Pressure Points 2023: New opportunities for equitable impact
December 19, 2022
Last year, we launched the Racial Equity Impact Practice at Purpose, a team dedicated to helping Purpose’s partners use their social impact platforms to close equity gaps and center marginalized perspectives across issue spaces. Our goal was to offer bold, experienced, and intentional equity thought partnership to Purpose’s community at a time when the need to relieve social tension through justice and collaboration has never been more acute — or more daunting.
We asked ourselves where we saw the greatest opportunities to help realize a healthy society through equity-advancing narratives, impact strategies, and coalition work, based on clear needs. Our attention turned to areas like the battle for mental wellness among marginalized communities and their advocates, who are often one and the same; the need for cross-racial solidarity to advance justice for all; the ambition to build meaningful, reciprocal relationships between corporations and consumers of color; and the great potential of employee activations to genuinely support rising leadership of color so that they’re able to thrive.
We explored some of these opportunities and discovered new ones, with the past year’s work challenging us through questions like:
Is it possible to establish trauma-healing care, as first developed to support marginalized communities facing hardship, as the mentorship standard in sport and across social movements?
Could a new chapter of web development make the Internet into a network that’s equitable for every user?
Is it time for a new definition of physical wellness that reflects how different cultures view the body?
How can a consumer brand best support BIPOC and queer communities in the struggles they face day-to-day?
As we look ahead to the new year, we remain convinced that each of these areas is, in itself, a frontier of much-needed change. What else holds this kind of potential in 2023? Read on for our take:
Equity and disinformation: By now, we see how damaging the “fake news” era has been to societies around the world. In general, mis- and disinformation can sow confusion among the public, steering people away from critical, sometimes life-saving, facts and recommendations. For people living out socially marginalized identities — already vulnerable because of their race, religion, gender, sexuality, or any combination of these things — unwitting and especially intentional false narratives misrepresenting and villainizing their communities can paint a dangerous target on their backs. From othering and scapegoating in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, to white nationalism amidst racial progress and diversity, mistrust and discrimination are rampant today. In this climate especially, biased mis- and disinformation are a direct route to disenfranchisement and violence for the most vulnerable among us — which, if bigotry is not contained and dismantled, will be most of us.
- Taking action: Integrating an equity lens into the fight against mis- and disinformation will mean attempting to dissolve deep roots in bias before they can take form in yet another harmful story that targets members of our society. We see clear opportunities to combine narrative change with tactical misinformation-fighting work to reorient the public away from blaming vulnerable groups for social tension and systemic problems, and toward understanding that believing biased rhetoric won’t do anything but weaken us.
Equity and technology: We look to technology to transform and improve our daily lives and solve many of our most desperate modern problems, but the equitable inclusion of historically and actively marginalized individuals remains a fringe reality. We all benefit, for example, from the storied evolution of sidewalks to include curb cuts, but disabled and differently-abled individuals, from whom the innovation was first developed, remain systemically underrepresented in technological fields. Likewise, experts from low- and middle-income or developing countries often help spur advancements including in electricity and solar power, but these experts are often discredited or their expertise is exploited by more powerful actors. As the infrastructure of the ‘web’ or Internet’, our most vast and unbounded frontier of innovation, continues to evolve, the current model of a few powerful ‘innovators’ as the designers and deciders, leaves not only millions excluded from the fastest growing economic sector, but also from the potential to access or even life-changing innovations. When you add to this the fact that millions struggle to maintain consistent and reliable connections to the Internet, it becomes clear that technology is a transformative tool, but we can only realize its true potential when it’s equitably accessible.
- Taking action: Taking a participatory community approach to the role of technology in society – co-designing and co-creating tools with the most marginalized that improve their lives as well as the most privileged – will result in a more inclusive sector and powerful innovations. New developments to the web and product design require the intentional inclusion of impacted communities in all of the areas of the design process, including naming the problems and the right role of proposed solutions. Impacted communities offer a poignant perspective and expertise that only lived experience can provide.
Equity and public health: Living through our third year of a global pandemic has exposed the world to the concept of public health, and the desperate need for holistic and systemic approaches to achieving our health in perhaps unorthodox ways. While the dominant image that comes to mind when people hear the term “public health” may now evoke an image of Dr Fauci, many may still not be making the connection of systemic human rights as a primary determinant of our wellbeing – as individuals or as a society.
The reality is, we are all interconnected – as families, coworkers, neighbors, countries, and a global community. And we are each deeply embedded in systems that determine our health outcomes. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world supported people’s health in ways that seemed unconventional for many – including moratoriums on evictions, relief packages for additional income, releasing people from incarceration, bonuses for healthcare workers, funding for small businesses, expanding childcare benefits, just to name a few. One lesson is clear: health is inextricable from housing, food access, dignified healthcare, employment, education, environmental conditions, and the ability to live without fear of harm. And, as we’ve learned since 2019, everything is dependent on our collective wellbeing as a population – from our labor markets and economies, to our food systems, to public safety, and beyond. These truths make it clear that public health – and more specifically health equity – needs to be a shared priority moving forward, not just during a pandemic.
- Taking action: Root causes of various health outcomes have been exposed and it’s our responsibility to preserve this frame. Targeting individual behavior change on narrow concepts of health is simply not as effective in the long term as strategizing for systemic impact through community- or societal-level interventions like narrative, policy, and structural change. We can no longer pretend that health hinges on the individual; we must critically analyze the socioeconomic and built environments that shape health outcomes for all, especially in marginalized communities. Integrating a systems and equity lens into campaigns and movement building is essential to creating sustainable health outcomes for all. Initiatives for social impact must unapologetically emerge from this analysis if we are to make any progress towards improved community and global health.
We know equitable social impact is possible. To partner with us on these issues, and to learn more about the Racial Equity Impact Practice at Purpose, reach us at email@example.com.
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