“This is a business retreat, but maybe not the business retreat most people would imagine,” said Geoff DiMasi, from within the wooden, stately simplicity of the 1804 Arch Street Friends Meeting House in Philadelphia’s Old City.
From the venue to the name, Junto, the two-day gathering of 40-some business leaders drew on old Philadelphia as a source of fresh ideas. The original Junto was a colonial-era discussion club, where a young Ben Franklin and other Philadelphians compared notes.
“While they were interested in personal improvement, there was also this idea of making the city and the places they lived, the community they lived in, a better place,” said DiMasi, principal at South Philly web design firm P’unk Avenue and the Junto’s chief organizer.
Ditto that for the 2013 version.
Junto attendees spanned a range of industries — from urban planning to web design to ice cream-making. They heard talks and participated in exercises that probed identity and goal setting, among other things. It ranged from the touchy-feely to the practical.
The common bond for those gathered, DiMasi said, was an affinity for “ideas like ‘for profit, for good’ or ‘not-just-for-profit’ business models.”
It comes as momentum is building around Philadelphia as a hub for social entrepreneurship. But DiMasi wants to broaden that conversation to businesses not explicity built around fixing societal ills. “Businesses can operate every day in a way that actually makes the community a better place,” he said.
Consider, for example, Little Baby’s Ice Cream, perhaps best known for a wacky web video with 3.6 million views.
“This is sort of a natural, cyclical time for my business to reflect on what it has done,” said Martin Brown, a Little Baby’s co-owner and the chief ice cream-maker of the bunch.
Brown was at the Junto to help solidify an identity and a mission for his company “in terms of what it is we can offer to our community,” Brown said. “If it doesn’t happen today, hopefully this will have at least encouraged some reflection.”
Rachel Zimmerman, a partner at a design firm and the executive director of the visual arts nonprofit InLiquid, shared similar goals.
“It’s a re-tuning session,” she said of the Junto. “It’s really about learning from your peers.”
Junto organizers say the plan is to reconvene a year from now, hopefully bigger and better. DiMasi said, “It’ll be a way to check-in, to see, personally, do we feel like we’ve had any progress towards the goal of businesses that … are making an impact in the world that we want to see.”
Disclosure: WHYY Vice President of News and Civic Dialogue Chris Satullo was a conference participant.