Monday, December 19, 2016

Have a Socially Responsible Holiday 2016!

From Scrooge to Socially responsible shopper!

Thanks for receiving the Progress Strategies+ 2016 socially responsible companies list to consider during your shopping!  Like me, you may have just started shopping.  Good luck!  As with last year, I give you the gift of sharing some companies that I support who are examples of matching the bottom-line with socially responsible practices. 

Before I share, allow me to give a confession:  I finally got into the commercial Christmas spirit!  Last week I stood in the middle of the mall for 15 minutes reading the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) annual reports of two major retailers to double-check their improvements in environmental stewardship, community giving and wage and benefits for workers----before making my few purchases.

Recently as I was downloading some iTunes songs from Apple, I looked into the company’s CSR practices.  I was already impressed by CEO Tim Cook’s step to hire Lisa Jackson---former head of the Environmental Protection Agency---to run point on environmental stewardship and social initiatives. 

Apple has been leading in green energy.  All most all of their U.S. production and 87% of their Global production is powered by renewable energy.  They are so focused on this area that when they were challenged by some with the presumption that such focus was not good for business, Mr. Cook responded by stating “we do a lot of things for reasons besides the profit motive” while recommending that any stock holders who thought differently should sell. 

Wow!  While there is still room for improvement, I proceeded to get my songs from Chance The Rapper and Elaine Elias. Keep it coming Apple.

CSR is a great glue driving free market relationships

I am proudly in the number of socially responsible conscious consumers who find it very important to spend or invest in companies that have values, policies and business practices that benefit society----from environmental and charitable giving to ethical labor practices.  Such CSR demonstrations impact not only how we value the merging of profit and good behavior, but those activities also define our ethical free market interactions between businesses, customers, consumers, entrepreneurs and employees. 

For instance, when I buy North Face (I need new gloves---anyone!) outdoor products for quality and durability, I know that my dollars are being used to increase the company’s improvements of the people aspect of the Triple Bottom Line.  North Face has been focused on reducing their water footprint or usage and other ecological activities to meet environmental standards.  The support by all North Face’s customers keeps the company accountable to these goals.

They are also making improvements in their global compliance areas such as fair wages and benefits, women’s rights, anti-discrimination and respecting the right to free association and collective bargaining in the workplace.  Plus, I feel a bit warmer (emotionally) knowing that the company respects ethical treatment of animals as much as people.  Evidence of this is that one of my Down filled vests meets the Responsible Down Standard to prevent practices of live-feather plucking and other humane treatment of animals.

I shared this important factor with a local company recently.  As I discussed the CSR and inclusion services that Progress Strategies+ could provide them, “all businesses must remain attentive to the many potential customers that are driven by the CSR practices.  Within every demographic are untapped and sometimes unrealized customers who want companies to do more than just make money.”

Take the Reputation Institute’s survey, conducted for Forbes Magazine, to study 47,000 consumers that ranked the reputations of multinational companies.  The study researched how consumers prioritized the importance of corporate reputation factors such as CSR and corporate citizenship---and how those factors drive their perceptions of a company’s products, goods and services.

The study found that 42% of how people feel about a company is based on the firm’s CSR practices.  Those consumers were asked to give evaluations on questions such as “Is the company a good corporate citizen---supporting good causes and the environment?  Is it a responsibility-run company---behaving ethically and being transparent? Is it an appealing place to work?”  The perceptions are correlated with consumer support.  Companies such as Microsoft, Google, Walt Disney and others in the Forbes The 10 Companies With The Best CSR Reputations also do pretty well with profitability.

The Progress Strategies+ List of Companies---for your list, too?

These following companies are not on that list because they are not multinationals.  However, I wanted to share a list of major companies that I support just in case you have not finished your holiday shopping.  I will do a local business version in the future.  For now, based on my personal values and Progress Strategies+ CSR Client Best Practices here are some companies to consider on your growing or shrinking shopping list:  

1.    SoapBoxSoaps:  This is a really nice company with good soaps----along with a good price ($3.99) to match their mission.  With each purchase of a bar of soap, a bar is given to programs assisting individuals and communities nationally and internationally that lack access, safe products, materials and resources for hygiene.  The company provides other supports to causes that address health and wellness.

There is a code on each soap wrapper that you can enter in the company’s website, allowing you to locate and learn about the program or initiative your donation helped.  For example, a purchasing-to-donation may support a program helping Ebola survivors receive psychological counseling support and education assistance in soap-making and small business skills.  Purchases also provide contributions of critical personal hygiene products to food banks given that federal food assistance funds cannot be used for non-food items.  Good soap supports good causes that the company is in partnership with from Miami to India.

