You Are Not Alone: Interdependent Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

April 14, 2020

The B Corp Community Stands Together to Weather the Storm and Build a Brighter Economic Future

Photo courtesy B Local PDX

Photo courtesy B Local PDX
Photo courtesy B Local PDX


The B Corp Community Stands Together to Weather the Storm and Build a Brighter Economic Future

B Lab Voices: This is a personal perspective from an employee at B Lab, the nonprofit behind Certified B Corporations. In this series, we invite individual B Lab employees to share their experiences, inspiration, hopes, and challenges as they work toward a more inclusive and regenerative world. This edition of B Lab Voices is by Kim Coupounas, who serves as a Global Ambassador for B Lab, as co-chair of the B Global Climate Task Force, as co-leader of the B Corp Climate Collective, and co-founder and executive circle member of WeTheChange. She is also a former co-founder and CEO of one of the earliest B Corps.

Kim Coupounas serves as a Global Ambassador for B Lab, co-chair of the B Global Climate Task Force, co-leader of the B Corp Climate Collective, and co-founder and executive circle member of WeTheChange.

The global landscape and our lived reality have shifted radically over the past six weeks. The loss, suffering and death being experienced by many in this moment are often too much to fathom, let alone bear.

I write these words having spent the past few weeks vacillating between moments of abject despair and moments of hope and gratitude. What’s making me grateful is seeing the love and generosity being shared so freely by people who are able to help those in need. And what’s giving me hope is that the crisis is sparking concrete conversations by leaders across sectors globally, including within the community of Certified B Corporations and B Lab, about how we can work together to create a more equitable and regenerative economy on the other side of the pandemic.

As I’ve talked with B Corp leaders in one-on-one and group calls, I’ve heard repeatedly and in various versions the painful anxieties of real and immediate health and financial needs and hardship, for themselves, their families, and their businesses. Some have shared openly their circumstances—whether they would be able to keep their workers employed, how to keep workers safe, how to keep the lights on with zero revenue coming in, and whether their beloved company would ever be the same. Some are sharing news of the sickness of a loved one or the death of a friend or colleague.

The suffering has weighed heavily on me, not only because this is the community of people most dear to me but because news of these hard times has brought back memories of my own company’s death spiral on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis. Amidst that spiral, caused largely by anonymous “market forces,” I tried desperately to serve our customers and communities while caring for the well-being of our employees, all while it was unraveling before my eyes. The mind-numbing exhaustion and embarrassment of not being able to pay our vendors, many of whom called me daily, on my mobile phone and at home, with my child listening. The gut-wrenching reality of the impacts on the families of workers who were laid off, “employees” who were in reality colleagues and friends who had trusted their livelihoods to me. The dizzying paralysis brought on by realizing everything we had poured into our brand and company was dying. And then the sickening, chest-crushing acceptance of F A I L U R E that crashed over me like a tidal wave.

Hearing the level of sadness and despair from so many leaders these past weeks has brought these painful memories from 12 years ago back to my consciousness in vivid colors. When I reflect on that time, I realize that we let the fear of failure paralyze and isolate us. We reached out to practically no one to advise us — let alone help us. We had some misguided belief in the nobleness of our cause and the positive destiny that would manifest. If I could change one thing about that time, I would have reached out to our friends, allies, and community when we needed them most.

What business leaders are dealing with during this pandemic seems far worse than anything I just described. For some industries, revenues have literally ceased. Many of you are dealing with family members and co-workers who are sick with or who have died from COVID-19. Many of you are dealing with income, job, housing, and food insecurity. And many of you are dealing with the challenges of remote learning for your children or caring for elderly loved ones.


Now is the time for you to lean into your community, more than you ever have. Yes, even amidst the terrifying challenges you may be facing. We can be the eye in the center of the storm for one another. In community, we can navigate these turbulent waters in the months ahead.

The past few weeks have shown me in countless ways how when human beings are united in common cause, we rise with care, love, compassion, and kindness. As a community that’s built on a foundation of trust, love and shared values, B Corps in particular have been showing how business can practice interdependence — sharing resources and information, serving their communities together, being a sounding board and source of understanding and solace for one another, and collaborating for real-time solutions.

