I was a kindergartener when White Dog Cafe opened in Philadelphia. I wouldn’t know about the cafe until after I opened my own cafe 22 years later. My business was founded on a Triple P bottom line – people, planet & profit – and about a year after we were opened, I came to the conclusion that if I really was committed to that foundation then revitalizing local economy was the first step towards sustainability. It took a couple more years to see a “Think Local First” campaign in full swing in my community, but while searching for those who intuited this same path towards resilience, I learned about the founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), Judy Wicks, also founder of the legendary White Dog Cafe. Judy is a pioneer of bringing ethics to a table where billions are invited through her proven & mature model of what is now known as social & activist enterprise.
Wicks memoir “Good Morning, Beautiful Business: The Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local Economy Pioneer” was published in Spring 2013 (Chelsea Green) and after reading the first few chapters I unexpectedly burst into tears. My own independent business had just turned seven, and I was in the process of reviewing the massive impact the localism movement had with not just my enterprise, but all of my entrepreneurial counterparts who managed by a hair and tooth to escape collapse while huge banks and franchises folded in the economic downturn of 2009. My time spent dedicated to promoting the concepts of localism, often shifting direct focus away from my own cafe, was effective in ensuring a much healthier economy for us all. That time investment was seen as a risk by some, and often had me in hot water with associates, but this ability to multi-focus and act as a catalyst for the local economy movement was absolutely vital, and not just to my little cafe. It was a dire necessity for our entire community and sense of place – we could all rise together if we combined our voices about the benefits of supporting local & independent or many of us would fall and be slow to recover with a “competitive, take care of your own, first” mentality.
Reading this memoir from a living legend who achieved financial success alongside remarkable social change which is still sweeping the globe and redefining neighborhood business everywhere, I cried three chapters in for two reasons. One, she mentions her first period and other perfectly normal rights of passage into womanhood, letting me know this was not just any memoir – this book about business & social change from a woman’s perspective goes there, where a remarkable few dare to go. This sets up Judy’s approach of noticing something that needs to be seen or heard and done differently and courageously going there to show and tell & then catalyze massive social change. Wicks is a storyteller, she delicately balances transparency with respect, she speaks of her journey to her feminine side, of questioning that stiff lipped voice in her head, of her vulnerability and doubt, and does not apologize for her style of leaping into projects and businesses without a plan, trusting her response-ability as her heart impulsed her towards this or that.
The second reason I lay sobbing was because Wicks shared her experience about the shadow side women experience in a male dominated economic model. Early on, her creative gifts, relationship building skills, sense of place and ability to sense what wants to emerge were discounted because they couldn’t be quantified on a spreadsheet. Through this she realized she was a builder, not a fighter, and there was strength in walking away. She didn’t expend energy seeking justice for herself in two instances where she relied on verbal agreements that were unfortunately not upheld by the other party. Judy let go of earnings in those instances, and directed her power of positive influence and transformation towards reinventing business and redefining growth, using profits as a tool to transform her community and eventually the national and global economy.
Judy’s multi-focus success is founded on relationships, curiosity and courage to share and act. Reading her story will take you to the aftermath of the Acteal massacre in Chiapas, Mexico where friends in the region reported paramilitary were after the supporters of the Zapatista’s indigenous rights movement and alerted her to the shocking situation in Mexico that was not making American headlines. Judy couldn’t let this pass unnoticed and formed Businesses for Ethical Trade & Human Rights in Chiapas (BETHRIC) an alliance of American import business owners to discover firsthand what was going on. Her connections formed through her int’l sister restaurant program sparked a heart felt desire to make a difference and she called upon her business relationships to generate news coverage and build a financial bridge by loaning money to ensure the next crop would be purchased from a devastated coffee cooperative, which eventually flourished. That trip showed her“the Zapatistas’ call for independence and local self-reliance was the call of threatened communities everywhere”and the experience nurtured “the seeds of my own role in the global rebellion against corporate globalization. In the call of the Zapatistas, I discovered my own voice of protest and eventually my call for a new economy. This was my fight, too.”
Her story continues through a brief history and wisdom on social finance, local food, animal husbandry, the localism movement. Wicks recounts being discovered by Ben & Jerry’s Ben Cohen and lessons learned from their takeover as well as greats like David Korten and many other change agents blazing a path towards a more just and equitable society. She also shares specific business practices and programming that continue to inspire even the most progressive of entrepreneurs, myself included. She outlines her unique Social Contract arrangement to sell White Dog while licensing the brand as a way of ensuring the purchasing practices and ethos of the business were carried forward into the future so her suppliers would find some protection and patrons could still trust the products even though Judy was not at the helm.
To say that Judy Wicks is the godmother of American independent business would be appropriate, but do not let that title make you think her time has come and gone. Indeed, now is the time for our godmothers voices around the world to be heard and respected. She’s shared her fascinating story thus far, and the dizzying amount of accomplishments this one woman is responsible for is certainly far from over. In fact, each person who sinks into this book will feel largely validated that their intuition that a more just and sustainable approach to business and community is a practical, possible and certain path forward. Anyone who seeks inspiration to create the enterprise and community they always imagined possible will find it overflowing with gems. Forget about climbing a ladder or building an empire. In Judy’s economy, serving others comes first based on authentic relationships, thinking with heart and brain, and placemaking as the foundation for resilient communities, sustainable business and growing happiness.