Assembly 2024: A story of courage, convergence and community

On spectacular Bunurong country in regional Victoria, B Corps from across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand (AANZ) came together, in-person, for the first time since 2017 — and it did not disappoint. 

Neither a run-of-the-mill multi-day conference, nor just fun and games — Assembly 2024 was three days to catalyse change and take courageous action for a more equitable, sustainable and regenerative future. Let’s reflect on some of the highlights with these 10 unforgettable moments, from small nudges to grand gestures.

Crowd shot of Assembly attendees out on the lawn with a big letter B in front.

Image: Sally Batt Photography

1. Land and legacy: grounding ourselves in past, present and future

An experience intentionally designed to be away from the city, out of office, over several days and nights, we gathered as a community of over 300 at RACV Cape Schanck. Starting with a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony performed by local Elder Uncle Josh West, Assembly 2024 began with a profound introduction to the deep histories and wisdom of these sacred Kulin lands. 

One by one, grounded and present, we were invited to ‘come with purpose’ and converge to tell stories, speak our truths, and share our questions. Surrounded by nature and flanked by water, we were reminded to tread lightly but not be afraid to ask questions; Uncle Josh setting the tone for the days to come.

Smoking Ceremony by Uncle Josh West

Image: Sally Batt Photography

Not fully programmed, and in each of our hands to make a truly memorable experience, Assembly 2024 was curated to be a thought-provoking and pot-stirring gathering consisting of six plenary-style sessions and 22 breakout workshops in a variety of different formats. It was not necessarily about giving answers but rather planting seeds about what questions need answering. Designed to evoke courage, change and collaboration, and sparking new ideas and connections to catalyse change — we tackled everything from ‘woke capitalism’ to whether we should exclude so-called ‘bad actors’ from the movement.

“It was the intent that we would leave with more questions than answers. Yep. They nailed that, I am confident I know less today than I did a week ago. In spite of the existential thoughts looping between my ears, I’m sure I’m in the right place, surrounded by the kind of people I can learn from and grow with to find meaning in my work and contribution to people and planet.”

— Sarah O’Terra, Harvey

2. He waka eke noa — we’re all in this together

From sessions led by a dynamic contingent of Māori businesses (AWWA, Tiraki, Two Islands, Miraka), to a poignant display of accountability and values-in-action by Laura Thompson (Gunditjmara) from Clothing The Gaps, the centring of First Nations’ and Indigenous voices at Assembly 2024 was a highlight for many. 

Speaking powerfully to the tension between Indigenous ways of doing business and how business is so often done in the so-called ‘Western’ world, many of us left sessions featuring all First Nations and Indigenous panellists questioning how different the economy, and the world, would be with a greater emphasis on Indigenous ways and wisdom, while resisting the impulse to colonise and co-opt.

“We are now seeing the balance and the benefits of how we run businesses acknowledged. It is special to us [as Māori] to think: ‘our ancestors knew the way to do it and to give back’.”

— EllaRose Hammond, Tiraki

From broader understandings of kinship to Te Ao Māori principles of: manaakitanga (reciprocity, generosity), whanaungatanga (relationships, networks) and kotahitanga (unity and collective action) — we heard how many Indigenous businesses are, at their core, designed to give and operate as a business for good.

Two people on stage talking and presenting

Michele Wilson (AWWA Period Care) & Laura Thompson (Clothing The Gaps). Image: Sally Batt Photography

“One to five year business plans and duties to shareholders [are] often at odds with doing business in a Western world. We plan 100 years in advance, and there are some Māori companies that have 500 year plans. There’s a lack of ego in a 100 year business plan because you’re not going to be alive for it; it’s not about us, it’s what we want it to look like for others when we are long gone.”

— Michele Wilson, Kaihautū (CEO) at AWWA Period Care

Exploring the ways in which B Corp Certification and Indigenous-owned business can complement and coexist, there would be few who left Assembly without an appreciation of the power of a 100 year strategic plan, and the importance of leaving ego behind — instead, focusing on a business and a world where future generations are seen as an integral stakeholder. 

