The rich-poor divide is a growing problem in many societies: it needs urgently addressing because it effectuates social unrest and tension. But doing so requires a concerted effort from all sectors of society, especially business, to find solutions.
Many factors contribute to the widening rich-poor divide, including unequal distribution of wealth. Given its severity, this factor is currently being investigated by the U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. According to research data gathered by the committee, the top 1% of American households now own 40% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 80% combine for only 7%. I am invited to attend many of the committee’s hearings. The most recent considered bringing prosperity to left-behind communities by using targeted place-based development to expand economic opportunity. The debate was powerful and concluded how damaging unequal access to opportunities for communities is. For example, rich districts have better access to education, jobs and health care. Poorer neighborhoods, by comparison, are in crisis: they experience a lack of investment in social and community infrastructure in particular. This has contributed to a decline in the sense of social cohesion in many communities. As a result, residents feel isolated and disconnected, creating a sense of hopelessness and despair, concludes Dennis Aguma, founder of NASE Africa, a social enterprise designed to promote youth entrepreneurship, employability and entrepreneurship.
Consequently, we must invest in community development and revitalization efforts to improve all residents’ quality of life. Business leaders, in particular, can help, and there are many reasons for doing so!
Firstly, helping others is simply the right thing to do, and as a business leader, you have the power to make a real difference in people’s lives. So whether you’re providing financial assistance to those in need, donating supplies to a local school or nonprofit, or volunteering your time to help with community projects, your contributions can make a real difference.
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I spoke with Ryan Leonard, founder and CEO of NJF Worldwide, about the importance of giving back to your community as a business leader. Leonard is a veteran and cites “selfless service” as one of the core values that has guided his life and helped him grow NJF from a company selling custom t-shirts out of his car to a leader in global manufacturing. Using his knowledge and experience from the Army, he partnered with overseas companies totalling over $100 billion in yearly revenue. In doing so, he built the networks needed to create a global manufacturing operation and now sells over twelve million products annually.
NJF initially grew to global prominence as a manufacturing company supplying medical items like at-home testing kits for colon cancer screenings, Urinary Tract Infection panels, and DNA and RNA specimen collection equipment. However, during the pandemic, it became a leading PPE and COVID-19 medical equipment provider to the U.S. government. Recently, NJF was even able to finish a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) order of Rapid Antigen Tests in record time, cutting their estimated delivery time in half and helping all New York City school systems remain open.
“NJF Worldwide began assisting the state of New York by providing them with three million PCR swabs. We gave the state 26 million rapid tests the following year,” said Leonard. “I’ve never been prouder!”
Leonard places great importance on giving back to the community that raised him by funding youth programs and donating to local nonprofits. He told me that he works to ensure his successes at NJF can benefit everyone around him, for example, by hiring qualified local persons for relevant projects.
Clearly, businesses can make a real difference in their communities. But while giving back is essential, it may not enough to solve the rich-poor divide. Instead, we need to address the root causes of inequality if we want to make lasting change. And that starts with creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background or zip code. “When we invest in education, job training, and small business development, we help level the playing field and provide everyone with a chance to succeed,” said Leonard.
One example of giving back in this way can be observed at Crystal Capital Partners’ Idea Lab, a classroom discussion and project designed to empower students in graduate-level programs with real-world financial experiences. “We want to help prepare the next generation of leaders in our industry,” said Steven Brod, Crystal’s CEO. “The current system is leaving too many people behind, and we need to do better. By providing opportunities for those who might not otherwise have them, we can help create a more diverse and inclusive industry that reflects the world around us better.” Brod continued, “We want to give young people the skills they need to be successful in the finance industry and positively impact the world.”
He is not alone in his belief that businesses have a responsibility to help solve social problems, and neither is Leonard. In fact, many business leaders are beginning to realize that their companies can positively impact society while also benefiting economically.
The bottom line is that businesses are responsible for giving back to their communities. Doing so can help create opportunities for people who might not otherwise have them and help solve social problems. In the process, they can also benefit their companies economically. When you help your community, you make it a better place to live and work, which benefits everyone, regardless of their background or zip code. And that’s something we can all get behind. So, what are you waiting for? Start giving back today!