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Creating a Career of Compassion and Purpose

Keesa Schreane

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Intertwining service and profit can create a meaningful workplace that enhances careers and enriches the community

Shawn Askinosie, CEO of Askinosie Chocolate, says getting rich as a chocolate maker is not his focus. I recently spoke with Askinosie on an episode of the “You’ve Been Served” podcast, during which he told me that delivering fair and equitable pay to farmers in his supply chain—from Kenya to Ecuador—is his primary objective. He says Askinosie Chocolate also contributes to childhood education in the communities where it does business.

For example, the company’s experiential learning program, Chocolate University, provided laptops to students in a Tanzanian school and funded the school’s first computer teacher. The company has also sponsored school trips from its Missouri home base to visit farms in various countries, where students taste chocolate and get an inside look at the business.

These initiatives may sound overwhelming if you’re a CMO or entrepreneur, and probably sound downright impossible if you’re a marketing manager trying to positively impact your team members. But it starts by understanding your purpose and why you’re in business. What is your mission? Is it education? Financial empowerment? To create workplace readiness programming?

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Before defining your organization’s purpose, the first move is to understand what your purpose is as an individual. I’ve always been drawn to communicating important concepts to audiences through education and awareness. My interests range from financial empowerment to developing programs that demonstrate compassion and service in workplace environments. Whenever I align myself with firms, teams or other individuals with a strong desire to improve our organizations or people, it always results in a powerful community development or employee engagement program.

I serve as co-chair of a women’s business resource group where our aim is to create programs to empower women and engage with customers and community members who share the mission of empowering women in the workplace.

Whenever I align myself with firms, teams or other individuals with a strong desire to improve our organizations or people, it always results in a powerful community development or employee engagement program.

We shifted our energy and resources to girls in STEM and I used my connections as an advisory board member at the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York to determine the best programming to impact girls in our organization. After researching the technical skills and confidence-boosting environments that would best serve teenagers, I sought out relevant colleagues who were interested in helping young people. Many of them had never participated in social impact programs, but they wanted to make a positive difference and were on board with actively creating and implementing the program. We pulled together women from our firm who were data scientists, product managers and technologists. This months-long mentorship program for young women in our Girl Scout Leadership Institute became a superb corporate social responsibility case study.

One of the most fascinating outcomes of the program was the authenticity and vulnerability of the adult mentors. One colleague shared her story of coming to New Jersey from Chile with her family. She reflected on being the only girl in her elementary school class who did not speak English. She had a desire to communicate with the other students and was frustrated as a child because she was not able to verbally share with other kids. Many of the young women in the Leadership Institute were able to relate, and that led to a richer experience for mentor and mentees.

In the years since running that program, we have asked the men and women in our business resource group what they are interested in doing for our community. This initial program sparked creativity and touched on a desire that already existed; people simply needed to see an example of how to carry out this type of initiative. We have since strategized and executed programs around financial empowerment, workplace readiness and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our purpose has been to organize around a common goal with measurable performance indicators for ourselves and those we support.

Shawn Askinosie believes that if we do not intertwine service and profit while creating a meaningful workplace for our colleagues, then our economies and products will suffer. Managers and entrepreneurs can work to understand what gets their colleagues excited about their work and how the business can bring its products and services to market to improve the lives of others. From this foundation, we can create a mission that excites us and integrates the best of what we deliver to market with a desire to make our environments better—both inside and outside the organization.

Keesa Schreane is host and executive producer of the podcast "You've Been Served." She is a featured columnist in Essence, Latina and Black Enterprise magazines and an on-air contributor with NASDAQ.