2021: The Year of Social Impact
January 28, 2021
Leena Zahra, Ahmed Flex Omar, Andrew McDonald (Editor)
You’ve seen and used the expression “we are living in unprecedented times” as the opening remarks throughout your email inbox. And we truly are. According to CNN, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has said that COVID-19 is a humanitarian disaster, with current cases in the US having reached nearly 25 million with over 400,000 deaths and counting. With thoughts and prayers going out to the families who have been and continue to be impacted by the pandemic, for the invisible and often overlooked society members, we honor their individual stories, their friends and family.
With that in mind as we embark on a new year in 2021, we need to stand together united as a global community and one key aspect is not only through our words, but also through our actions, a universal social mindset of giving to better improve the livelihood, access and opportunity of our communities near and far, not restricted to the nonprofit sector.
It is important to understand not just why but how we stand alongside and listen to communities who are disproportionately impacted by public health concerns, prejudice, and other forms of oppression and marginality. On one hand, philanthropic giving has seen an incredible surge of support for people on the frontlines for a virus that is not immune to borders. According to the Wiley Online Library…”more than $11.9 billion in philanthropic funding was awarded for COVID‐19‐related programming — far more than the levels of support given in response to other disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Dorian and the Australian bushfires — combined,” from wealthy individuals to independent foundations.
That being said, there is still a great amount of work that needs to be done. Marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, are still not being prioritized. Due to the pandemic, there has been a significant drop in overall fundraising capacity across all sectors: we are seeing significant limitations on events and revenue along with decreased volunteer capabilities while an overwhelming increase for services needed. Without access to capital, without meaningful and authentic engagement, opportunity diminishes.
Of the many sectors who have been heavily impacted this year, the nonprofit, social impact sectors were arguably hit the hardest. How can we stand in solidarity with those in the sector? Especially nowadays, we can’t afford to see it as a nonprofit issue, an us versus them. This hit impacts not only the environments of corporations and the neighborhoods they are in, but also their customers. There is a need to continuously evolve the concept of corporate giving, especially as we are now in a new year with new realities and new priorities. By aligning and amplifying the perspectives of marginalized communities in corporate giving, we can shift the power and focus of those voices, stories and needs that are still being neglected, coordinate and collaborate with authenticity and innovation to create the greatest impact possible.
We have seen the mobilization and engagement around social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. As demonstrated by The Corporate Social Mind, people are demanding action, not just words, and even look to corporations to see if they encourage, promote or even educate on social responsibility. For example, “between a quarter and a third of adults reported they have used a company’s site to learn whether it supports a social issue.” When asked on the types of issues companies are expected to engage in, the majority of the public stated that “racial equality/social justice/anti-discrimination and environment/climate change” requires immediate action and accountability.
What we need to understand is that bottom line, people are expecting us, and corporations, to show up, have and share an opinion, involve employees in the response and support, work to change policy and promote issues through public (virtual) events, campaigns, and programs. Involving and improving the lives of employees as well as customers, celebrating a company’s asset and talent pool to drive social impact, keeps society at mind (The Philanthropist).
To this point, William Kragie of Doppio Group Inc. says:
“Corporate leaders should be called to revisit their organization’s stakeholder alignment. After moving our head office from SF to Chicago, we realized that ‘community’ was overlooked as a key stakeholder. I would suspect the same to be true for many technology companies with distributed teams across multiple geographies. When corporate leaders understand the role that community plays in fulfilling their vision for the company, engaging with and giving back to our communities becomes a more fruitful endeavor.”
We need to know the hard conversations are not over yet. Recognizing the privilege we may carry in our words and actions, we need to be disrupters, not just allies, while we prioritize and center the dialogue on often disenfranchised communities. Social movements should be honored and recognized, symbolic and massive, but must be continuous, the “warm-up,” the gift that keeps on giving if you will. People are looking to giving through the gift of social mindset, having society impact in mind as a company approaches business and actions, such as hunger, discrimination, immigration, etc. The corporate social mind will decide to:
- Have society at the forefront, in mind,
- Live by virtue, by values,
- Use and give resources to promote greater societal benefit,
- Listen first, act second,
- Have a social tone/voice,
- Lead by example with social collectives,
- Measure and keep measuring social impact, and
- Innovate for good (The Corporate Social Mind).
