NYOKA HAS A BIG VISION WE WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU. GET COMFY AND DIVE IN.
We are a social enterprise based on solving chemical pollution from chemical lighting, and have an even bigger mission.
SO WHAT'S A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ANYWAYS?
You may have heard the term 'Social Enterprise' used to describe various organizations, businesses, and ventures. We looked into the term, and found a wide range of opinions and ideas about what it means to be a Social Enterprise.
First, let's start with the trusty Wikipedia definition:
" A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit, and may take the form (depending in which country the entity exists and the legal forms available) of a co-operative, mutual organization, a social business, a benefit corporation, a community interest company, a company limited by guarantee or a charity organization. They can also take more conventional structures. What differentiates social enterprises from other organizations is that their social mission is as core to their success as any potential profit. "
This definition provides a broad framework for a huge array of enterprises, which we think is awesome! Some of our favourite enterprises are for-profits (ahem Ecovative Design), and others are non-profits, such as 'A Greener Festival'. What ties these groups together is a common core set of values - the urge to create improvements, to challenge the status quo, and to build a better, cleaner, healthier future for ourselves and for future generations.
Some (rightly) question whether a for-profit business can be a true Social Enterprise. We definitely call ourselves a Social Enterprise, and although we haven't sold a Light Wand (yet!), having a for-profit financial model will be the basis of our success and will help us achieve our Big Vision without relying on grant money that comes and goes. We are considering becoming a 'Community Contribution Corporation', which is a legal structure for businesses. This protects the vision of a company from being taken over by profit-seeking investors, and requires a minimum level of contribution to community/social/environmental causes. It also requires a lot more work; a board of directors, a comprehensive annual report, annual general meetings, and more. In the words of Mr. Incredible, "We'll get there when we get there!" IDEAS COME FIRST
I'll be honest with you. When I got the idea to make a 'Light Wand', I didn't know the 'target market', I didn't know our 'demographic', I didn't know if it was financially viable or even possible, and I certainly didn't know what a Community Contribution Corporation was. I just wanted to make a neat little glowstick that was powered with bioluminescence, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world (ok ok, I still think that). I'm sure the first time I had that idea I promptly forgot about it and went about my life.
But I started to find glow sticks everywhere. I would be walking along a trail and find a glow stick in the mulch. I would be sitting studying by a window and look out and see a plastic glow stick laying on the ledge (actually happened). I would go to festivals and see them around wrists and eventually left on the dance floor. Every time I saw one of these plastic, carcinogenic, ticking environmental time bombs, I would circle back to this idea of how, if I worked really hard at it, I might be able to figure this out and create a non-toxic version. I started reading about bioluminescence, started emailing researchers, I dropped out of school for a year and took a co-op working in a small eco-friendly business, saved up and traveled to Puerto Rico to study bioluminescence in person, tested a variety of materials, and overcame a number of research (and personal) hurdles. Much of this discovery is thanks to all of the people who have come before me, working on a huge range of research interests; development of green materials, protein purification, enzymatic mechanisms, bioluminescence application and theory, mycoremediation, fungal mold-forms. With the right information, working on the right projects, and reaching out to the right people, I'm here writing this blog. AH :)
*note - there were also many 'wrongs', that's just part of growth* The magic really happened when I took a Permaculture Design course and became thoroughly invested in 'stacking functions' ie. one thing having many uses. It got me to wondering - what other role could the Light Wand play in the healing of our planet? (For any mushroom nerd out there, this part is for you.) WE HAVE A BIGGER VISION THAN THE LIGHT WAND, AND IT COULD HELP HEAL THE WORLD The entire planet is connected through a tight-knit extensive web of mycelium. aka the 'roots' of mushrooms (botanists will hate me for saying that, but its a good descriptor!) This finely spun web encircles the globe, both over land and across the sea floor. This network manages a suite of environmental processes, most importantly being the instigator the death cycle (oO0oO spooky!) Without this fungal network jump-starting complex carbohydrate breakdown, nothing would degrade! This fungal process is essential for the microbiome as well - without the fungi breaking down the larger molecules, microbes (also involved in degradation/transformation processes) would have no food (this is the simple version, but it's true). I highly recommend doing some reading on the microbiome and mycelium. Microbes, fungi, and viruses have gotten a bad name due to some of their more aggressive members, but the majority are benign, and some are absolutely vital to our existence ie. the mycelial web of life which is the literal foundation for life on Earth. This web also helps break down pollutants, filters and manages water run-off, transports essential nutrients, fights off disease, has provided numerous metabolites which are being studied for therapeutic applications such as curing cancer and boosting immunity, the list goes on and on.
Now - this vital mycelial web is in critical condition due to being sliced, burned, excavated, and dug up, both on land and under the ocean. This global homeostasis machine is not operating as a single-unit anymore, but as a series of disparate parts. AH! Imagine if your arm was cut off, but still alive... would it be working in harmony with the rest of your body? Could you receive its messages to your brain?
This is going to be the hard part - working to restore the mycelial web. Different species are indigenous to geographic areas, and it would absolutely not do to introduce invasive species and contribute to further damage. This must be done with extreme care. Also, this is huge. This is absolutely huge, and I know that throwing a few inoculated glow sticks on the ground isn't going to provide the healing balm the planet needs. We need to throw a heck of a lot more around to get there, and we can't do it alone - we need YOU to help us. We want to team up with restorationists, researchers, and activists around the globe to make this vision happen.
Reconnecting this web of life is what keeps me going when this gets hard. I dream about it, I cry about it, I shake about it, I feel this so deeply. Although this project has humble beginnings, I want you to know the direction we are aiming. I want to step into the role of Earth Steward, and I want to bring everyone with me. I hope we can work to heal our frayed social bonds as we go, unified through a common vision. KEEPING IT REAL FOR YOU
So here I am, a Microbiology and Environmental Studies student, starting a company, and getting asked about being a Social Enterprise. To which I respond, well of course! The Big Vision is a lot to bring up in causal conversation, and near impossible to explain in a single sentence. So I usually outline with the basics: for every Light Wand produced, we will be removing a plastic, carcinogenic waste-product from our shared environment, and spreading the idea (which I think is more powerful), that awesome fun glow-y things exist that nourish our planet.
You know what enables that kind of initiative, and turns it from a dream into a fully realized reality? Cash flow. Although that seems to be a sticky point for some die-hards, it is in our vision to support ourselves, provide meaningful work, support fellow innovative companies, and share the vision with like-minded artists, activists, innovators, change-makers, earth-warriors, booty-shakers, and the invisible web of life which supports our lives here on Earth.