In my most recent journey from the Midwest back to Upstate New York, one the biggest realizations I’ve had was that—as someone who’s lived a bit of a gypsy life—I now am in a phase where want to get some good roots under me.
When I first moved to the Western New York region three years ago, I worked at the Olmsted Center for Sight. As a job coach and business writing instructor I worked with visually-impaired and differently-abled students seeking to enter into the hospitality and call center fields. My first week on the job, I learned that a large part of the respondents answering the local 211 calls, calls for information assistance, on the other end were visually-impaired persons. It struck me: How powerful is it that I in a small way I got to contribute to helping talented and very capable people build skills that gets them and keeps them employed locally.
Often times, when we think we have little to contribute to our surrounding area, we, millennials, tend to leave and go somewhere else where we are needed. Millennials famously have higher than needed expectations of themselves and their abilities. For what we don’t understand, we know we have been trained to learn. For me, that has meant when I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling a need in a local environment—having little to hold me down—I went somewhere else where I could be useful. The mistake was closing off to what local opportunities there were for retooling and getting back into swing of things. The fact that I got to help local people stay local, did something to me. It is part of my newly emergent understanding: Investment is communal.
"Investment is communal."
Investing is a multi-stakeholder endeavor. Think about it: Serving one public school student in the state of New York costs $22,366 as of 2016 . What that means is that each dollar of the money is allocated to a number of stakeholder: That 22K dollar amount goes to pay for food, housing, vendors, after school programs—and the people, the families and the communities that run them. The African proverb certainly reigns true: It takes a village to raise a child.
While what I am about to say, may be unpopular for a progressive such as myself to vocalize, I believe that many Americans who got behind the whole Make America Great Again mantra did so because of a several-decades trend of American companies taking American investment dollars elsewhere. The American public is the biggest stakeholder that America’s got. They got tired of companies and people defaulting on America.
Senators like Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio are pushing for initiatives that help to reverse this tide. In new legislation to keep jobs in Ohio, on his official website, Sen. Brown list a new report from the Communications Workers of America that “shows big banks are aggressively offshoring call center jobs outside of the U.S., even after the same big banks disproportionately benefitted from the recent tax bill” that the Trump administration passed .
Local workers in Ohio responding to Brown’s initiative are making their voices heard. “We want and need these good decent jobs in the U.S. We want to put the money back into our economy. Instead corporate greed is being put in front of responsible and professional work. We as the employees should not be competing against call centers located in the Philippines, Mexico and other areas,” said Renee Rouser, a call center worker from Youngstown .
While the Trump administration is debating how many people perished in the wake of Hurricane Maria last year, we have examples of companies modeling what it means to be responsive to the needs of the people. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 helped the rich in this country get richer. Meaning that the largest stakeholder in the country got shifted again. “Make American Great Again” turned into “Make Trump’s Friends & His Kind Richer Again.”
The gap between rhetoric and action has always been something bemoaned in politics. Politicians have a duty to serve the public. By trafficking in rhetorical gymnastics, too many politicians are wasting precious energy and time that could be used to direct resources and aid to communities in need.
During disasters, natural or man-made, agility and responsiveness can make the difference between life or death. An administration caught up in discussing the semantics about what counts as storm-related fatalities is caught up in wasting precious time and energy that could be used to help lives and recovery efforts. Efficiency at times like this, in the wake of another hurricane, Hurricane Florence, are crucial.
Here is where the business community has stepped in, showing politicians and government officials alike what it means to be socially responsible. During Hurricane Maria, business leaders like José Andrés, chef and owner of ThinkFoodGroup, were part of initiatives that fed over 3 million people in Puerto Rico in the wake of the 2017 storm . In his new book, We Fed an Island, Andrés recounts the harrowing ordeal and the bravery shown by business owners like José Enrique, who assisted Andrés in feeding hundreds of thousands from his ravaged restaurant in San Juan; their efforts included deploying the resource of “more than a dozen kitchens across the island” .
Andrés and his team respond to disaster relief efforts utilizing the local networks already in place and feeding the people in need the foods that are indigenous to their region. It is about more than feeding people calories for Andrés. His provision is hope.
Listening to what people need while they are in crisis is part of the healing process and the business model of World Central Kitchen, the foundation Andrés created. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, World Central Kitchen was founded based on the belief that “food can be an agent of change;” the organization has expanded globally and has “developed into a group of chefs creating smart solutions to hunger and poverty” . Through the Chef Network that Andrés created, he is using business efficiencies and creative problem solving to help “empower people to be a part of the solution” .
In an interview with Trevor Noah, Andrés said that when he got to Haiti in 2010 he started cooking beans and rice for the earthquake survivors because, as he notes, the food packets that were given were good for soldiers in World War 2—but after a disaster people want comfort food . “They were fed in the way they like to eat,” he said . What Andrés reveals is that the nature of healing is grounded in compassion. World Central Kitchen’s focus is not just about replacing calories, it is a way to heal—way to restore hope.
When I think about companies leaving the United States and building factories in other countries to save on taxes, I wonder what our true notion of prosperity is.
I learned that companies weren’t saving huge percentages by moving off shores. In many cases they got a 10% discount! That means they were responsible for hundreds of thousands of job losses in order to get a 10% coupon on taxes. (See a study on the overall corporate tax rates between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico after NAFTA went into effect in 1994).
So, instead of paying the 21% corporate tax rate in places like Ohio, companies have packed up and went to places like Mexico because of the lower tax rate there. In the long scope of it all, what’s that company’s goal? And are investors, stakeholders and executive’s that limited in scope that the social value and brand legacy of their company could be worth a 10% coupon?
This country is reeling from many things. One of those things is losing sight of what it means to be profitable.