2.    Patagonia:  Like North Face, this is a company that is easy to support.  They are solid with high quality and resilient outdoor gear for the suburbanite or skilled mountain climber.  Keep them on your shopping list.  I was fine coming into the cold from the yard one day with my vest (I love vests).  I got warmer and happier sitting down and watching NBC Nightly News story featuring another great aspect of Patagonia’s social responsibility. 

The evening feature highlighted the company’s 30-year initiative providing on-site child care for employees. Among the benefits of the program is allowing employees to stay connected with their children at times throughout the workday.  Another benefit is that it has led to 100 percent of women choosing to return to the workplace after childbirth.  Just when I thought that was enough, the news segment featured an employee who works for Patagonia-----spending time with his visiting mom who once worked there and had him at the day care center! 

3.    FairLife:  Okay, you are probably not going to buy someone milk for Christmas.  What about when you have your holiday party?  I picked up FairLife at a local store and appreciated the pledge and business model of producing good milk (chocolate has been my favorite) from cows who are well-fed and treated in a humane fashion of stress-free conditions within a closed processing system.  That system is one in which the production of crops, feeding of animals, processing, bottling and sell of the product can be traced back to the place it was made. 

Sometimes ethical standards get mixed up and misplaced among different dairies and places.  Such values are not surprising given that the founder was a former cow veterinarian.  A good milk next to Santa’s cookies.

4.    North Face:  See the above.  And if you have an extra Down filled vest in red or blue please let me know!

5.    Apple:  See the above.  Plus, I am keeping them on my list as Mr. Cook continues to help improve technology at public schools through a $100 million commitment to ConnectED and donations of iPads and Macs to schools---many of them with disadvantaged students of Hispanic, Black, Native American, Alaskan Native or Asian heritage.

I could name more but simply wanted to share good corporate citizens that I have regularly or recently supported.  If you have also engaged in conscious consumer shopping or are new to it, I truly thank you.  We need all of us in the market supporting companies as they connect money with mission to make positive social and environmental change.

A dip in the merriment for mission?

There is more to be done with our decisions and dollars!  According to Good.Must.Grow and the fourth annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index, there has been a small slip in the two-year climb in social responsibility among consumers.

Good.Must.Grow, a socially responsible marketing firm, polled thousands of Americans this year regarding their conscious consumer spending practices.  This year’s study found that 31 percent of Americans are planning to spend more with companies who are socially responsible, slightly down from 32 percent from last year.   

Additionally, 60 percent confirmed the importance of buying from socially responsible companies, down from 64 percent in 2015.  In addition, 64 percent reported making purchases from socially responsible companies, compared to 65 percent in 2015.  Some factors contributing to the small decrease could be prices of those products.  That is very understandable and I remain appreciative that while the practice of such spending dipped, the priority of it among people did not.

The spirit of socially responsible spending decisions in support of socially responsible companies cannot weaken.  Our communities, causes and ability to have companies help us meet social challenges depend on this spirit just as much as profit, investments and prosperity depend on it. 

It is in that spirit that I wish you a great holiday season full of progress for you, your work and our planet.  Happy shopping.

Eric K. Foster is principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm serving corporations, businesses and organizations.  Progress Strategies+ also specializes in four social responsibility client project areas----Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy and Grant Management.  Eric is a fan of outdoor vests.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Show Me My Money: Company helping vulnerable employees get paid---not preyed upon

A father’s reluctance and reliance on a predator

The father of four started his shift in deep but nervous prayer that the paycheck coming in three weeks could miraculously arrive today.  He needed money now and paying for the schooling of two children was the least of his problems.  The heat and angst growing in his chest came from the fact that two emergency situations of child dental care and car repair demanded that he promptly needed at least some of the proceeds of his hard work.

Immediately after his shift ended came confirmation that he would have to make a decision that he promised his wife he would never make again:  He would get another Payday Loan.  At least this time he would not pawn any treasured property for quick cash.  His time-tested car sputtered to one of eight payday lenders in his neighborhood so he could acquire the advance loan of $400 for three weeks at an interest rate of 250%.

Breaking the promise to his wife was necessary to take care of the emergencies.  Still, he grew more despondent knowing that he would sacrifice much more later in order to receive the money now.  With a shrinking savings, no bank account, monthly bills and other pressures, the payday loan repayment on the $400 dollars would put him in another position of paying it back for a year. The outlandish interest rate would ultimately put him in an even deeper and longer financial hole since he would likely have to get additional loans to ‘float himself between checks.’ 

FlexWage to the rescue? 

If this father-----an amalgamation of a few real-life stories----worked for an employer using FlexWage, he could face a financial reality of economic security that may help him avoid the payday loan debt trap.  He could represent a clean break from the nearly 60 percent of Americans who are not prepared to cover an unexpected expense, and the 50 percent who do not have access to $400 to cover emergency expenses.

