When community activist Drake Sadler and fourth-generation herbalist Rosemary Gladstar co-founded Traditional Medicinals (TM) in 1974, their goal was to revive herbalism and reinvent the business of medicine in North America. By responsibly sourcing, developing, and marketing their specialized herbal tea formulas, they worked to serve a higher purpose: to promote herbal education and advocate for supply chain-driven equity and a social business ethics. Following the principles of “right livelihood,” TM pioneered a new ethical sourcing model by promoting organic agriculture, developing long-term equitable and fair trading relationships, and investing in these supply communities. This ethos set the groundwork and momentum for what would officially become in 2008 the Traditional Foundation, also known as Traditional Medicinals Foundation (TMF).
Despite the increasing sophistication and profitability of modern medicine, little has changed in the ethics of sourcing medicinal plants still used in many medicines today. Having regularly traveled to TM’s remote sourcing communities as the company’s CEO, Drake witnessed the poverty and social inequity of people who are exploited for their cheap labor collecting and cultivating medicinal herbs. In order to create enduring sustainability, he knew the foundation would need to learn more about these supply communities. By addressing more fundamental issues facing them—in many cases, food and water security, healthcare, education, and women’s empowerment—TM and TMF would collaborate to improve the lives of collectors and farmers.
After decades of serving as TM’s CEO, Drake stepped aside in 2007 to focus on social initiatives in these communities. Along with his wife, Nioma—a champion for women’s rights—they co-founded the non-profit Traditional Medicinals Foundation. Today, with a team of international community development experts, board members and partners, the foundation assists TM with the monitoring and evaluation of social initiatives, helps secure long-term partners for social interventions, and provides deeper guidance into the specific needs of each community.
In support of creating more social equity within the business of medicine, TMF has successfully bridged the gap between commerce and philanthropy, advocating for a social business model where community-lead development, equitable trade, and compassionate capitalism benefit every stakeholder. After years of laying solid groundwork, TMF is now able to work with greater rigor on targeted interventions to create meaningful and lasting change.