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Why giving back is my most valuable tool in weathering a crisis

The managing director of HP, North America discusses the impact giving back brings to her life, and the positive effects of empathy to turbulent times.

Why giving back is my most valuable tool in weathering a crisis
[Photo: United Nations COVID-19 Response/Marzia Gamba/Unsplash]

We are entering a new world right now, where how we work, connect, and live will most likely change forever. Turbulence is bringing on a natural human tendency to focus on ourselves and our closest friends and family’s immediate needs. The dramatic consequences of the pandemic underscore what an extraordinary time period this is.

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Philanthropy and volunteerism consistently play important roles in my personal and professional life. For instance, in 2018 I established the Channel for Change program with my team at HP, a community outreach program in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America aimed at helping bridge the digital divide for underserved youth. I’ve personally witnessed the immense impact this program has had on young people aspiring to enter STEM fields, and the team is inspired to serve as mentors and remain engaged with their local communities.

Since the spread of COVID-19 globally, and with its current impact in the U.S., charity and giving back have taken on a new meaning. It’s no longer just about “feel good” moments but about making decisive actions that will create short- and long-term change for our collective future. Amid this crisis, here is how I believe charity will anchor us going forward.

Enrichment beyond dollars

I believe brands and individuals will be remembered for the actions they take right now, long after this crisis subsides. This is not just about what you donate; it is about what you do and the empathy of your actions.

In these divided times, engaging with our local communities is one way we can collectively use our time to improve circumstances after the crisis. This could be donating your time to collect items for food pantries, offering to grocery shop for an elderly neighbor, giving blood, supporting local restaurants, or putting a teddy bear in your front window as a game for kids to try and spot during socially-distant walks around their neighborhoods. These actions may seem reactive to our current situation, but the motivation is based on compassion, with positive rippling effects later.

Beyond individual contributions, there are opportunities for companies to leverage the reach and resources of their organization or industry.

Within my own community of Austin, it’s been inspiring to see that so many organizations have answered the call of those in need. Foundation Communities, which helps vulnerable families find affordable housing, doubled its food bank efforts since the crisis began. Grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Fiesta have implemented preferential queuing policies and early-open hours for the elderly and other vulnerable populations. Take this moment to evaluate what good your business can do for others.

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If your company has well-established charitable, volunteer, or philanthropic programs, funnel your energy into outreach efforts that only your company can provide during the pandemic.

Reinvention of the workplace

Moving forward, corporations will need to fundamentally revisit and rethink how they operate, especially as digital and technological capacities are put to the test. Organizations will be expected to reinvent themselves, practically overnight. As jobs shift, the global economy rebounds, and people regain their footing, our workplaces may not look much like their former selves.

Starting within the company, focus on creating inclusive and flexible policies for employees to ensure they and their families feel taken care of, such as flexible remote work schedules and staggered returns to the office. Just Capital is tracking the corporate response to COVID-19 among America’s largest employers and has found that 64% have already implemented modified schedules, 43% are providing paid sick leave, and 47% have contributed to community services.

Next, companies can look for ways to meet evolving needs. GE Healthcare is teaming with Ford Motor Company to scale the production of ventilators. Clothing brands such as Eddie Bauer, the Los Angeles-based Reformation, and Fruit of the Loom have shifted their production lines to make cotton-blend masks and other protective medical equipment. And around the world, 3D printing is helping save lives and protect front-line healthcare workers. Companies involved in 3D printing (including HP) are fighting COVID-19 using their technology to rapidly produce oxygen valves, masks, and bespoke parts for ventilators. We’re all witnessing in real time that this crisis is causing lifesaving innovation across the globe.

Emphasis on silver linings

Just a few short weeks ago, I was wishing for more time to spend with my family due to my busy travel schedule. I never expected my wish to come true in this way. As we all adjust to life indoors and now look forward to when we can again gather with our friends and colleagues, I’d encourage us to look for the silver linings.

For me, nightly family dinner has now become a staple. The stay-at-home orders that have been implemented in many countries around the world have also given us a glimpse of how quickly our planet could recover from decades of pollution; satellite images have shown that nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, has undergone sharp decreases in China and Italy.

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Actions speak louder than words. And right now, actions of empathy and understanding are what we need to strengthen our communities and emerge in a stronger state after the crisis ends.

What we do now will set a new precedent for charity and redefine how corporate organizations can create a positive impact for their communities.


Stephanie Dismore is the general manager and managing director, North America, HP Inc.

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