What role do companies play in solving society’s greatest challenges?
COVID-19 has been labeled by some as “the great revealer” – tragically showcasing the many
disparities that have existed for decades in our society by impacting certain communities and segments of the population at greater rates than others. The pause button this pandemic placed on our lives has shed light on issues that many activists have been asking us to listen to for years.
But now businesses are making plans to “bounce back” and “get back to work.” Instead of getting back to business as usual, can we capture the lessons and identify opportunities for changes to usual business practices that create value for business and society? As philanthropists and business leaders, what is our role in helping to solve the greatest challenges in our community and around the world? What are some immediate steps we can integrate into our business practices now that will make an impact?
During this webinar, Kane’s President and CEO, Kimberly Kane, discussed how leaders can do their part to begin tackling some of society’s biggest challenges. Panelists included:
In her teens and twenties, Kimberly assisted her father on Direction Sports, a gang prevention program which partnered with business, government, community and faith based leaders. It was through this experience that Kimberly witnessed the power of partnerships which created opportunities for children and their families to have access to education, employment, and a world outside of the projects. This has not only shaped Kimberly as a leader, but is reflected in Kane Communications Group’s deep commitment to its community and building strong partnerships.
Our panel of leaders discussed the importance of such partnerships and creating a shared vision in building society’s future. The following were mentioned as building blocks to tackling society’s greatest challenges: having strong leaders; offering opportunities such as apprenticeships; putting hiring practices in place which support diversity and inclusion; and building trust with customers and partners.
Here are key takeaways from our panelists:
From Frank Cumberbatch, Vice President of Engagement, Bader Philanthropies, Inc.
When asked about the role of government in solving societal issues , Cumberbatch noted, “Our structure of government isn’t really set up to solve problems, in a structural way. Government’s role is to create policies that remove barriers so those who solve problems can solve them. However, there are situations when we need government greatly–that’s where leadership counts. This time, I am calling on our government, business leaders, philanthropic leaders, health care leaders to see that we cannot, and we will not have a Milwaukee that looks like the status quo of the Milwaukee we had before Coronavirus. It would be irresponsible for us to do that.”
When asked how to balance the anger individuals may feel in relation to the past with the need to think about the future, Cumberbatch highlighted the ideas of philosopher, Alfred Adler, “Yesterday is gone. We need to look ahead. Our leaders–at the neighborhood, government, and business level, need to create a clear vision for the future. A vision that says our future is much better than our past and that we all have a role to play in structuring that future. If we can create it, as well as articulate it carefully and clearly, we will move on from our past. We cannot forget it, but we cannot hang on it. We have to look ahead because the world keeps on moving.”
From Rodney Ferguson, CEO and General Manager, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino
Ferguson provided insight on the role business plays in social problems and explained Potawatomi’s corporate commitment to philanthropy. He discussed how over thirty years ago, the Potawatomi tribe was able to create casinos to help become self-sustaining, which allowed the tribe to bring themselves out of poverty. Because of this, giving back to the community has been a part of the Potawatomi tribe’s culture for over two-hundred years. Today, Potawatomi’s Heart of Canal Street Program partners with thirty organizations throughout the Milwaukee community to provide funds that benefit the children of the southeastern Wisconsin region every August.
As a leader, Ferguson believes commitment from the top down is crucial, “I realized that giving back is part of what we have to do. When I entered the workforce as a CPA, that part of giving back has been part of what I truly believe in; from serving on boards, to helping at food banks, to sponsoring children’s sports groups. As a leader, it’s important to set an example. If you don’t set an example, the people who work for you aren’t going to follow you. There is a responsibility as a leader to show the commitment to giving back.”
When asked about Potwatomi’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, Ferguson explained that over 65 percent of Potawatomi’s team members are people of color. “It’s been a conscious effort on our part to make sure our staff reflects the people we serve. I believe more companies in the region and in Milwaukee should think along the same lines. You have to change the ‘We’ve always done it this way’ mindset in order to make a change. My job as a leader is to push the issue, to give the person an opportunity. I wouldn’t be a CPA today if an effort wasn’t in place to make sure I had an opportunity. I’ve taken advantage of that opportunity by learning as much as I could over the years and sharing that same experience every place I’ve been.”
From Darian Stibbe, Executive Director, The Partnering Initiative
A former quantum physicist and employee at NASA, Stibbe went on to work with the World Business Organization. It was through this experience that he became passionate about demonstrating the contributions business can make in moving society forward economically, as well as in terms of its social and sustainable goals.
When asked what society is doing wrong and how it can do better to move the needle on solving society’s greatest challenges, Stibbe summarized, “We need to have good economic growth by companies that are responsible–companies that invest in society because they see that by doing so they themselves can prosper in the long run; it’s a business decision to do that. When we try to tackle societal issues with small programs here and there, we’re not making the fundamental transformation that’s required in our societies. We need to have societies that are built on the foundation of fairness, equity and environmental sustainability. If we cannot shift and change the societies, then all of the small programs are not going to have sufficient transformational shifts; we’re not dealing with the underlying problems of our societies.”
CREATING A FRAMEWORK FOR A PATH FORWARD
In conclusion, all three panelists agreed that there is a need to set small, achievable and realistic goals in order for society to move forward and for partnerships to work. From a business perspective, Ferguson said, “Businesses need to have a model and plan spelled out with pros, cons, and anticipating the repercussions of the Coronavirus. Set goals that are achievable and realistic. Try to exceed expectations. Remember that you can’t do that if you only think in one direction or hire people that only look like you–diversity and inclusion is essential.” Cumberbatch echoed this sentiment, “Businesses need to collaborate in their communities intentionally. Support entrepreneurship and mentoring in communities of color. Share your market data so small entrepreneurs can use it to succeed on their own. Get involved in changing the school system from creating workers to creating business owners. Re-look at business systems to see where there are biases against people of color.”
In order to shift from anger to a point we can be productive, we need genuineness; we need investment in both terms of money and social capital; and we need to realize that partnerships are built on trust and good relationships.
- Darian Stibbe, Executive Director, The Partnering Initiative