Partnership & Flexibility: In Conversation with Interim Co-Lead Executives Sarah Schwimmer and Clay Brown

Join Sarah Schwimmer and Clay Brown as they discuss their new roles as Interim Co-Lead Executives and the evolution of B Lab for a next phase of impact.
By B Lab Global
May 7, 2024

B Lab Global recently named Sarah Schwimmer, Head of External Affairs, and Clay Brown, Head of Standards, Certification & Product Delivery, interim Co-Lead Executives. No strangers to B Lab (both were already members of the senior leadership team), Clay and Sarah bring unique yet complementary skill sets to enable this work.

We had the opportunity to sit down with them to discuss their vision for B Lab’s next phase of impact and how a co-leadership model will further our mission to transform the economic system to become more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative.  

Sarah and Clay, as interim Co-Lead Executives, you play a pivotal role in guiding B Lab. Could you share your vision for B Lab’s evolution – including ongoing changes to our standards, products, community, and impact – and how co-leadership supports this? 

Sarah: B Lab has always been rooted in the power of community and collective action, so it feels fitting that our leadership model is following this path. Clay and I bring complementary skills and a shared sense of purpose and potential. This model excites me because it affords us two significant opportunities.

Firstly, we can each focus on what we’re good at, drawing from our experiences and addressing the areas where this movement needs us the most. For me, that means concentrating on our external positioning – how and where we show up and why that matters for what we call our theory of change. It’s about ensuring that key decision-makers hear from this growing community, understand what is happening, and see where we can go together. 

Secondly, we have a partner in one another. The work of economic systems change is long and complex, and at B Lab, we know we can’t do this alone. Having a partner in Clay, whom I trust and respect, with whom I can be brave as we move into this new era, makes me feel quite fortunate. The co-leadership model has a rich history at B Lab, founded in 2006 by three friends: Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan, and Jay Coen Gilbert. Their collective experience built the foundations for how we operate as an organization and our network of partners. Andrew, Bart, and Jay's co-leadership enabled them to build a global movement of over 8,500 B Corps, each serving as an example for businesses to redefine success by bringing our standards to life. 

Clay: I'm genuinely thrilled about our potential, both as a global catalyst for change and as an organization, to significantly impact the broken aspects of our economic system. We face critical climate and inequality crises and possess the necessary tools, resources, and people to contribute to the solutions needed to address them.

Working closely with Sarah is an incredible privilege; her expertise in shaping our global vision through thought leadership, impact assessment, and movement-building is invaluable. Together, our collaboration covers the full spectrum of tools essential for supporting B Lab's ambitious mission. In our co-leadership model, I'll concentrate on developing standards, delivering credible certification systems, and crafting products and programs to support businesses in their journey of continuous improvement. 

Our work is not just about setting standards or certifying companies; it's about catalyzing a shift in mindset and behavior, challenging the status quo, and building a more inclusive and sustainable economy for all. Sarah and I are committed to advancing this vision, knowing that our combined efforts are greater than the sum of their parts. I'm confident we can make meaningful strides toward creating a better world through business. 

B Lab has adopted this model on an interim basis. Why? What are the benefits for B Lab in making a less permanent commitment right now?

Clay: Currently, we are evolving our standards and crafting a new strategy for our global network. Taking an interim approach underscores our flexibility and willingness to embrace the most effective leadership model to support our future strategy. Ultimately, this movement is bigger, bolder, and more significant than any individual or temporary arrangement, and Sarah and I feel honored to serve as stewards for as long as necessary.

Sarah: I think this decision is a bold move. We're navigating various external conditions beyond our control - from the backlash against 'woke capitalism' (which I believe signifies progress and attention) to significant global events like elections and actions to address climate change. We're part of a larger context. Given the uncertainties of tomorrow, achieving our vision of a regenerative economic system demands flexibility. We must plan, pivot, and remain rooted in our core values and mission. An interim structure allows for this adaptability. Having been at B Lab for nearly three years, I've built trust with my colleagues and believe in our collective potential. This work is a relay race, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to carry the baton for the B Corp movement as long as it serves our mission.

Clay, you have over 20 years of experience implementing social and environmental programs for organizations like Fair Trade USA and the Fairtrade Foundation. How do you see your role in shaping internal systems to drive change within B Lab's current offerings, community, and products, and how does this intersect with B Lab’s mission of driving systemic change?  

Clay:  Business is part of the problem and must be part of the solution. This simple premise has been the driving force behind my life’s work to transform the operations of businesses worldwide. At B Lab, we aim to support the transition to an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.

Achieving economic system change requires a fundamental shift in the principles governing how goods and services are produced, distributed, and consumed within society. Our role begins with a clear vision outlined in the standards for B Corp Certification. With these standards as our foundation, we collaborate with businesses, consumers, policymakers, and civil society stakeholders to drive behavioral, cultural, and structural change.

