Towards Goodness and a Future of Humanness

A demonstration of compassion, of deeper human connection–is what we collectively must work towards if we are to realize the potential of our collective genius. Our ability to collaborate to tackle the world’s greatest challenges depends on it, and our environment is not waiting for the elections. From systemic racism, global warming, AI and data ethics, to warmongering foreign policy and the ever-changing pace of change, humanity is at an inflection point.

We are going to resemble The Titanic, about to crash into the iceberg–or we are about to collectively change the way we do business and how and who we buy from–because every one of us has the power to choose the local supermarket over Amazon Fresh for our groceries. This power, when amplified collectively, is enough to bring giant corporations to their knees. How and where we live, learn, work, and play–are all up for grabs. For example, and according to a KPMG Innovation Labs Survey in May 2020, 1 in 4 fellow urban millennials say they are considering, or in the process of, moving out of a city because of COVID-19. The current way of doing business as we knew it has forever been changed, and it is of utmost importance to harness our collective power, or ‘collective genius’ as Fred Brown, social innovation leader and President & CEO of The Forbes Funds calls it.

Consumers aren’t the only ones who can facilitate change. Organizations large and small can lead by example with their own environmental, social, and governance, where they spend their dollars, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and more. Investing and operating for good means responsible capitalism (e.g. aligning with ESG). And, prioritizing DEI, through investments in tangible efforts, hiring policies, and birthing new and enhanced programs with new ways of thinking about evaluation, data collection, and how bias might impact decision-making and hiring. One such example is the inaugural, year-long International Anti-Racism Wireframe Cohort I am proud to be taking part in and suporting, which is a year-long journey with committed leaders like the Dalai Llama’s personal Physician, Dr. Levine formerly of the Commonwealth (now Ast Sect of Health for the Federal Government, she had to leave the cohort because of the new role), and folks from JEVs Human Services, Restorative Practices in Action, fivestar, San Francisco Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, and more.

Managing sustainability and decarbonization, among other efforts aligned with UN SDGs, are important for our environment. We only have, after all, one environment. As humanity, we share the Earth, and we must collaborate more closely than ever before. Those corporations that discount humanity, like Amazon does with its workers by not paying them extra to work during the pandemic, meanwhile Bezos became the first man to surpass $200B in wealth. There is a great deal of a lack of corporate empathy.

Valuing humanity means having the moral sensibilities to stand up and say no to fear-mongering, say no to war-mongering, and say no to continued systemic racism. Along with drawing lines and identifying moral principles, we must more intentionally demonstrate, as employers, community leaders, and citizens alike–that we are champions for equity. This is true “advanced” leadership. And we do this within our own spheres of influence, be it Key Medium’s blog or a social network platform like the one you may have clicked into this link from.

Please read my story below regarding my background and why I am adamantly moved to take action, with a fierce sense of urgency, as more than 20 million people are in the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Meanwhile, US intervention has been towing the same line in regards to militarism as Trump’s foreign policy and the same policy that Biden led under the Obama administration.

Social and Civic Goodness

Let’s face it, there has been a lot of bad news this year. It seems that the silver lining is getting more and more evasive, or is it? It is true that humans are hardwired to focus more on the negative – a phenomenon called “Negativity Bias”, and our news cycles certainly reflect that, but this phenomenon doesn’t necessarily mean there is an absence of good. 

The overemphasis on the negative often overshadows demonstrations of compassion and civic involvement of businesses, institutions, and community-based organizations of all sizes. And frankly, it can lead to a defeatist mindset. If we are all as doomed as we look on TV, why should we try? 

Fortunately, if you are willing to dig below the disheartening surface a bit, there are plenty of stories of volunteers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs who are prioritizing a positive impact. Perhaps if there was more positive representation of corporate and civic involvement, there would be stronger incentive and compound effect for doing good. It’s time to make goodness more attractive.

