The Role of Business in Supporting Vital Conditions Necessary for the Well-Being of People, Places, and Racial Justice

Jan 7, 2023 | News

Introduction

WIN with Business came together in 2019 as a collaborative within the Well Being In the Nation (WIN) Network1 designed to extend the positive impact of business on the wellbeing of people and places, equity and racial justice. This is achieved through cross-sector community impact and broader community system change. WIN with Business helps businesses understand how they might take action to create a thriving and just society that promotes intergenerational well-being and equity.

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WIN With Business Framework

The WIN with Business Framework (see below) outlines contributions that can be made in three areas:

  • the well-being of people;
  • the well-being of places; and
  • equity and racial justice.

Well-Being of People

Businesses can align their cultures and environments to support the well-being of people. This can include employees, families, supply chain workers, and customers. Employee benefits, policies, practices, programs, and even products and services can all be aligned to help people improve their well-being.

 

Well-Being of Places

Businesses can become community stewards to enhance the well-being of places. They can partner with local governments and community partners to improve conditions in places where their employees live, work, and play.

Equity and Racial Justice

Businesses can apply a strategic focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion. This can help improve the essential conditions for racial and economic justice. Businesses can also create equitable products, programs, policies, and systems to advance the well-being of people and places that have inequitable outcomes.

Over the past few decades businesses have shifted from Corporate Social Responsibility programs to strategies that provide shared value for communities and society as well as business. To help businesses take action in this spirit, we explore how they can support seven “vital conditions”2 everyone needs to thrive:

  • Thriving natural world
  • Basic needs for health and safety
  • Humane housing
  • Meaningful work and wealth
  • Lifelong learning
  • Reliable transportation
  • Belonging and civic muscle (including equity and racial justice)

It is important to underscore that these conditions are deeply interconnected and none can be fully understood in isolation. Ideal solutions reflect a strategic and systemic response driven by a deep understanding of the connections among these many vital conditions. In this paper, we discuss how businesses can take action in each area to support the well-being of people, improve the well-being of places, and create stronger conditions for equity and racial justice.


Thriving Natural World

People

Everyone deserves to live in a healthy world free from hazards and pathogens, and resilient to future changes. A healthy natural world supplies clean air, water, and land, and well-functioning ecosystems. It also fulfills our need to connect with nature. Business practices that respect, protect, and regenerate our natural environment have many advantages, including healthier employees with lower health care costs, attraction and retention of talent for the organization and adjacent businesses, and a reduction in business costs due to greater productivity.3

Places

There is a growing recognition in the business world that everything is fundamentally connected, and that business practices that harm the natural environment are unsustainable for people, places, and business. In response to pressure from investors and consumers, businesses are improving their operations, products, and services so they do less harm. Ideally, they enhance the well-being of communities, and protect and regenerate the natural environment. Environmentally responsible practices can affect reputation and brand identity in beneficial ways.

Equity and Racial Justice

Black and Indigenous communities, and people of color (BIPOC), and low-income communities, are the most impacted by environmental crises. For example, Black Americans, other people of color, and Indigenous people are at increased risks from industrial pollution, natural- and man-made disasters, and pandemics.4

Low-income and communities of color are also the least likely to have access to public open spaces.5 This access is critical to well-being. Unhealthy land use, waste disposal, limited access to parks and green spaces, expose them to a higher risk of serious health problems.

What Can Businesses Do?

There is much that businesses can do to ensure that employees are exposed to the positive effects of the natural environment while at work. Access to natural light, clean air and water, ample greenery in and around the workplace can all contribute positively to health and well-being.6

For our natural world to thrive we must ensure that it is resilient to future interrelated threats like climate change, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, ocean acidification, and continued habitat destruction. This can positively impact all people including employees, customers, and community members. Businesses can use sustainable practices that do minimal harm to the natural environment and lift up low-income communities and communities of color. See Table 1 for more actions that businesses can take to help create a thriving natural world.7

Table 1. Actions Businesses Can Take to Improve Thriving Natural World ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER


Basic Needs for Health and Safety

Our Basic Needs for Health and Safety are among most practical requirements for our physical and mental well-being. They are about having enough of the things we cannot live without. Our need to feel safe from violence, crime, traumatic stress, and injury in our homes, schools, workplaces, and communities falls under this vital condition along with access to healthy, affordable food, and clean water.

