The role of social and cultural responsiveness in social impact
In this episode, we discuss social and cultural responsiveness in social impact. We chat with Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo and explore how to ensure our social impact programs are actually addressing the needs of the community we are serving and how to continually receive their feedback.
We also look at connecting an individual's work to responsiveness and the role of employee resource groups. Finally, we talk about Dr. Uwemedimo's social impact journey and her work on Strong Children Wellness and Melanin and Medicine.
Watch the episode:
Prefer to listen?
What we discussed:
So, in today's episode, we've got a very [00:00:30] special guest.
Her name is Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo, she is the CEO and founder of Melanin & Medicine and The Strong Children Wellness. Thank you very much, doctor, for joining us today.
Dr. Uwemedimo: Thank you so much, Karl. It's a pleasure to be here.
Karl Yeh: Awesome. So, let's get right into it.
I know we wanted to talk about responsiveness. So what does responsiveness mean for you in terms of social impact?
The meaning of responsiveness in social impact
Yeah, [00:01:00] so I think what's really important is that many of us, particularly as social entrepreneurs have amazing ideas that have been uniquely curated by our experiences.
And I think with good intentions, we will look at a population and say, "We know exactly what would be perfect for that", for that population.
However, I think there is a mix that sometimes we don't have of making sure that our work that we do is both informed by [00:01:30] the knowledge, and expertise that we have, but also informed by the population, and is responsive, and connected to their needs as well.
And so that means really not being kind of prescriptive, but I think there's a mantra in my past work of doing community engagement, which was nothing for us without us, right?
And so it's making sure that we are working continually on tweaking to make sure are we still addressing the priorities and the tangible needs of the population who we want to serve and getting that feedback throughout the process?
It's interesting because I remember in previous episodes, we were talking about organizations and businesses who are... They have social impact programs.
They have community investment programs, but they're doing it for the benefit [00:02:30] to the organization or the benefit to the business.
And I think they've lost track of how do they actually benefit the nonprofit, or the cause, or the people, or the community they're working for. Is that in line with responsiveness?
It totally is. It's about doing the, I would say the next level.
And that means, instead of just engaging, thinking about how do we partner, instead of just partnering, [00:03:00] thinking about how does the community, or the target population become a decision maker, and what does the board look like?
It means that every meeting starting to say to yourself, who's not at the table? And so it pushes us to not just do, "This looks great", but it pushes us to say, "What's not here yet?"
And saying that we know we all can't reach the mountaintop really quickly, but saying kind of what little bit more can I do in this [00:03:30] work to make sure that I'm truly integrating the people who I'm trying to serve and making sure that they're part of creating the work that we want to do.
How do we ensure that we're continuously getting their feedback and not just being kind of an echo chamber for ourselves, because maybe we start off with good intentions, but we may forget to get that feedback because maybe their situation or their needs have changed.
How do we continuously get feedback?
This Is really interesting because we're doing that right now in Strong Children Wellness.
And one of the things that, the way that we do it is like a 360. So, it's been about 12, 18 months or so.
And we started with a group, a community organization.
We started with being able to say to ourselves, for our enterprise, "What is it that you would love in this practice network?" It's a healthcare practice network that we'll talk [00:04:30] about later.
And we got that initial information and now as we're running through it, we're saying, "Hmm, I wonder if things are going well or not?"
And so a 360 really allows for us to talk to parents to talk to, and even if they're above seven, we have to get consent from the children who we serve to say, "What do you think about this?"
And being able to say, this is what is going well, this is what is challenging, and in that part, [00:05:00] we're also saying, "What is it that we're learning from everyone? Oh, this that we thought was amazing is actually the parents don't actually need that. And so we do that, we also do that with leadership, with staff as well."
And that allows for us to make sure that we're hearing a number of things, not just about what we're doing, but also about kind of internally how things are operating.
So, it's just important to do that. I think [00:05:30] one of the other things that's really helpful is making sure that you're still doing things like town halls, or outreach where you don't become so insular that you don't have a pulse on what the community's talking about now.
