For the last 20 years, Loews Hotels has supported community-based social programs in the cities where it operates through its Good Neighbor Policy. Much of that commitment can be attributed to its CEO/chairman, Jonathan Tisch, who wrote Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World. The book’s major theme discusses the present surge in grassroots activism and volunteering sweeping the globe.
We were curious to hear the CEO’s thoughts about how the meetings industry can help. And why it should.
“The private sector has a responsibility because we know today that our problems cannot be solved by government alone,” says Tisch. “So when a meeting planner adds a community service element to a meeting, they’re not only building bonds among coworkers, they’re helping a community where that particular meeting is taking place, and that’s noble and commendable.”
Except Tisch says we might want to step it up a bit. He’s not a fan of the term “giving back,” calling it “stagnant” and “a bit singular.” He says he prefers the phrase, “Understanding one’s responsibility to a community.”
There’s a significant difference.
“The challenges we face today as a society are enormous and they are urgent. We need to go beyond the simple act of volunteering,” he says. “We need to come together as active citizens and engage in the conversation about why we have these problems to start with. ‘Giving back’ is to me a representation of a one-time event, whereas understanding your responsibilities to a community gets into the core problems we face as a society.”
With that in mind, Tisch suggests that planners can help their clients/companies develop a more systemic and sustainable relationship with the communities they interact with, to help foster a deeper dialogue. That conversation then extends throughout the corporation itself, among all departments, and ostensibly into the home. The end result: widespread active citizenship.
“Once everyone is ensconced comfortably back in their office, the meeting planner can keep that [service] sensibility going by keeping in touch with the organization they just assisted,” he says. “They can continue to offer their support and skills through appropriate followup, relative to the teambuilding and community building that they just went through.”
Likewise, planners from one group might work with their counterparts planning subsequent group visits to the area, much like you do when sharing costs for table centerpieces, for example. Let’s say your group helps out at a teen center. You could tell the next planner what worked well with the older boys. You might partner with other planners to focus on one Habitat for Humanity house, and create a social network for all the volunteers, etc.
By coordinating more collaborative volunteer strategies and sharing knowledge, planners can help build a stronger, more continuous and more sustainable marriage between private corporate interests and the welfare of a community.
“The only way we’re going to survive and leave something for our children and our grandchildren is by putting aside our individual concerns and working toward a greater good,” says Tisch.
What about the cynics?
“To the cynics I would say, unless we find ways to work together, there will be so many challenges for generations to come to deal with. It is not fair that we as the senior statesmen and women who have created some of these problems, don’t try to fix some of these problems.”