Conscious Capitalism Chicago: Blog

We write monthly pieces about our adventures, tours, gatherings, discussions and more.

  • August 23, 2018 8:19 AM | Deleted user


    The phrase ‘employee engagement’ always lands on me flat, lifeless. There’s distance inherent in the phrase that, well, doesn’t actually feel engaging at all.

    Yet, what makes employees actually want to greet their work and their co-workers with energy and focus, now that’s easy to get behind.

    And that can all be summed up in one word. Care.

    In a culture where people feel cared about they respond with all sorts of energy, enthusiasm, and passion. So much so that they’ll even go the distance when it’s required, what the experts at Gallup call ‘discretionary effort.’

    Like those times the office is buzzing under a tight deadline and the IT staff person happily stays late. Or, when the office manager comes in with everyone’s favorite coffee because it’s crunch time and he/she knows the impact of a great cup o’ joe.

    Organizations with higher levels of employee engagement enjoy higher net profit margins with less turnover, absenteeism, and safety incidents.

    And beyond the basics of compensation and advancement opportunities, engaged employees reveal the impact of care:they trust their leaders, they have good relationships with their bosses, and they care for themselves by managing their own work-life balance and stress levels.

    When people know you care about them, they care back. They commit their energies and loyalties toward forwarding the organization’s vision and goals, not just their own.

    In a Conscious Culture, the care involved in employee engagement underpins the very social fabric of the business. This, in turn, permeates business decisions, connecting not only the employees but all stakeholders to one another and to the company’s higher purpose.

     So, what if we simply called it care – and committed to practicing it. Every day.

     

    Employee Engagement = CARE

     Check out the “CARE” ideas below to support high levels of energy, enthusiasm and engagement in your workplace.
    • Get to know the names of your colleague’s partners and kids, extended family even. Ask what they’re up to with genuine interest.
    • Greet someone each morning at work, using their name. “Morning, Joe.”
    • Sign your team up to attend the Conscious Capitalism 101: Building Conscious Business from the Inside Outtogether November 2,2018. You’ll learn the basic Four Pillars of Conscious Capitalism and tap into a shared language of a care culture.
    • Offer to do that nasty task at the office that everyone hates.
    • Acknowledge not only wins, but disappointments too. “I know that deal (project, grant, plan, report) didn’t pan out like you’d hoped, yet I thought you handled it well.”
    • Pay it forward. Pop to buy coffee or lunch — for someone unsuspecting. Smile about it.
    • Take time, especially if you’re the boss, to thank someone for closing the loop on a tight deadline, when everyone’s nerves are on edge.


  • July 19, 2018 8:23 AM | Deleted user


    In today’s fast-paced, message-heavy digital world it has become difficult to focus on understanding each other’s needs, desires and viewpoints. Interpersonal communication has become a culture of interruption and impatient verbal cues.

    Despite all of that, the art of listening is not dead. In fact, the art and skill of conscious listening is growing. Let’s discuss the seven ways conscious listening will improve your company culture.

     

    What is conscious listening?

    Conscious listening is the act of being intentionally present during communication between yourself and another while being aware of your own and the other’s feelings and needs. Conscious listening is related to mindful listening, which is allowing another to express him/herself without interrupting, judging, refuting or discounting.

    The “conscious” part of conscious listening is key to effective communication. We spend 60% of our communication time listening, but only retain 25% of what we hear. So, it’s not that we’re not putting in the time, it’s that we are not consciously internalizing what the other person has to say. For example, how many times have you caught yourself in a meeting roleplaying in your mind what you want to say once the person who is talking is finished? We all do it. Conscious listening is realizing you are doing it, pausing, and turning your attention back to the speaker.

    Conscious listening is a skill that will assist you in any setting – business, academic, social, personal, etc.  Of course, you are reading this on a Conscious Capitalism blog, so I’m going to focus on how conscious listening will improve your company culture no matter where you sit in the org chart.

     

    What is Conscious Capitalism?