So, whether you do that every six months, every year, but being able to make sure that you're getting out of your four walls of your organization, and really being with the people.
And when we talk about like, how do we ensure that maybe the [00:06:00] company is responsive, but how do we ensure like the individual participants, or employees, their work is connected to that responsiveness?
How to connect individual work to responsiveness
Yeah. I think there are multiple things. I think that a company needs to be very clear about what not only their mission and vision is, but what their values are.
And I remember, I think it was Netflix that had this, like I forget how long it was.
It was like a culture PowerPoint, or something [00:06:30] where they like put everything about kind of who we are, what we want to do.
And I think for a while that like became a model where people were like, "Oh, we have to actually pour into what it is, who we are, what we believe and being kind of non-negotiable about it, and also hopefully it being connected to what the target population needs as well."
But I think it's important for us to [00:07:00] weigh in.
I think one of the things that I know in some of the organizations that I didn't have was being able to have an interview with my direct, I'm sorry, with my boss and say, "Okay, this is what I think I want to do.
This is what my purpose, my mission is." How is that feeding into the like mission of the company in any way?
Or is there a disconnect?
And being able to have space for me to actually be asked about those things and then to be able to [00:07:30] report that and to come up collectively together with, "Okay, this is the mission of the company. This is where you see yourself now.
I think a perfect match potentially would be X, Y, Z."
So I think it's being able to look at both of those things, and make sure that people do feel like they're working in their zone of genius, or getting closer to doing that.
Because I think when they're not, that's the recipe for when good people start to say, "Hey, [00:08:00] I'm not being used to the best of my ability to fulfill this mission.
So I'm going to have to go somewhere else."
You raised a good point because, and it actually leads me into something I've heard before where what if the, maybe the perspective of the employee, is not the same or not aligned with the perspective of the company in terms of the goal, or direction of how they're working with that nonprofit or cause? [00:08:30]
How do you bridge that gap?
Aligning individual with company social impact goals and programs
Yeah. I've seen that. I've had to... I think one of the beautiful things about social impact work is that people grow quickly, right? It's like very mission driven.
A lot of times like fast paced, this is what we're going to do.
This is the impact that we want.
And I think that a lot of times people come in a certain way, like this is what I think things [00:09:00] are going to be.
And then as they're moving through it, they're kind of like, "Oh, this is not fulfilling things."
And I think it's important for us as employers to make sure that we put ourselves in the seat of the employee as well, and say if a whole piece about social impact is making sure that not only is our target population good, and feeling centered and feeling like they've been heard, and respected, but also the people who are a part of that mission.
And so I've had to let people [00:09:30] go, but it's really been a conversation it's really been like, this is where we're headed and being transparent, not like shifting, and not telling anybody that this is what we're doing now.
And it's like, "Well, I didn't come in to do that initially."
And now we're... And so I think it's being transparent.
Being able to have some foresight of this is where the company's going.
Who has questions?
What are you concerned about?
Being able to have that forum.
And then when, [00:10:00] if it's not aligned, both of you being able to say, I think what's best is that you have amazing talent, you have amazing skills, and right now, I don't know if we have the ability to be able to cultivate that in where we're headed.
And I think that allows for both parties to see that, "Oh, she actually like cares about me. Like cares about that I'm not sitting here just doing work that doesn't fulfill me."
It's hard though, as a company, you also [00:10:30] need to think about, okay, what's not happening?
Have foresight to say, okay, who's going to fill in the gap if that person has to go and being able to work with your team to think through, okay, how can we do this in a way that makes sure that nothing gets dropped, or no balls get dropped per se.
And another thing that I was thinking about is there's so many things happening around the world that company focus on social impact [00:11:00] inevitably has to change, right?
Whether it's something that occurs in the moment, like the death of George Floyd, or some disaster in the world, or something.
So how does a company, I guess, keep the focus on the responsiveness to the causes that they're working on, or the nonprofits they're working with, and the direction and the goals that they've set versus making sure they also [00:11:30] adapt to the situations around the world?
How to keep focus on your programs while adapting to a changing world?
