Interview with Green Chamber Sponsor Dharma Merchant Services
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Alexia Marcous is a founding member of Dharma Merchant Services; a financial organization which is emphasizing value, compassion, respect and community before pure profit. In an industry known for a lack of conscienceness driven by making dollars at the cost of their clients it was refreshing to spend an afternoon surrounded by people who wanted [...]
Alexia Marcous is a founding member of Dharma Merchant Services; a financial organization which is emphasizing value, compassion, respect and community before pure profit. In an industry known for a lack of conscienceness driven by making dollars at the cost of their clients it was refreshing to spend an afternoon surrounded by people who wanted to change the face of an industry.
GCC: When did you realize the merchant services market could benefit from sustainability?
AM: The idea came from my father’s career long experience within the industry. We recognized there was a pattern of having a mentality of taking advantage especially of small merchants. The focus is on making as much money as possible through a lack of transparency, lying on contracts and hiding fees. We wanted to operate with care and concern with the merchants and target those that are trying to do “good” in the world. From the beginning, we designed Dharma Merchant Services to resonate with our values in sustainability and make us a value based choice for our clients.
GCC: Can you tell me how Dharma, by creating a values based service, has helped to strengthen the fabric of the community?
AM: We see ourselves not only as a merchant services provider but as a community partner. One of the things we do is sponsor the Human Rights Award Gala put on by Equal Exchange as part of out way of showing that we are committed to improving the treatment of people overall. I have gone to Sacramento to help with the passage of B-Corp legislation. We intend to offer sacred commerce workshops that describe how we do what we do, the great lessons we have learned and how it has a great impact on our business. In terms of creating a fabric around merchant services we have been able to bridge for-profits merchants with non-profit merchants though our commitment of donating 10% of the profits from our services. In many cases, it has been the for profit choice where they want 10% of their profits to be donated. We are creating a community that recognizes they can be part of this group that is committed to doing business in a positive way.
GCC: Can you tell me about one thing that is happening in sustainability that is really exciting?
AM: I had mentioned earlier our work with helping to get B-Corporation legislation passed in California. Earlier this year, I testified in support of the legislation in front of the California Assembly hearing. We just found our a few weeks about that the bill was passed in CA and will go into effect in 2012. This legislation will be huge in California in that it will attract investment into social enterprise, clean-tech and green jobs which is the only growing sector of the economy right now. It will also protect the values of companies like mine. I could have our commitment to donate 10% of our profits written into the bylaws legally protecting that commitment in case of accusation or merger. Right now that commitment is not protected in that way. I couldn’t imagine any buyer from this industry who would uphold that commitment. It would be a strong statement of support for value based companies and help to provide the tax incentives in the long run in order to compete with companies who outsource labor and resources overseas. It’s about being able to do business in the right way while being competitive.
GCC: Your website referenced the book Sacred Commerce: Business as a Path of Awakening. How has this book helped to shape the mission statement of Dharma?
AM: My father and I set out to have this business to be a container for our personal practice. A commitment to higher virtues and values: Honesty, Transparency, Love, Honoring a Higher Self and just recognizing that when we go to work within our company we don’t want to have that separate from our personal experience. We both have the experience working for large companies where you had to check your soul at the door and communicate in a way that we didn’t really believe in. We named the company Dharma which is a Sanskrit work that means right action, right livelihood, and right intention. By operating the company under the banner of Dharma we knew we would always be empowered to do the right thing even if that meant making less profit. Sacred Commerce gave a framework to our concept helping to make it a much more tangible day to day practice. It has allowed us to employ management practices beyond task setting, micromanagement and fear. We have been able to empower our staff by recognizing their creativity, their intelligence and their desire to succeed. Greed itself just doesn’t work, people are getting laid off from companies that they have given their whole lives to and are learning that “hey, I wasn’t really valued”. We have been able to attract top tier talent who want to be fulfilled and in turn they have incredible productivity because they feel good about what it is they are doing.
GCC: What else would you like our readers to know?
AM: Companies which are committed to operate with integrity, with concern to people and with concern for the environment really need to look at their supply chain. Choices are now available where they weren’t before. You can now bank with banks like New Resource Bank which is a green services bank. They lend all of their funds on deposit to green businesses versus Bank of America who is funding such industries as the coal industry. We reach out to mission driven companies but we see time and time again people who sacrifice their values by working with unsustainable suppliers. I would encourage those businesses’ not only to look at their internal operations but look at their supply chain so they really see the impact they are having. The Green Chamber of Commerce is a great resource to find companies that may help a company build a greener supply chain. Green America, a partner of the Green Chamber, has a nationwide directory. Why not work with a value based partner and know that the dollar you are spending is going to Better World Telecom and not to AT&T. I would really encourage businesses to take on this responsibility and accountability and recognize that those resources are available.