Rebecca Burgess is the Executive Director of Fibershed, a non-profit organization that develops regional fiber systems that build ecosystem and community health.Fibershed’s work expands opportunities to implement climate benefiting agriculture, rebuild regional manufacturing, and connect end-users to the source of our fiber through education.
Among Fibershed’s incredible community-based programs are the Fibershed Producer Program and the Fibershed Affiliate Network. The Fibershed Producer Program is a membership-based network of farmers, ranchers, designers, sewers, weavers, knitters, felters, spinners, mill owners, and natural dyers living and working within the North and Central regions of California. Through the Fibershed Affiliate Program, Fibershed has stretched beyond its California roots to bring its mission to communities worldwide. The Affiliate Program comprises 58 affiliates actively working in their home communities to create decentralized textile systems rooted in regeneration.
In this conversation, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan chats with Rebecca about the work Fibershed is doing to develop regional fiber systems and drive the development of the regenerative economy.
Jenny Kassan: Regenerative economies must be innovative, agile, and meet the challenges of the day. In what way has Fibershed responded to a shifting landscape?
Rebecca Burgess: We’ve stayed true to our mission by localizing our primary work within 51 counties in California. Fibershed’s purpose is to build regional economies based on soil regeneration, and that unfolds in many forms as we continue to implement place-based work in our home community. By virtue of our geography, we stay grounded.
JK: Collaboration, knowledge-sharing, innovation, and cross-fertilization are essential components of the regenerative economy. Who are your mentors?
RB: I learn from many non-human mentors. I learn from grasslands; I learn from our pigment garden; I learn from the predators that are predating on things we try to grow; I learn from the weather patterns. My main mentor is the influences of the ecosystem. I extrapolate out and try to understand human nature as best I can through the lens of what’s natural and what’s the baseline for our psychological, physical, and spiritual situation. What has our evolution on this planet looked like? What has that brought forth? I try to understand the systems we’ve evolved in to give me an understanding of who we are and how to be in this world within a human network.
JK: As the Executive Director of Fibershed, how do you motivate policymakers and community members to be part of the change they want to see in our economy and society?
RB: We are always developing a set of public comments and documents to influence legislative decision-making at the state level. We also continuously support a framing conversation around international environmental footprinting by participating in coalitions such as Make the Label Count and the California Food and Farming network —both of which help advance our work, politically speaking. I think the motivation for policymakers and community members comes through our communications platforms, thanks to Bark Media, who helps us get out inspiring stories about the producer community. We uplift their stories and collaborations in our newsletters, social media, and podcast to model what we want to see emulated.
JK: A regenerative economy fosters healthy and resilient communities and regions. As we collectively face challenges on a global scale, to what extent is your work “borderless”? To what extent is it hyper-localized? RB: Our work is borderless in that we have 58 Fibershed Affiliate communities across the world operating at the grassroots level. Our work is reflective of what other communities are doing philosophically. And then, kind of didactically, it takes on a very placed-based form. So the work looks different depending on where you’re uplifting a regional fiber system.
The process is hyper-localized based on need. Let’s say the design community wants access to local cloth. You define how much local cloth production you can generate in an economically viable way by working with growers and asking very practical questions. How many growers are you going to need to make it through these mill minimums? What kind of textile constructions can you make from this supply? To navigate the process of making real cloth and connecting farmers and the design community demands a hyper-local perspective.
JK: How do you see the practices and core values of Fibershed as leading a new movement away from the “business as usual” status quo?How would you encourage other organizations to resist the pressure to “fit in” to the old economy paradigms?
RB: Most people are still going to a grocery store; they’re possibly using some form of transportation that utilizes fossilized carbon, or they’re relying on goods and services that are relying on fossilized carbon. We still have a racial wealth gap that’s very stark. We still have an underrepresentation of diverse cultural perspectives in many of our industries, if not all of them. So we’re all experiencing the old, but I think it’s critical to maintain an understanding of that framework for how we got here and what the future thinking looks like, and then find steps to actualize the new frameworks.
Getting excited about these new frameworks is the key to staying motivated. Begin by asking yourself, ‘What’s one thing I can do, what’s one thing my organization can do, to head in this direction?’ I’m a student of history, and I love listening to new economists. I really appreciate how we got here and that these are human-designed systems. We can absolutely redesign them because we’re the ones who got ourselves into this, and no one else is going to get us out. JK: What lifestyle habits do you use to stay focused, healthy, and ready to take on the world? What would you recommend to others?
RB: Keep your hands in the soil, and learn the art of cultivation. Learn plant and animal names. Connect and be in relationship with ecosystems in a very hands-on way, because it rearranges one’s neurology. A lot of people are working on a computer all day. I think it’s important to break away from that and make sure we cultivate in soil, and we cultivate on Earth and in Earth Systems. That is the teacher, the mentor that will keep us grounded and making healthy decisions.