People

A person’s health is driven by a combination of behavioral, social, community, and structural/systemic drivers in addition to genetic factors.8 According to the recent report on Community Health and Economic Prosperity from the Office of the Surgeon General,9 the US currently spends more on healthcare than any other developed country, yet we suffer from poorer health outcomes than any other developed country. Employers, who insure 56% of all Americans and 73% of those who work full-time, bear a disproportionate burden and opportunity.10

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Maintaining a healthier workforce can lower direct costs such as insurance premiums and worker’s compensation claims,”11 and positively impact many indirect costs such as absenteeism, burnout, and worker productivity.”12 Keeping employees safe on the job is also a strategic business priority. There is a strong case to ensure both the physical and psychological safety of employees at the worksite, and for workers in their supply chains.

Places

Business hiring, purchasing, and investing are all long-term contributors to the health of communities. But the health of the current and future workforce is also determined by the availability of healthcare services and other vital resources within the community. Many neighborhoods and communities have limited or no access to grocery stores that carry healthy food. People often must rely on drug stores, bodegas, and other small stores for food. These stores are less likely to carry fresh fruit and vegetables and other healthy food options.

In safe neighborhoods and communities, children can play without fear. Parents can let their children walk to school without worry. Streets are walkable and bikeable. Parks and other greenspaces are places for peaceful social gatherings. Safe communities are attractive to businesses of all sizes, which promotes flourishing local economies.

Equity and Racial Justice

Racial wealth and health gaps perpetuate the cycle of intergenerational poverty for communities of color. Forces like poverty, racism, and other forms of discrimination or isolation often contribute to food insecurity for people with low incomes. These conditions leave people of color in a poor state of physical and mental well-being and perpetuate the cycle of poverty through the loss of decades of life in communities. This adds to the allostatic stress from structural racism and experience of trauma that come with poverty to worsen mental, physical, financial, and social well-being.

Finally, too many families of color live in neighborhoods that suffer from disinvestment. They have few quality services and amenities and face the dangers of over-policing.13 They are often excluded from safe neighborhoods with quality schools, healthy environments, and access to good jobs.14

What Can Businesses Do?

Many businesses offer health benefits and other wellness and well-being initiatives to their full-time employees. They can also make these benefits available to part-time employees. In communities, businesses can invest in clinics and help strengthen supporting healthcare infrastructure.

Businesses can make a big difference in the well-being of employees by helping them access healthy food while they are at work. There are also many ways businesses can help people eat a high-quality diet at home and in their communities. They can increase resilience in the food chain to improve access to nutritious food, even in times of emergency. These actions are especially helpful for people with low incomes in areas with the most disinvestment.

Businesses can also do a lot to promote both physical and psychological safety in the workplace as well as on our streets, and throughout our communities. See Table 2 for specific actions that businesses can take to support our basic needs for health and safety.15

Table 2. Actions Businesses Can Take to Improve Basic Needs for Health and Safety. ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER


Humane Housing

People

We can best thrive when we have secure, stable places to live, and when our homes and neighborhoods are safe from hazards. Where we live impacts our physical and mental health, and our access to education, and well-paying, stable jobs. It also offers chances to network and access to community resources like parks and stores. Having access to safe, quality, affordable housing can positively impact health and well-being.

Places

When employees can access affordable, stable housing in safe and thriving communities it is good for business. People with secure and humane housing can be more productive members of the workforce. They also have lower rates of mental and physical health issues, improved focus and productivity, fewer work absences, and less workplace stress.

Equity and Racial Justice

Soaring rents and home prices in major American cities affect wellbeing, especially for people with low-incomes and people of color. A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition17 entitled “Out of Reach”, showed minimum wage workers can’t afford the average cost of a rental in any U.S. county without working more than one job.

Housing instability leads to disparities in rates of chronic health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes for people of color. The Fair Housing Act (1968) was designed to address unfair housing policies, but the negative legacy continues today. Black Americans are still three times as likely as White Americans to live in outdated, crowded, or substandard homes.18

What Can Businesses Do?

