Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
As an entrepreneur with deep roots in entertainment, retail, media strategy and technology, I have seen the immense social good that can be done when changemakers step up to shape the landscape of their communities.
According to findings from Kantar Monitor via Marketing Dive, “68% of consumers expect brands to be clear about their values.” Millennials in particular, at 46%, expect brands to be brave, with 42% of Gen Z agreeing with these expectations.
For better or worse, our value is tied to our values. In a year full of challenges to the status quo, ask yourself: What side of history will your business be on, and how will it be remembered?
For nearly a year, America’s youth have been staring at their screens for virtual learning eight hours a day or more. These are the same screens where they watched this past year’s many abominations of justice carried out, from the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake, which sparked protest across the world, to the insurgency at the U.S. Capitol.
It’s a little over a year since the start of Covid-19, and our country’s youth, particularly Black, Brown and low-income, are feeling the lasting effects of an indefinite lockdown. On a daily basis, youth living in poverty watch as family members lose jobs, struggle to put food on the table or contract Covid-19, leaving some families under piles of medical debt.
As company after company rushes to update the diversity, equity and inclusion section of their website in light of the many protests during 2020, systemic change is coming from organizations that have proven a commitment to equity.
One such example is the Los Angeles Rams. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many folks within the organization and previous owners who provided me with the insider view. After watching countless tragedies unfold across the nation and the passionate cry for systemic change, Rams players decided to financially support organizations that are doing the critical work to address myriad social justice issues, including educational inequities, food insecurity, homelessness, community-police relations and criminal justice — “all injustices that unfairly burden our Black and Brown neighbors and prevent advancement,” as the Rams’ website states.
The Rams have increased their social justice work across several sectors, with an understanding that other mission-based organizations are an asset. Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), a nonprofit partner of the Rams is one such organization providing a lifeline to a neighborhood in crisis. I have had the great opportunity to work with HOLA in its fundraising efforts since 2013. By working in true partnership to donate vital funds and provide programming informed by nonprofit experts, the Rams have shown that a commitment to equity should be the standard for other private-sector franchises. HOLA was an impactful choice for a brand like the Rams because it is a local, direct-service organization providing no-cost essential and enrichment services to the Los Angeles community, with an athletic and wellness program that lends to the Rams’ brand.
Other high-profile companies are recognizing the urgent need to create social good, both for humanitarian and business purposes. Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson announced that they have partnered with Gayle King from CBS This Morning on a $100 million initiative to fight racial inequality and promote diversity. After learning from and witnessing systemic racism’s effects in tech, Cook took an aggressive, well-rounded approach to tackle equity in the STEM space. Apple will expand on its work with hundreds of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the nation to build the Propel Center in Atlanta, a tech and innovation center. Apple has also continued to put its money where its mouth is and invested $10 million in Harlem Capital, whose mission is to support 1,000 companies founded by women and diverse entrepreneurs. I’m the CEO of a tech company and have gone through the brutal process of raising seed funding as a female founder, so I know Apple’s investment is a direct attempt to close the severe gap in venture capital funds going to diverse founders.
Netflix recently released its Black Lives Matter collection at no cost. These films, series and documentaries are available to all to increase learning about racial injustice and the Black experience in America. Additionally, Netflix committed to donating 2% of its annual revenue, $100 million, to organizations that support the Black community. Further showcasing Netflix’s brand values, CEO Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, personally donated $120 million to historically Black colleges and universities.
Sephora’s initiative began with extensive customer and employee surveys, interviews and academic research back in 2019, exemplifying the all-important listening piece of social justice. According to the Washington Post (paywall), Sephora has committed to doubling down on Black-owned brands, creating programs supporting entrepreneurs of color, reducing police and security guard presence in stores, and promoting diversity and inclusion within corporate ranks.
Target CEO Brian Cornell spoke quickly and decisively in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, vowing to “face pain with purpose.” Cornell had one message: “Target stands with Black families, communities and team members. As we face an inflection point in Minneapolis and across the country, we’re listening to our team, guests and communities, committed to using our size, scale and resources to help heal and create lasting change.” Target partnered with longstanding equity advocates National Urban League and the African American Leadership Forum to pledge $10 million in resources to advance social justice and support rebuilding and recovery efforts in local communities.
These examples show that high-profile organizations are taking a stand and working to effect real change. I believe that many business leaders and entrepreneurs could learn from the efforts of the organizations that are now stepping up to the plate and serving their communities. I call on my fellow entrepreneurs to lean in on philanthropy based on listening, learning and mutual partnership. I ask you again: How will your company fare with a consumer base that values your values over profits?
Our country’s work on racial reckoning is long overdue, and we see the disparities every day. As our world pushes forward to a more equitable future, it is the companies that invest in their stakeholders that will be around 100 years from now.