I learned about FlexWage through my allies at the Stanford Social Innovation Review and CitiFoundation of CitiGroup who shared the “Hidden Financial Lives of America’s Poor and Middle Class” with me and other family economic security leaders in business and non-profits.   We received more than an overview of the new financial pressures facing families.  We have been introduced to how a socially responsible market is creating innovative products to help unbanked workers----especially the 68 million Americans who use alternative financial services. 

How it works for the worker

Here is FlexWage at a glance:

·         It is not a lender to the disinvested individual.  However, it is a good approach and product to provide workers with an early pay alternative to check advance and payday lenders. 

·         FlexWage analyzes data on employees' pay rates and hours that they have worked via their interface with an employer’s payroll and time management systems to determine that worker’s current--but unpaid-- paycheck prior to the official pay period. 

·         After that determination FlexWage accesses their client employer’s payroll accrual funds and puts them on the FlexWage Payroll Card to provide the worker with the early disbursement money.  Again, this is money from the hours that the employee has already worked.  Instead of a worker needing to rely on high-cost lending alternatives, this process helps them avoid debt while providing them low cost access to cash. 

·         The system can be arranged so that employees may also request advances for limited times during a pay period or year, and only up to a specific percent of wages (which is based on the permission and discretion of the employer).  This is important because many workers do not have direct deposit.

·         It is a product that brings social consciousness to capitalism.  So, of course it is not free----but it is not predatory.  They make money through a structure similar to our visits to some ATMs where the collection fee is $3-$5 for any employee accessing their paycheck money early.  A far cry from 300% (or more) interest rates and other fees from the bad actors in the alternative lending industry.

Potential to eliminate the Payday Lenders?

From supermarkets and schools to governments and grocery stores, many U.S. employees live paycheck to paycheck.  They are poor and/or middle class who have no bank accounts.  Such unbanked or underbanked circumstances create more volatility when the aforementioned financial emergencies arise. Therefore, they often find perceived security in getting much needed cash through spending a large part of earned income on high interests at check cashing stores, money order centers or payday lenders.  

As principal and president of a socially responsible oriented company who is also entering into the new work of Community Development Finance Institutions to provide alternative lending to vulnerable communities, I like what I am learning about FlexWage.  More Free-market approaches to our nation’s challenges of financial security are needed every day. 

A group called Neighborhood Trust agrees and they are partnering with FlexWage in offering new solutions to the cash flow challenge facing U.S. workers.  The partnership is identifying 10 employers who are interested in testing the system.  Companies with at least 250 employees (who are hourly or moderate income workers) can be eligible to take advantage of this partnership that can help give employees more control over their pay. For a limited time the partners are offering this service at no cost to the employer.

Such a partnership or contractual services with FlexWage may undoubtedly be appropriate for established medium-to-large businesses and companies who do not face cash flow problems themselves or are beyond startup.  In addition, small businesses who have the same stability so as to not experience their own disruptions from early/advance payments may also be great candidates. 

I hope that many companies who fit the bill of doing well and doing good will explore such a product.  If companies with 250 or more employees who have workers facing economic insecurity examine this product, they can possibly help enhance worker productivity, health, financial security and join taking on the market of payday lenders who produce close to $8 billion in fees off the backs of workers who have no other financial option.  

Eric K. Foster is principal and president of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm serving corporations, businesses and organizations.  Progress Strategies+ also specializes in four social responsibility client project areas----Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy and Grant Writing/Grant Management.  As a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellow, Eric is completing Community Finance Development Institution (CDFI) learning and management for his new work in development and administration of a CDFI to provide access to capital to excluded entrepreneurs.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Local First: Introductory steps towards inclusion and equity

Even during a recent mild national jobs report, I enjoyed the month of May with local businesses and National Small Business Week!

In my hometown I was thrilled to stop by a successful local store, Gazelle Sports which fulfills their goals of profit and sustainability as a Certified B Corporation.  It is also my destination for North Face gear (a great leader in corporate social responsibility), and where I reconnected with a college classmate.  I purchased great outdoor apparel from Patagonia---another leader in creating products responsibly.  Just as much as my former classmate was talking about business, he was equally energetic about the Gazelle Sports Foundation that promotes healthy lifestyle and fitness in the community.

A few days later in-between project work I stopped for a late lunch at Tacos El Cunado, a great eatery that sources many ingredients from Michigan.  Their efficiency in delivering my probably too-specific order was only rivaled by their empathy in being concerned about why I was eating so late!

