What is success? That’s the essential question of conscious business. Is it success to run a profitable enterprise and feel empty and depressed at the end of each day? Is it success to grow a company with low employee morale that offers an attractive return to investors? Is it success to expand market share of a product that slowly makes people sick? These questions don’t, in fact, have objective right answers. There’s no inarguable instruction book to leading a good life.
Yet, increasingly, a community of leaders is coalescing around a vision of success that is quite different from the messages embedded in our contemporary mainstream. Much like early advocates for the abolition of slavery or for women’s right to vote, they’re a diverse group of individuals who, for whatever reason, have come to see through and beyond the ideas that hold sway in our society’s traditional centers of power and influence. They’re saying no to profit at all costs. They’re saying no to sacrificing their personal and communal wellbeing on the altar of unquestioning growth. They’re saying no to myopic, short-term thinking. And, just as importantly, they’re saying a big, heartfelt yes to using the creative power of business to envision and invoke a more socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling world.
This new vision of success is rapidly gaining momentum. Yet despite the progress of the past several years, those of us practicing and standing for doing business differently still often find ourselves swimming upstream, reaching deep for the courage to honor our convictions in the face of a “normal” that hasn’t caught up. In times of challenge, it’s easy to slip into the trap of feeling that you are alone or unsupported. We’re here to remind you: that’s not so.
Depending on where you live, you might be the only one in your local chamber of commerce who’s committed to paying a living wage, or the lone voice of “win-for-all” in a room of “eat-or-be-eaten.” But rest assured, your kindred spirits are out there. And in the interest of advancing a new definition of success in business — which happens to be Conscious Company’s purpose — it’s our honor bring you this list of 21 role models on the journey toward a new way to be.
Please know that making a list like this is hard work. We started by recruiting a panel of nine top-notch judges, each a leading expert in one of the three domains of influence we wanted to acknowledge and celebrate (personal journey, aka the inner work; conscious workplace, aka the “we space”; and global impact, aka effects on society). We sent out a call for nominations, and nudged people into taking time to tell us the stories of those deserving recognition. We sorted through dozens of detailed applications and passed the most qualified to our judges. Each three-person panel convened at least once to agree on criteria and on whom to showcase. Then we gathered all the images, facts, and references we needed to share the honorees’ accomplishments. In the end, easily hundreds of hours of thought and effort went into this story, from both our staff and our community. We say this not to pat ourselves on the back, but to underscore how important such a list is.
For each of the honorees, we hope this small token of recognition helps cheer them along and helps confirm that their hard work has not gone unseen. For the rest of us, may their stories inspire and enable us to keep going, to take our own next brave step, to remember there are others floating along beside us in the river of uncertainty and change. As the oft-quoted African proverb reminds us, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is us. Let’s stick together and go far.
1 Lifetime Achievement
The first category, chosen by Conscious Company Staff, is awarded to one person a year.
2 Personal Journey
This category recognizes leaders who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to cultivating the practice of conscious leadership on an individual level through self-development and who serve as an example for others. Our judges especially considered evidence of significant inner work.
3 Conscious Workplace
This category recognizes leaders who have created exceptional workplace environments where others can thrive. Our judges considered especially leaders’ investment in culture-building as evidenced through deliberate practices that help articulate and foster a strong, intentional company culture.
4 Global Impact Entrepreneurs
After reviewing the nominations we received for this popular category, our judges decided to split it into two subcategories, honoring both the thinkers who have advanced the conscious business movement over the years and the entrepreneurs making a difference on the ground.
Rodney Foxworth, executive director of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies)
5 Global Impact Thinkers
Our judges added the Global Impact Thinkers subcategory to recognize individuals who have a long history of influential work on global systems change. “They are changing the narrative around what’s possible with business, how business can change society, and how business can be a solution to get the species through the next 100 years,” says Kim Coupounas.
Rachel is Conscious Company’s editor-in-chief, in charge of wrangling all the words. Before joining the CCM team, she worked at Backpacker and Wired magazines.