It's a Small World After All

Someone's Gotta Give

In the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, there's a place where life is going to seem a little nicer-at least on one street. The Headwaters Group, part of the 91 percent of small businesses that are giving back to their communities, is planting a Peace Garden with a focus on the abused women's shelter across the street. And it's not just women who take refuge here; their young sons and daughters rest with them, too. The garden, which is planned to open June 17, is going to be a half-acre of land where these women can sit on a bench in the shade, admire the sunflowers and butterfly bushes, or plant vegetables and water the tulips. There will also be a children's garden, "so they can get their hands dirty," says co-founder John Sherman.

Gayle Peterson, 49, and Sherman, 47, practice what their company preaches. A decidedly for-profit business-their 2003 revenue was right around $1 million-The Headwaters Group works with major nonprofit organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The goal is to help develop programs that will ultimately offer aid to pockets of humanity. The Headwaters Group's staff of five assists nonprofits with projects like raising money or streamlining operations-making it easier to bring more food into a homeless shelter, for instance.

But entrepreneurs don't have to be knee-deep in the nonprofit world to make a difference, assert Peterson and Sherman. "It's known as the triple bottom line," says Sherman, "which is not just concerning yourself with how you're going to make money, but how you're going to take care of the other two critical pieces of your business: the community and your employees."

Small businesses made up


of all identified exporters in fiscal year 2001.

Source: SBA

The Peace Garden will cost The Headwaters Group around $10,000 to $20,000, a princely sum for some, but Peterson admits there's a side benefit for the company: "Not only are we getting to live our mission, but we believe the garden helps distinguish us from the competition."

And employees certainly want to work for a company known for doing good deeds, says David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press). "The most talented young business students tend to be eager to work for socially responsible companies and are willing to accept 10 to 15 percent less of a salary in some cases [to do so]," says Bornstein. "Increasingly, companies [will] compete to be the most socially responsible, if only as a way to hire the most talented, interesting, well-rounded workers."

Peterson agrees, adding that her small staff says they're happier at their jobs than they've ever been. "They have a sense of purpose and a feeling they're changing the world," says Peterson. And soon, they'll know that they are changing the world every time they look out the window.

Geoff Williams is a writer in Loveland, Ohio.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It's a Small World After All.

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