Q&A With Laura Scher of CREDO

Laura Scher was a successful social entrepreneur long before the term became a buzzword. She didn’t just engage in corporate social responsibility, she made it the foundation of the successful corporation she founded and grew — CREDO.

In 1985, an era of Wall Street excess when many operated by the mantra “greed is good,” Scher and two other cofounders started a company focused not on money but change. The company was then called “Working Assets” and the business plan was groundbreaking: make it easy for people to power social change through everyday acts of commerce.

Working Assets began with a credit card. Each time a member used the card, Working Assets donated a percentage of the purchase price to nonprofit groups dedicated to progressive change. This was the beginning of what is now called CREDO Donations. Working Assets also funded grassroots advocacy through its Action arm, known now as CREDO Action.

The company took off and eventually added long-distance phone service too. In 2007, iWorking Assets rebranded as mobile carrier CREDO Mobile. The name has changed, but the mission remains the same: offer excellent consumer services that support the progressive values of its customers.

Since 1985, Scher’s brainchild has generated over $85 million for nonprofit groups working for causes like women’s rights, social equality, and climate justice. Nonprofits funded over the years include Planned Parenthood, Rainforest Action Network, and the ACLU. Groups are nominated by members (customers), chosen by CREDO staff, then donations are directed to three groups each month by members who vote at credodonations.com.

Another arm of the company, CREDO Action — which now empowers over 5 million activists nationally — has achieved thousands of vital policy victories on the local and national stage through the years too.

Reflecting Scher’s personal creed — to always do more, give more, progress more — the company recently expanded into the field of renewable power with the launch of CREDO Energy. It creates demand for green, sustainably produced wind power and allows members to green their state’s power grid. CREDO Energy is currently rolling out in select states across the country — and already available in Illinois.

Laura-Scher-Susan-Noyes

Laura Scher and Susan Noyes

I met Scher through Make It Better’s partnership with Marin Magazine and its “Celebrating Women” event in May. She lives in Tiburon, currently serves as CREDO’s executive chair, and teaches business at Stanford University. She’s an impressive and inspiring woman. I’m particularly proud of Make It Better’s recent custom Better Letter for CREDO too, which included articles about:

The following Q&A with Scher from 2015 will help you get to know Scher and her 30-plus year socially responsible business better. Such an ingenious concept — make it easy for customers to fulfill basic responsibilities (like paying for cell phone service) knowing that they’re also making the world a better place by doing so. We hope her words will inspire even more social entrepreneurs.

1. Why has CREDO been successful?

We’re like a lot of small companies that succeed. We have a good product, great prices and we have excellent customer service.

And then we offer something no other phone company does. It’s the feeling you get when you buy a product or use a service that gives back. Like driving a hybrid car or buying fair-trade coffee. People feel good when they use CREDO because they know we donate millions every year to progressive causes they believe in and they get to vote to decide where the money goes.

If you care about our world, then CREDO is a no-brainer. Literally. You make a call or you use your credit card and you make the future better — without even thinking about it.

2. Obviously you’re proud of building a company like CREDO. What gives you the most satisfaction?

The victories we win for progressive change. For example, CREDO was instrumental in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have been a disaster for our climate. We fought against Keystone for over five years. We raised more than $2 million for groups opposing the pipeline. We generated 42,000 phone calls, over half a million public comments and 4 million petition signatures against it…

CREDO is the largest corporate donor to Planned Parenthood, so I’m proud that action by our members helped convince the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reverse its decision to defund Planned Parenthood. For years we fought destructive oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. And we’ve been working for marriage equality and LGBT rights since the day we opened our doors.

3. What do customers say about CREDO when you meet them?

What makes me most pleased is when I meet people who have been with our company for the entire 30 years, who had our socially responsible credit card back when that was our first product. Then, when we went into the phone business, they had our landline, they had our pager — we used to have pagers! I’m feeling old now — and today they have our cellphone service. Obviously we’re doing something right. We have so many loyal customers. I remember setting up a booth at a Holly Near show in Oakland in the ’80s and signing up people for our credit card. I still see some of them today and now they have a CREDO iPhone.

