A New Home for Better Business: Visiting Sistema B
By Elsa Mayer, B Lab
Exciting things are happening in South America - Since launching our partnership with Sistema B in 2012, the community Empresa B’s has already grown to include 60 companies (such as Best for the World Winners Acción Verde and Echale a tu Casa) throughout Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Argentina. In fact, B Corps was named by a Colombian magazine, Semana Sostenible, as one of “100 Ideas that Could Change the World”.
Last month, B Lab co-founder, Jay Coen Gilbert was fortunate enough to take a week long trip and experience the excitement and support that South America has regarding the B Corp movement and Sistema B. He began the trip in Buenos Aires, speaking about B Corps at two Universities in the city. The lectures included speaking segments by representatives from Guayaki and Ovis XXI, two successful B Corps in California and Argentina respectively. These presentations were so motivating for the students that the schools considered adding B Corp courses to their curriculum.
The day was followed by a gathering at Guayaki co founder Alex Pryor’s house for Sistema B and supporters to talk about their goals and interests. Here the group went around in a circle, sharing their hopes for where the Empresa B movement will take them.
Flying to Chile the following day, Jay arrived at Casa B, the new home of Sistema B, where B Corps came from hours away to join the celebration of the first year. Many recently certified Empresas Bs came to receive their official certification materials, and even more organizations formally established their partnerships with Sistema B. Young entrepreneur, Victor, was among those to accept the official materials of certification that evening, including the red “Somos” sign that indicate B Corp certification for his wheelchair apparel company.
At the end of the evening, Jay took a moment to address the Sistema B team. He presented each of them with a 1947 Brooklyn Dodger baseball hat (a multi-purpose “B” embroidered into each), the team of his hometown in New York. He then shared with them the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the MLB, and the challenges he had to overcome throughout his baseball career. While no one else at Casa B had ever heard of Jackie Robinson or the Brooklyn Dodgers, the symbolism was lost on no one. At the conclusion of the evening, Juan Pablo, director of Sistema B, signed the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action plan for Sistema B alongside original signatures of President Clinton, and rang the gifted bell sent with Jay from B Corp headquarters to welcome the new additions to the Empresa B community.
Jay spent the next morning at an event organized by the Aconcagua Summit alongside the owners and CEOs of the biggest companies in Chile. This meeting, a B Corp supporter later told Jay, easily comprised over 50% of the entire Chilean GDP, and included mining, timber, and energy execs. This was followed by his presentation of Sistema B at a packed Catholic University of Chile, followed by numerous interviews for news networks (one of which resulted in a Mr. B article and headline in El Sabado Magazine).
On his second day in Santiago, Jay attended the largest business conference in Chile, ICARE, and shared the B Corp story with over 1,400 Chilean marketing executives. The panel he spoke on included the head of Procter & Gamble and the CEO of Natura, a cosmetics company that also seeks to spread the B Corp movement and maybe even certify themselves.
This was followed by a conference organized by the Chilean Minister of Commerce that had to be capped at 1,000 because of its overwhelming popularity. The conference was called “La Nueva Empresa”, or “The New Company”, and was centered around the idea that B Corps are the answer, moving us toward a world in which companies give dignity to the workers and communities that they are composed of. In Jay’s later description of the conference he said, “for more than four hours, not a presentation was made that didn’t center on B Corps.” The conference concluded with what in Jay’s words was “the best B Corp panel, if not the best panel, I have ever seen.”
Wrapping up his trip, Jay joined prominent Chilean political figures and the First Lady of Chile in Santiago to celebrate the opening of B Corp TriCiclos’ new recycling station. Chilean based company TriCiclos collects a variety of materials with the promise that they will be recycled effectively. As made clear by the turnout for this event, TriCiclos has been met with great support and success. While so much excitement surrounding a Chilean B Corp was certainly a cause for celebration, for Jay it was just one of the numerous B Corp successes in South America that week.
B Lab is currently trying to replicate its global partnership with Sistema B in Australia and Europe in an effort to create an international network of entrepreneurs that are working to create change. Out of over 750 B Corps there are 120 outside the U.S. across 27 countries, even in challenging business environments such as those in Afghanistan, Kenya, and India. If Sistema B is any indication, we will surely witness success for our other global partnerships and the amazing entrepreneurs in their communities.
To learn more about Sistema B and the Empressa Bs visit http://www.sistemab.org