Justice is fashionable today. Shop for something “RED” to stem the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Buy a bottle of pure drinking water to help the billion people who survive without it. Spare 99 cents at the cash register for the 2 billion who survive each day on less. Follow a friend on twitter and learn a child dies every four seconds from hunger and related diseases. Watch a disaster live on CNN.
But, for many, justice is more than a fad. Action is becoming mainstream. For example students have raised money to stop trafficking through a campaign called “End It.” Several thousand people have converged in Portland, Philadelphia, L.A., Chicago and around the world for The Justice Conference to discuss how to do justice in their neighborhoods. Across the nation, students, churches, and communities are asking honest questions about unjust policies in our country. It’s a new day.
The call to do justice is for all people, not just non-profits and socially-minded corporations. Everyone must engage in socially responsible change.
While this mainstream awakening to justice is inspiring, it threatens the existence of many nonprofits, organizations, and businesses working in the justice space. Specifically, three paradigms are noteworthy, ones we must adapt to else we risk being made irrelevant.
First, charity is democratized. Virtually anyone can start something new in the justice space. We are experiencing a proliferation of start-up charities in the United States – about 100 new nonprofits a day – and around the world. The traditional barriers to entry in the humanitarian space have been leveled.
Second, trade knowledge is accessible. For example, I flew into Haiti the day following the earthquake yet much of the information we needed to respond well came from our colleagues in the U.S. On most days, my friends and family knew more about the day-to-day developments in Port au Prince even though I was in the middle of the crisis. Geographic, cultural, and technical knowledge of the great causes of our day is infinitely more accessible today than even five years ago.
Third, everyone wants to tell the justice story. Celebrities like Bono and Oprah regularly lend their voices to justice causes. To be clear, they have surely raised the profile of critical issues. But their voices have also invited the masses to do the same. Social media allows anyone to tell their story, even those who are living in contexts of injustice. Previously expensive communication technology is now mass-marketed. Furthermore, the justice generation wants to participate deeply in their brands of choice, and tacitly demand a role in shaping these brands.
Of course, these shifts present great risks to the quality of humanitarian services to the most vulnerable. Importantly, those entering the justice space are generally not fully aware of those risks. Without care, those who suffer from injustice could be further hurt by those trying to help.
At World Relief, we are re-engineering our organization to serve our constituents in view of these of shifts. But we are also shaping these paradigms as well. Several years ago, we began pursuing ideas to meaningfully engage the new justice generation and the paradigms they bring. For example, in places like Rwanda, Malawi and Cambodia, we initiated multi-year partnerships between networks of local African or Asian churches and communities with partners here in the U.S. We have effectively invited our U.S. partners to join us at the table of vision and strategy instead of just tactical execution. Doing so has radically increased the level of ownership on the part of our partners. They are “all in,” participating deeply in our brand by co-creating and co-owning both the process and the results. It’s made all the difference. Throughout these multi-year partnerships, meaningful and enduring relationships drive the initiative towards measurable impact.
We also set out to create communities of justice in churches and campuses across the country, most notably through The Justice Conference, which brings together activists, speakers and artists to network and discuss how justice can be done in their neighborhoods and across the world. We launched a student movement focused on immigration, called G92, to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities of immigration in ways consistent with biblical values of justice, compassion, and hospitality. By providing these young activists with a brand platform associated yet different from our lead brand, we broadened our reach and deepened ownership of the issue.
To further adapt our organization to the evolving face of justice, many of our 25 U.S. offices which serve refugee and immigrant communities in cities like Chicago, Miami, Seattle and Atlanta, increased hands-on opportunities for volunteers, interns, and local churches. Our constituents want to experience justice “glocally,” making a difference both in their local neighborhoods as they also focus on injustice abroad.
And we are in the process of rethinking how we tell our story by engaging our partners and constituents to tell our story with us – and sometimes for us – through social media, advocacy, and prayer. Today, everyone can and must engage.
The justice movement is radically redefining our business. As we adapt to and lead these changes, we increase our relevancy. And, most importantly, we leverage the opportunity to shape and steer the movement so that those served are served well. The revolution in our midst is a welcome one. As we fan the flames and shape it, the world becomes more just, and we are changed for the better too.