Fall Reads for Social Impact

Autumn is upon us, which for us in Idaho means getting reacquainted with our sweaters and scarves, and taking walks kicking up leaves in the crisp mountain air. When indoors there’s no better way to enjoy the changing season than cozying up with a good book. For this month’s Purpose Post, we share a few must-reads for anyone working at the intersection of marketing and social enterprise. So, find a comfy spot, pour a mug of your favorite hot beverage, and crack open one of the following fabulous fall reads.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harrari

Following up on his acclaimed books Sapiens and Homo Deus, author Yuval Noah Harrari’s new offering, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, takes inventory of the emotional, cultural, and technological landscapes that impact how humans interact with the world around them. With titles like “Immigration,” “Humility,” and “Justice,” Harrari dives deeply into subconscious lessons of both past and present to help readers make sense of the world as we know it and to imagine a world we aspire to live in—a future where consumerism and business are not tools only for economic prosperity, but are also appreciated as forces for good.

It should come as no surprise that technology plays a role in almost every chapter. In “Work,” Harrari addresses one of the biggest topics relating to employment in the 21st Century: the fear that artificial intelligence (A.I) will eliminate a significant number of jobs. Harrari argues that prospect may not be as ominous as it sounds, pointing out that technology has threatened human jobs since the Industrial Revolution. He provides specifics for reframing the issue from one of job loss to one that uses A.I. to compliment the powerful abilities of humans.

Harrari says of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, “If this book empowers even a handful of people to join the debate about the future of our species, it has done its job.” To which we say, job well done.


Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan

Brave New Work is for business leaders who aspire to make positive change in how their companies operate. But don’t mistake this book as one filled with only feel-good proclamations; this book is for pragmatic doers. Dignan presents a clear process, broken out into 12 sagacious segments, from purpose, to workflow, to compensation.

With big-name companies as case studies, Dignan observes that employees strive to work for companies with clear purpose, with humanity, and with smart organizational structures. With practical tools, fundamental principles, and sustainable practices, he suggests—among other things—ditching the silos, eliminating bottlenecks, and jettisoning outdated and uninspired ways of doing business. But Dignan doesn’t stop there. He looks beyond operational structure, recognizing that organizations aren’t machines, rather they are human-made, human-driven systems. With suggestions such as the creation of an “Employee Manual to Me,” steps on how to effectively run meetings, and a discussion on “Even Over” statements, Brave New Work combines concrete guidance with noble ambitions. If you enjoy equal doses of inspiration and instruction, you’re sure to find this book a satisfying read.


The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good by Ryan Honeyman and Tiffany Jana

The first edition of Ryan Honeyman’s The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good quickly became the official handbook for anyone interested in learning about the B Corp movement, as well as how to certify an existing business. As the first B Corp in Idaho, the team at Oliver Russell found the original book invaluable; we were excited to check out the second edition as soon as it hit the shelves.

Honeyman, joined this time around by co-author Dr. Tiffany Jana, interviewed over 200 B Corps, creating a series of case studies that highlight the opportunities and challenges organizations face when shifting to purpose-driven work. There is also a strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). It is rare to find a book that so clearly outlines the challenges individuals and organizations face when taking a hard look at bias and privilege in our social and corporate cultures. Some readers may be surprised to find so much emphasis on DEI in the handbook, but it feels right for the B Corp community. When a company chooses to become a B Corp, it commits to working through some of the most vexing issues facing society. Yet through diligent internal efforts, and collaboration with the B Corp community, member companies are leading the development of new policies and procedures that positively impact employees, customers, the planet and, yes, their bottom line.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility examines why white people are overly sensitive about racial issues and find it painful to talk about racism and white supremacy. DiAngelo, a former associate professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University, and currently affiliate faculty at the University of Washington, argues that America’s largely segregated society insulates whites from confronting their privilege. From there, DiAngelo lays out ways in which white people can face and overcome their discomfort, adopt a proper sense of urgency to address racism in business and our communities, and be better allies to those who continue to be victims of institutional racism. According to DiAngelo, the process begins by white people educating themselves about how they can catalyze necessary structural change that will allow societal power to be shared with non-whites.

In 2020, as the B Corporation Inclusive Economy Challenge enters its fourth year, many B Corps still struggle with making concrete and measurable advances in making business practices truly equitable. White Fragility makes the case that time has run out. And, as the familiar adage goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. We all have work to do.