How do leaders get noticed and acknowledged and how do they keep their heads on their shoulders?
It takes a lot of courage and in the many ways that leaders can sometimes be forgotten as human beings, it is always important to stop and do some deep reflection on the reason and the mission.
When I set out to become the best leader that I could have been, little did I know that it had an audience that would be watching on far and wide and cheering me on when the lights were slowly dimming - ushering me to stay focused, stay delighted in my passions and stay committed to the journey.
In many of the diverse populations in the Caribbean where Women Entrepreneurs who get an opportunity to leave our shores to be noticed on other dynamic platforms and stages are a minority, I am often reminded to look over my shoulder, see who needed a little joist to the next level, grab firmly on that hand and keep on moving together to the next rung.
I found this very helpful to the village that had raised me and made no apologies for this act, when it became clear to me, this was the ONLY WAY FORWARD.
Think of this as the relay, where one hand grabs the baton carefully and takes it to the next leg, firmly knowing that the race will be continued by a team of reliable and resourceful folks who all want to see the end result - the prize and the pomp and ceremony when the winner touches the podium to get that thorny crown and trophy.
And believe me, you can get both a thorny crown and a trophy at the same time, as an entrepreneur. It is par for the course and it has its own life - resuscitating itself by fuel that comes from a sincere, determined and deep place; when the world seems to be crashing emotionally, financially, spiritually and physically - colliding into one big mesh of wreckage that only a scrapyard could render useful. But that determined self is usually the one reminding us to not give up. That determined self holds on for dear life and makes the best of it! Whatever IT looks and smells like.
My first reality of the truth about the misconception of CSR as a Social Entrepreneur in the Caribbean, came when a large enterprise aka corporate invited my SME to be their “poster” for all things breast cancer. I sadly and naively went on to discover that it was not because they really wanted to, but because as they put it at the time - they were the only ones not doing anything for cancer. That was the reddest flag ever and I am still so thankful that I was reserved and calculated enough to step back and ask the bigger question - why me and for what was this worth my compromise?
Months later and after another red flag, where one of their Communications Team plagiarized - yes - our entire concept note about the significance of our branding, we were dropped from their cards and replaced by another Woman Entrepreneur. A couple of years later, they would take up an entirely different “cause” and would fade into the CSR landscape - only because this was not an act of genuine care - but an act to be noticed for doing “something”.
It is time to firmly place the appropriate labels around CSR and share some of my most memorable globally oriented CSR moments to date. It is my desire to bring my thought-leadership into finite action - working closely with ALL Caribbean organizations, willing to lead change - in changing the dynamic, enhancing the CSR mindset, elevating the thinking around giving and supporting organizations that want to unhinge the secret sauce, applying their unique organizational cultures; inserting my many personal experiences and engagements and sharing with them, the dynamics of how to make CSR a “FAD” that lasts!
I have been given the time and access to what can only be described as a FAD of a different kind - FOCUSED Capacity Building, ALIGNED Relationship Management and DEDICATED Engagement which are milestones and a pattern for many to follow if given the opportunity.
I see this as a time for Caribbean Corporates to truly dig into their resources, not for a short term or a short series, but for a lasting print that can match up on any world stage and not just the carnival stages and at employee morale campaigns but as a true pattern and blueprint for a strengthened Caribbean CSR ecosystem.
For many corporations engaging in a comprehensive CSR program, it is critical to clarify what is the long term contribution to the socioeconomic landscape and who are the soldiers; the troops that will navigate, evaluate and sustain this dedicated act.
Most of all, it begins with a change of mindset that pivots the act of giving - there are three observations around this that are easily fixed - (1) that the giving must be accompanied by Public Relations and a photo opportunity (2) that giving seemingly must be financial in nature (3) that giving cannot be perceived to be towards one who might already “have”.
Contrary to this belief, there is actually historical data to prove that consistently giving to one action can strengthen it over time, to the extent that it becomes fueled by staying power towards becoming a continued action of fostering and propelling the act of giving and the culture of giving.
In his 2018 article, my friend, Mentor and the Global Director of Global Community Impact at Johnson and Johnson - Michael Bzdak remarks that “the new era of collaboration should move beyond a shared value mindset to new models of partnership, where each contributor plays an equal role in defining challenges, accepting risk and designing solutions with the greater goal of sustainable value creation”.
In 2002, when we set out to create a Social Enterprise - Ms. Brafit focused on Women’s Health, it was by these very values that allowed us to stand out, to be sought out and nominated on global stages and platforms - out of pools of thousands of other global Social Enterprises to be given many opportunities and capacity building tools, to build partnerships with not only like minded organizations, but who shared a clear path of the future of any country’s human capital by understanding that investing in ONE WOMAN was not a disadvantage for the community, but an advantage and an asset to the WORLD.
Today as I sit in numerous vibrant global communities where I can apply my capacity to create and fuel positive change and impact, there is a clear disadvantage to the strength of a sustainable CSR Program which does not focus on the long haul.
I have seen how my personal agency as a woman leader and global woman leader from the Caribbean, has been fortified, to the extent of allowing me to create a bold network of doers, which has further translated into my confidently and fearlessly paying it forward - investing in women in my network, collaborating to pool our limited resources, creating alliances that bridge gaps, holding space for each other and helping raise the boys and girls in the proverbial villages, in our communities, in our networks - who can derive the many unique investments that global corporations have made in my own development.
When the entire world shifts from measuring who gets “too much” and begins to parcel our each of these portions for bigger purpose then, the true value of CSR will be easier to measure.