“We do this because our children and our grandchildren are at the core of why we do business – not profits. ‘Blak’ businesses do things differently, B Corp just helps us explain why.”

— Laura Thompson (Gunditjmara), Co-founder, Clothing The Gaps
L to R: Eileen Bowden (Miraka), EllaRose Hammond (Tiraki), Julia Matthews (Two Islands), Michele Wilson (AWWA)

L to R: Eileen Bowden (Miraka), EllaRose Hammond (Tiraki), Julia Matthews (Two Islands), Michele Wilson (AWWA) — Image: Sally Batt Photography

3. Living proof of the movement’s growth and diversity

As B Lab AANZ’s Policy & Advocacy Manager (and emcee extraordinaire) Kira Day shared in her opening address: we’re all trying to make sense of a lot right now, and as we’ve grown as a movement, so has the need for community, connection and gathering. 

Welcoming over 300 attendees, including representation from every state in Australia and the ACT, and a small but mighty contingent who travelled across Te Tai-o-Rehua (Tasman Sea) to join the hui (gathering), Assembly 2024 was far cry from the region’s last gathering in Alice Springs/Mparntwe seven years ago. There were B Corps who’ve been part of the community for 10 years, some for 10 days.

Since 2022, the number of Certified B Corporations has doubled from 4,000 to 8,000+ globally. It now spans across 96 countries, 160+ industries, and employs over 750,000 people. The growth throughout Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand has seen similar trends with the number of B Corps more than doubling during these two years with now almost 700 B Corps in our region as of March 2024. 

As long-time B Corp founder Michael Bradley from Marque Lawyers described, being at Assembly 2024 was so “different to what it used to be for the old guard”. And this eclectic and diverse mix of ‘early adopters’ along with plenty of fresh faces provided for renewed energy and enthusiasm about what we can achieve, as a collective and as a movement.

Michael, Abigail and Eileen on stage talking to crowd about 'What's next for us?'.

Image: Sally Batt Photography

Writing for Smart Company, Oliver Pelling, founder of B Corp Good&Proper., reflected that what was once a community of ‘outliers and pioneers’ is now a movement: one with capital, clout and the potential to collectively influence seismic shifts in the way we live and work. And this was the atmosphere of Assembly 2024 from start to finish: 

“48 hours of big ideas crammed inside not-big-enough time slots, of connection and community and co-creation, of hand-shaking and ideological risk-taking. Veterinarians, CEOs, farmers, accountants, architects, filmmakers, fashion designers, bankers, producers, copywriters, project managers, founders, philanthropists, artists and more, all with their unique theories of change and approaches to impact, happy to compare notes, offer advice and lend an empathetic ear – together.”

— Oliver Pelling, Good & Proper

4. Finding our place in a global movement

With significant emphasis across the three days about how the B Corp movement is evolving to meet the challenges of our time, Assembly 2024 welcomed colleagues from B Lab Global in Clay Brown, Charlotte Levitt and Bridget Scott. All the better for having them with us, Interim Lead Executive & Global Head of Standards, Certification, & Product Delivery, Clay Brown shared:

“Markets are changing, businesses are changing, the environment in which we work is changing. We, as a global movement, need to change as well. 17 years ago we were trailblazers. But now we need to evolve.”

— Clay Brown, Interim Lead Executive & B Lab Global Head of Standards, Certification, & Product Delivery

With business increasingly seen as the only institution competent and ethical enough to effect real change, a lot rests on our shoulders. We know that, for too long, business has been part of the problem. As such, we must be part of the solution. 

“Starting small is also better than nothing at all. We shouldn’t let expectations of scale paralyse us into inertia. It’s not every brand’s role to be an activist but at the same time, companies cannot continue to turn a blind eye to social injustice and environmental destruction. Business can no longer hide behind a veil of political neutrality to justify inactivity.

“We need to continually strive to raise the bar and do better – however that might look from where we currently stand.”

