Earlier this fall I was thinking a lot about business, particularly the goals of profit and growth and the effect that those goals have on people and community. I remember thinking about wealth and success and how those concepts aren’t real, they are ideas that people have created and that everyone accepts as real.
I posed a question to a friend. “What if the goal of business shifted to something like personal well being, or the good of all mankind? What would the world look like?”
That sounded insane of course, even to me. My friend responded with another question, “how would we measure those goals?” At the time, his question seemed unanswerable and it made our current system seem more logical.
In the weeks that followed, though, I realized that it was people who had invented the system of wealth and value that is the basis of our economic culture. Therefore, the fact that I can’t imagine how “well being” or the “good of all mankind” could be measured doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or that we super smart humans can’t figure it out. Of course, we can.
This past First Friday, I had a the pleasure of attending an event at The Ware Center in downtown Lancaster that was hosted by Millersville University and made possible by the Lancaster County Community Foundation, ASSETS Lancaster, and Lancaster Social Ventures. The event was a talk and book signing by Philadelphia entrepreneur, activist, and author Judy Wicks, who has dedicated her personal and business life to very same concepts I was daydreaming about weeks before.
In summary, Judy shared parts of her life story including a year spent in a remote Alaskan village after graduating from college in 1969 and the founding of her wildly successful White Dog Cafe in 1983 that became nationally known for community engagement, environmental stewardship, and responsible business practices. She went on to found the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and co-found the internal Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, among many other accomplishments.
All of those experiences and more continued to point back to a common theme. For Judy, her ultimate goals as a business owner were not based strictly on profit. Money was a means, not an end, to her businesses that supported and contributed positively to a well-balanced community. She was happy to sacrifice growth and the profit that exceeded what was necessary to sustain the business to offer living wages to her employees, to buy food from local sources who treated their animals with love, dignity, and respect, and to pay a little more money each month to ensure that the energy used by the business came from renewable sources.
Judy Wicks is a very successful business person, yet her success has been based on well being and the good of her community, not profit or growth. Her talk showed me that these concepts are not the far-fetched fantasy that seemed like a utopian daydream. Judy Wicks was proving the opposite while I was being brainwashed over the years into believing that profit and growth are the only way to measure the success of a business.
I walked away from Friday evening’s talk inspired to start taking those critical small steps to do what I can to contribute to a movement that redefines business into something that can benefit everyone, not just the lucky few at the top of the pyramid. And I’m ready to dive into Judy’s new book Good Morning, Beautiful Business: the Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur, that was published earlier this year.
Thank you to Judy Wicks for everything she has done and continues to do. And thank you to Millersville University and all of those who brought her to Lancaster so that we could learn more about what is possible.