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.
Don’t Shy Away from Being Empowered with Your Investments!
I’m not sure I can do this – I’m not an investor.
Actually, if you’re like a majority of the US population, you are an investor! You may not think of yourself as an investor, but if you have retirement accounts, bank accounts, mutual funds, etc., you are an investor! And you have options about where you can put your investment dollars.
I thought it was illegal for small businesses to ask for investment from regular people.
It is true that the laws governing investment in the United States (called securities laws) are complicated and can limit who can invest in certain investment offerings. However, there are many legal pathways that allow regular folks to invest directly in small business. If a small business offers you an investment opportunity, you should ask them whether they have received counsel from a competent securities lawyer. If something is not done correctly from a legal perspective, the risk is on the business, not the investor.
What should I know before making an investment?
Wherever you invest, whether in a mutual fund that holds publicly traded stocks or in a small business, you need to be aware that there is no such thing as a risk-free investment. You should not invest more than you can afford to lose.
Beyond that, it is up to you to decide what information you want to ask for to help you decide whether to invest.
Here are some things to keep in mind when evaluating whether to make an investment in a small business:
Look at your whole portfolio and remember that diversification mitigates risk. If almost all of your investments are in the stock market, investing in a small business whose success is not tied directly to the ups and downs of the public markets can be a good way to diversify your portfolio. Think about it – almost all of most Americans’ investments are in giant multinational public companies. But 99% of US businesses are small private companies that account for half of all employment and half of all production. Why put all of your investment dollars in only half of the economy?
The stock market has been likened to a casino – it has become increasingly opaque, trading is often conducted by sophisticated algorithms, and financial instruments have become so far removed from the real economy that it is hard to trust that it will continue to be a safe place to put your nest egg.
Warren Buffett’s advice? “Never invest in a business you cannot understand.” Most investors not only don’t understand the businesses they’re investing in, they don’t even know what businesses they’re invested in! They just let fund managers make all the decisions and hope for the best. Why not invest in some of the businesses that you know and understand?
Most of our investments are made through intermediaries (often more than one) like stock brokers, fund managers, and investment advisers. When you invest directly in a business, you eliminate the fees and percentages taken by these intermediaries and there is more transparency about what you are actually investing in.
A business is all about the people who run it. When you invest in a small business, you’re investing in the founder based on your opinion of their commitment, integrity, and abilities. A small business owner is generally going to be much more committed to their business’ success than a CEO of a multinational public company. CEOs move around from company to company and get their golden parachutes when they leave. Entrepreneurs usually start their businesses to express their most dearly held dreams and passions. Their business is their baby so they will stick with it through thick and thin.
When you invest in a business based on your relationship with the owner, that owner is going to feel personally responsible for your investment dollars. The last thing they want is for someone they know to lose money by investing in their business. They will do almost anything to avoid having to tell their investors that they have lost their money or are unable to pay them as much as promised. When you invest in a faceless multinational corporation, there is no similar feeling of personal responsibility to the investors.
Besides the financial returns, what are the other benefits of direct investing in small business?
When you invest in a small business, you often get benefits that go beyond purely financial returns.
These vary depending on the particular investment and business but they often include
Having the pride of knowing that you helped a business that’s important to your community
Being able to tell your friends and colleagues that you invested in a business they may know and love
Being part of a community of investors with similar values
Having the opportunity to learn from the business owner about the details of the business
Providing support to the business owner when she needs it – advice, contacts, business referrals, etc.
Having some ability to affect the success of the business as a customer and a source of referrals
Being invited to special events
Being recognized publicly as a supporter of the business
Discounts and perks
Knowing that your investment dollars are supporting something that is having a positive impact in the world
Remember, all investments have an impact – what impact do you want your investments to have? When you invest in a mutual fund of public company stocks, does that create any positive impacts in your community or on things that are important to you?
Investing in small businesses allows you to invest in the real economy in a business that employs people and provides useful goods and services. When you invest in public company stocks, your money doesn’t even go to that company – it just goes to the previous owner of the stock!
Why not use some of your investment dollars to invest in things that are important to you? Community gathering places, alternative energy, businesses that create good local jobs, etc. Imagine if everyone moved just a small percentage of their investment dollars to small businesses creating a positive impact in the world – we could create a better world by simply being more mindful about where we put our money.
Thank you to everyone who helped to spread the word about and attended our three day training – Raise Capital on Your Own Terms – Build It, Fund It, Grow It!
At the training, we shared a combination of practical tools, legal and financial training, and exercises to help build the mindset needed to successfully raise funding. This was the first time we ever held a three-day virtual training and we had some bumps leading up to it, like my luggage being lost on the way to Baltimore, our event headquarters. But the event exceeded expectations and attendees gave very positive feedback!
Here is some of what they said:
“Incredible expertise in the room”
“I think it was done very well. I was surprised at how engaged people were for an online event!”
“Having the guidance of qualified, caring individuals like Jenny and Michelle, when you are trying to tackle raising capital, is invaluable.”
“The Kassan team provided the perfect balance of soul searching and spine building to move my project forward.”