    Conscious Capitalism is a fast-growing global movement dedicated to elevating humanity through a business philosophy that has four key pillars:

    • Higher Purpose: sense of purpose that creates an extraordinary degree of engagement for all stakeholders and catalyzes tremendous organizational energy
    • Stakeholder Orientation: focus on a mix of stakeholders that includes Society, Partners, Investors, Customers and Employees (SPICE)
    • Conscious Leadership: leadership driven by the business’s purpose, rather than by power or money, and motivated by mentoring, growth and challenge
    • Conscious Culture: environment where all levels of the business thrive on Trust, Authenticity, Caring, Transparency, Integrity, Learning and Empowerment (TACTILE)

    It is without doubt that conscious listening will positively impact all four areas, but it is the fourth pillar of Conscious Culture that I am going to focus on here.

    It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or an entry-level staff member starting his/her first day on the job. Leading by example in the area of conscious listening will dramatically improve your work environment and your team’s dynamic, as well as your company’s profits and impact on the world.

    Here’s how.

     

    7 ways conscious listening will improve your company culture

    TACTILE:

    #1 Trust

    Numerous studies have shown that high trust organizations are 2-4 times more profitable than low trust organizations. We’re talking about employees’ trust in each other, stakeholders’ trust in the company, leadership’s trust in the mission. Conscious listening helps build trust in all of these areas.

    The goal should be to build a culture where everybody matters. To do this, start listening. Listen to your employees when they tell you they are overloaded. Listen to your investors when they tell you the company needs to innovate. Listen to your customers when they tell you they expect changes in your product/service. Truly hearing and internalizing their perceptions and opinions (even if you don’t have the solution just yet) is the start to building trust among your most important audiences.

    #2 Authenticity

    A culture that embraces authenticity is a culture in which people can be themselves. This is a culture where people don’t hesitate during brainstorm sessions, people aren’t afraid to ask their questions first during the Q&A, people can disagree with one another without getting defensive. This is a culture you want to build, and you can do so through consciously listening.

    What does this look like? It looks like a conversation where pauses and silence are not immediately filled, where one person speaks at a time without being interrupted, where people ask questions without judgment and where everyone around the table is first seeking to understand and secondly seeking to be understood.

    #3 Caring

    A Conscious Culture is a caring culture. And how can you care if you don’t understand the person and/or dilemma? Conscious listening creates understanding.

    Our work occupies most of our waking hours. Why are we all in this mindset that self-care happens outside of business hours? The reality is – it doesn’t have to. Work can improve our health. And the first step in creating a culture that improves the lives of its people is consciously listening – leading to a true understanding – of what their needs are and how to care for them.

    #4 Transparency

    There is a lot of talk about transparency, mostly about being transparent to our shareholders or customers. But what about being transparent with ourselves.

    According to Tanya M. Odom, global bias and tolerance consultant, we all create unconscious biases towards others. An unconscious bias is a short-cut that our brain takes based on previous information. Many unconscious biases are triggered by race, gender and age. So, before the person you’re meeting with has even said a word, your brain has run a filter and made decisions about what this person has to say.

    The reality is – this happens to all of us. The difference is – conscious listeners understand it’s happening. Conscious listeners recognize the bias, remove the filter, and center themselves to be intentionally present in the conversation and actively work to be aware of the speaker’s feelings and needs.

    #5 Integrity

    Integrity means being honest, being driven by values, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and being your word.

    We all have a desire to be right, to come up with the next big idea, and/or to have the last say in the matter. So, how do these desires fit with integrity?

    I believe that through conscious listening you are acknowledging these desires and making the decision that others’ voices and ideas are just as important and valuable as your own. Even if you don’t agree, by listening you are communicating that you appreciate and value the other person’s perspective.

    Additionally, to be truly honest means that you acknowledge that you don’t always have the answer or the solution. Even if you are the company’s fearless leader – you don’t always have the answer or the solution.

    Saying “I don’t know” is honest and demonstrates integrity. Being vulnerable and listening to others’ perspectives is authentic and the right thing to do.

    The second definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” Conscious listening will allow your team to diversify, unify, and prosper.

    #6 Learning

    Conscious listening is learning on so many levels!

