By Emily Slade
From redefining the idea of beauty to eliminating the stigma of mental health issues, social activism comes in many forms. And this drive to bring change to communities has made its way from social circles into the marketplace.
According to the "2017 Cone Communications CSR Study," 78 percent of consumers want companies to address social justice issues. As a result, brands are jumping on the social activism bandwagon, and a lot of the content they're sharing across platforms is rooted in messaging that ties back to a cause. However, associating with a cause for the sake of it won't satisfy consumers. Frankly, it shouldn't satisfy you and your team members either.
A digital-only approach to social change rarely scratches the surface. Without the emotional connection that face-to-face interaction brings, you'll have a hard time developing an authentic connection with the causes and communities you're hoping to impact.
Instead, as a brand leader, you should first identify with a cause that truly means something to you and your team. Find a cause that motivates you to influence change in a community because you see the need and feel the drive to make a difference. Once you establish a valid, non-ulterior motive to rally for a cause, it's time to step out from behind the comfort zone of your keyboard in order to truly invoke change in the world around you.
Finding a Connection
While digital approaches have undeniably connected like-minded people and elevated awareness, in order to create the momentum needed to catalyze change, nothing replaces the personal connection you can make and the empathy you develop when serving your community face to face
At Working Not Working, we created a program called Work In Progress to connect artists, visionaries, and activists from the Working Not Working community with local nonprofits and leaders to brainstorm creative solutions to civic problems — no egos, just people from all backgrounds willing to help.
For our first project, FoodFight!, we partnered with local nonprofits including Safe Place for Youth and L.A. Kitchen, VICE Media, and the Mayor's Operations Innovation Team to improve homeless shelters' access to healthy food and reduce food waste. Los Angeles has a massive problem with homelessness, food waste, and hunger, and we wanted to bring people together to think creatively about these problems.
3 Ways to Creatively Spark Social Change
You, too, can leave your keyboard behind and start problem-solving in your community. Here are three steps your brand can take to lead its own community task force:
1. Collaborate to identify a mission.
When figuring out our mission, we realized there were so many issues and causes that we could get behind. But if we really wanted to mobilize and involve our community members, we had to involve them in the decision-making process.
So we sent an email to all of our L.A.-based members and partners announcing that we were setting out to make positive impact on our city. We asked them, "What issues do you care about solving?" Without this step, we would have never learned about the motivation of others to help the homeless community.
At the start of your brand's activism journey, don't hesitate to ask questions. Remember that you and your team might be unaware of the struggles and needs of others around you. Avoid assuming you know the causes that deserve attention.
Instead, create a poll or simply venture into different neighbors and strike up a conversation. This will not only help you gain useful knowledge, but it will also help you foster relationships with people you might have never connected with in the first place.
2. Assemble a task force.
Once a mission is locked in, you need a diverse group of people in your corner to make it happen.
For example, our FoodFight! task force consisted of approximately 30 people. They were a mixture of creative professionals, local nonprofit leaders, a few formerly unhoused people, and city employees with experience working in the field.
A great place to start is by looking at who responded enthusiastically to your initial outreach. These folks have already expressed their interest in making a change. Next, you can connect with local companies and partners that are also looking for a way to give back. Engage with your local civic and industry leaders, and invite local experts to help you brainstorm ideas.
Remember, your task force should represent different backgrounds within the community so your ideas are representative of who you’re trying to help.
3. Bring the initiative to life.
You’ve got your mission, and you’ve got your team. There’s a sense of excitement and urgency brewing. Now’s the time to harness all that goodwill and energy and organize it.
When we created the task force, it was tough to align 30 different schedules, but we made sure to meet in person several times so we could have a collective brainstorm.
The first three-hour meeting for FoodFight! focused on getting to know one another and trading our different perspectives and expertise. At the end of that meeting, we created a Slack channel so we could continue the conversation and keep batting around a long list of ideas. The second meeting involved landing on the best idea and brainstorming how to bring it to life.
In addition to making time for in-person meetings, devote your efforts to create videos and blog posts to effectively share your initiative with the community. Think of this stage as bringing your mission to life. By putting in the work early, the more likely your brand will have a loyal base of community members outside of your task force cheering on your efforts once the initiative is launched.
Something amazing happens when you gather passionate people in a room — it’s a kind of contagious goodness. And you don’t have to look far to find those people. You’re already surrounded by different people with diverse perspectives and valuable skills. The journey of solving a pressing problem that is important to your brand can easily start by finding a cause you truly care about, and embracing meaningful, face-to-face connections with the community you want to serve.
Emily Slade is a founding team member and head of growth at Working Not Working, the invite-only community connecting the world’s best creative talent with companies looking to hire them. Throughout Slade’s career, she’s focused on helping creative tech companies and startups scale strategically and authentically.