In both cases, I received personal care and excellent service from local businesses who value the well-being of customers and communities.  The two businesses are members of Local First---an organizational leader in the Midwest focused on supporting and advocating for its 800-plus locally owned businesses.  Progress Strategies+ has served Local First as a Diversity & Inclusion Project Area client because they are equally committed to being an organization of choice for social and economic inclusion.

Local and Small can meet big challenges of social and economic inequity

I appreciate corporations who uphold inclusion through diversity managers, supplier diversity initiatives and many other programs.  I have even more appreciation for small local businesses whose size and profit margins do not allow them to have such programs.  However, some of them are working to do better through sheer force of will, market motivators and passion for their communities to do what they can to promote inclusion and social/racial equity. 

Local First is taking the challenging journey to do so as they realize these points that can uplift or upset their goal of a positive local economy:

·         A 2013 study in the Harvard Business Review found that businesses with multiple dimensions of diversity were notably more innovative and enjoyed market growth than less diverse businesses.

·         A local economy cannot fully thrive if culturally and ethnically diverse communities are not owning local businesses.

·         An ally organization must believe in diversity more than for membership.  Such an organization is aware of the conditions of exclusion that certain communities face, and it advocates for solutions. 

·         To be an organization of choice for all people means that the organization must assess and address its own internal and external roadblocks to promoting cultural competence, inclusion and equity. 

Local First.  First steps toward equity.

Progress Strategies+ appreciated Local First’s commitment to our five-month cultural competency, inclusion and equity training and partial policy development.  Our Local First E3 (Equity, Environments of Inclusion and Engagement) with Diverse Communities provided them instructional facilitation sessions and creation of introductory policies to advance inclusion and promote inclusive strategies for the authentic engagement with culturally diverse communities. 

Progress Strategies+ remains excited of Local First’s immediate embrace and use of inclusion tools and first steps such as:

·         100% staff completion of rigorous cultural competency, inclusion and equity training and acquisition of new skills to connect mission with internal and external inclusion strategies.

·         501(c)3 board and education foundation board completion of the same.

·         Adoption of recommended policies promoting workplace equity and religious accommodation.

·         New ethnically and culturally diverse board members immediately joining existing board leaders and staff as a dedicated work-group implementing key inclusion and equity action items in areas from cultural competency sustainability to communications and equity accountability.

Small and Local:  The first gateways to equity.

Again, there are many reasons not to be surprised by such an embrace from an organization.  It is my belief that one reason is the knowledge that more local business owners see themselves as potentially being the inclusion ally of first resort because they are connected to (and dependent on) a local economy that is fair and functioning for all.

It is the local neighborhood store that can instantly see the moral and economic negative effects from a city that is exclusive to many.  It is that local store owner who can be the first business before the large corporation to have Spanish-speaking employees adapt to a growing Hispanic population not via marketing data but because they see the diverse communities in their parks and pews.  Years before the mega-supermarket receives the accounting position job application from the African-American college graduate, the local store in her neighborhood may have given her the first high-school job as a cashier.    

Local business can be the most natural ally for inclusion because when a local owner is wondering if they are effectively promoting workplace and economic equity, they do not need a national scorecard or research brief.  They only need to connect their heart and head to look down the street to be aware of the talented entrepreneur of color who can be their vendor-of-choice as opposed to being economically detached from community. 

More impactful is the fact that local business does not need to take a long process of hiring that person in order to promote inclusion.  They can instantly respond with agility, awareness and action because they are local.  When it comes to inclusion and equity, local business and Local First can be the leader of first resort.  It is good to see them taking such a journey.

Eric K. Foster is principal and president of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm serving corporations, businesses and organizations.  Progress Strategies+ also specializes in four social responsibility client project areas----Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy and Grant Writing/Grant Management.  His first jobs in high school were with local stores----Kingma's Produce (where he never ate oranges, grapes or apples at work) and Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods (where he learned sales by selling every gym shoe and hat possible)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Impact Spotlight: Bing Goei: A Hometown Hero for Leading, Helping & Healing

In the middle of daily readings on national business leaders and historic social change agents, I often need to remember the great local heroes surrounding me.  Bing Goei is one of those hometown heroes that I admire for his work and the tangible benefits it produces for people.

It is fitting that Bing is being honored by the American Red Cross of West Michigan.  He exemplifies the values of the American Red Cross such as relief, healing, compassionate care and partnerships that helps communities.  As the founder and president of a project management firm adhering to social responsibility, I count Bing as a model of how to advance those values in the context of business. 