    First, it is a skill that can be learned. We should be teaching listening just as we teach speaking and writing and reading. It is NOT to be overlooked or taken for granted.

    Second, imagine all you can learn from listening!

    Third, stemming from section #5 Integrity, when you admit that you don’t know the answer or don’t have the solution it opens the door to learning about what those solutions are or could be. At that point, conscious listening is an opportunity to learn and collect ideas. You don’t have to use those ideas, but it will only embolden the decision you do make by being well-informed.

    #7 Empowerment

    Finally, we get to empowerment. The cornerstone to leadership and building/sustaining a Conscious Culture.

    Through conscious listening, you can empower others to share their true thoughts. By carving out the time and attention for your colleagues, you are empowering them to speak their minds and be thoughtful in their words. And the information you receive as a conscious listener will help you understand where the person is coming from and that will lead to stronger, more empowering interactions.

    For example, through conscious listening you may learn your colleague has new ideas about how to implement a program/initiative. You can then empower him/her to take a leadership role in bringing those ideas to life. The initiative will be more effective, your colleague will be empowered, and your relationship will be stronger. Once you start listening to people, you will begin to think of others as thought partners versus task masters.

    In summary…

    Conscious listening is a generous gift. It is the difference between personal broadcasting and the art and skill of conversation. Through conscious listening, you build trust; become authentic, caring, and transparent; demonstrate integrity; and learn about yourself, others and the world. Through those first six elements of TACTILE, you will find yourself empowering those around you to be their best selves.

    Again, it doesn’t matter where you sit in the organizational chart (at the very top or the very bottom), you can empower others through conscious listening. Leading by example in the area of conscious listening will dramatically improve your work environment, your team’s dynamic, as well as your company’s profits and impact on the world.

     

    How to practice conscious listening?

    “Ok, that all sounds good, but how do I get started?”

    Here are three actions you can take today:

    1. Take your presence to work.

    Conscious listening requires being intentionally present. Learn how to conduct a short Presence Practice exercise through this audio clip by Conscious Capitalism Co-Founder Raj Sisodia.


      2. Practice using the RASA method.

    International speaker and communications expert Julian Treasure has coined the RASA method. Learn more about his methods from this video on conscious listening in a fast-paced world.

    RASA:

    • Receive (pay attention with your eyes, lean forward)
    • Appreciate (nodding, affirming gestures)
    • Summarize (“So, here’s what I heard…”)
    • Ask questions

      3. Take a class on conscious listening

    Consider investing in your listening skills and take a class to become a more conscious listener. Learn more here about a conscious listening course offered through Udemy.


  • February 23, 2018 2:42 PM | Deleted user


    Often, we spend our workday on the go.  Moving from meeting to meeting, eating lunch at our desks, working on deadlines.  This puts us on overload and overdrive.

    What if you took the time to slow down and created some space for yourself before walking into a meeting?  What if you gave yourself time to think and set your intentions for the outcomes you desired to accomplish?

    Practicing mindfulness – even five minutes a day – is enough to make a difference.  You can actually change your brain.

    Last fall, we hosted Raj Sisodia author, scholar, thought leader and co-founder of Conscious Capitalism, a series of events.  At the beginning of his lecture Raj helped bring the room to presence with this short Presence Practice.

    Here is a recording of the practice that you can use before stepping into a meeting, at the start of your day or with your team before you begin a meeting together.


    Let us know what results you see in the comments below.

    For some further wisdom from Raj, listen to our latest episode of the Curious Conscious Capitalist.  Raj speaks about How Business Can Heal Our Bodies, Minds, Souls, and Planet.

