In Times of Social Distancing, B Local Communities Provide Important Place for Connection

December 1, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, companies and organizations around the world had to adapt their approaches to serve their customers and stakeholders — and B Local Communities were no exception. These place-based communities of Certified B Corporations had to pivot, pivot, and pivot again to adapt their models of community building to the new ways of working. They learned difficult and important lessons along the way about what makes a community strong, equitable and accessible that continue to shape their organizations.

B Locals, run independently from B Lab, are commonly led by volunteer boards of B Local Leaders who work closely with the B Lab team. These leaders serve as shepherds of their local B Corp communities — organizing events, leading awareness initiatives, building partnerships, and providing learning opportunities for companies and people in their region. There are now nearly two dozen B Local & Region B Corp Champion organizations throughout the U.S. & Canada in various stages of growth, with over 170 individual B Local Leaders comprising their volunteer boards and committees.

When a key tool in the B Locals’ toolbelt — in-person gatherings — was abruptly taken away, their leadership teams had to rethink their traditional approaches to community building. However, the shift allowed many of these B Local groups to turn inward and examine their approaches to community building. They became more strategic and deliberate in their actions, with a renewed focus on understanding and listening to their community. Along the way, they learned to strive for stronger equity and accessibility.

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Finding New Ways to Build Community

Leaders of B Locals say the last two years have brought many lessons and opportunities to reimagine how to build a stronger sense of community.

Adrian Gershom, Chair of B Local Illinois, said, “We have used some of the significant amount of time that we would have spent organizing and holding in person events to be more deliberate around goal setting and strategy formulation for community outreach. As a B Local, we have recommitted to being the glue that binds our community of impact-focused businesses together.” To that end, B Local Illinois undertook its first community survey to better understand and listen to its community members, and they’re already working on programming and activities directly informed by the results. “It’s amazing what you can learn when you ask,” said Gershom.

B Locals also had to come up with new ways to show up and be there in support for their members. Lorin Augeri, Program Coordinator at Florida For Good, said that even faced with the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the Florida For Good B Local team knew that building community was more important than ever in a time when distance was essential. When the pandemic forced us to be apart, skip in-person events and remain in isolation, we felt strongly that simply being there as not only a resource but as a friend would be one of the most helpful things we could do for our members.” Florida for Good collected and curated resources to help its member companies weather the storm. It also helped to found a new B Tourism network to support mission-aligned companies in the hard-hit travel industry.

Both B Local Bay Area and B Local Colorado also found value in adapting their regular event structures to support the needs of the B Corp companies and employees in their regions. They shifted their focus from regular educational workshops to more of a peer support network. “We began hosting monthly lunch meetups, which occasionally highlighted guest speakers but most importantly served as a space for people to create connections and get support,” said Janae Lloyd, Events Chair for B Local Bay Area. Similarly, B Local Colorado found success in launching small group meetups that could act as peer-to-peer support groups for B Corp employees working in specific roles. They created a Marcomm Group and a People Ops Group in 2020 that continue to meet monthly, fostering a space to share best practices and to network with fellow B Corp employees.

One advantage of the shift from in-person to virtual events has been around accessibility and being able to reach a broad audience. “The silver lining of the enforced isolation has been the ability to reach a much wider audience with our programming,” said Gershom. “Virtual workshops really have relevance for a global audience—even if people now have almost too many virtual options to choose from.” As an example, B Local Illinois recently hosted a virtual event on Supplier Diversity, a topic relevant to many that attracted a geographically dispersed audience.

Aurelia Talvela, Chair of B Local Québec, said that switching to virtual events “actually gave us the opportunity to think bigger.” It allowed them to connect with more companies across the province for the first time, when previously efforts had been focused on gathering in the city of Montreal. Although they often found it difficult to engage the community through virtual events, they recently had a conversation centered on “the importance of connection and maintaining intentional and consistent communication. It is also always important to stop and reflect on why we do the work we do and connect it to our strong B Corp values,” said Talvela.

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Creating More Inclusive and Just Communities

In addition to the significant shift from in-person to virtual events, many B Locals utilized the reflective time of the pandemic to turn inward and strengthen their focus and commitment to advancing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) within their leadership committees, across their communities and within their member companies. Following B Lab’s lead, several B Locals committed to doing the work of anti-racism and acknowledged their own gaps and shortcomings in this area, creating strategies and plans for improvement. Michelle Reid of B Local Vancouver said that the pandemic and reckoning over the past year and a half has “brought a focus on anti-racism in our communities and how we as the B Local provide platforms and spaces for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voices. The community has remained strong, yet more ready to take actions not only within their organizations, but the broader B Corp community.”

A few examples of B Locals’ commitment to JEDI work include:

  • B Local Boston’s virtual BLD NE 2021 three-day conference included musical guests, keynote speakers, and over a dozen workshops with a strong focus on JEDI knowledge and skill building. Their board held regular internal JEDI workshops with a JEDI advisor, who helped them consider how tenets of white supremacy culture show up in the board structure and processes, and experiment with ways to shift it.
  • B Local Québec launched a JEDI community of practice for small groups to have real and authentic conversations about the place of JEDI in their members’ personal and professional lives.
  • B Local Bay Area has begun to focus on how it can lead local collective action efforts aligned with B Lab U.S. & Canada’s theory of change. A priority identified by the B Local Bay Area Board is being a better ally to the Indigenous communities whose land they work and live on. Its two current focus areas are 1) going beyond land acknowledgements; and 2) raising awareness of the need to include the Indigenous perspective in Net Zero targets set by B Corps.
B Local PDX sponsored a live mural painting during its BLD 2021 event.
  • B Local Vancouver hosted JEDI sessions in 2020 with Leonie Smith, which they described as moving, eye opening and giving the community insight into what needs to be done and the importance of continuing this work. Reid said, “It moved many on such a deeply personal level and allowed us as a committee to be closer to this work and one another.” One of the sessions in the four-part BLD Canada Series in 2021 also focused on JEDI, and another on Climate Justice. This series highlighted over 40 B Corps and brought in a diverse group of speakers from the B Corp community and beyond.
  • B Local PDX centered BLD 2020 and 2021 events around the idea of uplifting the marginalized voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the local community and beyond. It is also launching a five-part JEDI Workshop series starting in December 2021 with a local consultant, Alexis Braly James of Construct the Present.

While B Local communities have encountered their fair share of challenges during this time, it’s clear that these groups are beginning to emerge from the pandemic with even stronger foundations and senses of purpose than before. Interest in B Local communities continues to emerge throughout the U.S. and Canada, including newly formed groups Idaho for Good, Maine B Corps, and B Local Manitoba (Pending), as well as interest expressed from B Corps in Arizona, Texas, Vermont, Connecticut, and more.

Thanks to these B Local Leaders for their contributions to this article: Janae Lloyd (B Local Bay Area), Kelsa Summer Roidt (B Local Boston), Lora Lederman (B Local Colorado), Lorin Augeri (Florida for Good), Nathan Stuck (B Local Georgia), Adrian Gershom (B Local Illinois), Karin Power (B Local PDX), Aurelia Talvela (B Local Québec), Michelle Reid (B Local Vancouver).

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