Women, People of Color Bring Social Consciousness, New Ideas to Marketplace

Lotus Foods SoundbiteIt's National Women in Small Business Month. More than 10 million U.S. businesses are owned by women, and many are trying to ensure that social consciousness is part of their endeavor.

Caryl Levine, co-founder of Lotus Foods, is one such entrepreneurs. Eighteen years ago, her mission was to promote more sustainable rice production, with market incentives to farmers that preserve the biodiversity in their rice crops. She's found support from Social Venture Network, a nonprofit that helps businesses address environmental and social issues.

"That's a pretty bold undertaking, but you really believe that you can do this," Levine said. "You have the passion and the commitment and, with the support of the SVN community and investors, you actually can do that."

The number of women- and minority-owned businesses that are Social Venture Network members has doubled since the 1980s. Lotus Foods is a "triple bottom line" business, meaning it focuses equally on profit, people and the planet. This month, Social Venture Network launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise at least $25,000, to help more women- and minority-owned "triple B" businesses get the support they need to be successful.

There are more than 3 million minority-owned businesses. Emerge Financial Wellness is a minority-led business, and co-owner Mario Avila is Mexican-American. The company's workplace-based financial wellness program helps people plan sound financial futures.

Avila said the assistance he's received from Social Venture Network has filled an important gap for him.

"That's where I think the biggest challenge for minority entrepreneurs is, the lack of entrepreneurs or investors in the field that look like you and think like you," he said.

Caryl Levine says many of the farms she works with around the world are owned by women. She believes her company can help build income for them, by growing rice in an environmentally-responsible way.

"What we believe at Lotus foods is that actually, through our partnership in fair trade and creating global markets for these amazing, healthy and delicious-tasting rices, that we can really lift all ships."

To participate in the SVN Triple the Triple Bottom Line Indiegogo campaign visit: http://igg.me/at/SVNetwork/x/4817348. To join an SVN Conference visit: www.svn.org/Spring2014

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