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The Real Bottom Line: Good Work Institute

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PHOTO BY FRANCO VOGT
  • photo by Franco Vogt

The Good Work Institute. conducts something other than business as usual.

Executive Director Matt Stinchcomb began the Good Work Institute as an offshoot of the mission-driven craft marketplace Etsy, which he co-founded with roommate Rob Kalin in 2005. Stinchcomb's idea: create a community-based economy that moves beyond profit and into purpose-driven entrepreneurship.

"What we provide to the fellows is some clarity around who they are, what their unique gifts are, and how they might actually contribute to the regeneration of their communities and their lives," Stinchcomb explains.

The Hudson Valley 2016 Fellowship wrapped up this December, and consisted of local entrepreneurs and community leaders. The professions of the 35 cohort members varied from farmers to lawyers to musicians and more, from profit and nonprofit groups. Sessions weren't confined to hotel conference rooms or Powerpoint presentations. Patagonia's Director of Philosophy, Vincent Stanley, spoke to the cohort about business decisions driven by ideals, not the bottom line. Participants made a meal together during one session. They dug in the dirt with each other. They also visited the Nature Institute in Ghent, and discussed sustainability and the importance of preserving place.

Michelle Hughes is the director of investments and partnerships at the National Young Farmers Coalition, a nonprofit that represents young farmers, sustainability in agriculture, and advocating for fair labor and inclusion of diversity in farming. Hughes heard about the Good Work Institute fellowship from Managing Director Erica Dorn, whom she worked with on a project representing immigrant farmers.

"It's sort of been a mix of concrete tools, really inspirational speakers, and also a lot of personal growth," Hughes says.  

Gregg Osofsky from the Watershed Center, a nonprofit social justice retreat center in Millerton, learned of the Good Work Institute through someone he knows at Hudson River Housing in Poughkeepsie. Members of the cohort, though from diverse backgrounds, seemed to hear about Good Work through their professional contacts or through the Institute's outreach efforts.

"What I think Good Work has recognized, and is trying to connect with, is what are the real bottom lines that we are interested in as people engaged in our communities," Osofsky says, "And that extends beyond profit. Good Work is trying to figure out how you actively bring forward the other bottom lines—around equity, environmental stewardship, and justice."

Though he also heard about the fellowship from Erica Dorn, Philippe Pierre is a bit different than Hughes and Osofsky. He runs two businesses, Palate Wines and Spirits and Ms. Fairfax, a restaurant on Liberty Street in Newburgh.

The experience opened his mind to possibilities that he hadn't really considered. Guest speaker Steffen Schneider from Hawthorne Valley Farms introduced the concept of "How much is enough?"

"In my business experience, there wasn't this notion of a satiation point," Pierre says. Good Work Institute challenged that idea.

As for the difference between this business workshop model and other more traditional networking events, Pierre says that the Good Work Institute led to lasting and worthwhile connections.

"Networking events tend to be about hobnobbing, about posturing, making very superficial, self-interested opportunistic relationships. I've never gone to a one where someone would later become a friend," Pierre says with a laugh. "This is inspiring. You don't normally come back from a housing networking event inspired."

Fellows in the program are required to create a Good Work Commitments + Plan, applying what they have learned. Pierre, for his part, explains that for his "paradigm shift," he will now take a more personal approach in viewing his staff and customers. "It's not necessarily seeing people that walk in as plus-dollar signs, and people working behind the counter as minus-dollar signs," he says, "That's not who they actually are."

A new cohort for spring 2017 will run through June. A call for applications for the fall 2017 cohort will be announced in the spring.

Above Photo: The Fall 2016 Cohort photographed at Catskill Center in Arkville on November 17. From left: Grace Lodge, community manager at Good Work Institute; Ken Greene, founder of Hudson Valley Seed Company; Decora, hip-hop artist, DJ, emcee, producer, and performance poet; Michael Pergola, The Inn at Shaker Mill Farm; Isaac Green Diebboll, Founder of ENGN, volunteer firefighter at Hortonville Volunteer Fire Company, Human Rights Commission of Sullivan County board member; Michelle Hughes, director of investments and partnerships at National Young Farmer’s Coalition; Triona Fritsch, site lead at Etsy Hudson; Matt Stinchcomb, executive director at Good Work Institute; Laurie Perrone, founder and creative director of Farm2Fashion; Dawn Breeze, artist and founder of Creativity & Courage and Instar Lodge; John Sirabella, communications director at the Garrison Institute; Shawn Berry, partner and co-founder at Lift Economy; Lucinda Poindexter, project manager at Chester Agricultural Center; Lindsey Jakubowski, owner and general manager at Kriemhild Dairy; Philippe Pierre, owner of Ms. Fairfax, Palate Wines; Akemi Hiatt, creative director and co-owner at Hidden Gears; Kathleen Finlay, President of Glynwood Farm; Gregg Osofsky, co-founder of Watershed Center; Mariel Fiori, managing editor of La Voz; Aaron Latos, co-founder, sound engineer, and musician at YouThere; Stella Yoon, co-founder and director of operations at Hudson River Exchange; Megan Offner, founder of New York Heartwoods; Eugenia Manwelyan, co-founder of Arts and Ecology, social choreographer, director of EcoPracticum, faculty member of School of the Apocalypse; Micah Blumenthal, co-owner of CIXdesigns, rocket scientist for O+ Festival; Austin Dubois, partner and attorney at Blustein, Shapiro, Rich, & Barone, LLP; Jason Schuler, founder and president of More Good; Patti Wilcox, co-founder of Gravity Cider; Leigh Melander, founding fomenter and CEO at Spillian; Justin Goldman, The Bank of Greene County; Joe Concra, painter and founder of O+ Festival; Erica Dorn, managing director at Good Work Institute; Bob Dandrew, executive director of the Local Economies Project; Erik Johanson, advocacy and outreach at Catskill Center; Kale Kaposhilin, co-founder Evolving Media Network, Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, and Catskills Conf; Not pictured: Martin Ping, executive director of Hawthorne Valley Association.

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