What, Who is an Artist? Consider Anita Roddick

We are meditating on the marriage of the Via Creativa and the Via Transformativa.  Dame Anita Roddick (1942-2007) was an artist (entrepreneur) and prophet (spiritual warrior) in her chosen profession of business. 

Anita Roddick. Photographer unknown; from The Roddick Foundation.

Anita started The Body Shop in a garage near Haight Street in San Francisco in the late sixties, even though she had no experience in business whatsoever. The Body Shop grew into a major international business with more than 1700 stores serving 84 million customers in 24 languages.

What made her famous, though, wasn’t so much her business success as her vision and her business ethics. Anita was a visionary — pursuing business practices based on fair trade, environmental awareness, animal protection, respect for human rights, and social campaigning.

In addition, she founded an MBA program at the University of Bath (where I was honored to teach) which included two additional bottom lines to the usual monetary one: an environmental bottom line and a community bottom line. Anita stubbornly insisted that her business always address these two questions: “What are the effects of our work and employment on the environment? And what are the effects on the larger community?”

The Body Shop’s core values. Image from the Body Shop Facebook page.

She challenged many business colleagues and earned their respect for her campaign of values.  For example, Inc Magazine wrote that “this woman has changed business forever.” Business Week wrote, “Few entrepreneurs have tied their product to a social cause with better effect.” The Observer wrote, “Most CEOs aren’t fit to lick peppermint lotion off Anita’s feet.” And USA Today observed, “A Body Shop isn’t just a shop. It’s an arena of education.”

Anita was an environmental activist and a business activist. She said that business is the most powerful force on the planet — so it needs a conscience; it needs values; it needs criticism; and it needs to work in a way that’s respectful of all life.  Anita had a nose for injustice. She once told me, “I think I came out of the womb angry at injustice.”

Anita Roddick, activist. Photographer and source unknown.

Anita raised questions for business that, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, were rarely addressed. She asked: “Why does business have to work this way? Why not harness the market to eliminate poverty? Why not improve life for the world’s poorest first? Is it so impossible to move business from private greed to public good?”

She saw these questions as a matter of choice, of ethics. “We have the resources. I sense that in the growing vigilante consumer movement, we have the popular will and — God knows — there is plenty of inspiration in the small-scale grassroots initiatives that women have been so instrumental in establishing in the majority world.”

Adapted from: Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 244f.

See also: Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work.

Banner Image: The Body Shop in downtown Toronto. Photograph by bargainmoose on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Anita Roddick brought values to her vocation as a business entrepreneur.  What lessons do you take from her story and her teachings?  How can you translate it to your work whether as a business person or in any other arena of work?

Recommended Reading

 While Matthew Fox recognizes that Eckhart has influenced everyone from Julian of Norwich to Eckhart Tolle, Karl Marx to Carl Jung, and Annie Dillard to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”

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1 thought on “What, Who is an Artist? Consider Anita Roddick”

  1. Avatar

    A wonderful woman I never heard of, thank you Matthew Fox.
    On another note: Is it possible to find other comments I made on this web site (and any reactions to them) without looking back over previous posts?

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