  • January 26, 2018 8:28 AM | Deleted user

    The last few months have been watershed moments with sexual harassment issues being exposed in the entertainment and media industries as well as in government leadership.  At the end of 2017, it seemed that almost daily a new story was being told by a victim coming forward with a horrific story and a powerful man being exposed and falling from grace (not to mention in many cases fired).  There is so much to unpack on this issue, but we were curious about the perspective of some of our conscious business leaders.  So, we reached out to Daphne Dolan, CEO of City Staffing, and invited her to write a guest blog on the topic.  City Staffing is a staffing agency in the Chicago area, whose hiring and placement demographic tends to be majority female. City Staffing has been a member of Conscious Capitalism Chicago since it’s inception, and Daphne sits on our Advisory Board

    When asked to write this blog I had to think twice, do I really know what I am being asked? Sexual harassment as a topic in my mind is so wide ranging and so far-reaching it encompasses everything from the obvious –  ogling and groping – to rampant and flagrant abuses of power demonstrated by the insidious and sinister activities of movie moguls (and public personalities in all arenas) that are now making the headlines on a daily basis.  It is an issue of dominance and power as well as gender stereotypes and societal norms; it is so deeply embedded in our values and our ethics it is like pulling a Band-aid off a festering wound. But the Band-aid is finally off, and we are able to gaze and critique a gender infrastructure that has been destructive for too long.

    The headlines have led to public outcry and a movement of people to coalesce around two mantras: ‘I Knew’ and ‘Me Too’.

    ‘I Knew’

    What has at once surprised me most and yet echoed what we already knew is that these behaviors were in the open, observed and considered, and that no one did anything to stop the rot. Or, at least no one who ‘mattered’ or would be listened to. There is so much media coverage of people trying to ‘out’ the situation, but to no avail – alas those who speak out are often sidelined, subdued, quieted or labeled as heretics, crazy people or trouble makers – a typical whistleblower analogy can be drawn.

    Whistleblowing or ‘telling tales’ is something we are programmed to avoid from childhood – ‘no one likes a rat’. It is really no wonder people don’t come forward, as victims have long been blamed and disregarded for their own accounts of abuse.

    ‘Me Too’

    Our friends, our sisters, our daughters and our colleagues are all suffering, but have now found a voice, and we must grab this opportunity to give momentum to the movement. We must add the ‘me toos’ to the ‘I knews’ and blow that whistle with all our might!

    What Now?

    Now that people are talking, we must challenge our companies, our government, and our public leaders to set a better example and stamp out behaviors that will not be tolerated.

    As I come down from the podium I ask, how can I effect change? I am the Managing Director of City Staffing, a female-owned and run staffing agency, that has consciousness at its heart. Our most important stakeholders are our people: they have to come first. We have to protect them, and we have to be there for them.

    What can you do?


  • December 19, 2017 8:30 AM | Deleted user

    There’s a certain fast-food restaurant near my home that has a distinct impact on our community. First of all, it does meet the need for quick, inexpensive food. It also employs local teenagers. In addition, however, it accounts for at least half of the litter in nearby yards and alleys (both packaging and discarded fries and burgers), the drive-through window creates long lines of cars that extend into the street and cause traffic snarls (particularly during morning rush hour) as well as unpredictable and piercing noise for surrounding homes as teenage voices ask, “Can I have your order?” Finally, the nutrition that it delivers is suspect at several levels. So, while it delivers some measure of value to our community – and certainly to its employees and corporate shareholders – it also leaves a sizable negative footprint.

    On December 1, CEOs from our chapter heard about an entirely different approach to providing value to a business’ stakeholders. Brian Schultz, CEO, shared how Studio Movie Grill (SMG) seeks to provide value to all of its stakeholders, especially the communities in which it operates. SMG operates 30 theaters in 8 states with a total of 314 screens. It creates a complete experience, including in-theater dining, and its declared purpose is to “open hearts and minds, one story at a time.” It pursues that purpose with five clearly defined stakeholders:

    • Guests (parents) – helping them to be better parents
    • Team members (employees) – ensuring a healthy level of compensation and a positive work experience
    • Communities (schools) – strengthening relationships with the parent community
    • Vendor-Partners (distributors) – creating a broader distribution for independent films
    • Investors – bringing in more guests and revenue

    Through the lens of their purpose and stakeholder commitments, SMG has created numerous initiatives that extend beyond offering good movies. In the Dallas area, it started with a single school fundraiser that grew to 100 hosted events throughout its locations. They have created special events for youth with disabilities, adjusting sound and lighting to create a welcoming experience for the children and their families – offering a “family night out” opportunity that was previously unimagined. And, they now have a location in the neighborhood of Chatham on the South Side of Chicago.

