Social impact and stakeholder value are one and the same, says YWCA Metropolitan Chicago CEO
The battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and against systematic racism has highlighted businesses’ obligation to address the needs of their communities, says YWCA Metropolitan Chicago CEO Dorri McWhorter.
She joined the Baumhart Center’s Emily Nordquist on a Q Talks Podcast to discuss how businesses and individuals can effectively fulfill this obligation to their communities.
1. Businesses have a responsibility to their community
McWhorter believes business has a vital responsibility to address community needs, including the urgent need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice. “Business has to make societal impact a top priority as much as it makes stakeholder value because quite frankly those are one and the same.”
“Businesses can’t be successful in societies that fail, and our society is failing, whether it is the pandemic that has caused the failure or it’s racism that has caused the failure,” McWhorter says.
McWhorter believes advancing racial justice and maintaining a sustainable business model can be achieved together. “The question is how do you advance society and make a profit on this? This isn’t mutually exclusive, and the winners of this new economy are going to be the ones who figure that out.”
2. Businesses must listen and be agile
To win in the new economy, businesses today must be agile in their responses to the pandemic and systemic racism.
“For all organizations, agility has to be at the top of the list....You really have to lean in and understand how you meet the rapidly changing needs,” she says. “When people need you, they need you now.”
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago quickly answers their communities’ calls for help. When the pandemic infected Chicago’s communities and displaced workers, especially in communities of color, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago gave $500,000 in cash assistance to those affected. It also bought necessities such as diapers and computers for those in need.
They still have their “eye on the ball,” as McWhorter says, on large systemic issues related to the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, but they also understand there are immediate needs in the communities they serve.
3. Businesses must look “inside-out”
Many mission-based organizations fall short of their values, from a lack of diversity on their staff to partnering with organizations that don’t hold justice-based values.
According to McWhorter, “we have to look at who we are and how we do the work, not just what we do and let that be enough.” All organizations must “look inside and get our act together, as well as look on the outside. On the outside, challenge your partners and who you are working with as well.
McWhorter says that even nonprofits have a lot of work to do within their operations.
“I don’t care if their mission is to somehow impact racial inequities, I can pretty much guarantee you wouldn’t be able to tell if you looked at an organizational level,” she says.
For the YWCA, ensuring the mission matches their organizational strategies has meant partnering on the Southside of Chicago with communities of color and its locally owned businesses to fight hunger.
“We were feeding people during COVID because the slowdown from an unemployment perspective; now, you had looting of grocery stores that also created food insecurity. When we got more resources to do distribution six days a week, we understood we needed to also help small businesses,” says McWhorter.
“We started getting the food directly from small businesses so we could really have that comprehensive approach to serve the community food. We also buy the food from Black and brown businesses. Now in addition we’re looking at who we can hire to distribute the food instead of taking volunteers to redirect some of those resources back into the community.”
4. Find the right justice work for you
McWhorter says businesses alone aren’t the only ones who should be fighting for racial justice. She encourages all individuals to reflect on what they can do to promote racial justice. “We’re at a point in time that people need to determine how they will act and what that participation looks like.”
McWhorter believes this requires the same “inside-out” reflection she urges businesses to take and understanding what platform works best for each individual. “It takes a lot of self-reflection and a lot of outward action,” she says
“I think about the Civil Rights Movement: everyone wasn’t marching. You had people who understood their roles in it,” McWhorter says. “We don’t have a single issue. The battle is on a million fronts.”