All Eyes On Best for NYC

During an uncharacteristically warm week in October, over 400 members of the global community of 1500 certified B Corporations converged for a retreat just north of Portland, Oregon to learn from and with each other. A key point of excitement was the first ever city-wide “Best for” campaign launched by New York City. This campaign stands as a role model for cities around the world; people are watching and learning not just from the organizations coordinating the campaign, but also from the businesses taking the momentous first step towards measuring what matters.

The 400+ retreat attendees ranged in size from small companies like Brand Cool in Rochester, NY, with less than nine employees, to large corporations, like Seventh Generation, with global supply chains. These Champions had unique observations and insights about the current state of efforts to use business as a force for good through initiatives that help all businesses track their social and environmental performance with the same rigor with which they track their financial performance.

Their interest in inclusivity manifested in excellent turnouts for the session about the Best for NYC campaign and the Measure What Matters Summit, in which the Best for NYC campaign was highlighted as a case study. The session and summit attracted Canadian and Australian companies, faculty from Stanford University, revitalization stakeholders from New York State, community investors from Colorado, a representative from the City of Denver, and B Corp Champions from Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. While the Philadelphia and San Francisco contingent confessed to feeling “scooped” by New York City hosting the first “Best For” campaign , curiosity and enthusiasm prevailed on these occasions and in organic conversations during the week. This signaled that the Best for NYC campaign stands as a role model for communities around the world, who are watching and learning not just from the organizations coordinating the campaign, but also from the businesses taking the momentous first step towards measuring what matters.

Best for NYC recognizes and celebrates all businesses that genuinely embark on the journey toward creating net-positive impact for their workers, communities and the environment.

Attendees were thrilled to see a major city start to align its policy priorities with those of impact-conscious business. By launching the Best for NYC campaign, the City foregrounds a collaborative, rather than compliance-driven, relationship with the business community. The City’s commitment to support businesses in growing good quality and fair wage jobs is enriched by the Challenge. The Challenge is an invitation to the business community, not a regulatory demand, to consider their role in improving the communities they love. It is an invitation to take a holistic look at their business operations, services and products.

Christine Curella, Assistant Vice President of the Center for Economic Transformation, oversees the Best for NYC Challenge and fielded a volley of questions for close to an hour during the session about what it takes to get an initiative like the Best for NYC campaign off the ground (cost, incentives, stakeholder buy-in, public education )— you name it, they asked about it. Who or what should be the campaign lead and how will that person or organization relate to partner organizations? How are businesses that are interested in their impact but which are understaffed or lack key resources able to participate in and find value in the campaign? How are NYC and B Lab — the nonprofit providing both the assessment and the Fellows — archiving this experience for replication by other communities?

As Christine answered the questions, with some help from B Lab Cofounder, Bart Houlahan, Measure What Matters Senior Associate, Hardik Savalia, and me, one of the Senior B Corps Fellows, attendees took notes furiously. NYC embraced the Best for NYC Challenge as an innovative approach to support businesses as they look for guidance on creating good jobs. Partnering with B Lab provided more freedom in just how the city could engage with local business.

The team of ten Fellows (recruited and compensated by B Lab, and placed at the Economic Development Corporation, Small Business Services, Business Outreach Center Network and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce) has helped scale the campaign as the Fellows both embed it in existing services and assistance programs, and train service providers. Fellows meet both their host partners and businesses where they are to improve community buy-in and help ensure that the campaign becomes ingrained in NYC’s business culture. Best for NYC is about evolution, not revolution; this requires more active listening and collaborative planning with engaged partners, not dictatorial mandates. The team of Fellows helps streamline that planning process.

The conversation with Christine turned from planning and operational questions to evaluating success in a “Best for” campaign, and using tiers of achievement. While the number of businesses that take the Challenge is an adequate interim measure, true success has more to do with shifting the tone and the values of business in the City. Best for NYC recognizes and celebrates all businesses that genuinely embark on the journey toward creating net-positive impact for their workers, communities and the environment. In sum, the launch of the campaign involves affirming businesses for starting to measure what matters. In subsequent years, better developed impact-oriented technical assistance infrastructure will allow for more of a focus on impact improvement.

At both the retreat and the summit, there was talk about how despite the long-term desire to see all businesses measure their impacts using the standardized and vetted impact assessment, there is no standardized approach to how that should happen. Best for NYC makes sense for a major city with the financial and institutional resources to support a multi-partner roll-out. Other approaches include corporate-level initiatives like Seventh Generation’s commitment to have all of their suppliers regularly use the assessment, or non-governmental initiatives like Grand Rapid’s Local First, which required all of the featured local business to take the quick impact assessment.

In many ways, the Measure What Matters Summit was geared towards supporting the 50+ attendees from business associations, governments, corporate supply chains, and financial institutions who are also encouraging their business networks to measure their social and environmental impacts. For this group, Best for NYC serves as a model of just one approach to a public/private partnership for scaling impact measurement across a city.

As Best for NYC unfolds, the City will leverage more investments to support Challenge participants as they tell their own story about creating quality jobs and impactful businesses in a major world city. And New York City won’t be alone. In 2016, Portland, Oregon will launch its own Best for Portland initiative. Several other cities will follow. Best for NYC participants are pioneers in a growing movement and will have the opportunity to stand out as thought leaders in NYC and beyond.

Karen Francis-McWhite is a Senior B Corps Fellow working to grow the Best for NYC campaign at NYC Small Business Services. Karen enjoys cooking and playing with her daughter, and is a fledgling writer of short fiction and poetry.

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