For the community, customers, citizens and civic leaders Bing is the CEO of Eastern Floral Company, Director of the Michigan Office for New Americans, founder of the International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence (ICEE), Board of Director for the West Michigan Asian American Association and former President of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.  Bing represents those great elements to me as well as friend, former client, provider of my customer needs and inclusion ally.  Here is how I want to join the American Red Cross of West Michigan in saluting Bing and sharing my appreciation of his passion for being a hero in providing:

Relief:  Some in our community often encounter barriers keeping them removed from equal access, power-sharing and resources.  As I witnessed from our time on the Varnum Law Diversity Advisory Council, his business advocacy and other mutual endeavors, I have been emboldened by Bing’s work as a tireless champion in eliminating exclusion.  He has embraced risk and innovation to replace exclusion with social and economic progress for people regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender.

Healing and Compassionate Care:  I salute Bing’s work on creating an environment that welcomes immigrants and the talents they bring to Michigan.  Bing’s ethics and values for how we embrace strangers makes him the perfect public representative of sound immigration policies amid public discourse where solutions and ideas are not often compassionate, solution-oriented or respectful of people. 

On behalf of thousands of people looking to make a better life in the West Michigan region, I wish Bing continued success in his work as Director for the Office for New Americans and head of the ICEE to create the tone, conditions and policies that are compassionate and affirming of new arrivals. 

Partnerships:  Great heroes enter into the battle of change work with humility, commitment and a skill to connect allies together.  Bing is being honored because from attracting young professionals to West Michigan to supporting entrepreneurs via funding opportunities, he forms partnerships between people of all backgrounds.  He is to be saluted because those partnerships have created economic security and empowerment for the most vulnerable.

I salute and honor Bing Goei, our hometown hero.  Furthermore, I will continue to take inspiration from him.

Eric K. Foster is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management consultancy. He created Progress Strategies+ to serve organizations, corporations, non-profit groups and other clients in consulting and direct project management in the areas of diversity and inclusion, grant writing and grant project management, public policy and advocacy and corporate social responsibility.  He is enjoying the month of April where people are being celebrated for their hard work of creating financial and social opportunities for communities, citizens and their customers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What I learned from Negro League Baseball

Along with the great personal milestone of marriage, it has been a hectic, life-changing and value-added summer and fall for me and Progress Strategies+ work.  During that time I have enjoyed reading reply messages to the  ProgressPeeps blog entries. 

Based on some questions about why I started my company and what I am learning, I will have a regular feature titled “What I learned from…….”  Client projects and other issues will still be highlighted.  “What I learned from…..” will briefly share  business and social impact motivations that may be helpful.

To that end, I would like to share  "What I learned from Negro League Baseball."  This is based on a variety of questions I am asked merged into this query:  “What motivated you to start your own business?  How has that motivation helped you?”
I enjoyed my young baseball playing days.  The experience was as unforgettable as the names of teams I played for like the Silverfish, Bumblebees, and Beetles.  Towards junior high I stopped playing baseball but stayed a fan.  I would later become a fan and fledging student of Negro League Baseball.

Reynolds and Sons Sporting Goods in Grand Rapids, Michigan was my second high school job.  They sold a small inventory of replica Negro League Baseball apparel that helped keep me busy in sales.  I was also motivated to take time after work to study the link between this league and economics. 

Some of my favorite teams—most of which I have among my hat collection today—became my teachers of grassroots finance and social responsibility.  Among my team favorites are the original Baltimore Black Sox, Homestead Grays, Saint Louis Stars, New York Black Yankees and Birmingham Black Barons.  These teams and many more were formed and owned by individuals ranging from groups of excluded athletes of color to the highest-paid African-American performer of the 1930s, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. 
I started out with the interest in great game play, scores and creative team names.  After learning for the first time about the concept of entrepreneurship, I began to read books on the side narratives of gate receipts, team management, business risks and selling of athletic services among men that were excluded and not expected to do much simply because of their race. 

A new world opened up to me of how Negro League Baseball teams in various cities formed entrepreneurial ecosystems, local economies and systems of self-reliance in the face of discrimination.  From this history and what it means for economic security and respect for those who made sacrifices before me, I knew it was my obligation to one day attempt to start my own business merging profit and social responsibility. 

Now today I can share what Negro League Baseball has taught me:

1.  Opposition can be opportunity:  Negro League Baseball pioneers endured opposition before the league was formed.  The league was formed specifically because those players were not allowed to play en masse with or against their white counterparts.  Even when black players were sometimes invited to bring their skills to an uncertain market and play within integrated settings, the players often faced opposition immediately when arriving on the field.

On any given week in the late 1880’s Moses Fleetwood Walker of the Toledo Blue Stockings would face the intolerance from the famous Cap Anson.  Anytime that Walker was in the starting lineup, Anson would refuse to take the field and play against Walker.  Walker’s journey was indicative of such actions experienced by African-American players throughout the country.  However, instead of permanent bitterness, a new generation of men used these experiences as fuel to create a “League of Their Own.”

