I'm summing up my goals in three (admittedly borrowed) words: Year of Action. Political leanings aside, don't we sustainable business owners have a responsibility to apply the State of the Union battle cry to our own companies, however modest or majestic they may be?
My grandmother, a housekeeper from the West Indies, spent decades inhaling toxic cleaning fumes before she succumbed to cancer. I founded my company to honor her memory and ensure that other low income and immigrant women would be granted the right to physical and financial health that she was denied. I first started my small business to make changes not money. It was that passion to take action that allowed me to do both. It was intimidating at first, but somewhere between my first client and my 100th, I discovered how good it can feel to push back. Cleaning businesses can make more money by hiring cash workers. I pushed back. Our cleaners are employees and as such they earn a living wage, carry insurance, receive paid vacations and other benefits. Taking action against unethical business practices puts less money in my bank account, but it fuels my passion for change.
Our President spoke of expanding opportunities, creating economic freedom for women and building on the strength of our dreams. Those sound like fighting words to me. In August I pledged to change my community by providing jobs to 50 low income and immigrant women over the next 2 years. To date, we've hired 12 new workers. My pledge included a commitment to offer our staff financial literacy education as a part of training. Is that going to cost more than traditional staff training? Yes. But if I don't push back against traditional training standards then who will? The men and women I employ trust me to be a fierce advocate, committed to taking action even when no action is widely considered to be the better business move.
I choose to push back against mentors who would teach that a better business is synonymous with a bigger bottom line. Instead, let's follow the example of inspirational leaders such as fashion mogul Tory Burch who created Elizabeth Street Foundation to support the "economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs and their families in the U.S. through small business loans, mentoring programs and entrepreneurial education." Or Tim Westergren, Pandora founder, who didn't give up on his groundbreaking music technology concept even though investors, peers and the general public didn't support it at first. These people pushed back and took action to make their dreams come true. They've built their empires on the strength of their dreams and their convictions and -- albeit more modest -- I am building my own on the same belief. Action is required to create change. Change is what will make our world a better place at home and abroad. It can be intimidating, but what are the consequences if we choose not to take action. Republican, Democrat, Independent or just plain apathetic let's push back against anything less than positive change this year. What are you taking action for?
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.