Do you feel valuable? Or do you feel valued?
The end of the year is always a time for reflection and looking inward. I was lucky enough to spend some time earlier this month hosting the annual B Lab conference, which brought together close to a thousand B corps from US, Canada and Puerto Rico on how to build a stakeholder economy that benefits all. There was a lot of opportunity for deep, often emotional reflection, because the conference intentionally centered in every discussion the voices and lived experiences of leaders who have been historically marginalized.
Many of the attendees, despite working for social impact with their businesses for years, had not yet begun to grapple with the on-going legacy of what race means for the collective movement for doing well BY doing good. Conversations about how a person’s race impacts their ability to secure capital, start a business or even what you believe you can achieve with your life can be challenging for those unburdened by these barriers in their day-to-day lives.
As I saw the effect that illuminating racial inequities had on the B Lab attendees, I began to reflect on the difference between valuable and valued. Our nation was founded on the idea that land and bodies were valuable. The land of the native people of this country, and the enslaved individuals ripped from their homelands to work on that land, were considered valuable because of what our assets could provide to someone else. Reducing humans to transactions was built into the fabric of our economic system — and persists to this day. We still see it in the divestment in Black and brown neighborhoods to support majority-white communities. We see it in job applicants with Black names but the same qualifications being rejected more than white peers. We see it in business owners of color receiving less capital to grow compared to white businesses. And for too long in our country, if you are no longer considered valuable, you are considered expendable.
Instead, when someone is valued, you are granted the inherent worth of what it means to be human. We have this worth when we stumble and fall. When our hair isn’t straight. When we love and partner differently. When we can’t walk or stand. The task before us is to build a society and an economy that values everyone. We cannot do that without acknowledging and repairing the systems that have undervalued so many of us, especially Black and brown people.
We have this worth when we stumble and fall. When our hair isn’t straight. When we love and partner differently.
The B Lab conference was so moving because it shed light on what is possible. They featured many entrepreneurs who are working to create an economy that does not see people as expendable assets, but valued humans that are worthy of love and investment.
One that stood out to me was Abena Boamah-Acheampong, the Founder and CEO at Hanahana Beauty, an all-natural, skincare brand that sources from Ghana. The company focuses on sustainability — not just for their longevity, but also for the wealth and well-being of those that contribute to their products. They work with the Katariga Cooperative to produce their shea butter, which is made up of over 60 women. They have invested in these producers through higher pay, better technology and intentional investment in their healthcare.
Why does Hanahana spend all these resources to support the women that produce their products? It’s because it supports their livelihoods and leads to more and better outputs, but it’s also deeper than that. Hanahana fundamentally values the women of the Katariga Cooperative. They are essential to their existence. At the conference, Boamah-Acheampong said she can’t do what she does without these women. She recognizes their inherent value and treats them as she should.
Hanahana Beauty is a shining example of what I mean when I talk about the “holy trinity of capitalism”: a business owner creates something of value for a customer, who pays for that value, and the owner in turn hires employees to produce that value in exchange for a livable wage and a quality standard of living. It’s a simple concept, but if we as an economy granted everyone that inherent value, we would eliminate many of the problems we face today.
As the year draws to a close, I want you to reflect on this example from Hanahana Beauty and think about what would happen if every company behaved in the same way. If everyone tried to do well BY doing good. What would that look like if we were all valued? Please share in the comments.
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