It’s also important to be in community in those spaces. How do we work together to connect and stay grounded to soil? How do we share in community meals? How do we share in community cloth making? I mend my clothes. I spend a lot of time with my hands in the soil when I’m not on a computer. Those are the lifestyle choices I’ve made to infuse my energy into the new paradigm; it’s repair, it’s cultivation, and it’s art practice.
About Rebecca Burgess
Rebecca Burgess is the Executive Director of Fibershed. She has two decades of experience working at the intersection of ecology, fiber systems, and regional economic development. Rebecca is the author of the best-selling book Harvesting Color, a bioregional look into the natural dye traditions of North America, and Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy. She has taught at Westminster College, Harvard University, and California College of the Arts. She also holds a board position at the Livestock Conservancy and serves on the leadership council of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems at Chico State University.
Fibershed is a non-profit organization that develops regional fiber systems that build ecosystem and community health. Fibershed’s work expands opportunities to implement climate-benefiting agriculture, rebuild regional manufacturing, and connect end-users to the source of our fiber through education. Fibershed transforms the economic systems behind the production of material culture to mitigate climate change, improve health, and contribute to racial and economic equity.
Community Symbol Helps Entrepreneurs Make Powerful Impact Through Storytelling
Martin Ricard is a community activist, journalist, and digital communications specialist. He is founder and chief content creator of Community Symbol, a digital communications service that works with mission-driven businesses and nonprofits committed to advancing racial equity and social justice. In an increasingly polarized society, engaging people’s empathy is critical to making progress on complex issues. Martin specializes in storytelling — creating compelling content and an online presence for clients dedicated to social, political, and environmental causes. He helps these organizations build audiences and amplify their messages of diversity, inclusion, and hope. In this conversation, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan talks with Martin about how Community Symbol is contributing to a more inclusive, regenerative economy.
Jenny Kassan: With technology constantly evolving, how do you stay true to your business’ foundational principles while also being flexible enough to meet the shifting challenges of the day?
Martin Ricard: My business is an Internet-first business for a reason. Everything is becoming much more integrated with the web and technology. The conversations and movements that start online are now influencing everything else in the real world, for example, what happened following the murder of George Floyd. At the same time, I realize the tools I’m using to help my clients grow their online presence might be outdated a few years from now. So I’m always trying to listen to the streets, especially those who are on the other side of town (i.e. liberals and conservatives), to figure out the best way to do storytelling that works for an always-changing 21st-century audience.
JK: Recent social movements aimed at equality have had a dramatic influence on business practices. Do you see that reflected within the social entrepreneurship space?
MR: I’ve seen some real signs of hope by building connections within the social entrepreneurship space. One of the best examples of collaboration I’ve seen recently was the Shift conference I attended in 2021. It was organized by a lot of the same people who put on the SOCAP conference, but it was a smaller group of folks attending, there were a lot more people of color involved in organizing the event, and the organizers gave a wide variety of businesses equity in the event—which is something I’d never seen before. So by taking part in the efforts to promote the event and get people to participate in the conversations, we were all able to benefit from a social impact standpoint and a financial standpoint. That’s what a regenerative economy looks like to me.
JK: Your work supports changemakers who seek to make a direct, positive impact within neighborhoods and communities. To what extent is social entrepreneurship “borderless” in your view?
MR: I can’t wait for the day that I get to work with a social entrepreneur from another country. I don’t think we realize how huge this movement is. Based on what I’ve seen, social entrepreneurship is popular in Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, South Korea, and a number of other non-U.S. countries. To me, that means social entrepreneurship is borderless because the issues (and the solutions) are universal. In all our countries, people have lost trust in the government and traditional institutions to fix the social, political, and environmental problems that are affecting our world. I truly believe that social entrepreneurs have the solutions that are needed to restore that trust and revive our hope in humanity.
JK: What is your theme song as a social entrepreneur?
MR: “Say Her Name (Hell You Talmbout)” by Janelle Monáe.
Martin Ricard has more than 15 years of media experience across the journalism, public relations and social media industries, and his expertise is in developing effective communications strategies that help entrepreneurs and changemakers build their teams, get funding and grow their audiences online. Martin received his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and his master’s degree from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Learn how Martin has helped other mission-driven businesses and nonprofits succeed at https://communitysymbol.com/case-study.
In this video, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan outlines six important steps to designing your fundraising strategy.
Funding is an essential element of starting a business, but figuring out the best way to acquire it can be challenging, especially for mission-driven entrepreneurs who don’t want to give up their values to get their business off the ground.
In this video, Kassan Group founder, Jenny Kassan discusses her six-step process for raising capital without selling your soul. According to Jenny and her team, “The way you raise money should be consistent with what’s important to you and your business.”
