Sunday, December 21, 2008

We don't hire people to make brownies, we make brownies to hire people.

It's the Sunday before Christmas, and it's the first night of Chanukah, and I have to say just the idea of giving gifts out of necessity is something that has always made me queasy. In our relatively gluttonous society, and in this particular economic uncertainty, the very last thing we all need to be doing is spending money we don't have on things we definitely don't need and very possibly don't even want. Luckily, though, creative capitalism has meant that it is easier than ever for an altruistic company to do good while also doing well (as said by many more famous and prolific than I). The RED campaign is one example, where the Gap and other well-known retailers create a single red product whose profits partially go towards fighting AIDS in Africa. Or Tom's shoes, where for every pair of shoes we buy here, another pair is donated to a needy child. This strategy directly ties profits with philanthropy, making the process cyclical and interdependent. The greater the business's economic success, the greater its ability to do good; the more good it does, the more good it can do.

For some companies, though, they have not just adopted this premise but are founded on it. In other words, they were invented to do good, not the other way around. Greyston Bakery is probably my favorite of those, and it's partially because they make all of the brownies for all the Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Their founding motto is, "We don't hire people to make brownies, we make brownies to hire people." In particular, people who other companies might consider too risky, Greyston hires, mentors, promotes, and supports. Much of their profits go into the Greyston Mandala Foundation, which also goes back into the community through contributions to local needs like low income housing or providing public space for positive social interaction. In addition, they promote their business as a model to be emulated, therefore contributing exponentially to the landscape of good deed capitalism. All that, and you get good brownies, too. At their website you can order 12 or 48 at a time. Click here. Or, buy them locally at these locations (Park Slope Co-op, anyone?)

In a recent email from KCRW, my local NPR station, they mentioned the yellow bird project. Another cool altruism meets consumerism effort, where famous musicians design unique t-shirts sold for $25 each. The profits from each shirt are then donated to the musician's charity of choice, from Bon Iver's selection of a women's shelter in Toronto to The Shins' selection of the Nature Conservancy. Yellow Bird gets to give money to good causes while promoting musical artists they think are both creative and conscientious. All that, and you get a t-shirt too. Click here.

So, don't give people crap they don't want this year. Make something together, give thoughtful deeds, or buy brownies and t-shirts and get a great two for one. Choose well, and choose good, skip the relegation to the attic, and let your gift count twice, and maybe then some.

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