Businesses can help build wealth and opportunity by improving access to affordable housing in the areas they are located. They can do this in their current locations or in areas where they want to move or expand. Please see Table 3 for additional ways businesses can contribute to humane living conditions for their employees, and in surrounding communities. Ultimately, the best thing employers can do to help employees weather the affordable housing crisis in the United States is to pay a living wage.19,20

Table 3. Actions Businesses Can Take to Improve Humane Housing. ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER


Meaningful Work and Wealth

People

Meaningful Work and Wealth is about having work that pays a living wage and provides a sense of meaning and purpose. Meaningful work supports growth and innovation in the personal and professional lives of employees. The business value of meaningful work and wealth has been well-documented. People who have meaningful work report greater well-being,21 feel their work is important and has value,22 have greater job satisfaction,23 and experience greater “work unit cohesion.”24 This allows employees to focus their energy on productivity, innovation, quality, and other business drivers. Businesses that provide meaningful work and wealth can expect lower attrition, more brand loyalty, and increased engagement from employees.

Places

Investing in meaningful work and wealth can strengthen communities and societies. At the policy level, it creates a more stable environment for businesses, and provides strategic, operating, and cultural benefits. Businesses that play strong stewardship roles can bring more value to their key stakeholders and enhance both their market position and their status as a business partner. It also creates a stronger, healthier, more stable society.

Equity and Racial Justice

Wealth in America has historically been unequally distributed, most often by race. Black Americans have faced decades of systemic challenges that have led to lower income levels than White Americans. These historic inequities also meant fewer chances to build wealth and pass it on to future generations. Policy levers such as improved access to higher education, will not be enough to create equal wealth-building opportunity. Only relentless attention to policies that create wealth can address this glaring inequity.

What Can Businesses Do?

When businesses commit to building wealth and well-being for their employees – especially for women and people of color – it helps families thrive and provides wealth for future generations. See Table 4 for actions that businesses can take to create conditions for meaningful work and wealth for their people and in communities to create a fairer and more equitable world.25

Table 4. Actions Businesses Can Take to Support Meaningful Work and Wealth. ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER


Lifelong Learning

People

Lifelong Learning is about providing a good education for all that ensures all people, regardless of age, background, or ability, are set up for success and have opportunities to reach their full potential. It’s about an education that launches people into meaningful careers with ongoing opportunities to learn and grow. If our citizens and society are to prosper in the coming decades, we must support the continuous development of cognitive, social, emotional abilities from the earliest stages of life to mature adulthood.28

Places

Supportive learning environments maximize student learning and positively shape social and behavioral development. Education is also an engine of social mobility. Higher levels of education are linked with more income, better health, and increased opportunities throughout life. Building human capital is an essential long-term investment for which today’s business and community leaders must make a compelling case in order to focus the public’s near-term attention.28

Equity and Racial Justice

Throughout American history, policies like urban renewal and unfair zoning practices have created neighborhood segregation by race and income. Biased lending practices have led to increased poverty and community disinvestment. White flight to the suburbs starting in the mid-20th century also decreased the tax base in inner cities. This meant less support for schools, social services, infrastructure, and public safety. This has meant that BIPOC are more likely to attend under-resourced and outdated schools and face higher rates of school disciplinary consequences than white students. They are also subject to more interactions with police in schools in the form of contraband sweeps, interrogations, physical restraints, and arrests.29 Systemic racism in education is a root cause of many other inequities, it is crucial to take a strong stand in favor of large-scale changes to the US system of education.30

What Can Business Do?

The basic premise of lifelong learning is that it is not feasible to equip learners at school, college, or university with all the knowledge and skills they need to prosper throughout their lifetimes. Therefore, people will need continually to enhance their knowledge and skills in order to address immediate problems and to participate in a process of continuous vocational and professional development. The necessary paradigm shifts will require unprecedented levels of flexibility, imagination, and innovation from both management and labor unions.28 See Table 5 for actions that business can take to support lifelong learning.31

Table 5. Actions Businesses Can Take to Enhance Lifelong Learning. ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER


Reliable Transportation

People

Transportation is important for access to jobs and social mobility. In the United States, we mostly use personal vehicles for our daily travel. But cars produce negative effects like pollution, road accidents, and traffic sprawl. Public transport provides options for people who cannot or choose not to drive and is more environmentally friendly. Increasing access to public transportation or other forms of personal transportation, such as biking or walking, and provides greater access to jobs and other essential services. It also minimizes the impact on our natural world.

Places

A centrally located, accessible business attracts more talent and consumers. Location also promotes social mobility as it can connect low-income individuals and support employees who have children by locating near schools or childcare centers.

Living and working in walkable or bikeable areas can promote better physical health, and a healthier workforce. This can lead to lower healthcare and insurance costs for the business. When employees can walk or bike to work and do not have to fight morning traffic or juggle bus and rail schedules, they are also more likely to be on time to work.

