I’ve never seen Michigan so divided. The challenges of 2020 have caused a lot conflict among our fellow citizens. The coronavirus pandemic. Racial injustice. The election. As we start looking to 2021 and beyond, it’s time to ask: Is there any chance to restore a sense of unity?
Of course we can!
I’ve found renewed optimism in a new book — “Believe In People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World.” Written by Charles Koch, one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs, and Brian Hooks, the head of the country’s most innovative philanthropic community, the book lays out the path for people of all backgrounds to come together to tackle the serious challenges that surround us. At a time when a lot of folks are blaming each other for society’s ills, the book points out that people aren’t the problem. Just the opposite — people are the solution.
Ultimately, the book has a call to action that needs to be heard: Let’s look for places to partner and make a positive difference on the issues that matter most. I think it’s a message for business leaders in particular.
The book title gets to the heart of what we aren’t seeing in Michigan right now — a belief in people. You can see it in the political disagreements that have turned into brawls, the way that some friends and family and neighbors no longer trust each other. Rebuilding that trust and belief is key to restoring a sense of unity in our state. And a sense of unity is essential to solving the serious problems we face.
As Michiganders, we all must take action to set the example. That starts by reaching out to someone, identifying areas of agreement and building a solution from there.
We all agree that something needs to be done about poverty. At least 14% of Michiganders were living in poverty before the pandemic, and now it’s much worse. Business leaders can partner to tackle this issue, either by launching new projects or supporting existing ones. I’ve been inspired by the Family Independence Initiative, a national anti-poverty group that works in Detroit. Its community-based model helps people increase their income, and during the pandemic it has helped more than 200,000 households. Businesses can come together to support these kinds of much-needed efforts.
Similarly, we all agree that people who’ve lost jobs during the pandemic need support. So let’s work together to find creative ways to help them get back on their feet. Businesses nationwide have done just that through SkillUp, which is helping people who’ve been laid off find new and better work. About 1,000 people are signing up every day, and with more support, the program could do even more good. There are many other opportunities to collaborate on this cause if we look for them.
Finally, we all agree that everyone deserves the chance to succeed. Over the past decade, Michigan businesses united to support criminal justice reform at the state level, giving people who’ve run afoul of the law a second chance. A lot of us partnered to support similar criminal justice reforms at the federal level in 2018. Let’s look for more opportunities to cut through the partisan divide and find places to enact common-sense policies that empower people to thrive.
There’s much we can do if we believe in people and unite to help them. We don’t need to look to city hall or the state house for answers — we can collaborate in our communities and as companies to move forward.
We don’t just have the ability to act. We have the responsibility take action — perhaps action similar to what I outlined above. Let’s look for areas of agreement and then get to work. Bringing people together is the best way to bring Michigan through this difficult year, and into the future.
Doug DeVos is a co-chairman of Amway. He is a member of the Stand Together philanthropic community. Learn how to get involved at www.standtogether.org.