Not for Sale volunteers are saving lives around the world and, this week, we are reporting on the ground-breaking strategy founder David Batstone is using to spread his network of networks among youthful activists. In Part 1, we lifted the curtain on this largely “invisible” network, which young volunteers have no trouble “seeing” but traditional news media outlets have trouble envisioning. Today, you’ll meet David in our Q and A about his work. Stay tuned tomorrow for a look at how one remarkable college began as an abolitionist school—and continues that tradition today by working with the Not for Sale campaign.
(Note: Normally, we use first names in the weekly Q and A, but we’re both “David” in this interview, so today we’ll switch to last names.)
WITH DAVID BATSTONE
OF NOT FOR SALE
CRUMM: Some of the online information about you and Not for Sale can’t keep up with the full-tilt pace of your work. So, let’s start by correcting a few things—like the fact that you’ve actually changed jobs at the University of San Francisco. At least one Wikipedia article still has you teaching in the Religious Studies Department. But, you’ve moved, right?
BATSTONE: Yes, I have moved over to become a professor in the University of San Francisco business school. I moved over in September 2010. I teach two major courses: Business and Social Responsibility and the other course is Entrepreneurship for the Bottom Billion. Those are the course names.
CRUMM: I would say that this move reflects the overwhelming success of your efforts through Not for Sale to mobilize activists and bring change. What’s the focus of that second course?
BATSTONE: We’re looking at generating relative wealth for people who make less than $2 a day. So far, people are aware of microfinance programs, but now we need to do more. Most microfinance programs will give something like $5 to a woman to buy a goat. With that goat, she can better care for herself and her family. That individually oriented system of loaning very small amounts of money is great for sustenance, but I don’t think that’s a model for growth. So, now, we’re experimenting with different models.
The way we refer to these new models is micro-enterprise. One example is building greenhouses in China made out of recycled steel. We’re distinguishing ourselves in these models by trying to create growth and futures for more people. We’re targeting projects with a bigger impact on a community than individual microfinance. If we can help to start thriving enterprises, then those can bring employment and can replicate capital in a community more than the individual loans.
I don’t want to sound like a purist here and I don’t want to over generalize about this, but here’s a kind of easy metaphor I use: We’ve all heard that when you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. That’s survival. Then, when we teach a man to fish, we’ve moved to sustenance in an ongoing way for him. But here’s the problem: A fishing rod doesn’t do much good if people don’t have access to the pond and, beyond that, they need equity in that pond to assure the community’s future. If you don’t take these additional steps, then the people will always be vulnerable to the people who own the pond.
So, in these new models we’re bringing ideas to vulnerable people and we’re trying to help them start an enterprise that can create jobs. Then, we’re giving them stock in their own enterprise and we’re training them for leadership and management.
CRUMM: So, how do you fuel this next generation of models? Traveling around the world and launching even small start-up companies takes some cash.
BATSTONE: With the co-founders of Not for Sale, I also started a social-venture firm. We work with investors to invest their money in starting companies. The new mechanism we’re using is called RightReality. It’s a new venture fund, so I’m now working with two entities: Not for Sale and RightReality.
This also helps in working with potential donors. This gives us more options for philanthropy. Some donors really just want to help out with our efforts and they also would like a tax deduction for helping. Through Not for Sale, making a donation gives a strong social return—you’re doing something good for the world. But there’s no financial return, except a tax deduction. That kind of philanthropy is based on donation. But, some donors are willing to go further and give us more money that we can use and then return to them from these new enterprises. Maybe they can’t afford to simply donate the money; they need a return of the money at some point. That gives us new options with donors.
Free2Rock Shirts and Third Day Helping Women in Cambodia
CRUMM: When did you launch this new investment-style initiative?
BATSTONE: This was in early 2009. One example of what we did with this money is: We bought a garment factory in Cambodia. Then, we invested in that factory. Many of the women working in that factory, since we’ve owned it, have come out of sex trafficking and need fair employment like this. The factory model gives lots of women employment to support their families. As I said, about 30 percent of the women come out of sex trafficking and are making new lives for their families. In addition, most of the employees come from communities where sex trafficking is a danger. If these women did not have these jobs, they’d be targets for sex trafficking. We’re making a big difference in their lives. So far, we employ 75 people and we’re growing to about 85 employees.
CRUMM: What do they produce now?
BATSTONE: The company makes T-shirts for bands. There’s a big rock-and-roll band in the Christian world called Third Day. We went to Third Day and said: Can we produce your next T-shirts in our new garment factory? They agreed. And we started a new label for these shirts called Free2Rock. We also sell to churches that want to put their names on shirts.
CRUMM: Third Day fans who watch the band’s blogs have seen postings this fall about the T-shirt program. The band seems quite focused on rethinking the commercial side of their appearances to help people beyond just the band and concert promoters. Seems like a good partnership.
BATSTONE: We’re also working with the women who we employ. We want to be completely transparent in the way we’re doing this. We’re providing social services to help these women get to a place where they can work in a factory. For example, they may need childcare. Right now, we’re interested in showing that this is a successful business model.
