Canada’s Reconciliation process is rooted in social justice. It recognizes that Canada’s historic treatment of and attitude towards Indigenous Peoples—First Nations, Métis and Inuit—have many deep consequences for our society today.
The Reconciliation Commission highlights societal issues of marginalization and racial discrimination, overt systemic bias resulting in a lack of autonomy and opportunity for specific communities, and subtler implicit biases that infiltrate our actions, reactions and societal systems. From a sustainable development perspective, the issues are ones of social sustainability, the scope of which includes the dimensions of equity, diversity, social cohesion, quality of life and governance.
Social sustainability includes the dimensions of equity, diversity, social cohesion, quality of life and governance.
Ultimately, no organization committed to social responsibility can ignore the issues of marginalization and social inclusivity that are at the heart of Reconciliation. True economic prosperity requires businesses to consider their responsibility to the communities they operate in and serve; what economic choices support a world of opportunity and prosperity for all; and how to authentically embody that in their organization.
Beyond lip service. Asking powerful questions.
Reconciliation surfaces the importance of businesses and individuals recognizing and respecting the deeper context, and the need for greater attention to social inclusivity. As an entry point into a broader discussion of equity and prosperity for all, it can be powerful to engage with some key concepts that emerge from Canada’s Reconciliation process and other social justice movements.
- Recognition and Acknowledgement. These concepts are at the heart of social justice movements and Reconciliation. Before we can move forward we must recognize and acknowledge the events and harms of the past and where we are today. These concepts involve naming those who have been marginalized and acknowledging how they have and continue to be affected. With these concepts we acknowledge actions and events and ask ourselves what are the outcomes of these actions in our society?
- Safety and Respect. There can be no inclusiveness or healing if individuals feel unsafe. A key to safety is understanding the historical context that leads to someone feeling unsafe. The ability to move forward together is also rooted in the value of respectful relationships which involve both empathy and an understanding of similarities and differences. When engaging with others we must check in and ask who might feel unsafe and why? How can we respect this world view?
- Honour and Witness. Honouring and witnessing mean accepting reality without trying to impose our values on it. These concepts are important for ensuring we remember past and current events. We must do this not only so we have a historical record, but so we can do better. With these concepts we learn to accept what is so we can ask what needs to shift?
- Engagement and Action. Engagement and action involve a sincere desire to make change happen. To engage intentionally not just to promote inclusivity (which could still result in the primacy of a dominant world view) but to be inclusive in the development of our collective actions. With respect to engagement and action we must ask, How are we prepared to engage in these issues? and How do our actions help to close gaps in social outcomes?
Advancing the mission with frameworks and partners.
How can these concepts be advanced to move social justice issues beyond diversity and toward dialogue about equity, prosperity and self-determination?
In the words of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, in response to an invitation to participate in a reconciliation ceremony with the British Royal family, “Reconciliation has to be more than empty symbolic gestures.” In a world of Reconciliation and other, prominent social justice movements like Black Lives Matter, organizations with a strong social purpose should be asking themselves how they can align with the values uncovered by these movements in an authentic way.
When making the link between social justice issues and their brand, organizations should show understanding of the issues, have ways to facilitate dialogue about it for people who have various levels of care and awareness, and then ensure they create purpose driven brand and communications that position them authentically as organizations who care.
Keeping in mind the concepts and questions inspired by these movements, companies and organizations can incorporate them into the work they do at several levels.
Brand & Marketing Communications
- Develop and improve your social mission identity and brand by incorporating the concepts of social equity raised by these movements. For example:
- Introduce powerful questions such as those outlined above into brand visioning and strategy processes. What does your organization and brand look like in a world where Indigenous and Black lives matter?
- Move support beyond co-opting hashtags, language or protocols. Know what questions to ask and to whom, to be responsible participants in these movements.
- Become proficient in the application of research driven communications approaches, such as those defined by the Centre for Social Inclusion’s six strategies for effectively talking about race, that will help to advance the key tenets and principles of each movement.
CSR Strategy and Communications
- Consider how the concepts from these movements can be used to strengthen social sustainability outcomes through common CSR frameworks such as B Corp and GRI. For example:
- B Corp advocates an inclusive economy and considers community support and local economic impact as part of its B Impact Assessment. Use the Assessment to develop opportunities for social inclusion in your business practices through hiring, sourcing, social serving products or opportunity development, and to make these measurable and improvement oriented.
- Consider new frameworks that can help your organization to develop socially relevant business strategies. For example:
- Indigenomics by Carol Ann Hilton outlines principles for approaching economic development from an indigenous way of being and world view.
- Consider partnering with organizations whose work in this area will give your business added diversity, credibility and skills to deliver these frameworks—groups such as Transformation International, Reconciliation Canada, BALLE fellows.
- Find an expert in collaborative and participatory facilitation to help you and your team explore the topics of Reconciliation and social justice in business.
- Develop your capacity to lead your organization in ways that honour the specific and general intentions of Reconciliation and social justice movements. For example:
- Learn the considerations that must be incorporated into the generation of inclusive and socially relevant plans and decisions.
- Develop the skills and capacity building to engage in these topics. Skills include empathy, collaboration, conscious leadership and capacity to understand and communicate from different world views. Consider workshops, coaching programs, facilitation expertise. Consider, for inspiration, the BALLE fellowship, integral leadership, and dialogue for peaceful change.
- Participate in the development of opportunity and prosperity for all via economic development activities such as entrepreneurship, community investment, and new models of ownership, partnership and industry collaboration.
- Larger businesses can support and implement these types of endeavours via their social purpose and CSR mandates.
- Create opportunities for marginalized groups and advocate for new ways of doing business that protect the cultural context of these communities.
Leading by example
- The most important role your business has to play may simply be to lead by example. Look inward and examine what your organization looks like in a world positively impacted by Reconciliation. Authentically deliver products and services in a way that respects the intentions of the movement in a personal and business context. And partner for learning and credibility where you need it.
By making the powerful Reconciliation and social justice conversations relatable for your organization, you can help bridge the gap between social issues and business—no small feat in a world of competing priorities. Engaging in these dialogues, increasing consciousness and building the desire to make a difference, can be practical and inspiring for you and your business, and can be built into existing CSR and purpose driving frameworks.
Katja Macura is a Senior Consultant with Junxion and has extensive experience supporting leaders and entrepreneurs as they develop values-driven projects, organizations, and brands.