Following the concepts of “Global Giving,” we encourage and challenge our global community to actively work towards the corporate social mindset, asking the following questions:
- Alignment and Values: Whose mission and values mutually align with you, your customers, your employees? What can you imagine have been additional difficulties, and burdens, for social impact initiatives during COVID-19? Do you have the resources that could support them? And at the same time, who has the insight that aligns with your business purpose and expertise?
- Sentiment: What would make your key stakeholders proud- Working for you, doing business with you, buying from you? What do they care about, their expectations? What has impacted their community during the pandemic?
- Creativity: In our ever so connected, remote world, expand what corporate giving could mean. How can we use innovation to drive this?
- Analysis: How are you going to measure the impact?
Beyond the obvious value of social impact-oriented corporate giving for community development, it is also important for corporate leaders to understand that socially conscious philanthropy offers a number of unique benefits to the corporation as well. Holly Weckler, an innovator and leader in the financial tech industry, has known this for some time. Of her own experience with community partnerships and socially conscious giving, including a history of collaboration with MALA, she says:
“Partnering with MALA over the last 5 years has been a journey to promote diversity and inclusion not only in Chicago, but globally. Most recently, I was impressed with their response to the shortage of masks at community hospitals in impoverished neighborhoods, even amid a pandemic MALA did not hesitate to find a way to help.”
We must also understand that socially responsible corporate giving ought to be an inclusive experience, not just limited to C-Suite executives. When corporate leaders prioritize the importance of social responsibility within company culture, it opens the door for staff to be a part of the process. Kalid Loul, COO of Global Geeks Inc. points to the importance of this integration:
“We often expect organizations to be socially responsible but we forget the fact that sometimes even their own employees do not understand the value of corporate social responsibility. Most companies do a great job at letting their employees know that they are socially responsible without elaborating on the reason why this is done. Corporate giving is a topic that should be taught to everyone with no exceptions: employers, their employees, their families and the people receiving the donations should all understand the positive impact of this important social responsibility.”
In this new year, let’s work to get opportunity and power back into the hands of our communities especially those historically disenfranchised. Let’s engage in meaningful dialogue where we listen first, and then align on the critical needs of our communities especially those disproportionately impacted. Let’s get that corporate social mindset to drive the recovery and growth of marginalized communities, amplify the voices and stories of those who know where the need exists, and the way to best utilize resources and expertise.
When we invest in mission-driven initiatives within our employees and our company culture, we can harness and celebrate the diversity, talent and prosperity within our four walls to create long-term impact. When you intertwine a company’s expertise, skills and lived experiences with social impact, life and wellbeing can be drastically improved within society. We need to remember that companies do have relationships in communities, as their employees and customers continuously inhabit areas where people are demanding change, demanding improving societal wellbeing for all.
Let’s live out these values in 2021, and beyond.
Leena Zahra is a Syrian-American, social impact partnership creator. In the past, she has strategically aligned partnerships by fundraising, spearheading community initiatives, and developing mission-driven public engagement campaigns with a focus on forced displacement. She has worked with small to large scale nonprofits, NGOs, social justice coalitions, and government agencies like the World Food Program (WFP), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Karam Foundation, and the US Senate with Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH).
Most recently, she was a Young Leaders 2020 Fellow with MALA and DNC Presidential Fellow for the Biden/Harris Presidential Campaign. Currently, she is a Recruitment Specialist with Beacon. She is also a Co-Founder and Board Member for In-Sight Collaborative. For more information on Leena’s work, you can visit her LinkedIn here.
Ahmed Flex Omar is a network builder. From humble beginnings working at the West Side Health Authority building computer labs for under resourced communities, to his current role as co-founder, Deputy Director and Chief Experience Officer at the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), Flex is committed to leveraging technology to build networks in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors.
Flex’s approach to social enterprise combines his consulting experience at Deloitte, UBS, and RSM McGladrey with cutting edge perspectives on network building from the tech industry and strategic partnerships in the nonprofit sector.
Outside of his work with MALA, Flex also works to mentor students at Loyola University’s School of business school, and works extensively with other corporate partners to advise them on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Andrew McDonald is MALA’s operations manager; he helps to coordinate development, programming, and communications on behalf of the organization. Andrew holds a Bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College where he completed an independent thesis on Islamic political movements in the Middle East. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree in nonprofit management and philanthropy at Bay Path University.