While economic upheaval has caused many businesses to fail, Ode has interviewed several entrepreneurs who have found ways to thrive and remain focused on positive social change. We interviewed them about their companies, how they view the current economic situation, how they define success, and how they came to combine their business skills with their passion for change.
To read more about how social entrepreneurs are going mainstream, click here.
Ode Editors | March 2009 issue
Tell us a little bit about you and your company.
Kaiser Permanente is the largest not-for-profit, integrated health care program in the nation, taking care of 8.6 million people in 8 regions across the country. Prevention has been fundamental to its genetic code for over 60 years. Striving always to do the right thing the first time is best for the people receiving care and best for the program. I’ve been very lucky to work with Kaiser Permanente for almost 38 years, both in clinical women’s health medicine and in a variety of other roles. Because the direct providers of care and the health plan have the same common goals, there are few barriers to the creation of new programs that may be of benefit to the broader community. I started Kaiser Permanente’s first farmers’ market at my Oakland, CA medical center 6 years ago because I believe in the importance of good food to people’s overall health. We now have markets at over 30 facilities in four states; are sourcing increasing amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables from small local farmers in our hospitals; have organized Community Supported Agriculture deliveries to employees; and have the full endorsement of our national leaders to further the inclusion of sustainable agriculture in our systems. The demonstration of what’s possible has encouraged others to do the same.
How do you feel about the current economic situation? Does it represent a challenge or an opportunity for you and your business?
The economics of health care is, of course, vastly complicated. Prevention continues to be fundamentally important. Health care systems of the future in any economy must focus on preventing disease as well as treating diseases. With so many of the major diseases affecting our population related to what people eat, the difficult economic times may actually encourage people to eat more fresh food prepared at home rather than spending precious resources on so many packaged and processed foods. Despite the plethora of ads that tell you that fast food meals are the cheapest way to feed your family, it’s really possible to put together a nutritious meal for a family each day at less cost. Easier said than done. But I have had so many people talk to me about how they are loving learning to cook with fresh foods, that I believe it’s possible.
What types of metrics do you use to demonstrate your success both financially and in terms of social change?
In the practice of medicine, we always are looking for the evidence that proves what we are doing is the right thing to do. That’s the only way to continuously improve. Here’s what we know so far: because of our focus on sustainable food systems, there are hundreds of farmers who keep coming back to our markets weekly. We also know that we sourced 75 tons of fresh foods to our hospitals from small local farmers, many of whom said they depended significantly on institutional purchasing like ours for their livelihoods. And we know that over 70 percent of return shoppers to our hospital based farmers’ markets said they were eating more fruits and vegetables because of the on-site markets. Just like we know as a society that clean air is critical to good health, we know that food matters. Eating food that’s good for us, good for our children, good for the farmers who grow it and good for the planet is the right thing to do even if we can’t prove it.
Have you always been a businessperson or did your idea stem from a passion to create change – or both?
My idea stemmed from a passion to change the way people cook and eat. Luckily, I have always been a doctor in this system that supports positive changes and have worked with so many people who tap into what I call “discretionary energy”. While I started the first market, the spirit of hundreds of other people joining me really continues to create the change.