    Why Chatham, and not Schaumburg or Oak Brook or the North Shore? Because Chatham is a neighborhood that can benefit from a well-run, community-focused source of family entertainment. The theater has become an anchor that employs local youth, supports local schools and offers both fine movies and dining. Many local residents come to the theater for a family meal, whether or not they see a movie.

    Conscious Capitalism includes four key pillars, and two of them are higher purpose and stakeholder value. Studio Movie Grill demonstrates both of these can be real in a business that makes money while making the world a better place.


  • August 31, 2017 8:32 AM | Deleted user


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    “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Or, so said Confucius (supposedly). While it may sound a bit trite, there is much truth in this old adage. Our work occupies the majority of our waking hours. If it is something we dread or something that creates high stress, it can diminish our health, both physically and psychologically. Can our work do the inverse as well – contribute to improving our overall health and well-being?

    Conscious Capitalism Chicago is exploring this possibility – not as wishful thinking, but as a practical reality. At our July 20 event, four leaders from the healthcare sector engaged in this inquiry with us. And, on September 28, Raj Sisodia, co-founder of Conscious Capitalism, will continue the conversation with us, exploring examples of how business can help restore the health of our bodies, minds and souls.

    In July, Andrew Sykes, CEO of Habits at Work, a collective of researchers, actuaries and consultants who empower positive habit creation for companies and their employees, said we need to acknowledge “our complicity in work being fundamentally unhealthy.” Andrew asked us if we had ever taken the attitude that ‘I will sacrifice myself at the altar of my company’? I have to admit, I’ve been there. Whether it’s the number of hours or plane flights or cups of coffee, we sometimes consider such measures to be a badge of honor, somehow reinforcing the collective myth that success is giving up our lives? Andrew challenged the business leaders present to shift their mindsets and declare that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can design our work in a way that makes a difference to the performance of human beings. The ultimate promise should be: “come and work here, and we’ll send you home in the best shape of your life.”

    It sounds ambitious – and perhaps unrealistic. But, our other panelists echoed Andrew’s perspective. Lyle Berkowitz from Abundant Venture Partners, a purpose-based incubator focused on improving the human condition, said that “the whole healthcare system is aligned to get the results we’re getting – it only kicks in when we get really sick. In many ways, being healthy is counter-productive for our healthcare systems.” We’ve got to focus on designing our work and our lives to nurture our health – and increased energy and performance will follow. Ari Levy, founder of SHIFT, an integrated wellness center (where we met) noted that the keyword is “conscious”. He said that we tend to be largely unconscious much of the time, and healthy work would mean being thoughtful and intentional about our behavior and practices. Patty Riskind, CEO of SIMnext, a developer of simulation software for training healthcare professionals shared that ironically the “most unhealthy employees work in the healthcare industry”, and that as leaders we need to set the tone to change behavior and improve outcomes.

    So, can work be a source of health and well-being? We think so. Join us on September 28 to delve more deeply with Raj Sisodia. Raj maintains that most businesses take healthy and whole people and – over time – stress them out and burn them out, adversely impacting their health and happiness as well as their families. Yet, he says it doesn’t have to be that way. Business can be a source of healing, making broken people whole again – and being extraordinarily successful at the same time.


  • July 21, 2017 8:34 AM | Deleted user

    How often do you think CEOs gather over a meal to discuss the humbling experience of their biggest mistake? Or reveal that chink in their personal armor?

    Not too often, right?

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    It’s only human to look good in front of our peers and feel as though we have all the answers or only share our victories with each other.  The facade in business can be “everything is fantastic,” “we are killing it,” or  “sales are through the roof”. It’s the business equivalent of answering “I’m fine” when asked how we are.

    Yet, the business leaders on the journey of Conscious Capitalism who gathered for our recent CEO breakfast have found value not only in sharing best practices, but also in being vulnerable to share those moments (or chinks) when they had failed and what they had learned from those experiences. Below’s a smattering of what they shared.