In philanthropic and corporate social responsibility/giving (and in general), the problems/issues and needs in society are often spoken about with a sense of social disconnectedness and distance from the problem, i.e. “1 in 3 Philadelphians lack education (HS or GED)”. Similarly, conversations around social determinants of health often name race as a social determinant of health without naming racism as the source of the health disparity. In these instances, it is easy to stay complicit because the blame is shifted onto the individuals who are affected instead of grasping the issue by the roots. And once again, this narrative is entirely deficit-focused.

When organizations keep people and problems at arm’s length, we are less likely to show them genuine empathy. The same can be said within the various government agencies. People are all too often referred to as populations and thus their humanity, for this and other reasons, is lost. There’s a certain ‘science’ to closing this gap. In line with Gordon Allport’s Contact Theory, which posits that under the right conditions, between-group contact can promote tolerance and acceptance instead of disdain. In other words, people grow more amiable to new people and experiences during increased exposure and equal status among them. In a similar vein, increasing contact with stakeholders, as well as the amount of social responsibility an organization commits to, can change an organization’s perspective on doing good. Essentially, the more good you do, the more you want to do! Personalizing your relationships with individuals in a community and making goodness attractive is a way to intentionally work towards bridging equity gaps, so that everyone may have a chance at a level playing field so as to enhance the quality of life.

Here is the general except from a 2013 presentation that our client at The Forbes Funds gave about this (credit: The Science of Giving And the Art of Asking, Junlei Li & Suguru Ishizaki):

Care & Giving <– Connectedness

Likable, Relatable, Identifiable

In-Group, Similar, Proximal

Shared Personal Experience, Perspective Taking

Compassion in storytelling for nonprofits show that people respond more to stories rather than numbers.

“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

— Mother Teresa

Basically, telling stories of individuals to get people to have more compassion, than trying to lead with logic and statistics. And connecting with the right information, with the right organizations that are doing good (e.g. Evergreen, B Corp, or similar). 

Consumers like myself vote with our wallets, and we may want to find organizations that prioritize DEI and have demonstrated themselves as responsible corporate citizens, and ones taking a stand on issues like gender equality. Some may be B Corp certified or Evergreen, though some may be like Key Medium and give substantially via in-kind services through programs like Coding For Causes.

The same goes for Millennials or others looking to work with an organization that believes in, and prioritizes social good and has diversity, or is embarking on it in some manner, and thus can document their process to share with would-be talent, consumers, as well as peer employers to influence them to do better, too. Personally, I have been getting into some “good trouble” – having connected with over 1,000 leaders since March personally to advance key issues. From immersing myself with those closest to the problem– I personally heard about the challenges, strengths, needs, and opportunities in the nonprofit sector every week from social innovators at The Forbes Funds and have been listening in on committee meetings and supporting public policy advocates, all the while designing experiences for those I am hearing from. Armed with the behavioral and additional qualitative user research we conduct, it is wildly powerful and an example of a true human-first, participatory design process as we did most recently with The Forbes Funds, as well as with Philadelphia Mental Health Center and a place-based model community development organization, North 10 (which operates the Lenfest Center), founded by billionaire Chase Lenfest.

On the same note, my acceptance and completion of a cohort at a regional economic think tank during Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange threw me into a team with future-minded leaders like Russ of Think Company, Gwyneth of Comcast, Karla and Jocelyn of the City of Philadelphia, as well as Myriam of WM and Clayton of Prevention Point in Kensington, so it was great to have had the opportunity to collaborate with folks I never worked with before and hear different perspectives from various sectors. I was honored to be able to take part in the Workforce Equity track during our 5-weeks together, inching us towards a solution to help people in distress ‘kick the tires’ towards the next steps with a career pivot towards upward mobility. Just yesterday, we presented a Call to Action which spread the gospel of needing to take a human-first, strengths-based approach in our hiring practices, in strategic, programmatic, and other work–to advance racial equity in the workforce–towards good jobs. After all, “working on big societal problems calls on leadership skills beyond what most people exercise in their careers and companies.” This is “advanced” leadership—”the ability to find fresh ideas, persuade people you don’t control, and work across sectors.” (HBR)

On both ends of the spectrum, companies are building their employer brand, with intentionality and social goodness baked in. For consumers and prospective career seekers, they may be drawn into those stories that showcase compassionate, intentional, and courageous convos and endeavors–around doing good.

