Exclusive to YourWorldToday.ca: ‘This is how you lobby for Change’ – By Revolutionary Modeling Executive Ben Barry

This is a re-post of a blog post from May 2007, as relevant today as it was then! Ben has graciously contributed this post to YourWorldToday.ca (formerly IssmatBlog) to share his wisdom with those young entrepreneurs and visionaries who wish to challenge the status-quo with innovative business or social ideas.

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Ben Barry, named “One of Twenty-five Leaders of Tomorrow” by Maclean’s, has been challenging the status quo of beauty since he was a teenager. At age 14, he founded the first modeling agency in the world to challenge the status-quo beauty ideal by representing models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities. Today, he is the author of the book ‘Fashioning Reality’, and has been the subject of feature interviews on Oprah, CNN, and Fashion Television.

His theory was propelled by the massive success of the ‘Dove Campaign for Real Beauty’, which agreed to his concept and used his alternative real-world models in one of the most memorable ad campaigns in recent history.

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Thanks for this blog entry on my work!

As young people, we are in the best position to innovate. We have not worked in an industry for 20 years with routines and routine assumptions ingrained into us. We aren’t pre-committed to established business practices. We haven’t yet built careers and reputations on a particular set of ideas. We don’t have an investment in the status quo. As newcomers to the market with fresh thinking, we’re well positioned to innovate.

While social change can be made through activism, the not-for-profit sector, and government, I also think it can be made through business. After all, business has created so many ills in our world – and so what better place to correct these problems than from the root?

Whether you’re in a small town or big city, in a big corporation or running your own business, you can lead change – change that’s focused within your own organization, change that nudges a whole industry, or change that transforms society. Here are some tips from my experiences:

  • Staggered Approach. Don’t come off full on, trying to embark on a comprehensive and radical transformation overnight. Start slowly with one idea and one aspect. Show it is successful. Then continue to push for more, using your small success to persuade and boost the confidence of critics. When I began to promote diverse models, I first supplied our clients with only traditional models who they were use to. I did this to build trust and confidence in my work. After a year, I would then say, you’re hiring ten models, why not try 2 who are non-traditional and reflect your consumers? They did, and had positive consumer support. I then pushed for three or four the next season.
  • Use Their Language. In order to persuade decision makers to create change, you need to use their language and goals to explain the innovation and why it will work. In order to get the fashion world to hire my diverse models, I first explained to ad agents and magazine editors that my friends felt badly about their bodies when they solely saw models who reflected western beauty ideals (tall, young, thin, white). They would respond by saying, “We’re not trying to create body insecurity in your friends, but it’s not our problem. We’re making money.” I re-framed my case using their logic and language – that of business rather than social. I explained these people who were feeling badly about their bodies were not just my friends – they were their consumers. And the way in which they felt about their bodies was the way in which they felt about their brand. Right now, these brands were not maximizing profits because they were disconnected from consumers. They would re-connect by using models that consumers could see themselves in – and this identification with the models would increase sales and brand loyalty.
  • Work from Within. While social change can be made through activism, the not-for-profit sector, and government, I also think it can be made through business. After all, business has created so many ills in our world – so what better place to correct these problems than from the root? Rather than trying to convince others to make change from the outside, in business, you have the levers to make the changes yourself.
  • Conviction. There will be many naysayers – people who will say your ideas will never sell. But don’t give up. Keep pushing. Keep trying different angles. Over 50 companies rejected me when I tried to sell them diverse models. But I kept on calling back, and calling others. Eventually one firm took a chance. They were successful and I used the case study to push for greater change from them and persuade their competitors.

Trough my business, I realized that our generation of entrepreneurs is doing business differently. We don’t simply give away money to charities after we make our profit. Instead, we develop businesses that make the world more just and sustainable by its products, services, and operating practices. Businesses that are doing well by doing good. We are using business not solely as a vehicle for profit – but as a vehicle for social change.

In no way am I exceptional in this new way of business. In fact, it’s a national movement. Thousand of young people are operating and working within these balanced companies. In my book, I have chronicled some of the struggles, successes, and advice of these renegade entrepreneurs – along with my own.

I look forward to hearing about what change you are trying to create, and what strategies you are using. Together, we can create a world in which we really want to live. We can fashion reality.

– Ben Barry

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