4. When you’re not making change in the world, what are you doing?

I work with social change startups, advising them. And I’m a busy mom of a high school student! When I really have nothing on the agenda, I hike the trails of Marin. It clears my head and gets me ready for what’s next.

5. You haven’t slowed down since you stepped away from the day-to-day at CREDO. You’re still with CREDO as executive chair, you teach at Stanford, you’re on several boards. How do you stay on top of it all?

I teach at Stanford as a way to inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs, the young people who will follow in my footsteps. At the same time, I tell them you don’t have to be the CEO of a socially responsible company to make change in the world. You can make change simply by choosing to do business with companies that share your values. There are a lot of us out there nowadays — like CREDO.

Internet’s Own Boy – Aaron Swartz Story Inspires, Informs & Promotes Conversation.


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Every day Aaron asked himself, ‘what is the most important thing in the world that I could be working on right now?’ … Although we’re completely shattered by this experience, we want to further Aaron’s work too and see something positive come out of this.Robert Swartz, Aaron Swartz’ father

Even if you don’t know who Highland Park’s Aaron Swartz is – or rather was – you or your children know some of his visionary web inventions. They include the RSS feed and the online news site Reddit. Swartz was a genius.  He was driven to use the web to make the world a better place for as many people as possible.  And this is what led to his death.

On January 11, 2013, at age 26, Swartz committed suicide in response to a wrongful federal felony prosecution based on his downloading documents through the MIT library system, which he was entitled to do.  As Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, CoCreator of the World Wide Web, eulogized at Swartz’s funeral, the world lost one of its most promising minds.

Everyone should see the powerful documentary about Schwartz’s life – “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.”  But it will particularly inform parents of gifted children looking for role models, anyone hoping to better understand the power and inherent possibilities of the digital world, and citizens confused by “keep the internet free” rhetoric.Aaron Swartz The Internet's Own Boy

By the time he was 12, Schwartz had created the first web version of Wikipedia.  As a teen, he worked alongside adults when he helped create the RSS feed and Reddit.

Note:  if you don’t yet know Reddit.com, you should.  Every significant, savvy American luminary participates in it’s’ AMA –“Ask Me Anything” – opportunities, including President Barack Obama. Your kids are more likely to get their news from Reddit than from any of the sources you prefer.

Schwartz was the oldest of three very bright boys, who all attended North Shore Country Day School. As the documentary carefully depicts, Schwartz’s parents lovingly nurtured him and his extraordinary gifts, allowing him to leave high school early to attend Stanford.

Stanford UniversitySchwartz also left Stanford early because he had already made a bucket-load of money through the sale of Reddit. Thereafter, Harvard and MIT welcomed Schwartz into their programs too.  Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessing credits Swartz with inspiring him to change his famously successful professional path, just as the teen affected so many others to do too.

Despite MIT’s culture of pushing traditional boundaries and open web access, Swartz was charged with multiple felonies and hounded by US prosecutors for downloading documents through the school. His intent was never to profit from the activity; rather Swartz hoped to make a valuable point for the rest of the world.

Even as Swartz fought the wrongful charges, he led the surprisingly successful movement to stop enactment of “SOPA(Stop Online Piracy Act) and other laws that would limit access to the internet and valuable information.  He continued to lead with his heart every day.  But his battle with the criminal justice system overcame him.

Everyone who grasps the transformational possibilities of the internet – like Berners Lee and Lessing – mourns Swartz’s death.  The rest of us need to better understand the issues which led him to kill himself too.  Parents who watch this documentary will have additional tools to connect with and help their own children too.

I will soon be interviewing Swartz’s father, Robert.  Of course I want to help a parent trying to carry on his child’s dream of making the world a better place!  Do you have any questions that you would like me to ask him too?

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