Direct Engagement for Effective Business Leadership

"We must get proximate and close to the things we are passionate about changing," urges Bryan Stevenson, a profoundly compelling and effective advocate for justice who has been described as America's Nelson Mandela.

In his quest to right injustice, he urges us to "get close to the things that matter, get close to the places where there is inequality and suffering, get close to the spaces where people feel oppressed, burdened, and abused," said Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). "See what it does to your capacity to make a difference, see what it does to you."

While most of us do not devote ourselves to causes in the way that Stevenson does, there is much for us to learn in how we live our lives and through service to our communities as volunteers and nonprofit board members. Getting proximate to things that matter is an opportunity to enrich ourselves and our families, bear witness and take action, and improve the well-being of others and the world in which we live.

Through our businesses, we can also solve social, economic, and environmental challenges by understanding the issues on the ground. We see that a business leader like Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever, visits with smallholder farmers in their fields to gain insight about how to help them and their families in a way that improves their community and benefit his company and the world as well. By fostering sustainable farming, economic development and opportunity, and food security, all for the betterment of humankind, Paul Polman can grow his company's value.

"We cannot make good decisions from a distance," says Stevenson, the author of The New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. "If you are not proximate, you cannot change the world." Volunteering, nonprofit board service, and direct engagement with the people your company touches will make you a better business and community leader.