Better Businesses Are Creating a Better South

2019-01-28

By Zack Godfrey, MBA'19 Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

I love the South. My family has lived in the same area, about an hour north of Atlanta, for generations. I take pride in being a Southerner; it’s the land of sweet tea and collard greens, “yes ma’am” and “bless your heart.” From Richmond to Houston, from Louisville to Gainesville, there is a strange and beautiful bond shared by the citizens of the region. For all its flaws (and there are plenty), the South is a complex, vexing, exciting, and wonderful place to live.

The South has been understood by the rest of the world as a region bound to tradition, backward in its thinking and slow to progress. But things are changing in the South, and businesses are leading the way toward positive change that will create a more sustainable, equitable region. It's happening not just in Atlanta; it's happening in Athens (where I'm now getting an MBA at the University of Georgia). It's happening in Raleigh and the Research Triangle. It's happening all over the South.

One way you can see this change occurring is through the rise of the B Corp movement in the South. B Corporations go through a rigorous assessment to verify that they are using their business as a force for good. Just one year ago, some people asked, “Where are all the Southern B Corps?” In response, I can confidently say, “Y’all better watch out—the B Corps are coming.”

In Georgia, I have worked to bring together the state’s 13 current B Corporations to create stronger synergy and community among our certified organizations. I’ve also been developing a clinic at the University of Georgia that connects students seeking social impact opportunities with aspiring B Corporations. There has been tremendous traction in just a few short months; from technology to coffee, folks want to get together with like-minded local leaders and share how they can make their communities and their state stronger, together.

I had the fortune of spending my summer in the Raleigh-Durham area as a Fellow with Inspiring Capital. In the South, North Carolina has led the way in the B Corp movement. While there, I spoke with leaders at over a dozen B Corporations in the area. For instance, I met the wonderful Alisa Herr, CEO and Creative Director for Unity Digital Agency. Alisa connects mission-driven technologists, designers, and strategists to the organizations who need them the most. From the beginning, she wanted to build a company that was sustainable financially, operationally, and culturally. As she told me, “I want people to love working here and for the company to help grow the local community.”

I also connected with Liz Tracy and Jess Porta, who each spoke about their experience as directors of the co-working and community space, HQ. From environmentally friendly office supplies to a mother’s room in every co-working office, the HQ community is committed to its staff and members. Through it all, HQ focuses on “Inspiring connection, collaboration, and celebration” in the Raleigh area. For HQ, B Corp certification shows that they mean it when they say they’re committed to being a force for good in their community.

While at the B Corp Champions Retreat in New Orleans, I met B Corp leaders from all over the South. Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta region are hard at work connecting the social impact community, while states like Florida are beginning to connect with the rest of the South. Indeed, the retreat has sparked discussion about connecting B Corps throughout the whole region!

Godfrey, with other B Corp leaders, at the 2018 B Champion's Retreat New Orleans.

When I spoke with the leaders of these Southern B Corps, I always asked them why they chose to become certified. Answers varied, but in every instance, the answer included, “I love my community, and I want to make it better.” Whether their community consisted of their state, their city, or their local neighborhood, each business leader took pride in where they lived and wanted to dig their roots a little deeper. The B Corp certification was the how that helped them with their why.

This mentality—“I want to make ________ better”—extends well beyond B Corps to included hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded companies. Each of them has the heart to make their part of the South better. Imagine the possibilities when these organizations can get together, realize they have a shared vision and learn and grow together!

My Southern pride is not rooted in the past and its tradition, but in the future and its people. The South ain’t what it used to be; it’s getting better. And businesses are leading the way. So y’all come on down and stay a while. I know you’ll love it here, too.