In the greenhouse project, the company prepares the steel poles and the plastic covering that makes the greenhouses. We ship these over in containers to the U.S. and we don’t sell them retail. We’re selling all to businesses, particularly to farmers. Our biggest client is Driscoll, the big raspberry and strawberry producer. Right now we’ve got about 100 people working in the greenhouse factory. It’s a very successful model economically and it’s providing dignity and fair jobs to Chinese workers.
CRUMM: I can think of a host of criticisms that are likely to come your way for such startups. This has got to be very challenging work.
BATSTONE: Oh, I get a lot of questions. People will tell me: What you’re suggesting is too complicated! You can’t even keep track of what’s going on over there in a small company. It’s too far away.
I say: That’s not true. We’re operating factories in Cambodia and China and we know what’s happening there. It’s critical for us to show new kinds of models for employment and entrepreneurship so that people can find fair employment and stay away from slavery.
FrFree2Work May Go Shopping with Young Consumers
CRUMM: Tell us about Free2Work.
BATSTONE: That’s another new effort we’ve launched. We’re creating an online evaluation system so that people can find out about products they see for sale in stores. We’ve developed a formula to rate companies and give them a grade on how they do in protecting their workers around the world. So, if you’re thinking of buying a new pair of Levis, you can go onto the website and check on the grade. Levis gets a grade of B and you can see on the website that they’ve done a lot of work to make sure that people are treated fairly. But, if you’re thinking about buying a Hanes undershirt and you look it up on our website, you’ll find that we don’t think they’re paying as much attention to what’s happening with their workers as they should. They get a lower grade.
CRUMM: OK, but here’s where your super-fast expansion runs into some problems. I checked out this website before our interview. I enjoy chocolate, so I checked on Mars candy. They get a low grade on your site, but I also discovered that your company-evaluation pages include a “news feed” of recent stories about each company. Unfortunately, that news feed isn’t filtered correctly and the stories I found on the Mars candy page were about NASA and the planet Mars, not Mars candy. That kind of experience undermines the authority of your web project, I suspect. I’m less likely to believe your grade on the Mars company, because I can see there are other errors on that page. Then, that makes me also question the whole website. What information did your volunteers consult in reaching these grades?
BATSTONE: You’re right that’s a problem. We’ve got the site marked “Beta” and there are some things we’ve got to fix. Eventually, we want to get it all right and then we want to take the information from the website and connect it with an iPhone, Blackberry and Droid app. The idea is that you’ll be able to go shopping and you can scan bar codes—and get instant reports on the companies as you shop.
DAVID: After the information is corrected.
BATSTONE: Right, we have to redo that site and we do have funding coming in to work on that and to develop the App that will make it very useful for people.
DAVID: ReadTheSpirit is a big supporter of your efforts and our coverage of Not for Sale, this week, is trying to explain to readers how you’re accomplishing so much, so fast—with lots of young volunteers behind you. These problems with the Free2Work Beta site, I think, illustrate this new system you’re using. Some of our readers may have heard of this strategy as “Fail Fast,” which invites a product’s first users to help the producers perfect the final version. After all, your network is a realm of young volunteers, networked activism, Wikipedia-style development of materials. This world includes lots of Beta and work-in-progress efforts. Overall, though, this is actually a strength in your organization, right?
BATSTONE: It’s said that, “If you’re not embarrassed by your Version 1.0 release, then you’ve started too late.” I’m a big believer in that. What I love about this process is that we are immediately giving people an idea of where we’re headed. Yes, we do lose some people who want everything 100 percent right before it’s presented to the world. But we’re pioneers who are out there building the next tools, testing them as we go. This way of working is a major part of building new things these days. Every day we get better at what we do. Every week, we’re smarter than we were the week before. We’re about inventing new models to help people around the world.
CRUMM: And, most importantly I think, it’s the way younger activists work, right? To engage a network of talented young activists, this is the way a lot of future work will be done—at least collaborative projects like Not for Sale.
BATSTONE: Yes, we’re building a generation of smart activists. So many of the problems we face today seem huge and intractable, like global warming, HIV and global slavery. These are problems that seem far too big for anyone to make a difference.
What we do is provide opportunity and guidance for specific projects. We tell people: If you do your part, then this new thing will happen. We set reachable goals, but not insignificant goals. This is the thread that runs through everything we do. This kind of activism is all about saying: Let’s try doing this!
Then, we all try. And the next thing we do is just as important. We say: Hey, we did it! We celebrate. We cheer. We know we’re writing history together!
Care to Read More about David Batstone and Not for Sale?
OR, jump back and read Part 1 in our series, which explains (and includes links to) several of the gateway efforts in the Not for Sale campaign. (Psst! Part 1 also includes a cool video from hot young musician Brandon Heath, “Give Me Your Eyes.”)
NEW TO NOT FOR SALE? Our 2008 interview with David Batstone explains a lot about how this movement got started and provides more details about the problem of global slavery.
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