This begins a casual series of interviews with younger associates doing new and interesting business model indicators of future work, design and innovation.
Through Lauren McCue, an inspirational LA consultant, I have met interesting young creatives such as Jerri Chou.
Jerri Chou is a young social innovation strategist and entrepreneur passionate about the future of business and creativity. She is also the co-founder of All Day Buffet and NYC Feast Creativity Conference where she has gained extensive understanding of innovation, business strategy, new model research, integration, branding, communications and partnership development. Working in startups means doing everything, so Jerri's experience spans from writing and art direction to strategy and web development. In a past life, she worked in advertising at Grey Worldwide and development at several New York startups. All said and done, she is a blend of LA style, NY work ethic and the best of the 60s values out to save the world.
A thank you goes to our editor Elizabeth Adams who is editing from Spain! (www.elizabethadams.biz)
Jody, Question: Your work is meaningful, inspirational and innovative. Could you talk about what this looks like as a day job?
Jerri, Answer: "As an entrepreneur, my day job includes everything. I'm currently focused on running two of All Day Buffet's ventures. The first is TBD, a newsletter I started which features social innovators and creates mass action campaigns that eliminate the paradox of choice in social good. Each newsletter features a must-know bit of knowledge and one simple way to take action and shape a better future. I currently curate and write, develop partnerships and campaigns and am fundraising to further develop the site and build up a team to grow the venture. As part of the All Day Buffet family, I also recently launched an agency called, Lovely Day, which focuses on helping the brands of the 21st century develop strategies for using social mission to innovate and drive their business. Some would say this is just good business, which is why I see this as the future of business. We have a particular focus on bridging the gap between social innovators and entrepreneurs and large companies, as the models of social entrepreneurs offer an amazing and effective test bed for successful innovation that large companies can adopt, integrate or support (without necessarily completely altering their structure). At the same time, large companies have the opportunity to bring these social enterprises to scale. Win-win for the whole movement. We also help companies who are already doing things right develop strategies and campaigns to go to scale.
Jody, Question: What is your background that led you here, how did you get here?
Jerri, Answer: My background is in communication. I've always been fascinated by the power of persuasion and set out to use this power for good. I started working on All Day Buffet as a project with some friends and realized this was the embodiment of what I had set out to do. So I quit my job to pursue it, not quite knowing what All Day Buffet was exactly, but with a mind to figure it out and how it could help the world. Our work has been an evolution; the feedback has been hugely positive and the development exponential. Our first venture was The Feast Social Innovation Conference, which gathers leaders and thinkers across disciplines to share and explore the most innovative ways of addressing social issues. Within one year, it blossomed into one of the world's premier social innovation conferences. In the past
year, we also developed a social network of remarkable people called By / Association, launched TBD and most recently Lovely Day which I mentioned earlier and are looking to work with a few exciting clients to put our experience, network and understanding of social innovation into practice. It's been a whirlwind but we never look to replicate anything that exists and so have created a rather robust framework and offerings for doing good.
Jody, Question: What are your hopes for this type of work, for you, the company and the future?
Jerri, Answer: My hope for this type of work is that it takes its rightful place at the forefront of mainstream business and culture. Our work should solve needs, offer more value as opposed to more things, make the world operate smarter and happier as opposed to more "productive." The shift toward this way of operating has already begun, but in order to create any lasting impact, the ventures and ideas really driving this consciousness forward need to scale — large companies need to
innovate their offerings, opportunities need to be accessible for everyday consumers to participate and individuals need to become involved in the creation process. Our company will be successful if it can fundamentally bring this shift to the tipping point (whether through policy, example or otherwise) until "social" entrepreneurship is not necessary because that is the way business is done. Ultimately, one of my biggest hopes is to help people realize their potential, because when you boil down everything related to work — corporations, nonprofits, culture — they are all the sum of their parts, and their parts are people. Better people will make a better world.
Jody, Question: Can you tell us your involvement with the Feast Conference?
Jerri, Answer: I co-founded The Feast Social Innovation Conference with my partner
Michael Karnajaprakorn. We created the event, again, out of a need. Around 2007, we saw a ton of likeminded people, projects and ventures starting up, especially in New York. But there was no real gathering place, no opportunity to come together, become inspired or to find opportunities to collaborate. The other thing we realized was that this new method of addressing social issues spanned all disciplines and included aspects of each as well. We curate the conference to maintain that cross-disciplinary nature — one where individuals can learn best practices from completely disparate industries, share knowledge and learn new ways of looking at the world. We created the Feast to be that place. What started as a 150-person event has ballooned into a 400-person conference including attendees from around the world at the New York Times Center, with another 500 people watching online. The feedback has been incredibly inspiring and we plan to leverage the Feast to put New York on the map as the social innovation capital of the world.
Jody, Question: What is the digital farm project?
Jerri, Answer: Ananda Harvest is an actual farm I'm starting with a group of friends.
I'm personally very invested in the local food movement and this past summer, I visited Ananda Ashram with a friend whose father had helped build the place in the 1960s. Upon experiencing the vast and beautiful land, a handful of us started thinking how wonderful it would be if the land produced something. One thing lead to another and before you knew it we started preparing 24 raised beds, digging irrigation ditches and researching which crops to grow. The interesting thing is
that there used to be a farm there in the 1970s and the revival is somewhat representational of the new straddle between removal from and integration with the existing mainstream system. Many of us working on the project are programmers, designers, even planners, so we've been able to leverage our creative skills for something very tangible. We have a kickstarter page up to raise funds for a cabin we plan to build. We'll be publicizing cabin-building and beekeeping lessons
through newsletters and Twitter (I've been newly appointed the social media and communications director for the farm). In doing all of this, we've discovered a really robust and knowledgeable community of farmers and people getting back to the land. So we're planning to create more digital platforms to share information, connect this network, and tools for just being better, more productive (and
Jody, Question: Lastly, this is a design and innovation blog. How do you see social innovation helping brands and designers in their quest to evolve the paradigm?
Jerri, Answer: Design and design thinking are crucial in all of this. Social innovation asks us to reframe the way we see and think about social problems, often not as problems at all but as situational opportunities. That is where business will need to focus in the future as well, and this offers the opportunity for designers to really get
innovative about using business to address these issues in a way that's more than just selling goods, but rethinking entire structures of operating, service offerings, and collaboration for the benefit of people. It takes a real systems understanding of how things work and how they can work better to fulfill needs, which is what design is all about.
On an even grander level, social innovation also starts to get us to think about what real value is because it starts breaking down different types of value (social and monetary). But if you think about it, one encompasses the other and vice versa to some degree. This is where things get blurry, but also where the paradigm breaks wide open for evolution.
Jody, Question: Social Innovation is about empathy and to me design innovation and empathy go hand in hand. Would love your thoughts on this correlation.
Jerri, Answer: This is an interesting one. I recently wrote an article on compassion
which might be tangentially relevant
Social Innovation may very well be about empathy at its core — a nebulous, but very "true" or clear way of seeing life. It is maybe one of the most basic forms of human synthesis and, if you're talking about systems perception, perhaps also one of the most complex as it takes into account many variables at once (the myriad aspects of
another's situation in contrast to one or another's own, circumstance, chance, etc.). That truer understanding is also what allows us to clearly see and also broaches existing business structures and givens with the question, "why?" It questions boundaries and rethinks the way things can be done based on the most human way of understanding the world.
I think that's also why social innovation has such difficulty with definitions — much of what it is seeking to champion is not (maybe even should not be or does not need to be) definable or measurable, though we know, through empathy, that it's right for both business and society, which should be, in the end, one and the same.