Seeking Sustainability

In an age of entrepreneurial buzz talk, angel investors, the Governor’s Giant Vision business awards and  institutes of enterprise, we still do not have a sustainable business model in South Dakota.

It should start inside our universities, not when Wall Street mentality hits rural Main Street and much of our college system depends on luring students along with the idea of fame, wealth and upward mobility.

When people ask me how college prepared me for building my own business, Sustainable Dakota Digest, I start by naming the positives.

Of most benefit, I soaked in enough classic liberal arts education through professors who remember what that is, so  I can think through business ethics, my duties as a tribal and state citizen, and how to collaborate with those wiser than myself. My time at SDSU, thanks to some amazing professors, developed my mind in ways I had hoped for when longing for college during high school.

Unfortunately, I also had to unlearn something — that upward mobility was the goal of a college education and money is everything.

Our current educational system has completely lost touch with the main purpose of higher education — to turn out well-informed and thoughtful humans.

SDSU has the responsibility to encourage a more responsible and trustworthy citizenry that doesn’t thumb its nose at the very state that birthed it.

However, I don’t hold much hope that we will take that responsibility seriously — not when our own president sells out for GMO wealth and prestige, despite constituent concern about conflict of interest.

If we are going to ethically influence the leaders of tomorrow, we need to teach people how to think, how to challenge preconceived notions and new ideas. Also, teach how to research, to value other cultural thoughts and attitudes as well as their own heritages, to suspend judgment on viewpoints or ideas until they have thought it through. Maybe even more importantly, teach why they should care about the people and places around them.

My business model at Sustainable Dakota Digest strives to be as sustainable as the people and businesses we cover — an effort to practice what we preach. There are no shortcuts, angel investors, big bank loans (or any loans, actually), SBA help or anything else most people think about in the business world. Nor do I personally come from an affluent background.

Working hard since middle school at donut shops, nursing homes, tourist traps, food service and in offices is part of an invaluable education to me — great inputs for little financial reward, but often with great personal reward — at the beginning, especially.

As a business owner, my education and experiences converge into my craft. I organize and edit over a dozen contributors, collaborating with people who support what we do, and plenty of scrimping and saving and making do with old equipment and limited resources.

Instead of asking what sort of funding hoops we could jump through, we look around and ask ‘What can we do with what we have?’

When our ideas get too big for our britches, we re-adjust, admit the mistake and move on. When new opportunities turn up that meet our ethics and goals, we jump on them. We put our family and readers first, and money second.

A huge chunk of our planning revolves around not making money right now, as we further develop our work and dig in for the long haul.

I work on my management and editing style. I keep learning. I go to church and get a healthy dose of reality — that I can’t do everything, but I can do something.

When we needed handouts with our URL on them, I didn’t stress out over not having a printing budget for renewable paper and ink at the local printer. I whipped out a black Sharpie and pieces of up-cycled newsprint and wrote our URL over the fine print auction ads.

We invest in the soul and spirit of what we do even more than the physical of it.

We try to avoid being whitewashed tombs. Perhaps, SDSU and the rest of our educational system ought to do the same.