“Jenny Kassan and Michelle Thimesch are a dynamic duo unleashing a world of positive social and environmental impact through their work of helping entrepreneurs raise capital on their own terms.” At the event we observed that almost all of our attendees had something in common: whether they were just starting out or have been running their business for years, money mindset played a big role in how they thought about raising money from investors.
I facilitated an exercise where we uncovered our beliefs about money, which you can watch here. We hope you find it helpful for your own journey!
Working Fields Offers a Path to Employment and Confidence to Formerly Incarcerated People and Those in Recovery
Mickey Wiles is the CEO and Founder of Working Fields, a mission-driven staffing agency that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment — such as substance use disorder, criminal justice system involvement, resource challenges, or work history gaps — and build stable futures. A U.S. Navy veteran, Mickey has worked in leadership roles at Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and Burlington Labs, and served as Executive Director of Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, Vermont. Mickey is a person in long-term recovery and was provided a second chance after spending time in federal prison.
For the last 18 years, Mickey has dedicated himself to helping others who need a second chance after addiction and/or criminal convictions. By collaborating with businesses across Vermont and New Hampshire, Working Fields has fostered a community of recovery-friendly workplaces that treat people in recovery or those with past convictions as they would treat anyone else.
In this conversation, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan chats with Mickey about how Working Fields is contributing to the development of an inclusive, regenerative economy.
Jenny Kassan: How do you stay true to your business’ foundational principles while also being flexible enough to meet the shifting challenges of the day?
Mickey Wiles: Our foundational principles are reflected in our company values: love, humility, honesty, equity in action, stability, and gratitude. Our team keeps these values front and center by focusing every two months on the continued development of a different value. Our leadership team, which meets weekly and addresses the issues and challenges of a changing environment, always considers the company’s values in making company decisions. We embrace change, flexibility, and agility as long as we also always challenge ourselves to make decisions consistent with our values.
JK: Your company helps foster healthy and resilient communities. As we face large-scale challenges on a global scale, to what extent do you consider social entrepreneurship “borderless” and to what extent do solutions need to be localized?
MW: Social entrepreneurship means placing people, planet, and prosperity for all at the core of business. These principles apply across the board regardless of where we operate. If we collectively operate with other like-minded businesses, then our reach is borderless. However, with this as the premise, our challenges are to be inclusive and take into consideration all individuals, recognizing that different societal groups have different needs and practices. As we expand and serve communities and varied groups of people, we need to always be aware of these differences.
JK: How do you see the practices and core values of your business as distinct from the “business as usual” status quo? What do you do to resist the pressure to “fit in” to the old economy paradigms?
MW: Avoiding “business as usual” is not a difficult task for us as our mission and vision are so different from other organizations in our space. When we remain true to our mission, we automatically are not operating as “business as usual.” We have faced situations that raise questions in light of our company values. In that case, we invite everyone in the organization to discuss the opportunity and the pros and cons. We gain input from everyone to ensure we hear all arguments. Then we make a decision based on that input and the leadership team’s assessment.
JK: Who inspires you in the social impact world and what is the one question you’d like to ask them?
MW: I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from three fantastic leaders in the social impact world. I first worked for Ben & Jerry’s when social impact businesses were not as common as they are today. Both Ben [Cohen] and Jerry [Greenfield] led us to not accept the status quo and to challenge every decision we made to ensure it took into account our “triple bottom line” (that’s how we referred to social impact business). My next mentor was Jeffrey Hollender at Seventh Generation. His leadership demonstrated that there was an additional level of impact businesses can have on the world. I would ask all of them the same question: If you had to do it over again, what would you change and how would you counsel your younger self?
ABOUT MICKEY WILES
Mickey Wiles is the CEO and Founder of Working Fields, a mission-driven staffing agency that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment — such as substance use disorder, justice involvement, resource challenges, or work history gaps — and build stable futures.
Mickey has had a long career in the private sector business community where he held various leaderships roles starting with a Boston high tech firm, Microcom, Inc. In Vermont he continued in leadership roles with Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Burlington Labs. Mickey also held the position of Executive Director at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County. Prior to starting his business career, Mickey served six years in the United States Navy.
Mickey is a person in long term recovery and was provided a second chance after spending time in Federal Prison. For the last 18 years, Mickey has dedicated his work to helping others who want a second chance after addiction and/or criminal convictions. Mickey is on the Board and Executive Committee of VBSR, the nation’s first business association of businesses for social responsibility. Mickey is also President of Vermont Roots & Wings Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting the drug court system and participants in Vermont.
ABOUT WORKING FIELDS
Working Fields is a mission-driven staffing agency that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment — such as substance use disorder, justice involvement, resource challenges, or work history gaps — and build stable futures.
We don’t just place people in jobs: Our model includes robust, personalized support for workers. Every Working Fields associate benefits from direct account management, ongoing peer recovery or life coaching, and coordinated support from community partners. These services enable our associates to get and keep the jobs they want, while helping employers realize the potential of these dedicated workers.
We work closely with community partners, particularly social service agencies, across Vermont and in Manchester, New Hampshire, to identify individuals in need of supportive employment services. These referrals have enabled us to help over 1,300 jobseekers since 2017.
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.