While having lunch with a group of sustainability leaders at a rooftop restaurant at Natural Products Expo West 2018, one woman boldly asked no one in particular, “Can we just talk about why it feels like a white country club here?'"
That afternoon, while walking the boisterous Anaheim Convention Center halls, I started seeing us in a new way. Why have we been largely white and male in terms of our leadership for most of the history of our industry? Do our consumers need to be white and of a higher socioeconomic background? And we at OSC2 wondered what that meant in the context of our work to increase the capacity for a thriving, biodiverse, environmentally and socially just industry.
We started working on a plan. An ambitious plan. And people along the way asked us, “Can’t you simplify this to one thing? This project is really broad.” And, “Where is the hook? Just focus on board diversity.” Or, “Just focus on diversity of panels.”
Well here is the hook. As my co-founder, Sheryl O’loughlin, shared at the launch of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (J.E.D.I) Collaborative, “Biodiversity is essential to a thriving ecosystem and Humans are a part of biodiversity.” Our food system, our agriculture, our companies and each of us are less than we have the potential to be because we are not helping all people to feel that they belong in our industry, because the products are not for more than a small segment of the population, our leadership, board team and entrepreneurial talent don’t reflect the country, and not everyone in our supply chains is treated justly and equally. We are an industry that cares about environmental justice but that must go hand in hand with social justice and we are missing that part of it.
We need to make our healthy products more accessible, affordable and culturally and ethnically appropriate for more communities. This is systemic and must be addressed as a system, not just an human resource plan.
Natural products industry lacks diversity according to benchmarking study
We know that diverse and inclusive leadership is key because these decision makers are the ones that will unlock the change in terms of the product, marketing, supply chain, sales and financial systems. We have a ways to go as an industry. According to the Natural and Organic Industry Benchmarking Survey conducted in late 2019 by J.E.D.I Collaborative and New Hope Network, only 2% of leadership positions within our industry companies and on company boards are occupied by black professionals. The situation isn’t better for Latinx professionals, who hold 2% of company board positions and 6% of company leadership roles within the U.S. natural products industry. Women are also underrepresented in important areas. Women represent only 23% of board seats for companies with more than 50 employees.
We launched J.E.D.I Collaborative to industry leadership
We launched J.E.D.I Collaborative on April 29, 2020 with the vision of an industry that centers at its core justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. And because this project addresses a deep and systemic challenge, we are meeting it with a systems-level solution. We invite companies to make a range of commitments in three areas: Culture, Consumer and Communities.
At this J.E.D.I Leadership launch we had three goals: (see Launch video)
- 100 companies making commitments on the J.E.D.I website.
- 15 new early adopters piloting the work actively with us.
- Raise funds to expand the project to bring it to the forefront of the natural products industry as a resource and platform for action.
We now have 50 companies committed and 11 new early adopters. Once again, our industry has shown its potential to step up, evolve, grow and lead the way for other industries. Since we know how to get fresh, healthy, sustainable food to market, our movement to J.E.D.I can change the whole food and healthy products ecosystem.
New J.E.D.I donors step up to partner on this industry collaborative
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the support for J.E.D.I is the composition of our donors. These are individuals and companies across our value chain who have stepped up not just with funding, but with a personal and professional belief in the vital need for this collaboration. They are investing time, knowledge and resources that go beyond donations.
J.E.D.I wouldn’t be where we are today without Nutiva, our founding donor that helped us gain momentum with a $100,000 three-year commitment in 2019. Nutiva then took its support further when founder John Roulac announced a $50K matching grant at our launch event. What really struck us was John’s “J.E.D.I Why” for this generous donation. He said, “I would not have received the same help and the same breaks to grow Nutiva if I was not a white male. It’s time to pay it forward with the next generation of J.E.D.I Leaders.”
In response to that incredible matching donation, we received:
- $120,000 over three years from KeHE Foods as the J.E.D.I Collaborative Launch partner
- $75,000 over three years from Chartwell Partners Executive Search
- $30,000 minimum over three years from William Hood & Co Investment Banking
- $10,000 from AUA Private Equity Partners
- $10,000 from Clover Sonoma
- $7,500 from Renewal Funds
- $2,500 from Traditional Medicinals
KeHE shared, “At KeHE, we believe the community of good food is a catalyst to create an inclusive, equitable, more just world. We know first-hand the diversity of voices and ideas build stronger companies and a more robust economy.”
This was in addition to ongoing commitments and donations from our partners since inception: Pepsico WomenMade, Sensiba San Filippo, Presence Marketing, New Hope Network, Davis Wright Tremaine, Once Upon a Farm, Force Brands, Dr. Bronner’s and Numi Tea.
We want to acknowledge that nearly all of these donations came in prior to the civil rights movement our nation is experiencing sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
To fully launch J.E.D.I Collaborative to the industry and fund this work through June 2021, we are seeking an additional $70,000 and an additional $300,000 over 3 years. We have accelerated some of our work as a result of the recent racialized trauma our nation has experienced and expanded our budget to do this. We are asking folks to consider three-year donor commitments so we can all get to work together on this, rather than spending our time fundraising. We are currently working with people with marginalized identities impacted by this work to take the learnings from our leadership launch to prepare for our full launch in 2021. The funding helps enable us to make sure that this launch is fully supported.
How you can get involved with J.E.D.I
People have started to become more conscious of the systemic bias that has been part of our society for hundreds of years. Not only of the police brutality and daily inequities Black American’s face, but also of the injustice as part of our food system. People in our industry are beginning to ask how they can act. Here’s how: We invite companies and individuals to do three things this week:
- Make J.E.D.I Commitments—we have developed them with a team of experts and it is free to engage. https://jedicollaborative.com/make-commitment/
- Help us close the $80,000 funding gap by making your donation to J.E.D.I. We welcome micro-donations. https://jedicollaborative.com/make-donation/
- Become a J.E.D.I Early Adopter. (small minimum investment required subsidized by OSC2 and J.E.D.I team).
Many people have asked, “What else can I do?” Beyond the above, there is much we can do together to help in ways that the Black community is saying they need our support. Carlotta Mast, our third J.E.D.I co-founder, shared in her call to natural products industry leaders eight ways to actively engage.
We believe that the natural foods industry must take bold steps to create an inclusive, equitable, more just world. J.E.D.I Collaborative, an OSC2 natural products industry collaborative, exists to support this work and enable these changes. I am excited to see what the next level of growth for this industry looks like.