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Recap: Social Responsibility - Better for Business

The Partnership's 2019 Business Assistance Forum welcomed more than 90 business owners and entrepreneurs last Thursday, September 25th. Titled “Social Responsibility: Better for Business,” this year’s forum focused on social responsibility and sustainability and how they contribute to successful businesses.

Held at Baruch College’s Newman Conference Center, the event began with a networking breakfast, sponsored by TD Bank. Attendees picked up helpful information about support for small businesses in New York City from resource tables set up by The Baruch College Field Center for Entrepreneurship, Baruch College Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS), Baruch College Small Business Development Center, SBS’ Small Business Advocates Program, and the NYC Department of Sanitation.

James Mettham, Executive Director of the Flatiron Partnership, delivered opening remarks. “Flatiron is home to many businesses that prioritize socially responsible commerce and corporate initiatives, making our community—and planet—healthier and more equitable,” he said. “These companies are doing well by doing good, and serve as examples of how social responsibility and sustainability can contribute to a thriving business.”

Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services and H. Fenwick Huss, Dean of the Baruch College Zicklin School of Business also welcomed attendees. Commissioner Bishop highlighted WE NYC (Women Entrepreneurs NYC), an SBS initiative dedicated to helping women start and grow their businesses.

Next, Giovanna Gray Lockhart, Senior Director of Impact at The Wing, and Seth Besmertnik, CEO & Founder of Conductor, participated in a lively fireside chat about ethical marketing and corporate responsibility.

“Our business is largely built for a Millennial and Generation Z audience and they really expect the brands they admire, purchase, and follow on Instagram to stand for something,” Lockhart told the audience. “They will make their consumer choices based on that.”

“When you have a company that’s mission-driven and you go through a challenge, you can galvanize your people around the greater purpose,” Besmertnik added. “It becomes a powerful aspect of leading a business.”

Commissioner Bishop then moderated a panel discussion on best practices and philosophies around conscientious capitalism featuring representatives from Flatiron businesses. Panelists included Field Failing, Founder & Managing Partner, Fields Good Chicken; Larissa Shirley King, Senior Designer, Hanky Panky; Deborah Koenigsberger, Founder & Owner, Noir et Blanc & Thrifty HoG; and Marjolein Westerbeek, President of Rituals Cosmetics.

Panelists discussed the challenges and rewards of running a socially responsible business, offered advice, and answered questions from the audience. “If you don’t prioritize your business’ bottom line, especially early on, you limit your ability to grow, and if you limit your ability to grow, you actually limit your ability to have the kind of impact you want,” cautioned Failing.

“Sometimes if you try to do too much, you end up doing nothing,” said Koenigsberger. “If you focus, you can have deeper impact, but you should make sure you’re passionate about the cause, so that you’re constantly driven to move forward and make a change in the world.”

The event concluded with a presentation by Lisa Ennis of SBS and their Small Business Advocates program. The program help New Yorkers navigate government to start, operate, and grow their businesses around the five boroughs.

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