Equity and Racial Justice

Equitable transportation policies, systems, and practices can affect the wellbeing of people and places. As of a 2019 World Economic Forum Report, the United States ranks 13th for its transportation and utility infrastructure.33 Investment in our country’s transportation infrastructure peaked in the mid-20th century but has since declined. At the same time, demand for safe, efficient, reliable transportation has increased. So, public recommitment to transportation is essential for economic growth.

What Can Businesses Do?

There is much that businesses can do to enhance the reliability of transportation. They can provide solutions directly to the people in their organizations, and they can work to improve the experience of moving around in places. Businesses can contribute to community economic development goals by encouraging employees to use public transportation. They can also advocate for equitable policies and systems that overhaul the local and national transportation systems. Please see Table 6 for additional actions businesses can take to improve reliable transportation.34

Table 6. Actions Businesses Can Take to Improve Reliable Transportation. ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER


Belonging and Civic Muscle

People

Belonging and civic muscle is about creating conditions within a workplace and community where everyone feels they belong, where they feel they can participate, prosper, reach their full potential, and contribute to that of others. It is about how people choose to relate to one another, about the culture and cohesion of a community, and about the systems that create that culture. Civic muscle refers to how deeply people participate in the way their workplace or community functions.

“Belonging and Civic Muscle wraps around the other vital conditions because it is both a vital condition unto itself and a pragmatic necessity for success in almost any endeavor to expand well-being.28

Belonging goes beyond diversity and inclusion and is about the whole culture of the workplace. Harvard Business Review35 published a study of 1789 employees across the US which found that high belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. The authors observe that for a 10 000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52 million.

Places

A sense of belonging in a community directly impacts businesses’ ability to attract and retain a workforce. It also has direct implications for health. People who are socially connected have a 50% increase in survival odds, according to a meta-analysis of findings from 148 studies.36 Communities with an inclusive sense of belonging and strong civic muscle can better design pathways to resilience, gather assets to respond effectively and equitably in a crisis, persistently expand vital conditions, while alleviating urgent needs.37

Equity and Racial Justice

Workplaces that have a greater sense of belonging, social connection, diversity and inclusion perform better than those that don’t. A study of 1700 companies by the Boston Consulting Group found both 9% higher Earnings before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) Score and a 19% higher rate of revenue derived from innovation in companies with above-average rate of diversity in their management teams vs those that were below average.37 This is true for racial, gender, education, and other kinds of diversity.

What Can Businesses Do?

Enhancing a sense of belonging in the workplace goes beyond hiring and social events to creating a true culture of inclusion. This can include regular dialogue within the organization and with teams, as well as mentorship, and allyship. In addition, businesses can enact policies to assure diversity in the supply chain by prioritizing minority and women-led businesses. Any new program or policy should be assessed for its potential impact on different racial and ethnic groups.

Businesses can also become active participants in the communities and actively lobby for system change. For more information on how businesses can strategically advance racial justice in their workplaces, and beyond their walls, we encourage you to read the CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity, developed by FSG, Just Capital and PolicyLink.38,39 Please see Table 7 for other actions that businesses can take to help create conditions for all people to participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.40

Table 7. Actions Businesses Can Take to Improve Belonging and Civic Muscle. ⇒ OPEN IN VIEWER

Conclusion

While the business climate is changing, there is still much to be done. Businesses have a vital role to play in the needed changes. Inclusive, systemic, and strategic approaches to enhance the well-being of people and places, and support equitable policies, practices, and systems will have the greatest impact. Authors of the CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity point out that business leaders
“…wield tremendous power to transform business, culture, our economy, and our democracy. We need you to unabashedly embrace your full leadership power, with an uncompromising focus on equity and justice. This is the new business leadership our nation needs to meet the scale of the structural challenges before us. Government and civil society cannot do it alone.”
Embracing a wider ecosystem role can help businesses access new prospects, open new markets, deepen relationships, and provide shared value for people, places, and local and global ecosystems. Understanding that being part of a thriving world means that – while not every action will immediately lead to a business’ well-being – a thriving, just and stable world benefits everyone in the long run.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

by Jennifer S.Pitts, PhD1, BobbyMilstein, PhD, MPH2, and SomavaSaha, MD, MS3

Published by The American Journal of Health Promotion 

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