— Tami Iseli, Marketing Manager and B Keeper, Luminary
People in the crowd smiling and laughing

Image: Sally Batt Photography

5. No echoes in the chamber — stir the pot and question the lot

Change requires courage. And if we are to create the kind of change we’re capable of, and that we need, we cannot be afraid to ask hard questions, have difficult conversations, or shy away from uncomfortable truths. 

At Assembly 2024, there was plenty of grappling with what the role of business is, was, and could be. It’s safe to say that we went ‘there’; wading into the grey areas, dark sides and murky underbellies of running a purpose-driven business within the confines of our current economic system.

We heard from Carl Rhodes, Dean of UTS Business School and Author of Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy, who challenged the role of businesses taking on a larger role in civil society, and whether these blurred lines could be working against our shared vision. He questioned the role of business in a world where: ‘companies are avoiding paying tax; there is an increase in precarious employment; inequality is being allowed to persist; and all while businesses share their ‘do gooding’ ways’.

“I am a customer and I really like the work of B Corps; I think what you do as businesses is excellent. [But] what I’m more concerned about is the broader structures of the economy that stifle progress, and it’s currently driving wealth inequality and broadening economic disparity. A resurrection of democracy is what’s needed.”

— Carl Rhodes, Dean of UTS Business School and Author of Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy

We also heard from founder of strategy consultancy Past Futures, Alexander Dirksen, on what ‘meaningful solidarity should look like’ and how the B Corp community can create the enabling conditions for collective strength and accountability to emerge in taking a stand on issues of social and environmental justice. And we heard from Māori business founders on Why Māori Businesses Don’t Need B Corp, or rather — how B Corp businesses and standards can support Indigenous organisations to find a natural balance and collaboration, based on mutual benefit and cultural safety. 

Carl Rhodes on stage talking on the topic 'Is woke capitalism a threat to democracy?'.

Image: Sally Batt Photography

While fear that events like these can “easily become an echo chamber of patting ourselves on the back” can be well-founded, Sarah O’Terra from B Corp Harvey shared that: “throughout the keynotes, workshops and coffee breaks there were differing points of view, questioning and debate amongst us on approaches to collective action, systems thinking and advocacy without diluting the impact for real change”. 

Despite being a celebration of progress and possibility, Assembly 2024 was not designed to be about comfortable echoes in a chamber. Instead, it was an arena for the courageous

From diving into the necessary evolution of our standards to exploring the nuanced realms of radical systems collaboration — there was wholehearted permission to challenge the status quo and each other. A timely reminder that we can only operate at the speed of trust, we must learn to navigate complexity, be willing to confront our biases, and embrace plurality — even if it means questioning the existence of the movement itself. Assembly 2024 was a place to do that, and in keeping with the spirit of the movement.

6. Good chat, but we need more than that

Change cannot only be spoken; it must be lived, felt, embodied, enacted. And while there were certainly many important words spoken throughout Assembly 2024, our ability to drive material change lies in our shared capability to translate intention into action.

In a ‘fishbowl’ format, Tim O’Brien from Purpose Made hosted a thought-provoking session on Day 2, exploring what change can and will truly impact our economic systems for the better. Followed up with a session on Day 3, Turning Intent to Action, participants were invited to self-organise and come up with tangible ways to drive collective action and make real change happen. 

“We spend three days here, we are all full of buzz, but what happens when you leave? My hypothesis from the last few days is that there is a shared vision for a wellbeing economy that is circular, inclusive and reclaimed as a servant of the people. There is a desire to leverage the standards and evidence to ‘show, don’t tell’, and to distribute information; [a desire to] create evidence of ‘how’ and then use that to advocate and collaborate for change that matters.”

— Tim O’Brien, Purpose Made

Digging into a series of ‘core concerns’ from climate justice to supply chains, participants broke into groups and reflected on everything from what change we want to see to the change we must see. 