So, I think that what it means is really having some expansiveness in terms of thinking about your team and also saying that I can't bite off more than I can chew.
And so a lot of times what I've found to be really helpful is partnership in these settings.
So, for example, Strong Children Wellness is a health company, right?
And we work a lot on social determinants of health, and thinking about [00:12:00] other things that impact health.
However, during the COVID pandemic, we were seeing a lot of families who are dealing with food insecurity.
Now we are not an organization that does food insecurity, and we probably could not in the matter of months, build up a food insecurity arm to help with that.
But what we could do is really take the time to say, "Who can we help?
How can we either be a platform for a food insecurity organization [00:12:30] to either allow for them to now get access to our patients, and be able to bring that in?"
Or what do you need specifically as an organization, would we be able to highlight you, would we be able to partner in any way?
And so I think it's about looking for strategic partnerships and remembering that most companies have a space that they are meant to fulfill, and they go deep in that, and that we don't have to do all things and [00:13:00] we shouldn't, if we're not equipped.
And so in those places where we need to shift, I often see partners, strategic partnerships as the best way to do that.
You can of course build something up, but I find if someone who's been doing this better than you forever, then they probably would love some additional resources if now is the time that their work is most essential.
Let's shift gears a little bit [00:13:30] in terms of the type of responsiveness, because I know we're looking at cultural responsiveness, or social responsiveness.
Can you expand on a little bit more on that?
I would love to.
So, I often talk about practicing socially responsive medicine.
I'm a pediatrician for many years, almost two decades.
And what that meant for me, just to give you an example was the idea that, as a physician, I could [00:14:00] not practice medicine and say, "Okay, all your body parts and organs are working well, but even though you are homeless, or you're dealing with domestic violence, or you have food insecure, that I'm not going to deal with the social environment that you exist in.
I'm only going to focus on your physical health."
And so social responsiveness means thinking about what's happening within the social environment of the population that you are trying to target, and [00:14:30] being able to make sure that you've thought of the intersection between what you do and also thinking about are there areas to be able to support helping that person, I would say, thrive within their social environment as well.
And so for us, what that's looked like is you're coming in to see us as a physician, but we're also screening for housing deprivation.
Social responsiveness means thinking about what's happening within the social environment of the population that you are trying to target
We're screening for unemployment.
And then we're connecting you to navigators, [00:15:00] which are people who literally will comb through resources in your area, and start to connect you and make sure that those unmet needs are being met.
And so that's social responsiveness.
The other arm of it is cultural responsiveness.
And that means the idea that I've been in many organizations specifically as a black woman physician, understanding that only 2% of physicians are black women in the US.
And I've been in [00:15:30] many organizations that serve deeply diverse populations, and are coming to get their care in spaces that there's no one who looks like them, right?
And that is a disservice to that population because, one, there tends to be some difficulty around understanding the value system, understanding certain cultural nuances, and how they make healthcare decisions, and also [00:16:00] understanding the different ways that communication happens.
And in that, what we're doing is we may be losing that person to be able to fully disclose their needs and what needs to be addressed.
And in doing so we might have misdiagnoses, we might have missed treatment plans. We might not get to everything that actually could help that person.
And so it's really important to make sure that we are thinking, how can we make sure [00:16:30] that who we're serving, how does our company have the resources, both human, and whatever else is needed, but have resources that really can parallel the population.
And so it doesn't have to only be like race, and ethnicity. It can literally be we have community members in our team who are reporting to us.
We have community health workers who give us a pulse, but something [00:17:00] that allows for us to tap into that cultural aspect, and then also to be responsive to the social environment.
Is this the role of, let's say employee resource groups? Is that kind of the role...? I know that's more of an internal play, is that sort of where the leadership or the thinking comes out of?
The role of employee resource groups
Yeah, I think employee resource groups are great. I think one of the problems is usually they're underfunded.
So, usually they have [00:17:30] ways, of course, for people to have inclusion and belonging within organizations.
But most of those groups, once they come together, they have these great ideas on how the organization can truly serve populations who look like them, right?
But then we don't have any resources.
We don't have anything.
