As I approach the end of this very unsettling year filled with crisis level public health, education, equity and economic challenges, I arrive at a new mindset and concept that propels me forward. I am calling this “the community without walls.”
Today, individuals and families across the globe are trying to survive through COVID to stay healthy, work, and learn at school. But the reality is that for millions of people, the hurdles keep rising to maintain or find employment, support their families and keep their kids on track. It is a day to day struggle that pushes us to find strength, grit and opportunity. And, as a CSR consultant, these ever growing needs drive me to stay laser-focused on how companies can apply their assets to address pressing challenges while keeping their businesses strong.
“Community without walls” is a bold goal and strategy for companies, and for each of us, where we can figuratively see and understand what’s happening inside our homes, businesses, schools and institutions to connect and support one another. It is about finding ways for us to efficiently bring resources, expertise and energy to help people and communities rebuild. It is also about being inclusive and equitable with how business executives invest dollars, volunteer time and find ways to lead.
This approach is key for companies not just with their current social impact programming but with how they provide strategic COVID relief and response. It is about how a company and its employees can be hyper present and not hidden, open its doors (virtually and/or physically) and intentionally rally behind one or more social issue needs. A corporate social impact strategy embracing a “community without walls” might look like:
Find a Social Cause in Your Community You Can Truly Impact:
If your company does not already have a focused issue space, now is the time to identify where you can lead. The hierarchy of community needs continues to shift and expand—so where can your company’s assets and skills make the biggest difference? As companies continue to advance signature programs around health, education, and economic development, this work will require a new level of cross-sector collaboration, bold thinking and determination.
Commit to COVID Relief and Rebuilding as Part of Your Efforts:
Dedicate resources to support urgent COVID emergency needs and/or other rebuilding opportunities in your communities. Based on each company’s unique footprint, carve the strategy where your company can invest in critical social services (food, clothing, shelter) this winter and support other programming for spring and beyond such as small business revitalization, job training, and summer student learning.
Support the Health and Wellness of Your Workforce:
For some employees, remote work is easy and for others it is a tough shock creating new stress juggling parenting and work. And, for some, their frontline job puts them at risk in a COVID world. No matter the role, employees will need ongoing opportunities to support their health and well-being, especially their mental health. Where possible, find ways to provide additional time off and offer customized wellness programming such as exercise, healthy cooking or stress management.
Address Student Learning Gaps with Skills-based Volunteerism:
Apply the expertise, creativity and time of your employees to support local schools as they strive to keep kids on track. This virtual and/or in-person effort could look like 1-1 academic tutoring, homework help and support for younger students and college and career coaching for older students.
Increase Career Exposure and Work Experience for Young People:
Offer meaningful summer work experiences, including paid internships, apprenticeships and other mentorships for high school and college students to help them gain exposure to potential career pathways and build their resumes. These programs may need to start virtual and evolve into in-person, but they must continue to support our young people in their learning and development journeys.
Ensure Your Actions Are Inclusive and Address Inequities:
When making decisions around how to invest your dollars, engage your employees and take other leadership action, make sure you are being inclusive in the populations you look to serve and understand their needs. Take the time to know your issue space, analyze data and speak to experts to ground your decision-making in a thoughtful, equitable approach.
Mobilize Employees and Customers Around In-Kind Giving:
Connect with local shelters, food banks and other wrap-around service programs to identify specific food, clothing and hygiene needs. Put more muscle into the role that “drives” can play to help people stay fed, safe and healthy.
I continue to be inspired by the opportunity to work alongside business leaders who care about their business and society. I am filled with hope that we can take on the challenges that lie ahead staying focused and driven to live as one community, without walls.
Onward with positivity!