    Chinks in Armor

    One leader openly shared his company’s journey aligning itself with its core values and making people their top priority. Making this choice exposed a lot of practices and relationships that were not aligned with their foundational values, resulting in their choice to to walk away from their largest client.

    While this move had a significant cost,and they felt like they were taking a step back,  it really allowed them to move forward, while staying true to their operating principles.

    Another leader shared the challenging decision to keep or fire an employee who had an encyclopedic knowledge of their product technology, but who was also killing morale. Postponing and fretting over the decision had had a high cost in the culture, until the employee finally moved on.

    Lesson learned?  Not only to make sure new hires are a fit with creating the culture, but also to make decisions sooner before the cost becomes too high.

    Across the conversations, it was clear that being willing to be vulnerable and share mistakes can not only be liberating for the leader, but it also creates a culture in which employees are more self-expressed and less afraid to fail.

    It’s important to share our stories.  And, our stories also include challenging moments.

    Yet, what becomes possible when we authentically share those moments where we don’t do our best or we let our team down or we cost our company time or money?

     If we have the courage to allow them, those opportunities for learning can open up new pathways for ourselves as leaders as well as for our businesses.

     

    So, let your people see the chink in your armor – what have you got to lose?


  • June 21, 2017 8:36 AM | Deleted user

    CC2017, the annual Conscious Capitalism conference, is behind us now, leaving a wake of inspiration and meaningful connections behind it. This year, 400 leaders converged in Philadelphia for two very full days of keynotes and breakout sessions. In conjunction with the conference, 45 chapter leaders from all over the world spent an additional full day sharing ideas, building skills and learning from each other.

    The movement is certainly alive and well, and expanding rapidly across the globe.

    Two members of our Chicago community presented practicums at CC2017:  Katlin Smith, CEO of Simple Mills, and Dan Golden, CEO of BeFoundOnline. Katlin’s session was titled: “The Art of Un-Compromise: Growing without Diluting Your Principles.”   Dan’s session focused on “The Ownership Culture: How to Build a Culture of Employee Engagement and Empowerment.” They both graciously agreed to spend an evening and share an encore of their Philly sessions with our Chicago community. Here’s a sense of the wisdom they shared with us:

    Based on her experience with Simple Mills, Katlin gave us some insight into how to enable a company to grow without compromising its purpose and values:

    Be clear about your purpose and stay in touch with it as you grow. Know what your “lines in the sand” are – what absolutely won’t you do as you grow?

    Align your employees and other stakeholders’ interests around what the product stands for and product quality, and the metrics you use to measure success.

    Have a battle plan for “grey decisions” – the calls you have to make in situations that aren’t cut and dried, may have conflicting demands, and require time to think and different perspectives from team members.

     

    Dan, with his trademark candor, humor and humility, shared how BeFoundOnline created an ownership culture using appreciative inquiry and open book management. The BeFoundOnline team navigated difficult times by engaging all the employees in brainstorming, voting and aligning together on how to handle the challenge of losing

    a significant chunk of revenue when a major client departed.

    Through the transparency and empowerment of open book management, even the newest, youngest employee was able to contribute to a solution that helped the whole company meet its annual plan and enable the whole team to receive their bonuses.

    “You’ve completely changed how I’m going to handle my staff meeting tomorrow!”

    Our Chicago group responded enthusiastically to Katlin and Dan’s insights. As we wrapped up and shared takeaways, one leader shared, “You’ve completely changed how I’m going to handle my staff meeting tomorrow. I was going to focus on a list of customer service issues that are frustrating me, and instead I’m going to focus first on the much longer list of what we’re doing right, and how we can learn from them. I’ve never started a meeting with what’s going right before!”


  • May 25, 2017 8:46 AM | Deleted user

    “Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.”  ~~ Rumi

    Crimson, spicy-sweet, and essential to a perfect paella or seafood risotto, saffron is known the world over as the Queen of All Spices or Red Gold.

