This begins a casual series ofinterviews with younger associates doing new and interesting businessmodel indicators of future work, design and innovation.
Through Lauren McCue, aninspirational LA consultant, I have met interestingyoung creatives such as Jerri Chou.
Jerri Chou is a young socialinnovation strategist and entrepreneur passionate about the future of businessand creativity. She is also the co-founder of All Day Buffet and NYC Feast CreativityConference where she has gained extensive understanding of innovation, businessstrategy, new model research, integration, branding, communications andpartnership development.Working in startups means doing everything, so Jerri’s experience spansfrom 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 Yorkstartups. All said and done, she is a blend of LA style, NY work ethic and thebest 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. Couldyou talk about what this looks like as a day job?
Jerri, Answer: “As an entrepreneur, my day job includes everything. I’mcurrently focused on running two of All Day Buffet’s ventures. The first isTBD, a newsletter I started which features social innovators and creates massaction campaigns that eliminate the paradox of choice in social good. Eachnewsletter features a must-know bit of knowledge and one simple way to takeaction and shape a better future. I currently curate and write, developpartnerships and campaigns and am fundraising to further develop the site andbuild up a team to grow the venture. As part of the All Day Buffet family, Ialso recently launched an agency called, Lovely Day, which focuses on helpingthe brands of the 21st century develop strategies for using social mission toinnovate 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 focuson bridging the gap between social innovators and entrepreneurs and largecompanies, as the models of social entrepreneurs offer an amazing and effectivetest bed for successful innovation that large companies can adopt, integrate orsupport (without necessarily completely altering their structure). At the sametime, large companies have the opportunity to bring these social enterprises toscale. Win-win for the whole movement. We also help companies who are alreadydoing things right develop strategies and campaigns to go to scale.
Jody, Question: What is yourbackground that led you here, how did you get here?
Jerri, Answer: My background is in communication. I’ve always been fascinatedby the power of persuasion and set out to use this power for good. I startedworking on All Day Buffet as a project with some friends and realized this wasthe embodiment of what I had set out to do. So I quit my job to pursue it, notquite knowing what All Day Buffet was exactly, but with a mind to figure it outand how it could help the world. Our work has been an evolution; the feedbackhas been hugely positive and the development exponential. Our first venture wasThe Feast Social Innovation Conference, which gathers leaders and thinkersacross disciplines to share and explore the most innovative ways of addressingsocial issues. Within one year, it blossomed into one of the world’s premiersocial 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 arelooking to work with a few exciting clients to put our experience, network andunderstanding of social innovation into practice. It’s been a whirlwind but wenever look to replicate anything that exists and so have created a ratherrobust framework and offerings for doing good.
Jody, Question: What are your hopes for this type of work, for you, the companyand the future?
Jerri, Answer: My hope for this type of work is that it takes its rightfulplace at the forefront of mainstream business and culture. Our work shouldsolve needs, offer more value as opposed to more things, make the world operatesmarter and happier as opposed to more “productive.” The shift towardthis way of operating has already begun, but in order to create any lastingimpact, the ventures and ideas really driving this consciousness forward needto scale — large companies need to
innovate their offerings, opportunities need to be accessible for everyday consumersto participate and individuals need to become involved in the creation process.Our company will be successful if it can fundamentally bring this shift to thetipping point (whether through policy, example or otherwise) until”social” entrepreneurship is not necessary because that is the waybusiness is done. Ultimately, one of my biggest hopes is to help people realizetheir potential, because when you boil down everything related to work –corporations, nonprofits, culture — they are all the sum of their parts, andtheir 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 mypartner
Michael Karnajaprakorn. We created the event, again, out of a need. Around2007, we saw a ton of likeminded people, projects and ventures starting up,especially in New York. But there was no real gathering place, no opportunityto come together, become inspired or to find opportunities to collaborate. Theother thing we realized was that this new method of addressing social issuesspanned all disciplines and included aspects of each as well. We curate theconference to maintain that cross-disciplinary nature — one where individualscan learn best practices from completely disparate industries, share knowledgeand learn new ways of looking at the world. We created the Feast to be thatplace. What started as a 150-person event has ballooned into a 400-person conferenceincluding attendees from around the world at the New York Times Center, withanother 500 people watching online. The feedback has been incredibly inspiringand we plan to leverage the Feast to put New York on the map as the socialinnovation 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 offriends.
I’m personally very invested in the local food movement and this past summer, Ivisited Ananda Ashram with a friend whose father had helped build the place inthe 1960s. Upon experiencing the vast and beautiful land, a handful of usstarted thinking how wonderful it would be if the land produced something. Onething lead to another and before you knew it we started preparing 24 raisedbeds, digging irrigation ditches and researching which crops to grow. Theinteresting thing is
that there used to be a farm there in the 1970s and the revival is somewhatrepresentational of the new straddle between removal from and integration withthe existing mainstream system. Many of us working on the project are programmers,designers, even planners, so we’ve been able to leverage our creative skillsfor something very tangible. We have a kickstarter page up to raise funds for acabin we plan to build. We’ll be publicizing cabin-building and beekeepinglessons
through newsletters and Twitter (I’ve been newly appointed the social media andcommunications director for the farm). In doing all of this, we’ve discovered areally robust and knowledgeable community of farmers and people getting back tothe land. So we’re planning to create more digital platforms to shareinformation, connect this network, and tools for just being better, moreproductive (and
Jody, Question: Lastly, this is a design and innovation blog. How do you see socialinnovation helping brands and designers in their quest to evolve the paradigm?
Jerri, Answer: Design and design thinking are crucial in all of this. Social innovationasks us to reframe the way we see and think about social problems, often not asproblems at all but as situational opportunities. That is where business willneed to focus in the future as well, and this offers the opportunity fordesigners to really get
innovative about using business to address these issues in a way that’s morethan just selling goods, but rethinking entire structures of operating, serviceofferings, and collaboration for the benefit of people. It takes a real systemsunderstanding 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 thinkabout what real value is because it starts breaking down different types ofvalue (social and monetary). But if you think about it, one encompasses theother and vice versa to some degree. This is where things get blurry, but alsowhere the paradigm breaks wide open for evolution.
Jody, Question: Social Innovation is about empathy and to me design innovationand empathy go hand in hand. Would love your thoughts on this correlation.
Jerri, Answer: This is an interesting one. I recently wrote an article oncompassion
which might be tangentially relevant http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jerri-chou/compassion-a-simple-elega_b_409945.html
Social Innovation may very well be about empathy at its core — a nebulous, butvery “true” or clear way of seeing life. It is maybe one of the mostbasic 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 atonce (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 alsobroaches existing business structures and givens with the question, “why?” Itquestions boundaries and rethinks the way things can be done based on the mosthuman 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 ordoes 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, oneand the same.