Lesson:  When I started my own work and had my first client before the full project management service model, Progress Strategies+ name and brand, I faced an opponent.  This individual provided me a litany of reasons why my endeavor would not be successful.  He was an opponent by the literal meaning:  An action of opposing, resisting, or combating. Like conflict, opposition can be positive but at its most negative it goes beyond someone being a contrarian to having hostility.  

I sat quietly and heard all that he said could not be done and tested his complaints against my service processes.  I slightly changed one of my processes.  That process enhancement has remained a key, productive and successful approach for a client.  The point that I learned from the baseball pioneers is that if you keep to your dream, product, asset and vision while standing firm in the face of opposition, you can often make opposition into an opportunity.  At the least, just let opponents talk because they may give something away!

2.  Patience and perseverance must keep pace with pride in your work:  Jackie Robinson persevered and tended to his craft of controlled but aggressive athleticism for many years before the Negro Leagues and his 10 years in the Major League Baseball (MLB).  During and after his collegiate football career at UCLA he kept honing his intellect and multi-faceted athleticism that would take him into one of the three career lanes of military, football or baseball.  He could have easily abandoned all of them in the face of the racism he encountered in the U.S. Army or slights experienced playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. 

He was confident in his abilities and the talent he offered to an array of industries.  He kept cultivating those talents at every detour or bump that otherwise could have been a stop.  His play matched his patience for the payoff.  On August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson met with Brooklyn Dodgers Owner Branch Rickey who gave him the ‘test’ that would take him into the MLB that he changed forever.

Lesson:  Jackie Robinson was a proud man who was proud of his God-given ability supported by the vision to play in the major leagues.  Throughout his time and tenure people told him why his goal would not work and how the odds were stacked against him.  As I mentioned, I still encounter the cynics and challenges.  What keeps me moving is partially the pride and self-realization that I have a good service to provide. 

I believe in my service just as Jackie believed in his swing.  At the same time I put time, experience and resources to make my work perform as high as the pride I have in it.  Hone your skills at a higher level than what you believe in---and do it daily.  Your skills, vision and talents are yours.  Never quit refining them for the day that they are ready.  Never quit.

3.  Diversify:  Negro League players and player/owners revealed much to me about having a core business area plus other essential products, services, enterprises, etc. to utilize one’s full set of skills and maximize impact and profit.  Because of the need of supplemental income and more profits/investments that would be returned to their teams, Negro League Baseball was strengthened by other profit areas.  Like owners, players also worked in entertainment and many areas.  Robert A. Cole was the owner of the Chicago American Giants ball club.  Mr. Cole also founded the Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company.  That company was one of the largest black-owned insurance companies that owned and secured entertainment venues----venues that grew when ballgames came to towns.  I would also assume Mr. Cole’s company probably underwrote a healthy degree of player policies. 

Lesson:  This was a great example to me for having different—but interrelated and integrated---units under one entity not just to have ‘many fingers in many pots’ but project areas that create, cultivate and support others areas.  It is not paying homage to the likes of Mr. Cole, but actually following a great lesson that serves as one of a few reasons that the + in Progress Strategies+ means one project business area plus other specialized areas.  If it is sound in the business model along with being done right, it is good to have more than a few things going on.

4.  Social and economic impact for others can coexist with profit: Negro League Baseball Players worked under long and rough hours in the barnstorming traveling of back-to-back games from city-to-city.  They also had secondary jobs and/or a combination of jobs such as owner/player/groundskeeper!  Like an entrepreneur’s vision they kept to those jobs, hours and travel because of the love of the game.  They also believed the market would indeed pay them for their great play.  The individual focus to play, win and make money did more than serve them.   Forming, playing and profiting within a self-sufficient baseball league with high-quality games created a need of black designated hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, ballrooms, barrooms and barbershops.  Those were welcoming places for performers, players, and their audiences.  Those were places that made profits for people in league cities. 

Lesson:  The league’s founders and players served and paid Jackie Robinson and countless others who honed their skills towards new heights.  Andrew “Rube” Foster was one of the best pitchers in baseball (once having a seven game stretch where he averaged 11 strikeouts), ball manager and team executive of the Chicago American Giants.  His ability to make a living for himself added with his ability to seek out talented players to win pennants, improve their performance and manage them resulted in good economic and social outcomes for himself and others within and outside of Negro League Baseball.

I learned that having a business model that provides services for institutional profit and social progress defined by myself and the client could coexist.  A free market and good mission can connect with each other and serve as a great tool to help change issues and institutions for the better. 