    Saffron is variously grown in Iran, Spain, and Kashmir yet it’s in Afghanistan where you’ll find the highest quality saffron.  The high altitude, dry winds and intensely arid climate create an ideal environment to grow the purple crocuses f

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    rom which saffron comes.

    What comes to mind when most of us think of Afghanistan, however, isn’t saffron or delectable dishes, but pictures of war-torn lands, stories of terrorist activity, and the reality of the opium drug trade.

    Kim Jung and Keith Alaniz, two of the three founders of Rumi Spice, a local Chicago start-up, joined us recently to share quite a different story of Afghanistan.

    Their Story

    Deployed to address war, terrorism and drug trafficking as US Army soldiers, what Kim–as a platoon leader in search of roadside bombs, and Keith–as a regional expert working with tribal elders, observed stood in stark contrast to the devastation all around them.

    They saw a proud people with a rich culture and history. They saw a generosity of spirit amongst the Afghani farmers.  They saw a land covered in tiny purple flowers that contain the rarest, most expensive of spices: Afghan saffron.

    Later, back in the US, Kim and third founding member, Emily Miller, had been accepted into Harvard Business School and were in search of a project. While still in Afghanistan, Keith contacted them with an idea.

    He’d met Haji Yosef, a local Afghani saffron farmer who could only sell his saffron in the local market. After 30 years of war the Afghanis had effectively been cut off from the international marketplace, and without investment in agriculture, Afghan farmers had few prospects for growth, making them susceptible to the influence of the Taliban’s pressure to grow poppies.

    Could this be the project that Kim and Emily were looking for at Harvard?

    Kim set out to find out, despite her parents thinking she was a bit crazy.  She bought a ticket to Afghanistan where she met up with Keith and Haji Yosef.  Deeply moved and inspired by Haji’s story, they set to “become entrepreneurs like Haji Yosef, to start a business, and to do something with this one wild and precious life that actually meant something.”

    Rumi Spice was born.

    Named after the Persian poet, Rumi, whose life and teachings involve coming home to a spiritual  center, Rumi Spice’s purpose is ‘to lay a foundation for peace, one saffron flower at a time.”

    To that end, Rumi’s stated purpose is at the core of everything they do: “economically empowering Afghani farmers, inspiring Afghani women through earning direct wages, building out Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure, and reinvesting back into the community.”

    Rumi is the largest foreign employer in agriculture in Afghanistan. They currently partner with more than 90 farmers, employing more

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    than 300 women in Herat, the saffron capital in Afghanistan, to hand-harvest the delicate crimson stigmas of the flowers. This delicate, labor intensive work can only occur in the early morning hours of a two-week period each fall, the primary reason that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world at $109/oz. In fact, it requires almost 175,000 flowers to create a single kilogram of saffron.

    While the average Afghani household earns around $500/year, Afghan farmers can more than triple their income with saffron while providing an alternative to poppy and opium farming – one of the primary sources of income for the Taliban.

    Uniquely positioned to overcome barriers with their social networks and in-country expertise, Kim, Keith and Emily have built important relationships, partnerships, and organizational infrastructure necessary to operate within and out of Afghanistan to bring this top-quality, sustainably farmed saffron to customers around the world.

    In addition to its unique flavor, saffron’s amazing health benefits range from improved respiration and heart health to reduced inflammation and pain.  Its healing properties have been known throughout time as it is an excellent source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium.

    Chosen by world-class chefs and Michelin-rated restaurants, Rumi’s additional products and luxury items include saffron gemmies, saffron cocktails, green tea and saffron mixes.

    Kim, Keith and Emily see their competitive advantage as their ability to navigate the Afghan business landscape, which is built on trusted relationships and strengthened by their insistence on quality.  Rumi’s Afghani saffron received the highest rating at the International Taste & Quality Institute in accordance with ISO Standard 3632 at an outstanding rating of 236. The Institute has rated Afghan saffron #1 three years running.

    “The social impact piece is great, but this saffron stands on its own.” At Rumi they believe that a for-profit, social enterprise is the solution to long-term post-conflict development, and Afghan peace is worth fighting for.

