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Community Highlights: Meet Shannon de Laat of The Virtue Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon de Laat.

Hi Shannon, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
After working the corporate consumer circuit for more than 15 years, my business partner and I started to reflect on our legacy and the world our tiny humans will grow up to explore. We decided that if we weren’t going to be a part of the solution, we were actually part of the problem. From this, The Virtue Project was born and quickly embraced by powerhouses in the nonprofit world who valued our approach of amplifying their stories to new audiences. And while that remains a core pillar of what we do, we also know that companies and brands carry so much influence and wield power that can be used to benefit others. This is our primary focus, our sweet spot: helping build purpose at their core of business so they, in turn, can become an agent of positive change. We are lifelong learners who love our work and our families and just like everyone else, are trying to figure out how to balance the two, especially given our working style which can be summed up as: ALL IN. We dive right in and become part of the team – partners at the table who care so much about not only the outcome but the process we take to get there. We’re all learning, and we want to approach each opportunity as one more way we are helping to make the world a little bit better than we found it. This helps us keep the energy up. As for the two of us, how we do business with each other, with our clients and partners is all guided by the same compass: use empathy to empower others, engage transparently and honestly, and add a healthy dose of cheekiness to keep it real.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Does 2020 count? Actually, as challenging as this year has been, we found it only strengthened our mission. To create the kind of companies people want to work and transact with, the concept of equity and justice must be woven into the fabric of their business. From our inception in 2018, we’ve been aware of our limits – no two people can account for the multitude of lived experiences required to shape a well-informed perspective. We’re all learning and recognizing we’ll make mistakes as we seek to dismantle systems of oppression, but given the work we do, our privilege and accountability have become much clearer. A passionate group of founding advisors helped The Virtue Project in our early days, but 2020 showed us we need to do more. As such, we’ve evolved this group to form our Business Equity Council and operationalized their role throughout our business. This growing team of nonprofit leaders, legal professionals, brand marketers, researchers, humanists and cultural curators also represent multiple diverse, intersectional identities that help inform our counsel for clients. We are actively inviting in new folks to continue building the breadth and depth of perspective so we can all deliver on the value of Business Equity Council: to help bring awareness and educate on how companies can be more socially conscious and overcome the bias steeped in the institutions, systems, and individual experiences.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about The Virtue Project?
We help organizations connect with their social impact potential, helping actualize their purpose and values in a way that drives their business and serves their community. Pre-pandemic and civil rights movement, this still felt like fluff to some (it’s ok, we’re used to debunking the fluff after 15 years in corporate brand communications!) Now, if you’re not convinced, then you are not listening to your audience. In a time of uncertainty, organizations that focus on their values have a chance not just to survive but thrive. Aligning an organization around its values is not something you “do” once. It is not “a project.” It’s not separate to your strategy, it intimately connected to it. The purpose, values and culture of your organization are a conversation. The Virtue Project is driven by a personal ambition to apply our expertise to help others and the overwhelming evidence that consumers demand more from the brands they support. And this was before the world was gripped by a global pandemic, where brands are rising to the occasion and demonstrating unprecedented corporate citizenship. Consumers are watching, taking notes and broadcasting their perspectives more than ever.

Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
We love to collaborate! We are committed to pursuing the impact we know we can have TOGETHER. We would like be to a brand’s first step after realizing their accountability to action change, whether it’s their employees petitioning for change or consumers demanding their brands rise to the occasion.” It’s often so hard to know where to start, what steps need to be taken to “pull up”, as that is now the expectation for all businesses big and small. Our re:Purpose™ process assesses the perception of the company from the inside out, diversity, equity and inclusion practices, peels back the layers to identify where there is a risk of bias. The resulting purpose-driven guidelines are all in service of informing and building the most meaningful and measurable social impact actions. It sounds like a LOT but trusts us when we say this is a scalable but very necessary consideration for businesses looking to stay relevant and connected with their consumers and community. Staying true to our roots, we are always looking for ways to amplify nonprofits and individual changemakers who are fighting to make a difference every day, so if that’s you, get in touch! Learning more about what you do and more importantly, what you need, helps us when it comes to recommending who brands or companies should consider partnering with to realize their impact goals. Our community defines us and helps keep us in check. There is no better time than now to be curious. Send us a note at info@virtueproject.co if you’d like to learn how, together with our Business Equity Council, we can help you.

Pricing:

  • Yes, in addition to our primary service offerings, we recently created what we lovingly refer to as “The Gut Check,” as a stand-alone service. We often found ourselves the recipients of a “phone-a-friend” call, whether it was to validate existing direction or to help manage risk, so realized that by offering this as a subscription-based model, clients can more effectively tap into this when needed in a continually changing landscape. The Gut Check has become the 11th-hour solution when clients aren’t sure if their well-intended social media statement or survey question is in fact, appropriate and will be well-received by the intended audience (although we’d prefer to be brought in a little earlier so we can help before things get too far down the road!) It’s important that this offering is accessible, especially for small to mid-size businesses that are most likely without a large, diverse team or network that can weigh in. Plus no one gives it to you as straight as an external team who is solely focused on calling out risk before getting called out publicly! Each “Gut Check” starts at $500 per call but we also have a few other different packages to suit each client’s projected needs, including an “unlimited” monthly subscription model. We should caveat that this is in place as a much broader commitment to making change. We are not a cover-up shop serving to make brands look good amid the “trend of racial or social justice” so that they can go on their merry ignorant way. We are all helping each other as we continue towards a future reality of business equity so ubiquitous that the need for a Council like this doesn’t exist.

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Image Credits:

Siouxzen Kang. Cameron Jordan. Katee Grace.

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