Take Patagonia for example – the popular outerwear brand has an “Activism” tab nestled just between “Gear” and “Sports” on their webpage. The page details their commitment to all things environmental and includes calls to action, educational information from climate policy experts, and even a self-imposed Earth Tax. Further, they offer opportunities to get connected with other community groups and find like-minded consumers who also care about the planet. This degree of involvement is more than just lip service, it is as much a part of their brand as their signature mountain range logo.

The social connectedness factor is truly significant, too, especially at a time when we are all physically distancing–we need to be more socially connected than ever as humans! Though virtual meeting platforms allow for continued engagement, they do not fully substitute for meaningful, personable relationships. Anyone who has been on virtual meetings in the past eight months knows about “Zoom fatigue”. Social support in the workplace is always important, but with added stressors (e.g. illness or losses from COVID-19, pandemic safety protocols, adjusting to a new work routine, or homes-schooling while trying to work at home), it is critical for employers to take their employees’ humanity into consideration, and employees to self-advocate and prioritize their well-being. Whether it’s going for walks, taking breaks, or reconnecting with old colleagues or friends, social connection is key to better connection and self-preservation.

Using our voices against injustice is needed now more than ever before. Having the courage to listen and have uncomfortable and robust conversations, especially about reparations and collective healing, is one of the most important questions before us today. But first, we must position ourselves in a place of humility. All too often, organizations try to ‘help’ communities without a genuine relationship or involvement from that community. 

To that end, many conversations around reparations and justice are strictly transactional: you get ‘x’ as a consolation, and the harm is banished. We all know that just because we put a bandaid on, a skinned knee does not instantly or automatically heal, and yet we apply this “band-aid” approach to issues of our humanity all the time. 

The reality is, justice and reparation are complicated. Without authentic relationships and an awareness that a group or community’s leaders are the experts in their experience, patriarchal leaders tend to approach the community from a deficit-based perspective. This approach upholds the power of the person or group that has power (e.g. capital, privilege) and positions them as the savior and the only one with solutions. It also permits complicity. The person or group throwing money at the situation gets to be a hero without advancing the conversation around justice, damage repair, or ultimately uplifting the persons or communities negatively impacted.

The onus to incorporate shared visions of equity is on individuals, philanthropies, and government agencies alike. Fundamentally altering the fabric of organizations for good requires collective capacity-building and centering the leadership of those who truly know best. This might, and likely will, disrupt the stasis that has permitted inaction and inadequate solutions for too long. These changes likely will not happen overnight, but they begin with brave conversations, a commitment to unlearning, and authentic regard for the humanity of all.

This post was recently updated February 2021.

Recommended read: Promoting Innovation by Fostering an Ecosystem of Co-Creation

Ali Jaffar: Web Developer, Designer, Brand Strategist and Optimization Expert in Philadelphia

Ali Jaffar has been building dazzling websites and creating amazing online experiences for over a decade. His mastery of the latest innovations in web development results in world-class website experiences set apart by show-stopping style and seamless functionality. A highly sought-after consultant, Google Analytics qualified individual, and fifty-time award-winning web development guru, Ali lends his talents to build and bolster digital experiences for a wide array of clients, with a keen focus on web design for nonprofit organizations. When Ali’s not helping his clients grow or providing pro bono services via his Coding For Causes program, you can find him doing yoga, walking his dog, exploring beautiful open spaces, enjoying a nice bike ride, or writing pieces about technology and the world on Huge Thinking.

Haley Ingersoll: Project and Account Coordinator for purpose-driven digital agency Key Medium in Philadelphia

Haley Ingersoll holds a Master of Social Work and is a Project and Account Coordinator, social policy fellow, and health experience consultant. She brings with her direct service, research, and advocacy experience that infuses the power of individual narratives toward progressive systems change.