The Many Examples of Business for Good

As just a few examples, Goodr is feeding families in need with free groceries, fruit stands, and student meals. The teams at EILEEN FISHER, Harper & Scott, Kotn, Looptworks, Frank And Oak and Tuckerman & Co. are supporting efforts to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care providers. High Park Brewery and Intrepid Travel created a limited edition B Corp beer, with proceeds donated to Food Banks Canada. Luke’s Lobster is feeding the frontline with a donation program for health care workers. New Belgium launched a Bar & Restaurant Relief Fund to support the food and beverage employees. They invite both donations to the fund and applications for funds. Leaders from WeTheChange and Mujeres B created an inspiring video featuring #BWomen from around the world. Leesa and Malouf are working with hospitals to provide bedding and supplies. Lisa Arie of Vista Caballo offered a free webinar on thriving through a crisis. Revolution Foods is offering free meals across the country for those in need. These are just a few of the many examples of using business for good.

And in the spirit of community and our interdependence, B Corps also are reaching out to fellow B Corps to offer support, services, and guidance. In recent weeks, members of the B Corp Climate Collective have come together in community and mutual support including work shares (where one company with ramped production amidst the pandemic is hiring furloughed workers from another), offering free and reduced-price services to one another, sharing knowledge about manufacturing retrofits to make PPE, hand sanitizer and other items in short supply, and many other connections.

“Climate and inequity are the two greatest challenges of our time—and love and collaboration will solve them.” — Mary Powell, CEO (retired), Green Mountain Power

B Lab has been hosting a series of ongoing sharing and connection calls, bringing together leaders from groups focused on collective action, such as WeTheChange and the B Corp Climate Collective, and others by industry and job function.

B Corp founders like Carolina Miranda from Cultivating Capital, Kristy Wallace from Ellevate, Michelle Hirons from HigherRing, Lorraine Schuchart from Prosper for Purpose, Sara Schley from Seed Systems, and Rose Penelope Yee from Green Retirement have fielded a series of public webinars to help fellow business leaders manage their businesses during the crisis. They’ve proactively sourced offers (discounts, free services, etc.) to help other companies. Schley of Seed Systems has donated coaching time for fellow leaders who need tools for calming and centering amidst the chaos. Meg Barnhart of Zen of Slow Cooking have sent care packages to fellow WeTheChange leaders as a show of solidarity and love. Yee of Green Retirement, Kat Taylor of Beneficial State Bank, and Steph Ryan of B Lab have convened mission-driven B Corp bankers from around the world to field financial solutions for businesses in peril. All volunteer. All in the spirit of love and service. And all while dealing with COVID-19 in their own lives and businesses.

How are these leaders moving consciously from fear to action amidst this much uncertainty and challenge? Ken Seidu and Godfrey Okumu from Nigeria and Dr. Anne Mwangi from Kenya created a useful visual that shares some of the “secrets” of stepping out of fear and into love and action: helping others in need, practicing mindfulness (prayer, meditation, time in nature), being grateful and recognizing the privileges you have in this moment, remembering those people you love most, creating beauty and art, and being in community.

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Resilience and Hope

COVID-19 has exposed the ugly underbelly of the current broken economic system. We are at a pivotal moment in history, with an opportunity to not only recognize the flaws in the current economic system but to work in collaboration and community to forge together the inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy that will sustain life on this planet.

As Arundhati Roy writes, this pandemic is a portal: “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality,’ trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. … Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. … We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Human beings’ creative powers are boundless. None of the world’s problems are “unsolvable” — including climate change and the human inequities that cause so much suffering. If there is any silver lining to this pandemic, I want it to be that humans recognize and fully own our agency to solve our most intractable challenges and build this new world together.

The only thing clear about the path ahead is that it will be rocky, but as Charles Eisenstein wrote recently, “let’s get serious about taking care of each other. Let’s remember how precious we all are and how precious life is. Let’s take inventory of our civilization, strip it down to its studs, and see if we can build one more beautiful.”

Let us be among those who choose hope, gratitude, love, action, and community in the weeks and months ahead, no matter what comes our way. Let us fully embrace our interdependence and lean into our communities for the help, inspiration, solace, and courage we need.

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