Nine tiled images of small business owners.

2020 has been an extraordinary year in many ways, including across the small business landscape. With record numbers of closures — which have disproportionately impacted businesses owned by people of color — we have been reminded of the fragility of the Main Street businesses that are the economic and cultural backbone of our communities.

Who I am and where I come from

I grew up in Seattle, and despite living most of my adult life in other cities, it has always been the place I considered home. I left Seattle for college and spent nearly twenty years away, only to find myself returning in 2015. Suffice to say the city had changed. I was struck by the palpable tension between economic growth and concerns about who still had a physical place in our city and who felt a sense of belonging.

As someone who spent years searching for belonging and community, I believe in the power of human connection. Who I am influences Intentionalist and our belief that we build understanding and community through connecting with and relating to one another.

I am a Korean adoptee from a biracial family. My mom’s grandparents immigrated from Japan to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane plantations. My maternal grandmother was a seamstress and small business owner. My dad’s family has been in Seattle for generations. My paternal grandmother volunteered at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, which was founded by my great, great grandmother in 1907.

I came out as gay in 1996 and started a gay-straight alliance at my high school in 1997. This kicked off my involvement in LGBTQ and social justice activism that continues to this day — including leading the LGBT employee group at General Mills, co-chairing the Maryland marriage equality business coalition, and co-chairing the Athlete Ally board of directors.

Prior to founding Intentionalist, I spent the majority of my career leading Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at multinational corporations. Much of my work was a protracted and seemingly Sisyphean change management effort to facilitate opportunities for people with very different perspectives to collaborate on issues from clean energy, to sustainable forestry. 

Over time, I have developed an appreciation and passion for holding space in the middle – bringing people together on the foundation of what we share in common.

Toward the more connected, inclusive world we want

How do we reorient ourselves  on a path toward a more inclusive economy? How do we mitigate and mend the fraying social fabric of our communities? I believe small businesses are an important part of the solution.

Small business matter in ways so many of us take for granted — I know this, because I’m not a lifelong small business evangelist. I used to be someone who had reasonably good intentions when it came to supporting local businesses, but I have since learned about the unique ways they are key to so many of the economic and social challenges we face. 

We live at a time when technology makes our dreams of transactional convenience come true with just a few swipes and clicks. The tools at our fingertips cater to how busy “I am” and the value we place on maximizing every minute.

But we also live at a time of growing division between “us” and “them” and between “have” and “have not” that increasingly alienate us from our shared humanity.

When it comes to the everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop, the dollars we spend are an opportunity to connect with and support the diverse people behind the small businesses in our communities.

For years, I experienced the challenge and frustration of trying to find information that made it easy not just to find “what” I wanted but also “who” benefited from my purchasing decisions. Eventually, I ran out of excuses not to try to create the solution I was seeking.

Intentionalist answers the call for a resource and community that makes it easier to translate our good intentions into action — economic allyship is an extension of our shared values when it comes to a more just, equitable, sustainable world. Because the world we want is one where the money we spend is more than a transaction.

I spent much of my career looking up to corporate and nonprofit leaders — people whose global reach and platforms seemed to represent the pinnacle of potential impact. I have long dreamed about what it would be like to harness and wield influence for good.

Perhaps the most important and humbling lesson I have learned over the past three years is the extent to which small business leaders are overlooked when it comes to community leadership and the very real impacts of their work day in and day out.

In addition to the jobs they provide and their generous contributions to local organizations, youth sports, and help take care of community members in need, they also facilitate cross-cultural sharing and provide unique spaces where people can come together and feel safe and seen.

I experience Seattle and its neighborhoods differently and feel more connected to the community than ever before. And when I spend time in other cities, my experiences are different when I experience them through the lens of local businesses.

We the community

Intentionalist has been inspired by ongoing efforts by both small business owners and community members to support the local businesses we love. But the unfortunate truth is they need much more help.

We all have a role to play as consumers, companies, organizations, and policy makers when it comes to the survival of local businesses. Not only for the sake of the people and families who depend on them for their livelihoods, but also because of the many ways small businesses are so much more than the products and services they sell.

The economy of the future must be relational, not just transactional. And that starts with each of us recognizing the opportunity and responsibility we have to make a difference through the everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop.

I #SpendLikeItMatters because I want to live in communities where small businesses thrive. I #SpendLikeItMatters because I know that small business ownership continues to be an important pathway to economic mobility and building intergenerational wealth. I #SpendLikeItMatters because small businesses make our communities better.

Thanks for all that you do to #SpendLikeItMatters! Discover awesome brick + mortar small businesses in your community, suggest your favorites, and be sure that you’re following us on social media (InstagramFacebookTwitter).

Intentionalist is your local guide to small businesses and the diverse people behind them. We believe that where you spend your money matters, and we’re sure glad you do too! Whether you identify as a localist, activist, or just a good neighbor, we make it easy for you to connect with, learn about, and support small businesses in your community through everyday decisions about where you eat, drink, and shop.

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