Fishbowl style discussion

Image: Sally Batt Photography

B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand CEO Andrew Davies shared in his opening remarks that the people you meet, and the relationships you build, on the journey to better business will take you much further than one event ever could. And while the desire to create momentum beyond the event was palpable, desire isn’t always enough. Actions move mountains, and it’s what we do next that really matters.

As those in the room, it is our privilege and responsibility to share what we learned with our wider teams and communities; to keep conversations going and momentum flowing. And it’s heartening to see that B Corps are already starting to self-organise, co-hosting ‘lunch ‘n’ learn’ sessions, writing articles, creating LinkedIn working groups, and joining B Lab communities like the B Beauty Coalition or B Corp Climate Collective to move forward together.

7. Don’t forget to rest and digest

Running a business can be hard work; so can driving change. In designing Assembly 2024, it was important that we incorporated moments of pause, movement, song, and unspoken connection, to complement the big conversations and bold provocations taking place.

From a series of extremely popular walking tours and rockpool swims led by RAW Travel and WAM to the stirring musical performances of Dan Sultan (Arrernte/Gurindji) and Black Jesus Experience™ — there were plenty of opportunities to embody and feel the flow of change.

Dotted throughout the program, there were also yoga and meditation sessions led by local writer and teacher Jane Hone, a session on culture and deep listening with proud Gunditjmara Kirrae Wurrung-Bundjalung man, Lionel Lauch from Living Culture, which included a moving yidaki meditation, and a presentation on bush tucker foods and medicines led by Skyla Lauch. 

Lionel Lauch Gunditjmara Kirrae Wurrung-Bundjalung man from Living Culture, during a moving yidaki meditation

Lionel Lauch Gunditjmara Kirrae Wurrung-Bundjalung (Living Culture). Image: Sally Batt Photography

A dedicated Quiet Room provided a much-needed retreat for participants to take time out , and we were treated to a delicious array of southern-style food from local hospitality B Corp, Red Gum BBQ, as well as refreshing drinks from Unico Zelo, Heaps Normal, Cape Byron Distillery, Almighty, Brick Lane, and Tiraki

With an almost unspoken agreement to put screens away and be present, Assembly 2024 served opportunities for holistic connection and presence — to each other, to nature, and to ourselves. Moving far beyond intellectual engagement, these moments to rest and digest are vital and often overlooked parts of the systems change process.

8. Advice to heed: only take what you need

As a movement predicated on the idea of living within our planetary boundaries and discontinuing the practice of extraction that’s created a staggering debt that our planet, and future generations, will struggle to pay — not creating unnecessary waste was a core consideration in organising Assembly 2024. 

Partnering with sustainable event specialists and B Corp, Frank Wild, we were able to activate a sustainability and carbon management plan to reduce emissions where possible. Together, we were able to avoid over 3400 kg of CO2 emissions by providing transportation to and from the venue for 100 attendees, as well as hiring native florals and greenery, and eliminating over 440 plastic water bottles with a water refill station.

Instead of goodie bags, attendees were encouraged to ‘take what they need’ from a station of donated products — a way to showcase B Corps without creating unnecessary waste. We can always do better, and this is an area of learning and growth for many, so a big thank you to our in-kind event supporters who came through with the goods, including: Who Gives A Crap, Scratch Pet Food, Bennetto Natural Foods, Goodbye, H&H Group, Dr. Bronner’s, Republica Coffee Roasters, Pleasant State, Aesop, AWWA, Clothing The Gaps, and Pablo & Rusty’s.

Take What You Need Station - Assembly 2024

Image: Sally Batt Photography

9. Shaping a new collective story

While we might know, intellectually, that storytelling has the power to activate the neural pathways capable of driving action, it’s another thing to experience it, in our hearts and in our bodies in real time. As Damon Gameau took to the stage late on Day 2 for a session aptly named ‘How the stories we tell shape the future,’ you could almost hear a collective penny drop as we contemplated the hopes and dangers of the collective story we are living, right here, right now.