We recognize that we are part of a broader ecosystem, alongside organizations like Fair Trade, collectively working to reshape business practices. Our goal extends beyond merely increasing the number of certified companies or products; we aim to demonstrate the feasibility of a new business paradigm—one prioritizing people and the planet over profit. It's a privilege and a daily motivation to contribute to this mission.

Sarah, you’ve led resource and business development for social and environmental nonprofits like the United Nations Foundation, Rare, and the World Wildlife Fund. Why were you drawn to B Lab's work of advocating for change in economic systems? And why is it important to amplify B Lab’s voice in public conversations? 

Sarah: I've worked in various nonprofit organizations, and each experience has provided me with invaluable lessons. What drew me to B Lab was my realization that many of the complex challenges we face stem from flaws within our economic system—an inequitable structure that prioritizes the few at the expense of the many and our planet. I grew increasingly impatient with addressing symptoms rather than tackling root causes, which inspired me to join B Lab. What is so interesting to me about B Lab is that, on the one hand, we have an impressive track record of achievements, including the remarkable growth of our community, heightened brand recognition, and influential policy victories. And yet, there remains untapped potential.

I am deeply intrigued by the prospect of leveraging the collective power of the thousands of B Corps spanning countries, industries, and sizes, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other companies using our tools. Decision-makers need to hear from this collective to grasp their role in creating enabling conditions for systemic change. Policymakers, funders, journalists—they all influence whose voices and perspectives take center stage and whose interests are prioritized and protected in legislation.

Prioritizing external engagement will further enhance the reputation and credibility of our standards, elevate stakeholder governance as a solution for better business, position the B Corp movement as a catalyst for continuous improvement and impact, and underscore why equity and shared prosperity for workers are vital for the future of business and employee well-being.

Given B Lab’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) principles, how do you both approach creating space for diverse perspectives in decision-making and distributing power across B Lab’s teams and network? 

Clay:  Integrating JEDI principles into decision-making is not only morally imperative, but crucial to our mission. Fostering an inclusive and equitable network takes commitments and accountability; at times going backwards to move ahead, but worth it to do no further harm in the communities we serve and among our stakeholders.  It is key to react to and in alignment with the myriad of societal expectations of business in order to reach the systemic and sustainable change we hope to see through our expanding network of B Corps. As a global movement collaborating closely with companies worldwide, we must establish and maintain robust and credible stakeholder engagement processes. This intentionality allows us to design operations that are fair, just, inclusive, and representative of diverse perspectives. Prioritizing this approach in our interactions with the B Corp community during our standards development process, in our external thought leadership, and our movement-building endeavors not only enhances our impact, but also cultivates a spirit of interdependence and belonging within our movement.

Sarah: This question speaks to a vital aspect of our approach and ethos. It's about recognizing that true inclusivity isn't just about representation; it's about actively valuing and integrating diverse voices and viewpoints into our decision-making processes. We do this by identifying what is required to fulfill our mission, who is best positioned to deliver on those objectives, and how they can do so most effectively. By fostering clarity on roles and deliverables we can create space for diverse perspectives and experiences, acknowledging the unique strengths each of us brings to this work . By prioritizing JEDI, we aim to create a more inclusive and equitable environment within B Lab through cross-cultural dialogue, self-reflection and continued learning, thus strengthening our ability to drive meaningful impact in the world – but starting with ourselves.

You’re stepping into these roles during a pivotal time when global challenges threaten progress toward an inclusive economy. How do you envision the role of businesses, particularly B Corps, in addressing these challenges and fostering a more sustainable and equitable world? 

Clay: As we step into these roles, we are acutely aware of our society's pressing global challenges. Our vision extends far beyond the present; we are inherently future-facing, constantly iterating, building, and propelling economic systems change. Our mission now is to harness the momentum of the movement we've collectively built—to persist in effecting change despite resistance, to expand our reach and collective impact, and to continue leading by example. 

In 2023, we focused on serving our community, ensuring that the infrastructure, processes, and relationships vital to our work are poised for the evolution we're driving together. Looking ahead to the remainder of this year, we shift gears from preparing for transformation to outlining the future state we aim to realize. Our goals for 2024 include publishing a new standard recognized globally as the leading guide for businesses to be a force for good, delivering tangible impact for people and the planet by expanding the community of B Corps in partnership with our Global Network and launching a new technology platform to facilitate the transition to the new standards.  

Sarah: This year, we will also lay the groundwork and strategy for future movement-building efforts and programs anchored in the new standard in collaboration with a robust and thriving Global Network. The potential for exponential growth in our impact is enormous. I am fully committed to embracing this responsibility, partnering with my colleagues and the B Corp community to dream big and drive meaningful change.

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