I have a six-year-old daughter who routinely amazes me, but there is one particular interaction we shared that I’ve been mulling over these past few weeks.
It was just after dusk, and the fireflies were out in force. My daughter joined me at our window, and we gazed into the darkness broken intermittently by the strobing light show put on by hundreds of the tiny insects. Without moving her eyes from the scene in front of us, she said:
“You know mom, the world is a magical place.”
I was moved—almost to tears—by her innocent observation. In a time of tremendous global political strife, climate disasters that threaten the very habitability of our planet, and near-constant social discord, here was my daughter taking in the simple magnificence of nature and expressing her wonder and appreciation for the world around her. It occurred to me that despite her innocence, or perhaps because of it, she was right. The world really is a magical place, but too often we forget it.
I’ll carry her words with me as I engage with clients across the nonprofit, government and corporate sectors. Hers is the lens through which we should all approach the work we do. To make an impact, you must believe that you can. I know it’s hard to think that way amid the sheer volume of negativity we encounter every day—it’s easy to become fatalistic. But as a communications professional, you can’t just turn off the news. So how then can we manage the constant bombardment of negativity and believe that there’s a better tomorrow around the corner?
It’s with this question in mind that I want to highlight a recent conversation I had with Regina Blye, chief program and policy officer at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Regina, who hails from Texas, sustained a spinal cord injury when she was just 10 years old after being shot in the neck by a stray bullet during a sleepover with her friends. The bullet that struck her more than 30 years ago has forced Regina to live virtually her entire life with quadriplegia. Nevertheless, Regina determined early on to make the most of her life and not let disability hinder her in any way—a lesson her parents, especially her mother, who stopped working to care for her, instilled.
How could someone so unfairly robbed at such a young age maintain a positive disposition about society and the broader world around her?
The world certainly seems a little less magical when you’re confronted with such an injustice.
She’s channeled her experience into a deep resolve to make things better for others who live with or are impacted by disability, staying laser-focused on inclusivity and effecting positive change.
She told me, “When it comes to inclusivity, I believe completely that people with disabilities are human beings. Sometimes that gets overlooked. People do not know unless they have someone in their life with a disability.”
So how do you turn that passion for activism into real-world change? As an organization, how do you communicate economic, environmental and social impact and create a stronger brand identity built on purpose and trust? It’s a dilemma that many of my clients confront. They recognize the need and have the desire to get involved in a meaningful way to solve the pressing issues impacting their companies, employees and communities, but don’t necessarily know how to move the needle.
Any nonprofit leader will tell you that it’s a constant uphill battle. The odds are invariably stacked against you as you seek to raise your voice in advocacy for those who can’t speak for themselves. Getting the attention of the media, the government or corporate entities can be daunting, and the competition for funding has never been more competitive.
From what we have seen, nonprofit leaders are increasingly inserting their point of view into the pressing issues of the day and proactively spotlighting the impact of their work. They know that one organization getting credit for social advancement has the potential to create a ripple effect of greater funding and resources for the entire field. It takes persistence, fearlessness and an unwavering belief that it’s worth fighting for the magic in the world. It takes optimism despite all the negativity that threatens to dispel it.
In the nonprofit and corporate worlds, there is a renewed focus on thought leadership in addition to executive visibility communications—two different but complementary approaches. Executive visibility is focused on being seen and heard through speaking engagements, media coverage and social media engagement. It’s important, and any leader can do it, but is there a tangible impact on the triple bottom line?
When executives commit to a thought leadership platform, the investment in a consistent breakthrough narrative must be a priority, regardless of how long it might take to gain traction and resonate with stakeholders. It’s critical to find a narrative that balances economic results and business priorities with a strong tie to societal value.
Ultimately, that’s what Purpose and Social Impact work is all about and why I’m inspired daily by the remarkable people I work with across ESG, Corporate Reputation, Environment and DE&I. In our field, we amplify the voices struggling to be heard and the leadership voices who have the influence to drive lasting change.
As communications professionals, we need to stay focused on solving the problems in front of us and not creating more of them. We need to be unifying forces in an increasingly fractured world. We must operate with the firm belief that change is possible, even when things look bleak. Especially when things look bleak.
My daughter was right. The world is a magical place. We need to do a better job of recognizing and appreciating it when we see it. And we must fight for it, particularly now, when it seems like we could lose it forever.
Amy Terpeluk, managing partner, FINN Partners, specializes in raising awareness for major public and social causes to reinforce corporate reputations and performance, and shift public thinking. Amy can be reached at [email protected].