A sense of belonging – whether to a team, a neighborhood, a city, a state, a cause, a school or company – shapes our identities, making us healthier and more community oriented. We form communities in hundreds of ways. And yet for many people, the reality remains that they feel singled out, left behind, different. So how do we build stronger communities in all their forms, stopping attitudes and actions that isolate, and build more belonging?
The 2019 Points of Light Conference left me with a vision for the answer. As we stand at the dawn of a new era – the Civic Century – where we imagine everyone being fully engaged, the idea of connecting to each other is an incredibly powerful stepping stone to the world we are yearning to create.
The strongest, most sustainable support for the Civic Century may come from companies. And why not? We will spend about 90,000 hours – almost one third of our lives – working. Companies can use this opportunity to educate, influence, and improve attitudes, skills and behaviors that can break down barriers and build more connected communities.
At the conference, companies came together – along with individuals and nonprofits – to hear from leaders in the sector on how building communities is not only good for the world, but good for business. Marc Freedman, president and CEO of Encore.org and author of the best-selling book “How to Live Forever,” shared a vision of how we might increase our sense of belonging in the workplace. His premise: the barriers and boundaries we have created between young and old create separateness and isolation that might serve some definition of efficiency in the short run, but leave us less connected and less effective in the long run. His solution: look for ways your older employees can serve as coaches and mentors to younger employees – both in the workplace and in the community. Or, consider how younger employees may be able to help older employees polish 21st-century skills and redefine the value and opportunity offered by an aging workforce. While these tasks offer measurable value, the connections they create help to build a culture of belonging in the workplace and beyond.
In addition to Marc, speakers throughout the week discussed how businesses must focus on building community and purpose. Alison DaSilva, executive vice president of Cone Communications, discussed the value Gen Z places on purpose-driven brands, and Amy Smith, chief giving officer for TOMS, reminded corporate audiences that “staying on the sidelines and playing safe is no longer an option if you want to stay relevant.”
So how will we use community to solve the social challenges in front of us?
Points of Light is committed to supporting companies, and the communities where their employees work and live, to move beyond deep divides and unite in action to improve the world. Bringing our collective partners of value and values along on the journey is how we will create the world that we envision. I hope you will join us in the year ahead.