5.  Keep your head up---and everything else---during the inevitable setback: Satchel Paige’s storied career with a variety of teams in the Cuban League to the Kansas City Monarchs experienced a disappointing halt.  The golden pitching arm he leased out to many teams and leagues that once produced 144 strikeouts and only 26 walks in 1934 was experiencing pain.  He would be unemployed five years later and could not secure a job as a manager or coach.  He took an offer outside of the Negro American League and played for a second-string team.  He made the most of the time and opportunity, and regained his fastball.  With treatment, self-care and playing other positions that relaxed his arm, Paige got back his ‘groove’ and returned to playing for major Negro League teams such as the New York Black Yankees.

Lesson:  Paige had a constant determination for returning to baseball and playing with the best.  What I appreciate and try hard to emulate is the series of activities such as taking care of his core business (arm) amid trials and tribulations.  Also, I have become a better adherent of self-care and relax time. 

At the same time, when the market and times are challenging I keep my head and eyes up toward the promise and prize.  At bat and at the pitch Paige prepared that way.  I learned to do the same because the opportunities of the market, needs of a client, and the challenges to successfully solve a problem that can benefit customers, consumers and communities will always be there.  But you will miss them if you are looking down.

Playball everybody!


Eric K. Foster, a social entrepreneur, is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm.  While his business motivations, life lessons and positive attitude can be derived from Negro League Baseball and baseball in general, he can no longer hit homeruns blindfolded every time at bat.









Thursday, June 25, 2015

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana: Working towards cultural competency and inclusion

Among the many indicators of client satisfaction is a project wrap-up lunch with those who have retained you for services.  The positive feedback that matches affirming evaluations is even better when the subject turns to them giving you humorous—and useful—advice about marriage! 

Personally, I am appreciative of the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana’s leadership team sharing the impact of the Progress Strategies+ Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Team’s Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development cultural competency training.  Furthermore, I took great acceptance of some pre-wedding advice!

In the last blog entry I introduced Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana’s mission of preparing people for meaningful work, wages and careers.  They are among the best in such work.  Furthermore, they have a brave willingness in transcending diversity and moving towards the complexity of cultural competency to effectively serve each other as colleagues and their clients.  Our human community is already diverse and will continue to grow in that diversity.  What we miss often is how the variety of cultural preferences, dimensions and hidden norms of diverse people connects or conflicts with the workplace and community.  Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana and the 52 staff participants are on a great path to ensure that they are not missing a thing.

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana has been journeying with Progress Strategies+ to develop cultural competency awareness, cultural connection skills, cultural conflict mediation values and scenario approaches to effectively grow and manage cross-cultural relations with employees and their job-seeking clients.   The Progress Strategies+ Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Team has also benefited from adapting some approaches to their real-time issues.

Impressions and improvements

I received a great email from a staff member on the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana team immediately after one our first Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development cultural competency sessions.  As Progress Strategies+ is a project management firm, I was pleased to hear how the staff member was excited about ‘the tools’ that they were given in Session One to first learn how to accept cultural differences.  When professionals accept and adapt to cultural difference (norms, etc.), it does not have to mean agreement— a first and great step to meeting and managing difference, communication and connection. 

Specifically, the staff member was excited with having a better concept of cultural competency tools to help them navigate the inevitable conflict that comes from authentic engagement with culturally diverse communities.  I agree with them that this removes and replaces the outdated memes of ‘tolerance.’  Here are some other impressions our team received that we appreciate seeing impact and growth in:

·         Know thyself:  Developing and defining an individual’s and/or institution’s culture is highly important and a must before that individual or institution prepares to engage and effectively connect with culturally diverse groups.  The team has been personally excited that individual staff members stepped into the vulnerability of learning ‘what they don’t know’ about their own culture or preferences. 

They will now be patient in the journey of how to better connect with others while learning and discovering their own backgrounds.  Finding ways to connect with others (in different communities, markets, etc.) starts with knowing the foundations of our individual or institutional culture. 

·         Conflict is inevitable—it should be embraced:  Through our models, scenario role plays and management tools we provided, staff members appreciated the invitation to embrace cultural conflict.  The intersection of difference and deep engagement with others of different backgrounds will produce the learning, growth and mistakes that are often labeled as ‘conflict.’ As long as learning, healing and understanding have taken place it is hard for me to term such occurrences as 'conflict.'

As long as ‘conflict’ comes through our planned steps of moving from unconscious ignorance to conscious ignorance (and devoid of intentional harm), any mistakes made such as miscommunicated words or comments should be met with learning experiences.  Therefore, our Change Opportunity Policytm with project management, cultural competency learning steps and restorative justice elements provide the foundations for organizations to help the so-called ‘offender’ learn about the cultural communication 'mishap' while journeying in understanding and perspective-learning with those who may have been slighted. 