“We are swimming in a sea of stories that make us feel confident in some moments and inadequate in others. We are living a collective story. It’s done wondrous things, but we cannot keep treating our planet, and each other, in this way. Our survival depends on us telling a new collective story.”

— Damon Gameau, Filmmaker and activist

Sharing a clip from his upcoming film, Future Council, Gameau spoke potently about how stories have the power to build community, cultivate empathy and shift perspectives — just not always for the right reasons. Right now, he says, our system rewards narcissism, greed, psychopathy. But this story is coming to an end.

Damon Gameau plenary session on how the stories we tell shape the future

Image: Sally Batt Photography

The need for a more regenerative, kind and equitable economy — and better story — is bigger than B Corps. B Corps are important, but it’s not enough. We need to change the rules of the game, so all businesses behave with purpose, accountability and transparency. 

We know that the status quo cannot be sustained. So, what is standing in our way of creating a new story? Lamenting our collective addiction to the ‘old stories’ that benefit the few, and disenfranchise the many, Gameau shared:

“I am reminded of that quote [by Louise Ziane]: ‘If you want to change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it’. For too long, we’ve told stories of depravity and destruction, and talked about what we have to let go of even though we know the neuroscience of that and how it shuts us down. Instead, we need to paint a picture that ‘regeneration is a party’. And we’re all going to be much better off for it.”

— Damon Gameau, Filmmaker and activist

Reminded that stories shape culture, culture shapes leaders, leaders shape policies, and policies shape the system — then our survival, as people and as a movement, really does depend on us being able to tell a compelling and galvanising collective story.

10. Connection is a powerful change accelerator

In the same way we are a creative species that have evolved to tell stories, humans are, by nature, social creatures. We thrive on connection, and need it to refuel ourselves. So, on the back of a time where coming together was simply not possible, the opportunity to be in the same room, and not on Zoom, was as powerful as it was palpable. 

In his opening remarks, B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand CEO Andrew Davies shared:

“The last few years have offered many challenges. At B Lab, we’ve seen a demand backlog, business model changes, and increasing scrutiny of our work. Culturally, we’ve seen diverse views on what it means to be good in business, and a wave of greenwashing. Alongside this, a pandemic causing tragic loss of life and dramatic shifts in how we live and work. Whole sectors have changed, new businesses thrived, and old ones withered. All set against a backdrop of a discourse that seems beset by polarisation. 

“[But] it is clear how important it is to bring people together: to do things as a community. To learn from each other, to build strong connections, and drive each other to achieve more.”

— Andrew Davies, CEO B Lab AANZ

At Assembly 2024, we gathered together insulated, but not immune, and it would be remiss not to recognise those who came from far, made sacrifices of time, money and carbon emissions, as well as those who were not able to be in the room.

Acknowledging the many B Corps who could not make it this time, Andrew Davies reiterated the importance of listening and learning from this event, with a view to crafting future gatherings that connect as many people as we can across the region.

This Way Forward

With hundreds of connections, thousands of conversations, and infinite possibilities for change — Assembly 2024 was truly an event by and for the B Corp community. 

Not possible without the generosity and contributions of our many partners, facilitators, B Consultants, and businesses from across the movement, we are so grateful for how everybody showed up, and hope you have returned home with plenty of questions, ideas, new connections — and as promised, not all of the answers. 

An unforgettable experience. But what happens next? Well, that’s up to all of us.

Eileen Bowden from Miraka on stage smiling

Eileen Bowden from Miraka. Image: Sally Batt Photography

As the metaphorical sun sets and business as usual beckons, the last word belongs to Eileen Bowden (Miraka), who shared a powerful whakataukī or Māori proverb in our final session: 

‘Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua’ — I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on the past. 

Channelling the spirit of community, courage, and collaboration forged at Assembly 2024, this is the time to keep walking the walk and redefining what business looks like, to deeply challenge the way it’s always been done, and to build a future that better reflects our shared values, vision, and the power of collective action. That, and a reminder that it’s always worth arriving on stage to the spirited sounds of Dolly Parton. 

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