official (legal, government) recognition of the social enterprise business model in the U.S. and the increasing role it plays in our economy: “When I relocated to the U.S. a decade ago, I could find no evident examples of legal frameworks specifically for social enterprises, nor could I identify any government bodies dedicated to what I recognized as "social procurement." 

Dray and others are organizing and, alongside People and Planet First, are aggressively pushing to change that. 

Worldwide, verification furthermore offers organizations curated connections, business opportunities, and access to networks like SEA. 

“The People and Planet First verification is gaining amazing traction around the world,” said Rebecca. “There’s a massive global marketing campaign underway in 2024, with SEWF in collaboration with all of the international partner networks that helped to shape and now administer the verification in more than 70 countries.”

People and Planet First aims to become the breakthrough concept in the public mind. 

Creating Visibility for the Changemaker Movement

“The goal of Good Market has always been to make the movement visible,” said Dr. Amanda Kiessel, a co-founder of Good Market - now the platform for People and Planet First registrations and the portal where verified entities can be found.

Good Market already connects a diverse community, including local and topic-specific groups, local and international networks, communities of practice, and communities of place. These organizations run the gamut from voluntary groups to nonprofits, but they share a commitment to prioritizing people and the planet. To be members, they also have to meet or exceed agreed-upon community standards. 

Utilizing Good Market, the cost of a People and Planet First verification is an easy choice compared to other verifications, many of which are financially out of reach for smaller organizations and grassroots enterprises. Now, organizations at all levels can afford the modest cost of verification, which is only $85 for initial verification and $70 each year thereafter. 

Because of its accessible cost, simplicity, and straightforward criteria, the new process is gaining widespread acceptance. It’s for everybody. Organizations already holding certifications like the World Fair Trade Organization and Fair Trade Federation Verified membership will be “double badged.” This is an acknowledgment that they meet and exceed the People and Planet First standards. 

To qualify for the People and Planet First verification, a company, group, or network must prioritize solving social or environmental issues and must protect its purpose through its legal and financial structures.

Many entities actively involved in the social economy don't yet realize they're part of a global movement. In the U.S., the sector is amorphous, diverse and widespread. Because of that diversity and lack of cohesion, its economic and societal value has not been fully quantified. 

Verification aims to include everyone in the movement, no matter how they are legally organized. The big tent will include everyone from cooperatives to employee-owned companies. 

Good Market aims to increase visibility and facilitate connections to accelerate the transition to a new way of working and doing business. Many perceive that we are missing out on opportunities to purchase more intentionally from a wider network of businesses, a more robust B2B buying market, and get social enterprise products into government and corporate supply chains. 

“What’s changing is that a nationwide web of networks is now being recognized. We encourage visibility to shift the narrative about the purpose of business. More of us are sourcing from others that prioritize people and planet, individually and in groups, building a new economy,” said Kiessel.

SEA, as an Official Partner, advances this movement in the U.S., challenging the traditional profit-maximizing business model and promoting organizations and entities that operate from a people and planet-first approach.

How to Get Verified

The verification process is simple and affordable. 

Registering with Good Market takes about 30 minutes. To complete your verification, you will need to submit your payment ($85 for the initial application and $60 for each following year) and fill out a short, five-question application form. 

Ready to stand up and be counted? Here’s how to register your organization.

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Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) has since 1998 been a consistent convener of networks that are built to put people and planet first. We are an Official Verification Partner. Get verified through SEA here.

Amanda Kiessel has a PhD in Environmental Studies, a Master's in Sustainable International Development, and a degree in Biology with a specialty in ecotoxicology. She grew up in Northern Michigan and has spent the past 20 years in Asia, working with local organizations on agroecology, sustainable food systems, organizational development, and social enterprise.

Rebecca Dray has created several social enterprises over the past 20 years, including Purchasing with Purpose, which was created to advance the adoption of social procurement among governments, corporations, small business communities, and the public in the United States. She is also a member of SEWF and a board member of the Social Enterprise Alliance. 

Karen James Cody is a content writer based in Washington, D.C., and the principal at The Allyson Group, helping social enterprises and other mission-driven organizations communicate their impact. Karen also serves on the Board of the Social Enterprise Alliance.
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