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Social change and business

With everything that’s happened in the world following the murder of George Floyd, it can be difficult to know where to start and what to say.

But it’s important that we say something.

This is the lesson I’ve been taught again and again over the past week, as I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of research around racism, white privilege, white supremacy, racial injustice, prejudice, equity, diversity, inclusion, equality, activism, allyship and anti-racism.

A lot of us feel that we are doing the right thing when we stay silent. We may doubt our abilities to be able to offer insights into a situation if we haven’t personally lived through it.

This is often a barrier in mental health discussions.

But as with mental health, the important thing is that we all begin weighing in on the conversation.

That is the only real way we will break stigma and take the discourse to a place where everyone can get involved in it, which is a catalyst to real social change.

The same is true for discussions around race.

Racism isn’t a problem for one group in society;

it is society’s problem.

And if it’s a social issue, that means we all have a place in both the problem and the solution.

Silence is complicity.

If we stay silent when we see, hear or experience discrimination, we are giving passive permission for it to continue. This is true even when the discrimination is subtle, covert and institutional. Perhaps its’ even more important to call out these instances, since they so often fly under the radar of our attention.

In the past week, I’ve learnt a lot about my need to pay attention.

To learn about my own internalised prejudices from years of living with white privilege.

To educate myself about the plight of members of the BAME community.

To actively seek and engage in ways to elevate people of colour, particularly in terms of the work that they do and the messages that they want to share.

This is crucial for myself as an individual, but I think it is even more important to do as an active member of the business community and as a company leader.

Why?

Because these things mean I have an additional level of influence.

My words and actions hold weight in another arena because I am actively seeking audiences to build relationships with and to hold conversations with. It is yet another place where my privilege can flourish and afford me another platform to be seen and heard from.

A lot of businesses may feel that this is a political issue, but they are missing the point. It is a SOCIAL issue, and if we want to sell products and services and to benefit from being citizens in society, then we also have a responsibility to be active participants in it.

It is not a one-way street.

We have chosen to benefit from our place in the system and therefore we are INVOLVED. There’s no opting out. The only thing we can do from here is to decide HOW we want to do it.

This is actually true of all of us, but business owners have an additional level of responsibility.

We shouldn’t operate in a marketplace and gain the benefits of this is we are not willing to make a contribution to it. We need to actively engage in the maintenance of it, which, as the last few weeks have taught us, involves critically examining the existing system and deciding where and how we are going to make the changes which NEED to happen.

As my wonderful team wrote on a group chat this morning: ‘This isn’t a political issue; it’s a human rights issue.’

Truer words have never been spoken.

Their intelligence and compassion around the subject gives me so much hope. Grace and Lucy are exceptionally engaged with myriad aspects of social change and their energy and passion helps Dark Coffee stay true to its vision;

‘To affect significant social change in the perception of mental health.’

Social issues don’t exist in a vacuum. They are intersectional by nature.

For Dark Coffee, we can’t talk about mental health without talking about society, and we can’t talk about society without considering the structures that inform it.

This means that, going forwards, we will be looking for more ways of getting involved in positive social change in different areas. We think it’s important not only to grow our awareness and education in important social issues, but to use the additional clout that we have as a business to be able to positively influence it.

This may not be a lot – we are currently operating as a 9-month old start-up in a team of three, but we will start where we are, use what we have and do what we can.

If every business did this, imagine the difference we could make.

I’m not here to tell anybody the specifics of what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

We all need to consider the areas of influence, positions of authority, powers, privileges and platforms we hold and how we can best utilise those.

But I do want to encourage all my fellow business owners to do this work.

We are in a ridiculously uncertain but important time.

This moment could be a catalyst for significant improvements to be made if we commit to taking consistent action in a better direction going forwards.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Look to others for inspiration, by all means, but think about what you and your business specifically can bring to the table, because it may be something completely unique from the rest of us.

We all have a part to play in the game of life. Now is a good time to think about what ours is.

Alice x x