I hope 2009 finds you happy, healthy, and ready to continue your business giving and community involvement to do your part to make a real difference in our world.  These are tough times for many people.  Daily, I hear so many negative things when I talk to some entrepreneurs and small business owners because of the state of the economy, it can get a little depressing!  I see many smaller business owners pulling back and hardening their protective shell as they think such actions will help them ride things out and keep their businesses afloat.  But I wonder if that will really work…for me whenever I have closed down and “gone underground” to regroup, I ended up shutting off opportunities.  When I have hibernated because I had business challenges that I didn’t want others to know about – figuring I needed to try to figure out the way forward on my own before I showed my face again – I ended up feeling really isolated and alone.  And then things DID go from bad to worse.

At the same time that I see many business people turning inwards, I also see many others with a sense of optimism and hope that together we can “turn the Titanic.”  I have been at several business events in the past couple months where entrepreneurs and small business people (some whose bank accounts I can only begin to imagine) are committing themselves to using their skills, talents, and connections to come up with new solutions to social and economic issues – old and new.  It has been very inspiring to me and helped me stay really positive.

As I listened to Obama’s inauguration speech, two specific sections struck me.  I will share one of those today and the second in my post tomorrow.

“Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.  But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.  The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

In my work, I have long been trying to shift the paradigm from “charity” to a greater sense of partnership between businesses and community organizations for the “common good.”  It is one reason I work with companies to be more strategic and intentional in how they offer their support to nonprofits – often encouraging business people to think past checkbook philanthropy.  For me, cutting a check and then turning your back because “you’re done” is self defeating and a lost opportunity to do a deeper kind of “good.”  I am absolutely a fan of capitalism and the market – but conscious/compassionate capitalism.  I refuse to consider that making a profit and running a business that considers the other two P’s (people and planet) are mutually exclusive.  And there are many great examples that doing all three is totally possible and even preferable for long-term success.

We are at a unique point in history – at least in my lifetime – where so many people are willing to step up – really step up – and be part of the solution not just whining couch potatoes.   Some of these have never paid attention or been active in civic life before.  They are collaborating for the common good and to rebuild our trust and pride in our country.  Won’t you join us?  What can you and your company do?  Remember my mantra – “You are never too small to make a difference.”