“I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And in affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.”–Wendell Berry
Etsy is a peer-to-peer e-commerce website that sells handmade or vintage items and supplies. With over 54 million registered users, Etsy operates much like eBay, connecting buyers and sellers from all over the world.
Founded in 2005, the business took off and by 2015 had an initial public offering. While the company has always been people-centric, management wanted to have a bigger impact than just connecting buyers with authentic goods.
Cue Etsy.org, the 501(c)(3) non-profit launched by Etsy.com in 2015. Similar to what novelist and environmental activist Wendell Berry said, Etsy.org is hoping to support entrepreneurs with “regenerative businesses.”
Out of a desire to strive for a better world, Etsy.org is trying to reimagine business education so that all entrepreneurs are able to develop the skills, wisdom, and connections to build and run businesses in ways that regenerate their communities and the earth. The overall goal: to find businesses that contribute a net-positive benefit to people, community, and planet.
Etsy.org believes in the interdependence of our economy and, as a result, that the “intuition, memory, and imagination of a community of leaders” will spur positive change.
The program piloted in New York City in 2015 and will expand into the Hudson Valley later in 2016. As far as a typical entrepreneur goes, there isn’t one. Some are fresh out of college, while others are seasoned veterans. Some wish to make the world a better place through their cooking, while others seek to do so through technology.
Andrew Chepaitis started ELIA Life Technology with the belief that modern technology could be integrated in novel, intuitive ways to benefit people who are blind or have a visual impairment.
Shanti Nagel owns the collaborative landscape design firm Design Wild, inspired by the positive change green space brings to people, places and culture.
Eric Ho founded miLES, a civic startup that open storefronts to possibilities by activating urban neighborhoods for pop-up entrepreneurship.
What all of these entrepreneurs have in common, however, is that they want the community around them to thrive.
The goal of Etsy.org is to be a participatory experience, having the fellows work together and “blurring the lines between teacher and student.” The hope is that many of the fellows will become lifetime leaders.
The six month program have twelve full-day sessions and two overnight immersions, bringing the fellows close together so that as a group they discuss what it takes to make a difference in a community, and as a result become better individuals.
For the Hudson Valley program, session topics run the gamut. Topics include “Good Work in Living Systems,” “Designing for Good Work,” “The Products of Good Work,” “Compassionate Management and Authentic Leadership,” and “How We Do Good Work.” In addition, the cohort of fellows will take tours of the local community of businesses. By the end of their six months, fellows will hopefully know how they can do good in their communities and, most importantly, how they can do it together.
After starting with the New York City pilot in 2015, Etsy.org is still in its nascent stages. But after the outstanding crop of fellows the organization worked with in the 2015 pilot, the organization has no limits.
While Etsy.org may not be a national fellowship anytime soon, one thing is certain: its entrepreneurs are hoping to change the world one community at a time.