This month, we celebrate our 12th anniversary of being Plant With Purpose. While the unveiling of our new name in 2010 was a rebrand, it also helped clarify the impact we would seek to have in our partnering communities over the next few years. Here, our CEO Scott Sabin reflects on the decision-making process behind the name-change.
Plant With Purpose wasn’t our first choice as a name. In fact, it was a bit of a compromise. In 2008, we hired an outside marketing firm to help us through the process of rebranding, which included changing our name from Floresta to something more descriptive.
Just the decision to make the change was controversial for most of our board members and long term-donors, who were firmly committed to the old name. Unfortunately, the data was clear. Focus groups consistently associated Floresta with toothpaste, or a sleeping pill, and we had all taken the Valentine’s Day calls from those who wanted to order bouquets, so we turned the marketing firm loose to come up with something better.
Their first choice was Plant for Prosperity.
They loved it… Our team, not so much.
We explained that in several of the places we worked the word prosperity has different connotations. The Prosperity Gospel, the idea that God rewards individual faith with material wealth, is a prevalent and damaging belief in many churches. The rich are better people, whose wealth is a reward for their faith, while the poor just need to have more faith, or so the thinking goes.
We already had to spend a lot of time explaining to new communities that we were not there to give away handouts, and we certainly didn’t want to reinforce the idea that people could pray their way to riches.
With some disappointment, the marketing consultants went back to the drawing board and came up with some second choices. After considering the array of alternates, Plant With Purpose was the one we ultimately settled for. At the time, I had no idea how incredibly fitting that choice would be.
When we announced the new name, people were mostly pleased, though I had one supporter remark sarcastically, “What does that even mean? Is it to separate you from other organizations who are planting aimlessly?”
Others asked, “What do you plant?” The obvious answer, of course, is trees, but I always point out that we plant so many other things as well. Diverse farms are core to our work. However, we also plant opportunities, enterprise, and hope. Sometimes even churches are planted. The seeds of all of these are clearly growing.
Over time, I have come to realize we are actually planting purpose itself. None of this had been obvious to me when we settled on Plant With Purpose fourteen years ago. It wasn’t until eight years later, high in the mountains of the eastern Congo, that one of our farmers first taught me what our name actually meant. As he described the emptiness he had felt and contrasted it with the sense of meaning which had begun to energize his life, I suddenly realized we were growing into our name. As I talked to others around the world, I began to see that his story was a persistent theme.
The families we serve, small-holder farmers, tend to be those left behind by education, economic progress, opportunity and often even their children. Relegated to land no one else wants, they continually receive the message, both implicitly and explicitly, that they don’t have anything to contribute to the world. Outside of getting the next meal and making it through the next hungry season, day-to-day existence may not feel like it has much meaning. Frequently, even their churches, narrowly focused on spiritual matters, don’t offer much, except hope for the next life. Sometimes they are even taught they are poor because, lacking faith, they are unworthy of wealth.
That begins to change within the saving groups which Plant With Purpose sets up as part of our Purpose Group model. Group members realize they are not powerless. They have the capacity to save and mobilize money. They can invest the little they have in each other and support one another’s dreams. But they are growing in more than just prosperity. They are actually growing in their sense of purpose.
Our curriculum teaches that, as humans, created in the image of God, and given unique talents and gifts, each person is created for a reason and has something to contribute to the kingdom of God. If you have come to believe you are worthless, this is good news indeed. A person’s contribution may begin with farming, which is so much more than fruitless and painful toil over a piece of cursed ground. God was the first farmer, planting a garden, and then, in Genesis 2:15, giving the task of tending and keeping it to Adam. Our partners have directly inherited the role of tending and keeping God’s garden. Furthermore, their farming benefits not only their own family, but potentially everyone downstream. By taking care of their land, and restoring it, they are also taking care of their neighbors.
The fruits of their labor can be used to love and support their neighbors. We all find joy and purpose in helping others, and our partnering farmers report helping their neighbors far more frequently than nonparticipants.
Finally, there is a dawning realization that their farms are important to the entire world. The trees they plant, the forests they protect and the carbon they sequester, both in their soil and in their trees, matter to all of us. Not only are our partnering farmers beginning to understand this, but so are others around the globe. The growing interest in nature-based solutions to climate change has moved small-holder farmers to center stage. For the first time, those with money are willing to pay for what our participating farmers are planting.
It is exciting to see our clients, who are accustomed to being relegated to the margins, take on this new sense of purpose. They have gifts to contribute and a reason for what they do each day, which extends beyond survival. More than once, I have heard farmers talk with excitement as they showed me the creativity they have applied to their farms. With great pride they have spoken of the benefits their work provided to their families, their neighbors, and all of us.
Throughout our programs people are finding purpose, and it is energizing their work. I would go so far as to say that purpose is one of the most important things being planted.