It's a question I've been asking some of my fellow business leaders lately. SPOILER ALERT. I believe it is, and I recently gave a lecture at the University of Montana's School of Business to make my case. I challenged graduates not to forget what I call the 'social contract' between companies and their communities. While businesses are typically focused on increasing their EBIDTA and achieving record profits for their shareholders, they also need to pay attention to people in need.
Currently, this is an easy conversation to have because the American economy is on a three-year growth spurt, and corporations are making record profits. They've also just recently received one of the largest corporate tax cuts in history, adding billions more to their coiffeurs. In places such as Portland, Oregon, home to my company R2C Group, our skyrocketing local economy has resulted in a sharp decline in unemployment, and an enormous demand for real estate. Low income housing in the form of single residence occupancy units (SRO's) has been torn down around the city to make way for beautiful new buildings, restaurants, hotels and high-end condos. We have seen the cost of rental housing rise over 92% in the last seven years, creating a massive low-income-housing crunch, with a deficit of over 20,000 units. This, combined with lack of mental health facilities and the increasing opioid epidemic, has thrown Portland into a homeless crisis.
So, while business is good in Portland, it isn't always producing positive benefits for the city. Take a stroll downtown, and you'll see the homeless problem first hand.
A bit of background: In the summer of 2014, I was confronted with a large homeless camp in the park in front of my office. The blocks surrounding our office quickly became a haven for drug use, prostitution and crime. Our doorways were littered with trash, drug paraphernalia, and even human feces. Our employees were being harassed walking to their cars, and clients reported that they didn't feel safe coming to our office.
As a business owner, I believe there is a reasonable expectation that city government will provide clean and safe streets to support successful commerce. The ability of your customers and employees to walk safely to and from your office is what fosters business growth. As businesses attract more customers, they can hire more people, pay better wages and provide benefits and health care. More employees and higher wages mean more tax revenue and charitable giving. This business circle of life doesn't work if any of these components are missing.
We reached out to the mayor, met with law enforcement and city officials, and worked to confront the problem. We were looking for solutions that we thought would be good for our business AND for the city. I didn't want to simply complain without contributing to the solution. Seeing homeless people daily in mental anguish and being victimized by predators was gnawing at me. Haven't we all been touched by drug addiction or mental illness, perhaps even in our own families? I know I have. The only difference is I have a strong family structure that made sure our loved ones were safe, and received the necessary treatment to keep them off the streets. Not everyone has that, so it's our moral duty as a society to provide for those in need.
It wasn't, however, until I was invited to tour Central City Concern (CCC), the largest homeless non-profit in Oregon, that I saw the problem from a fresh perspective. I had no idea how extensive the scope of the problem was nationwide, and the real reasons behind it. The three main drivers of homelessness are mental illness, addiction and disability. Decades of cuts to public funding for low-income housing and mental health facilities, combined with stratospheric increases in housing costs, have thrown half a million needy and disabled people onto the streets of the United States.
I had no idea what CCC did, and was blown away by its scope and level of effectiveness. They provide an end-to-end approach, including treatment for mental illness and addiction. And they also provide healthcare, transitional and low-income housing, job training and employment placement.
The only way to truly solve this problem is to treat the underlying causes and bring these folks back to being productive members of our society. With over 2,000 highly trained professionals and former clients working together.
I immediately knew this was the organization I wanted to throw my company behind. I now sit on the Board of Directors, and have made donating time and resources to CCC an integral part of our company culture.
As a successful business owner, I have come to understand that I have an unwritten social contract with my community to give back. I often tell other business owners, “If you're not going to do it because it's the right thing to do (and I hope you do), you should do it because it's good for business." Portland has a major homeless problem that we all need to address. Just complaining won't solve the problem.
As we have gone down this advocacy journey, improving our culture of giving has positively impacted our business. We now donate over 600 hours annually to local charities, across four cities where our offices are located nationwide. As our culture has shifted, so has our recruiting of key talent. Universities are graduating the most qualified and creative people ever. This generation of graduates wants to be part of something bigger. They are charitable social givers that use technology in creative ways to give and share causes. They are not interested in simply going to work and collecting a paycheck. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Morning Consult for Fortune magazine, “Two-thirds of people between the ages of 18 and 34 were at least somewhat more likely to want to work for a company that gave to charity than one did that not."
As a business, it's important to have a social component to what you are doing. There are many large successful companies that are leading the way with advocacy for everything from poverty to the environment, including TOM's, REI and Patagonia. Locally, we're seeing more B-Corporations that give large portions of their profits to charity, including New Seasons Market and Beneficial Bank.
We live in a fast-paced and competitive world. Businesses are fighting for market share and revenue, working to grow and generate the resources to provide for their employees. The idea of adding a cause or giving back on top of all of that can seem daunting to business owners. When you remember your social contract, however, you will feel better, your employees will experience a sense of pride, and your business will be more successful. You'll see that caring is what's best for your community and that is indeed good for business.
Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.
Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.
I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!
My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.
And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.
Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.
It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."
Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.