Actionable Insights on Working and Learning Together in Times of Crisis

July 29, 2020

How the Pandemic Showed the Value of B Corps as a Community of Practice

This article is a personal perspective from two employees 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 from Christopher Nickelson, Senior Associate of Impact Partnerships and Programs, and Andy Fyfe, Manager of B Corp Growth and Activation.

March feels like so long ago, when everyday life in our region first came to a halt. And now, four months later, though an unrelentless pandemic continues and protesters still march on streets around the world, many people are reaching a moment in their lives and work and communities where they can pause, even if for a second, and more deeply reflect on what we’re experiencing.

For us at B Lab U.S. & Canada, our impact and company-facing roles have given us a unique vantage point to witness true community among Certified B Corporations and be reminded of how interdependence is the bedrock of our movement toward a new economy.

Many times, with our worlds spinning as fast as they do, humans require a crisis to really become aware of community in action. And because of that, when we do spot community in action, it can even catch us by surprise. But as activists and community leaders like Mia Birdsong so poignantly remind us and have known for so long: Communities are built upon daily commitments, regardless of whether you’re in a crisis. “Those kinds of things don’t exist without pre-existing relationships,” she said in a recent interview with Forbes.

This has been clear since the first weeks of the pandemic, as our team heard from our existing community of B Corps that they wanted to continue to learn from each other, lean more deeply into impact, cut through the flurry of light-touch resources, and strategize for the long term. In response, we led a project to curate an exchange of actionable B Corp learnings and best practices around topics as a way for companies to support and learn from one another:

  • Support for Employees in Frontline Settings: This list of learnings helps companies look out for their employees who still need to show up to a physical location for their work. These employees are often the most at-risk, and it may be necessary to take additional steps to protect and support them.
  • Navigating Layoffs: The way business leaders handle staff changes is an indicator of how they consider their stakeholders. This list of practices shines a light on how to navigate this process with care.
  • What to Consider Before Returning to an Office: While every city, state, and province are in different circumstances when it comes to reopening, every company should be preparing for the long term, which includes a potential return to the office. This list provides an outline for what business leaders should be asking themselves before they reopen their physical workplace.

In curating these lists, our team was reminded about what it really means to live into community and gathered some reflections and lessons that came up along the way.

The Value of Community in Times of Uncertainty

The businesses in our community continue to uphold a core B Corp belief: that their purpose is to serve each and every one of their stakeholders. When it came to operationalizing this truth, larger companies with a breadth of resources and others with long-established impact practices like Income Advance or unlimited sick time off tended to adapt more quickly to their new reality. At the same time, other companies at risk of needing to lay off most of their team or stop operations indefinitely were seeking stakeholder-focused solutions. (It’s worth noting that the majority of these B Corps most financially impacted told us that regardless of their circumstance, they wanted to do what they could to help their fellow B Corps and local community during this moment.)

This created a ripe environment for interdependence in action, building on the fabric of the community already in place to share resources and learnings in real time. While no one company or organization had all of the answers, B Corps showcased that they could collectively harvest value by contributing learnings from their own work and receiving knowledge from the work of others.

Centering the Most Vulnerable Stakeholders

B Corps, by design, look out for all of their stakeholders, which means building flexibility, inclusion, and long-term planning into their decision-making. This stakeholder foundation often means B Corps can more easily respond and adapt in a moment of crisis. Take this example from B Corp Looptworks:

“We have long worked with a dispersed workforce that employs single parents, refugees, and other adults with barriers to employment whether they be physical or mental. Whether it be due to specific work schedule needs, physical limitations, or family needs, these employees and partners have home work studios set up with industrial grade equipment. As a result, we did not need to ‘retool’ or ask employees to come into a factory setting where there would be greater risk for virus transmission. Rather, this work force was ready to mobilize and start producing [masks] immediately.”

Still, in an environment of uncertainty, leaders might move too quickly, rely only on existing networks, or leave out valuable perspectives. To address these risks, any solutions must continually center and serve the most vulnerable stakeholders.

B Lab partnered with B Corp Provoc to identify which topics to consider for the best practice lists and the specific solutions elevated within those topics. This meant pushing companies to consider questions like: If you are planning a return to the workplace, how are you providing flexibility to employees who might be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or who serve as a caretaker for someone at a higher risk? How are you accounting for employee support for those whose partner or family member lost their job?

Actionable Insights Versus Endless Resources

As public health and economic uncertainties continue to unfold, you don’t have to look far to find lists on lists of links to link-filled COVID-19 and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

One B Corp told us:

“There are too many ‘help’ resources focused on the ‘here and now’ and short term. ‘Create a shared and durable prosperity for all’ is our mission-critical true north star, and we, like all B Corps, must frame all our actions with this in mind. I’d like to see B Lab remain our guide and guardian to this mission.”

As a convener and a curator in this work, B Lab focused on creating resources that lead to long-term shared and durable prosperity for all while also being actionable in the current environment.

For example, in the Supporting Frontline Workers best practice list, instead of simply saying they’d implemented a COVID-19 screening protocol to protect employees and their families, Cabot Creamery Cooperative shared the step-by-step process for how they screen employees and suppliers on-site at their factories. And for New Seasons Market, this meant sharing their updated time-off policy that built in more flexibility for all employees, so that other companies could easily adapt for their own needs.

Balancing the Current Moment with the Need to Prepare

Finally, it is important to remember that being a community of practice does not mean being a community of homogenous practices. As our B Corps are spread across the United States and Canada, they are navigating different local and regional realities, varying reopening timelines, and the need to continually evolve their response for whatever comes next.

So while the community-driven solutions in these best practice lists were specific, they also provide a range of opportunities for B Corps to make the appropriate decision for their own stakeholders and circumstances.

Through all of this work, each of us much recognize our dynamic role in helping our communities thrive, as Mia Birdsong noted in her interview with Forbes:

“… that when you are giving that you are also receiving something — and that when you are receiving you’re also giving something …”

When Birdsong noted this, she was referring to neighborhoods and community groups that sprung into action during the pandemic, supporting each other with grocery runs and health care visits. But her point translates so perfectly to the new interdependent way of doing business that B Corps model every single day that’s centered on giving and receiving. And it’s that new way of doing business that will help us build a more resilient future.

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