Like all of us, many staff members want to benefit from a workplace environment where compliance-oriented correction is preceded by—or connected to---learning and lessons to overcome the inevitable mistakes made during the travels from unconscious ignorance and conscious ignorance to unconscious competence.  We all make mistakes.  In fact, our team shared our narratives of what those personal (and young!) cultural mistakes were and the specific strategies of how we improved.

Other direct feedback and staff goals shared as sentiments were staff members using our methods to “learn more and how important it is to incorporate this in the workplace” or “use this information and tools now to move forward into adaptation and then integration” based on their individual cultural competency briefs and progress movement steps.  As the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana team prepares for more authentic cultural connections with others, it was satisfying to hear staff progress steps based on the values of “Change Opportunity Policy as a technique being effective in repairing harm in the workplace.”

We were also pleased to hear how these dedicated professionals are developing a heightened understanding of serving clients who are coming to them with different notions of work, time, communication and adherence to the ‘Hidden Rules’ that are often overlooked or ostracized.   We are not to make judgments of those preferences, rather we should make some adjustments to them.  Not only will these dedicated professionals accept those differences that are under-girded by culture, they will adapt to them for the benefit of the client, organization, community and job-market---a job-market that can itself benefit from many of those differences.

One thing I valued is that the aforementioned lessons and other outcomes were encompassed in the Progress Strategies+ approach of interactive equipping sessions and scenarios that staff participated in and followed.  There were some academy-award winning acting performances based the scripts we gave people!  Simply put, those sessions were fun and enjoyable---just like Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana  is to our team and work.  

Eric K. Foster, a social entrepreneur, is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm working with corporate and non-profit clients in five areas of Diversity and Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy, Grant Writing and Project Management, and Community Engagement Strategies for economic and social impact in communities.  In the midst of other impact movements and measurements to be attentive to in change work, he is going to devise a satisfaction and outcome indicator on “Fun.”  Seriously, fun just needs to be gathered and measured more everyday!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Working with Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana: Unity of Purpose

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana is working for job-seekers searching for economic security and long-term careers.  They are also working for employers seeking qualified, prepared and developing workers!  Progress Strategies+ is working for Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana!  See how this works?

The Progress Strategies+ Diversity and Inclusion Team is pleased to have Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana as a client.  Specifically, we enjoy the creation and coordination of employee diversity and cultural competency training to 52 employees in order to develop and strengthen their understanding of intercultural sensitivity, cultural understanding and conflict management in situations with co-workers and job-seekers of different backgrounds.

One of the five business project areas of Progress Strategies+ is diversity and inclusion with Track One (Diversity and Inclusion Training) and/or Track Two (Diversity and Inclusion policies, practices or program creation) that we focus on for corporations, businesses and non-profits.  The Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development training sessions have been specially formed to help their dedicated employees learn and use intercultural development skills, change opportunity strategies to learn from cultural misunderstandings and other methods to identify---and solve---barriers to inclusion within the workplace.

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana serves residents of its area through an innovative approach to employment for highly qualified and developing skilled workers.  From job training to assistance in preparing and placing displaced workers for new jobs, they help Michigan’s economic future.

A variety of career development, administrative staff and community specialists also provide important staffing and recruitment for organizations.  As those organizations and businesses search for employees for the state’s new economy, Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana develops training programs for workers at every skill level in order to fulfill the needs of those job providers.

As a social entrepreneur who works daily to ensure that everyone can enjoy wealth and economic opportunity, I love what this team does for people:

-The single mother with two children who knew that she could have more opportunities moving from a displaced home health care worker to a Pharmacist.  After episodic job placements and setbacks from job loss, Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana prepared her for the Pharmacy Certification Program.  She received free training from the staff to prepare her for the first career change driven by her desire “to do more.”  She is now a Pharmacy Technician.  Her children are proud of her drive, new income and goal to become a Pharmacist. 

There are many more narratives of job-seekers from the full-range of diverse backgrounds served by Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana's attention, time and outreach who are moving from job displacement to a career.  Progress Strategies+ has helped this group of staff members improve in the cultural diversity and inclusion skills needed to work with a growing group of job-seekers---and the companies who accept the business case of inclusion---representing a changing workforce.  

I look forward to sharing more.  Today I wanted to provide an introduction to these great people at Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana as they expand and enhance their understanding of diversity, cultural competency, and systems of equity that will lead to innovative inclusion practices allowing everyone to perform and prosper in our global community.
More to share on Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana in future blog posts.  For now, back to work!

Eric K. Foster is President and Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm working with corporations, businesses, organizations and non-profits in five areas---Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Writing and Project Management, Community Engagement Strategies, Public Policy and Advocacy and Corporate Social Responsibility.  Eric is also the lead of its Diversity and Inclusion Team.  He enjoys creating economic opportunity and income equality for all people through helping develop environments of inclusion.