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We can all make a meaningful difference when it comes to striving towards racial equity and justice; sometimes it just means we need to be more intentional. Hear from Laura Clise, social entrepreneur, and Founder and CEO of Intentionalist, on how investing in small businesses in our communities and supporting local businesses of color can make a significant impact.

At a time when our thoughts are rightfully consumed by the recent and ongoing threats to American democracy, it feels hard at times to discern what is the right next action to take. The magnitude of the challenges we face calls for big thinking, bold leadership, and the willingness to dismantle systems and cultures that have gone unopposed for too long.

But what if the moment also calls for thinking small?

What if we all can be a part of the solution to economic inequality, racial injustice, and the fraying of our social fabric simply by being more intentional about everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop?

The truth is, where we spend our money matters. As we think about what we want for the economic recovery ahead, the economy we rebuild should be relational, not just transactional, if we want to move toward a more equitable, sustainable future.

In December of 2017, following a fifteen-year career spanning marketing, operations, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility, I founded Intentionalist. Intentionalist is a social purpose corporation that makes it easy to discover, learn about, and support small businesses and the diverse people behind them.

Being immersed in the community-driven ecosystem of small business owners and the people and organizations who love them has been nothing less than transformational. As someone who has long admired leaders of national and international organizations with global reach and influence, it has been humbling to learn from small business owners whose local reach and influence profoundly build community—the most essential building block of our society.

It’s not about what’s for sale.

The value of small businesses in our communities is so much more than the products and services for sale. Small businesses are places where we connect with one another, organize, vent, and celebrate with people who invest daily in the neighborhoods where we live, work, and play. While technology facilitates transactional efficiency, we must not lose sight of the people who make the coffee, greeting card, workout, or sushi we’re purchasing possible. Small businesses remind us to connect and engage with the diversity of people whose boutiques, restaurants, bakeries, and nail salons keep our communities vibrant and diverse.

Community is the answer.

Everyone who has traveled by plane knows that in the event of an emergency, it’s important to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting others. In many instances over the course of the past year, small business owners have put community first despite the uncertain future for their businesses. A striking example of this community leadership is the way several restaurant owners in Seattle pivoted their businesses to community kitchens in the early days of the pandemic. While basic survival remains a struggle for Main Street business, small business owners remind us of the importance of navigating crises together—because community relationships will continue to serve us long after we find our way back to secure footing.

A lot of a little is a lot.

It can be hard to believe it’s possible to make a difference one cupcake, cup of coffee, or dinner at a time, but billions in additional support for local businesses is possible when we take the time to intentionally support small businesses in our communities. If everyone who participated in Small Business Saturday spent an additional $15 each month, the aggregate support for small businesses would be more than $17 billion. While even more intentional spending is always welcome, it’s important to note we can do a lot with a little when we are intentional.

Over the past few years, I have experienced firsthand how intentional spending not only supports local businesses but also connects me more deeply to diverse communities. At Intentionalist, we encourage people to “Spend Like It Matters” because it does. It transforms takeout from a neighborhood Ethiopian restaurant into a gesture of support and solidarity, where a delicious meal becomes the opportunity for cross-cultural connection and friendship.

As we continue to navigate the overwhelming nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it can be helpful to take action as a way of mitigating the nagging sense of helplessness. What if in the midst of our own struggles, we take the opportunity to be the reason a local business owner’s day is a little bit better—whether you have money to spend or a moment to check in. When we choose to be the reason someone else feels seen, heard, and supported, collectively, we participate in the type of community that is capable of weathering any storm—together.


Continue to hear from thought leaders in this space by following our Racial Equity in Action series on the Presidian Blog, where we explore how, as sustainability and impact leaders, we can move the needle toward a more equitable and just society. Our series sits at the intersection of racial justice and social responsibility and features insights from the PGS community as well as external experts and thought leaders. Our goal is that through these shared insights we can better address racial inequity as a part of our day-to-day interactions and careers. If you’re looking to accelerate or shift your career, live your values, and lead with purpose, consider joining an upcoming cohort at PGS.

About the Author / Laura Clise

Laura Clise is a social impact instigator and the Founder and CEO of Intentionalist. Laura has held numerous executive roles leading sustainability, corporate responsibility, supplier diversity, and external communications at AREVA, Plum Creek, and Weyerhaeuser. Laura is an Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow and the recipient of an Exceptional Individual Achievement Award from the Human Rights Campaign. She is an alumna of Carleton College and the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Laura serves on the board of directors for IslandWood and Athlete Ally, and she can sing and/or order chocolate ice cream in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Cambodian, Hebrew, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

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