What I Learned From the Man Behind Ben and Jerry’s

No, it wasn’t Ben, and it wasn’t Jerry either. Last week I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Furman, a Ben and Jerry’s insider, speak about his role at Ben and Jerry’s , from helping to create its original business plan, to its innovation and social mission development, to selling it to Unilever, and finally to being on the board of its charitable foundation.

What I learned from Mr. Furman is that Ben and Jerry’s is way more than a good ice cream shop – it’s an innovator and leader in how businesses can be profitable (and delicious!) and still manage to treat their employees fairly and give back to their communities. Ben and Jerry’s pays their employees a minimum of $16.30 an hour and donates 7.5% of their pretax profits to charities chosen by their employees.

In public health, we often confront a harsh reality: how do we improve the public’s health and get people to care while making our efforts profitable and sustainable? The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative at the School of Public Health is trying to do just that – and started this year with a successful Innovation in Action campaign.

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Mr. Furman also gave us some tips at his lecture. They include:

  • Constant vigilance: Monitor your work and make sure that your social mission does not fade into the background.
  • Evaluation: Measure your progress! Have a realistic understanding of what you can accomplish and where you go from here.
  • Don’t compromise on quality: If your product isn’t of a high caliber, then your initiative will suffer as well.
  • Integration: Make your social mission a part of your organization – that when people think “Ben and Jerry’s” they will think of a company that gives back.

As Mr. Furman said, “businesses must actively lead in global solutions or else there may never be global solutions.” This is a lesson I think all of us, regardless of industry, can learn.

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