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
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
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
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
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
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
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.