Aristotle gave us the great maxim, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. This maxim has lent itself to teamwork in sports, business, community building, probably any scenario in which individuals must come together and combine their efforts for the good of the collective.

The same could be said for the career of a leader, and how year by year their legacy compounds rather than adds from one year to the next. Stephanie Jackman, founder of REAP Business Association, is such a leader.

Passionate about sustainability and creating a social impact through businesses that are “forces for good”, Stephanie takes a long term view in terms of the kind of business and collective that she’d like to create. In her words, “an individual business trying to balance profit and social impact has a lot going on. A collective takes a long term view in that greater impact can be achieved if many businesses are telling the story, not just one.”

This view makes sense. One ‘conscious capitalist’ may have to choose between profit or social impact on some decisions, which could threaten the business or lessen its ability to affect positive change. The association Jackman launched in 2008 has over 150 businesses that share a commitment to Respect the Earth and All People (which is what REAP stands for). With a critical mass of values aligned businesses networking and referring to one another, profits don’t suffer and the impact is multiplied rather than compromised.

As far as the size of that impact, here are just a few statistics on the impact REAP businesses have in their local economy and environment each year;
• $21 billion in annual revenue;
• 8,300 Calgary area jobs;
• $5 million in local charitable donations;
• 93,000 employee volunteer hours;
• 11,000 tonnes of CO2 diverted from the atmosphere through green power purchasing; and,
• 9.5 million kgs of waste diverted from Calgary landfills.

As impressive as this may be, getting more than 150 business owners to buy into an idea that’s become a movement takes time. 10 years and counting, to be exact; but all great causes start with a visionary and a bold (perhaps even crazy) idea. For Stephanie Jackman, the inspiration for what would later become REAP came from friend and mentor Lynne Twist, author of “The Soul of Money”. After hosting one of Twist’s Soul of Money workshops, Stephanie found herself making a public declaration to “hospice out the old era of business based on trade-offs to midwife in a new era of ethical business”.

In addition to Twist, Jackman was inspired by Margaret Bourke-White — the first American female war journalist (who also was on the cover of the first issue of Life magazine), and the first foreign photographer to take pictures of the Soviet ‘five year plan’, implemented in a war-threatened Soviet Union between 1928 and 1932. Jackman admired Bourke-White’s courage to enter such hostile environments, to be a trailblazer and defy gender stereotypes.

Jackman’s other mentors and heroes lived closer to home. From her mom, she learned the importance of unconditional love and having a supportive community. Her father taught her discipline and innovation. Having these lessons and their support, she felt the confidence as an entrepreneur to go, try, risk and even fail. What wonderful lessons for all of us parents who want to see our children go and live their dreams later in life!

Thinking back to when she started REAP, Stephanie recalls that the initial challenge was to build something that business leaders would find valuable, something unique that they would pay for, then finding those businesses that shared the values of REAP. If the first decade was about building the business case for REAP, the next decade will be about scaling the impact that a value-based network has on its members, the community, and local economy.

As REAP continues to grow, larger collaborations are occurring. (For example, at the time of publication REAP has been asked to host a gathering of triple bottom line businesses to provide feedback on the impact of environmental policy to the Minister of Environment and Parks.) Stephanie sees this as crucial for continued growth and advancement of a ‘business as a force for good’ mentality.

Jackman is excited about the prospects REAP and other values-based leaders face today. She sees the coming together of profit and social purpose as accelerating, with a foreseeable future wherein this will be the only way. The way Jackman sees it, we define life balance from a holistic point of view, taking into account the whole person, so why should we look at business any other way?

It’s not hard when speaking with Stephanie to pick up on her passion and enthusiasm for leadership with a purpose. In fact, she defines leadership as, “inspiring people to get engaged. A great leader can help people see the gifts they have to bring to the [idea/challenge/initiative] so that there is more engagement and impact.”

Despite her impressive career, numerous awards and accomplishments, Jackman remains humble. She wouldn’t profess to advise others on how to run their businesses, but when asked what advice she might give her younger self, it’s all about faith. “Don’t worry so much, follow your heart, believe in your vision, you’ve got this.”

When asked if she would do anything differently if given the chance, Jackman replies “yes”, but concedes that the decisions that got her here, right or wrong, led to learning and so therefore are not a source of regret. Her biggest early mistake, she admits, is thinking she’d get it right the first time. It now gives her great fulfillment to meet with REAP members or other leaders embarking on their journeys to share her experiences, lessons, and even mistakes. She sees it as a great leadership opportunity to pay it forward.

Given the impact Stephanie has had on business in Calgary and Alberta, I’m excited on behalf of all Albertans to see what the next 10 years brings!