These six pillars will lay down the proper foundation for your business to succeed while keeping your mission intact. This process consists of defining your goals and values; identifying your ideal investors; designing your offer; choosing your legal compliance strategy; creating an effective investor enrollment strategy; and addressing potential obstacles. Learn more about building the six pillars of your fundraising strategy in the following video.
The Kassan Group is planning a three-day virtual training to take a deep dive into these steps. If you’re looking for guidance on building a fundraising plan for your business in a way that meets your values, join us! Register for the event November 2-4 at JennyKassan.com/FundIt
In this video, Jenny Kassan describes a way to raise money for your business that lets you stay true to your goals and values and keeps you in control.
Every business needs funding to get off the ground, but determining the best way to attain it is no easy feat. Small business owners may think they have only three options: find investors via the venture capital (VC) path, take out a loan, or go the bootstrapping route. None of these options work well for the majority of businesses.
Fortunately, there is another way. In this video, Jenny Kassan, founder of The Kassan Group, shares how to raise money for your business without compromising what’s important to you. “You can get your business funded without having to sell your soul or give up control of your business.”
Jenny recommends designing an investment opportunity that fits your business and to broaden your idea of who your investors could be. It’s important for business owners to remain transparent when discussing terms with prospective investors and to balance the investor’s needs with their own. This will help you find the right investors who come in on terms that are consistent with what you want for your business. Learn more about customizing your investment offering and getting creative about who your investors are in this video.
Looking for the right investors to help you grow your business? Sign up for our free email series and discover the 6 steps to finding values-aligned funding sources to help you achieve your goals! With the steps outlined in this series, you can make the process more efficient, less intimidating, and—dare we say it?—FUN! Sign up here.
Innovative business models enable entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s problems. Brite-Liter is a simple tool with a huge mission: Building foundational literacy skills by keeping the students’ visual focus, especially those who face learning challenges.
When his youngest son experienced reading challenges, entrepreneur and Pennsylvania College of Technology instructor Benjamin Kranz began looking into ways to help him improve his reading comprehension. After researching a variety of proven literacy educational techniques such as the Orton-Gillingham approach, Benjamin developed a simple tool he thought might increase his son’s ability to focus on words as he read. Within just seven weeks, Benjamin’s son experienced vast improvements in both his reading comprehension and enjoyment.
Benjamin knew many other children experience reading challenges similar to those his son had faced. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 65% of fourth graders fail to score proficiently on reading evaluations. Benjamin wanted to share the prototype he’d developed for his son with other students, families, and teachers. Thus in 2019 he and co-founder David Boyle launched Brite-Liter, a company offering a simple yet effective high-tech aid made to enhance children’s reading experiences.
In this Q&A, Benjamin shares the story behind Brite-Liter and the mission to change how we can improve literacy for all in education.
Would you please briefly explain what the Brite-Liter tool is?
Sure. It’s designed to gently stimulate the visual cortex using a focused beam of light to place emphasis on letters, phonics, words, or entire lines of text. By projecting light in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, Brite-Liter helps hold a child’s attention as they read. We designed the tool to help encourage reading of printed books over screens, maximize reading retention in minimal time, and support shared reading experiences for kids and their families.
Why did you develop this company?
After I created a prototype of the tool for my son, we started using it for 20 minutes every night during our bedtime reading. In just seven weeks, we saw a major improvement in his reading capabilities. He not only felt at ease reading, but he also rose from the bottom to the top of his class with this tool. Seeing his experience, I wanted more students to be able to use the tool.
What educational expertise did you bring to the project?
We spent a year collecting input from a wide variety of professors and literacy experts who specialize in eye-tracking methodologies. We didn’t specify that the tool was for the special education sector, but rather conducted a broad information-capture.
Can you share about your one-for-one donation model?
Sure, for every Brite-Liter purchased, we donate one to a community, group or school in need. It follows a similar model to companies such as TOMS Shoes. Our donations focus on local causes and assisting schools, libraries, and organizations that have literacy initiatives in underrepresented areas.
What are your hopes for Brite-Liter going into the future?
Studies continue to link increases in children’s screen time to language delays, behavioral problems, and poorer overall cognitive development. Through Brite-Liter, we hope to empower students and their families, and to offer a useful tool in fighting the literacy crisis many people are facing.
Brite-Liter was highlighted in one of our recent Changemaker Showcase events, an hour-long session featuring five entrepreneurs who transformed their ideas into business realities without compromising their vision or values. To learn more and get inspired by some of today’s most passionate and innovative changemakers, watch the webinar recording!
Are you a mission-driven entrepreneur looking to grow your business? Sign up for Raise Capital on Your Own Terms: Build it, Fund it, Grow It, our virtual training on November 2-4. This three-day workshop will help you explore the structure, techniques, and insights to find the right investors and fund your business on your own terms. Register here!