Twenty-five years ago my Dad was still alive and the world felt like a different place, even though it wasn’t. Twenty-five years ago, he took me with him to a conference at which he was a speaker. I remember it was at Pocono Manor—in the Poconos, of course—one of those old ramshackle once-romantic hotels that were now hanging on by a thread. But just as honeymoon children were conceived there, so was the first Social Venture Network conference (SVN). And thanks to my Dad, I was there.
Back then I had no idea what the “venture” part meant. As a private, independent family business, Rodale Press had no need for venture capitalists. But I did understand the social and network part—and this was long before Facebook.
My memories are like flashbacks: Hearing Anita Roddick of the Body Shop describe her radical concept, with her wild, curly hair and British accent. Meeting Jeffrey Hollander, founder of Seventh Generation, and telling him I loved his organic underwear (so soft!). Meeting Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Yogurt and being slightly skeptical that Americans would embrace yogurt as a food item. Sharing an elevator with Eric Utne, when the Utne Reader had just roared onto the scene and everybody was talking about it. Listening to Ben and Jerry talk about ice cream as a force for social change. Phillip Moffet defending me for asking them all hard questions (Journalists of the world, unite!). And there were others who I didn’t quite understand what they did and why they were there, but I knew somehow they were important people. People like Josh Mailman.
At the time, I thought it was all a little weird. I had grown up weird, so I was trying to find my own way and define myself independently, apart from the hippie movement or whatever this SVN culture called itself. But I did like that there was business involved here. This was about the time that I was reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. No, I was not a Republican or a conservative, but I did have a massive crush on John Galt.
Was David Fenton there? Perhaps. I had just finished working for him for a year in Washington, DC, so I was steeped in the radical, liberal, progressive social justice world, even though I hadn’t quite embraced it.
But like many things in life, sometimes you don’t quite understand an event’s significance till the years go by. What SVN showed me over the 25 intervening years of watching businesses and people grow, and succeed, some failing, some dying, but all leaving a good mark on the earth, was that IT IS POSSIBLE. Anything was and is possible. Dreaming and making it real are possible. It is possible to do the right thing and create a successful global brand. It is possible for organic to be mainstream. It is possible to infuse spirit and, yes, spirituality into work and business. It is possible to be different and still succeed.
I didn’t say easy. I said possible.
I stopped going to SVN conferences about 15 years ago. No, exactly 15 years ago. Why? Because my daughter was born that weekend, April 17th, 1997. So it is fitting that I am bringing her this year to the 25th anniversary conference. She is much smarter than I was when I was her age. And when I think of a future created by women like her, I think ANYTHING is possible.
That’s why I’m bringing her.