Change the World: Become an Active Citizen
OK -- so 'Change the World' is really a love song. But, you could consider taking those three words literally. While many business leaders and CEOs are accused of placing too much attention on the bottom line and not enough on their people, one leader put other people first way before it was ever trendy. Now he's sharing stories to inspire others and find fulfillment in truly changing the world. It can enrich a person's whole life, from the heart to the head to the wallet. And it's not just optional anymore either; he says the world is becoming full of what he calls "active citizens."
Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels, is author of the newly released "Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World." His point: just volunteering now and then treats symptoms of society's problems, but being an "active citizen" goes to the root causes of issues like poverty, hunger and illiteracy. And, he says, being an active citizen, can have longer lasting impacts. Active citizenship isn't a one-off opportunity; it's entrepreneurial and can even drive a career. He profiles 52 organizations and hundreds of people, showing that it is being done all over the world. Tisch also built an online community, increasing accessibility to opportunity.
New definitions of citizenship
Tisch fully acknowledges that a CEO's first responsibility is to shareholders. But he stands firmly by the belief that a person's business activities must gel with civic responsibility -- not be mutually exclusive. He also argues that there is almost a competitive environment right now with corporations vying to be the "best" corporate citizens.
He says that one must not be a pauper like Mother Theresa to prove dedication to solving the world's problems. He profiles successful engineers and professionals who bring their expertise to a greater good, and make a decent living at it. One example is the Teach for America program where teachers work in inner-city schools. The effort does not end there; he points out that 250 alumni of that program returned to schools to work as principals.
Large companies can make it a priority to integrate service into their business model. For example, he points to Fedex's efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to organizations like the Salvation Army and Red Cross. The company is driven by a bottom line, but sees real value in being a corporate citizen and even publishes an annual report documenting its efforts.
It's not just about "feeling good"
According to Tisch, being an active citizen is more than just getting personal fulfillment from participation a project. He says results can and should be measured -- for example, the number of people who have clean drinking water. "It's important to feel good about being active in those efforts and in turn constantly think of new ways to scale your success," he says.
"The key is the integration of doing well by doing good," Tisch adds.
Putting his money where his mouth is
Tisch started his quest as an active citizen back in college at Tufts University as an intern producing public-affairs programs at a local TV station. Today, he endows a college at Tufts that teaches public service. More than just supporting a class or building, his program encourages service across all majors and departments. Today, 80 percent of Tufts students take at least one course with an active citizen component.
As a CEO, he says his efforts have wide-ranging impacts that help business and society. "Do I want to operate in a society that is dysfunctional, racked by ignorance, disease, and crime?" he asks. The answer is no, and in response, he does things like participating in the national "Welfare to Work" program where he hired people who had lost welfare benefits. He says those employees had a high retention rate.
Doing "good" can be fun too: The Loews Hotel in the San Diego area hosts an annual Surf Dog Competition (Yes, dogs do the surfing), raising upward of $45,000 for charity. This year, the money went to the San Diego Police Department's Canine Unit.
How to get started
It can seem a bit overwhelming. Many people can barely find time to work, care for family, and maybe throw in a vacation or hobby. Tisch offers three "easy" steps to becoming an active citizen:
- Start small. Once you are involved in a small, local effort aimed at addressing some social need, the next question becomes, "How is it possible to expand this program to reach more people in need?"
- Think of active citizenship as "skills-based volunteering." Serving as a volunteer or part-time worker in a nonprofit social venture doesn't mean you're leaving your "other life" behind. We all have skills -- from marketing and law, to parenting and finance. As active citizens, find the community organizations that can benefit from your talents.
- One example of a simple way to get started is "digital citizenship." You probably use the Internet regularly. But maybe you haven't yet visited any digital forums about the most pressing public challenges you care about. You may find that you can share information about a topic you are knowledgeable about that helps that particular community.