Opinion: Corporate responsibility isn’t all corporate — it’s about people and community (Puget Sound Business Journal)

Alaska employees and Kupu participants spend the day preserving the land while empowering youth.

Adapted from a column originally published in the Puget Sound Business Journal on October 21, 2019.

By Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines Vice President of External Relations

Open up the newspaper today, and you’ll find countless articles and opinion pieces on the role of a company – especially in times of growth. Is it jobs and innovation? Products that help people’s lives? Or is there a broader responsibility — to help solve challenging policy issues and enable the solutions? Or is the answer really “all of the above”?

The Business Roundtable waded into the conversation a couple of months ago, with a statement redefining the purpose of a corporation to promote “an economy that serves all.”

Media forums including the PSBJ’s Grow Seattle Conference have also been talking a lot about growth recently. There’s a lot of it here in the Seattle region, and some debate whether that’s a good thing. And while that growth creates some challenges, it also enables the resources to support and address them — Amazon providing a home for Mary’s Place families inside a new downtown building, Microsoft committing $500 million to affordable housing, Dick’s Burgers creating jobs and career pathways for local youth, REI advancing equity in the ability to get outdoors.

Many of us learned the concept of responsibility early, and for many it is a core value: responsibility to our families, loved ones, neighbors, colleagues, employer, and community. I’d argue it is and should be the same for companies — a core value, derived from the people who make us who we are. A way of life, not a program and not lived through a report.

Having worked in both public and private sectors, I appreciate the cultural traits that Alaska Airlines derived from its inception serving small communities across Alaska. It’s a sense that everything is connected and that we all are here to serve.

This week, hundreds of Alaska employees are out in the community, from New York to Seattle to Hawaii, to serve through our “Week of LIFT.” The program is named after the core principle of motion that allows us to fly, taking people where they need to go. And we know that “where someone needs to go” isn’t always a destination city. Sometimes it’s community, opportunity, or seeing a path to the future.

In Seattle, Alaska Airlines volunteers deep clean, organize, do yard work and prep meals for homeless families at Mary’s Place. They serve food at Farestart’s Guest Chef Night, pack food at Northwest Harvest, help keep Tacoma’s water clean on Orca Recovery Day, and create and organize LEGO League kits for FIRST Washington youth education programs.

At the end of the day, “corporate responsibility” is not just “corporate.” It’s about people and our responsibility to each other, those inside our companies and those around us. We can and should use economic lift to improve lives, enable opportunity, and share the benefits.

Businesses’ ability to give back in these ways, though, is directly connected to economic growth when we think long term. This work benefits from an environment that enables a vibrant and diverse business community sustaining into the future, enabling growth that works for all.

As a region, it’s incumbent on us to find this balance. It’s not about an annual report, though those are worth a read. It’s about people — the people who make up our workplaces and this place we call home.

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