    When asked about what they’ve learned in building their business, they shared the following:

    • Do it as a business, not as a hobby—make the commitment to a larger purpose.
    • It’s all about the relationships.
    • Develop standards for quality or there would be no business.
    • Get comfortable being uncomfortable working in a new culture.

    Purpose.  Leadership. Culture.

    This conscious company is making its mark in the world in big ways. On May 7,2017 all three founders appeared on Shark Tank in hopes of securing investment monies for their growing business.  After presenting their business case, graciously addressing the pushback they received, shark Mark Cuban agreed to finance them to the tune of $250,000 in exchange for 15% of their business.

    Learn more about Rumi Spice. Check out Chicago Tonight’s story  from this spring.


  • May 07, 2017 8:49 AM | Deleted user

    Gold Eagle Brand: Building a Culture Where Everybody Matters

    How do you not only bring an 85-year-old company into the 21st century, but innovate to create a sustainable future?

    This was a question that Marc Blackman, CEO of Gold Eagle Brands, and his team were asking. Golden Eagle Brands is a Chicago-based manufacturer of fuel stabilizers and ethanol treatments. They have built a family of brands that are driven to protect and preserve the things you love.

    The challenges that Gold Eagle was facing as a company were both external and internal.

    External Challenges
    The way people buy products has changed over the last 10 years and will only continue to change as e-commerce grows. Many retailers are closing their doors, so it poses the challenge of how to connect products to the market.  The way we communicate has changed. Digital and social media are replacing TV as a way to effectively connect with customers and build a brand.  And consumers want to feel that connection to a brand as they buy their products – they don’t just want to hear about the product, they want to hear about the company.

    Internal Challenges
    How do you make an 85-year-old manufacturing company on the Southwest side of Chicago, sexy and attractive to millennials and continue to create a work environment where people can thrive?  

    You realize that as a company, you need to change.

    Marc became involved with Conscious Capitalism and saw the impact it can have on business. Marc shared, “You have to be successful, but business owners are going to be the stabilizing force. Gold Eagle has always been known as a great place to work with a family culture, but as we learn about what it takes to be successful in the future, we see that our good culture can be so much better.

    How are they doing it? For starters: Marc and his executive team made the commitment to transforming their work culture. By reading, Everyone Matters, by Bob Chapman the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, they became interested in learning how well they are balancing their operating performance, operational stability and people-centric leadership.  

    Barry-Wehmiller created the BW Leadership Institute. They they teach companies how to implement their Truly Human Leadership model.

    Marc and Dan Stewart, Head of HR for Gold Eagle Brands, paid a visit to Barry-Wehmiller company in Saint Louis to learn from the BW Leadership Institute and are kicking off a workshop with their team at Gold Eagle Brands this month.

    Here are some of the things that they have learned so far as they start implementing this model:

    • To transform a culture, you must have early adopters, some mavericks, and have people ready to jump in of their own volition.
    • Empower 20 people who will be ready to jump in early – people who want to be better leaders, from any part of the company – and they don’t need to be part of the leadership team.
    • Leadership needs to use their ears more than their mouths and put their egos aside. Assume that the people who do the work know better than the leaders do.
    • When you start to empower people and leave them feeling that they really matter,  they will take responsible and start setting an example.
    • Celebrate and acknowledge the team when something great happens. Make it a part of the culture, and make it a heartfelt recognition.

    Hand-in-hand with their efforts to evaluate culture, Gold Eagle invested in transforming its physical space. Their older office space was ready for an upgrade. They were intentional in their design by creating spaces that inspire collaboration, attracts more millennials and has natural light filling rooms and a floor plan of open space. The new space is truly inspiring. The impact on the company has been connecting the teams, enabling them to communicate more face-to-face with larger, open meeting spaces and a new physical environment that fosters collaboration.

    Gold Eagle Brands is among the many companies who are authentically purpose-driven and passionately changing their corner of the world by creating cultures in which their employees are thriving, their stakeholders are served and their leaders are inspiring, creating value and making their companies profitable.

    We look forward to checking back with Marc and his team for updates on their cultural transformation. This is how business transforms – one conscious company, leader and employee at a time.


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