The Most Underused Tool For Social Change?

SHOPPING! No seriously, I mean it. Or put a different way, our daily purchasing power. In the United States alone our GDP is around $17 trillion, and somewhere between 65% and 72% of that is consumer spending. When it comes to discretionary spending focused on wants versus needs, the role of the holiday season is particularly huge. For 2015 it was estimated that retail sales reached $630 billion USD, and if that number holds true for 2016, that’s a lot of spending power that can be used for good.

It’s often the case that in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and oftentimes the rush to find a gift, any gift, it can be easy to forget that every time you spend a dollar, that exchange is an exchange of power. Financial power. Companies understand this well, and they spend billions of dollars every year trying to convince you to give them your purchasing power. When I give talks about how to use all the financial resources you have in alignment with your vision and values, purchasing power is where the most lightbulbs go off. We are trained to think of our charitable dollars as what we do for good, but that is so limited. Total philanthropic giving annually in the US is around $360 billion, and as per above, that number is only half of the spending during the holiday season alone. Of course, we should all give more to charitable causes, and the argument here is not to shop more, but to shop with much greater intention of what your dollars are supporting. I see it as a huge untapped capacity for good!

Trillions of dollars will be spent this year in support of varying sets of values; the values of the company from whom you buy that product, explicitly or implicitly. The trend is for more companies to be explicit about their values, or otherwise put, what they stand for. And this is a good thing in my view! The advertising industry is based on the assumption that we want to emotionally connect with a brand, and often see what we drive, where we eat, what we wear as an expression of our identity. This should of course come as no surprise. But studies are also showing that most consumers, and in particular moms and millennials, are more likely to buy products that have, for example, a percentage of profits that go to charities, or are environmentally friendly. This is not only a good thing, but a very, very, very good thing, as charitable dollars alone will never, ever be sufficient to solve the problems that need to be solved.

So if, in fact, our collective dollars can make or break a company, brand, or consumer item, isn’t that an incredible amount of potentially unused power we have to do good? And what if we all committed to more fully using this power as a way of supporting our core values? What if we used our spending dollars to hold companies accountable, and as a means of enacting social change? This is what shopping your values means, and the possibilities are endless.

For me personally, shopping my values, especially around the holiday season, means buying gifts from organizations that have a very direct, positive impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. When facing a mile long Christmas gift list, this may seem like a daunting challenge to throw into the mix, but in reality, it’s actually very easy to purchase great gifts, while at the same time knowing you are directly supporting families in places that lack robust economic opportunities.

When looking for gifts, look no further than Rising InternationalIndego Africa, the Akola ProjectMade by SurvivorsMercado GlobalProsperity Candle, the Nomi NetworkSokoSame Sky, or Shopping for a Change. Each one of these organizations sells incredible handcrafted gifts such as jewellery, clothing, baskets, crafts, tote bags, and silks, all of which have been made by women in impoverished areas all around the world. Many of these organizations also offer the skills training needed for these women to turn their handmade items into artisan businesses, which in turn helps to lift their families out of poverty. My organization, Women Moving Millions, put all of this information together in a guide that you can download here. Best of all, you can do all of your shopping online without having to brave the horror of a mall around the holidays.

That being said, if you do want to head to the mall this Christmas, I can help you there as well. If you read my bio, or blog, you know that my passion is gender equality, so if you want to turn your shopping in to an act of supporting gender equality in the workspace, check out the Buy Up Index. Large companies of all types are rated on their employee policies, women’s leadership, corporate citizenship, and marketing, and these ratings are combined to create a grade the company receives on gender equality. Brands and companies that have so far earned an “A” grade include Amazon, Coach, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Gap, and L’Oreal, and in the future, these “A” brands will be invited to offer users of the app exclusive offers, discounts, and products. So if you want your dollars to have impact, simply pull up the app, compare two brands’ scores, and reward the company that has more inclusive policies with your spending dollars. You can also sign up online for Buy Up’s exclusive shopping list that lets you shop for equality everyday, and then tweet out your online purchases to #shopyourvalues and #BuyUpIndex. It’s that easy.

Obviously shopping your values will mean a lot of different things for different people, as everyone has different values and causes that they want to support. This holiday season, I hope you all take a moment to decide what it is that you want to support in this world, and then use your purchasing power to advance that mission. I will be using my dollars to make a difference in the lives of women and girls across this great country and the world at large, and I invite you all to join me.

Please feel free to share your values and how that aligns with your favorite company or product. Happy Holidays!

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