By Jenny Zenner
Through the fall and winter as I read of the various occupy demonstrations across the country and weekly drove past the Seattle encampment, I challenged the unrest, envisioning in the trenches action. Action through volunteerism. My business school graduation coincided with the last recession, and I found myself living in a new city without a job and since subject to two downsizings. During my chapters of under- and unemployment, I made the choice to volunteer versus lament the ills of society. Admittedly my actions were substantially motivated by self-interest. The science shows it. Volunteering makes people feel good, and I am no different. It got me out of the house, connected me with like-minded individuals and gave me a platform to address decision makers in places where I wanted to work. At the same time, I made a difference.
New to Seattle, I scanned the low end of the FM radio frequency and found 88.5 KPLU, what I thought was the local NPR station. It was the spring fund drive, so without a job committment I offered my services to answer phones. It did cross my mind how odd it was that a city the size of Seattle didn’t have an NPR station within its city limits. Only after I’d committed myself did I manage to scan to 94.9, discovering in fact there was a more local NPR station at the University of Washington. As a WSU alum, I rationalized the 50 mile commute by admitting I’d rather fundraise for Pacific Lutheran than my alma mater’s greatest rival. I did my shifts and became better acquainted with Seattle, seeking other ways to engage. Seattle Works offered a systematic approach through The Bridge, a training for serving on nonprofit boards that matches participants with organizations seeking young talent. I subsequently became president of both the local University of Virginia alumni club and the newly re-org’d Network for Business Innovation & Sustainability, a nonprofit dedicated to the triple bottom line of healthy people, profits and the planet.
So as the #occupy influence continues to deliver an impact on ethical business practices, I invite individuals, especially job seekers to embark on impacting through local action. To quote Matthieu Ricard who spoke in October 2009 at the Mind & Life Educating World Citizens event in Washington, DC – “Ethics isn’t about what to do. It’s about how to be.“ Of everything said over those proceedings, his words were what stuck with me. Not just a sound bite, Ricard’s words summarize the school of thought of virtue ethics, the perspective promoted in the Handbook of Positive Psychology’s chapter on ethics. Typical business school cases follow a formula: Enter manager pondering choice. Background presented. Questions posed. Students sit in semi-circle theatre and discuss what the manager should do. I’m proud to say I’m an alum of the Darden School of Business, recently recognized as the leading MBA program in business ethics that addresses what kind of people managers should be. I had the pleasure of taking multiple courses with leading ethicist R. Edward Freeman who espouses stakeholder theory, taking into consideration the bigger picture for sustainable capitalism.
For those who say they don’t have the time to commit to volunteering, I challenge you. The Girls Night Out group is a prime example of ways to support causes without writing big checks or committing huge chunks of time. Purge your closet for foster kids, other job seekers or teens heading to prom respectively through orgs like Treehouse 4 Kids, Dress for Success and Ruby Room, or get yourself in shape and make your friends write checks to help cure cancer through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
You can make a difference. Do your homework and find a group that matches your interests and likely your talents will be welcomed. If by chance you are a sustainably minded attorney in the greater Seattle area…NBIS wants you. Come visit at our networking event on February 23rd at PATH. We have a board seat waiting for you.