And so it's really important to not look at those as kind of just like let's meet and greet and get together, but also look at those as spaces for innovation that can really push [00:18:00] the needle on supporting, like helping your organization to truly tap into certain populations that you may be targeting, that you've either had difficulty, haven't had the best uptake, or the best impact.
And so that's the thing because within those ERGs, there's this opportunity for people to come together, and be able to innovate within with that cultural responsiveness layer, right?
And so that it just [00:18:30] adds something to what they do by themselves versus what they can do collectively in those kind of safe spaces.
Now, I know a challenge that I've heard before is that companies have a difficult time finding that resource of the person that reflects the community, or the people that they're serving.
How would organizations address sort of that challenge?
How to find the people that reflects the community they are serving
Yeah. It's not easy.
I think one of the things though is, [00:19:00] so I think first being proactive, right?
So I think that's the first step of organizations actually realizing that there's a gap because there are many who are kind of like, "Everything's just fine here."
And so I think that's the first thing.
I think one of the things, so for us Melanin & Medicine kind of became the space where I wanted to make sure that there were places where women of color health professionals could convene, [00:19:30] and be able to have their ideas and give birth to them.
And I think what most organizations need to do is identify, okay, if my organization doesn't either have the bandwidth or enough of the numbers, what organizations around do?
So, you can think about in any profession, right?
For us in medical, there's like American Medical Association, or by profession, or if you're looking at artists, there's [00:20:00] usually like different racial, ethnic groups, or sexuality groups that affinity groups that actually have that.
So, I would say the really important thing for organizations internally who feel like they don't have that bandwidth is to do the work to externally identify where affinity groups exist and being able to curate and connect that for your person or your individual is first of all, it causes a certain level of trust and connection for that person who's like, "Wow, they did all of that for me.
And a certain level of like maintaining that person, and retaining somebody, and feeling belonging.
And then second, it of course has true effects around like the longevity of that person, their performance in your organization, to be able to have outlets that they feel like are really supporting them in that unique way, if they can't be supported internally.
Now, let's talk a little bit more about you.
So how did [00:21:00] you get started in, or your journey through social impact?
And can you tell us a little bit more about purpose-led entrepreneurship you mentioned earlier?
Dr. Uwemedimo's journey through social impact and purpose led entrepreneurship
So, like I said, I'm a pediatrician, and I am the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. So, I only had like two jobs that were available to me because as Nigerian, it was only doctor, lawyer, which one?
But I became a doctor. I became [00:21:30] a doctor, I believe out of my own free will.
I truly loved it. And so I think for me, in terms of my story, one of the really important things was growing up as a daughter of Nigerian immigrants.
It was really interesting because we would have from US to Nigeria, we'd have these trips. And during that time, that was when I came face to face with inequity, right?
And came face to face with, "Wow, I live here. I'm just like my cousins [00:22:00] in Nigeria, but I live here, and I have a completely different life. And it's not just a difference, but it's an unjust and unfair difference, which makes it an inequity."
And I just from seven, I think I got compelled with why do these exist?
This is not right. And so in that, my social like justice hat, I guess, I didn't know that was what it was called when I was that age.
But that radar started me on a journey to do global health.
And in [00:22:30] that I ended up spending a lot of my career, even from medical school, doing trips, working abroad, really thinking about how we can make innovation within healthcare in low resource settings.
As I got older, I actually lived in Malawi for a while after residency. And as I got older, I ended up saying to myself, "wow", because I couldn't travel because of my family was growing.
And I was saying, [00:23:00] "Wow, these same inequities exist right here in the US for specific populations." And immigrant populations became a huge focus of mine for many reasons.
And so in doing that, I started to think about what were the issues and the issues that came up as a physician weren't actually, the children were pretty well.
They were pretty healthy, but everything around them was so difficult. Housing, food, all of these things.
And it [00:23:30] was then where it was a little, it took a little bit of courage to say, this is not health.
This is not like about their illness, or health physical health.
But I'd like to figure out how we could address this issue.
Even though we're in a clinic. Like this is not a social work office, but this is a clinic.
And I think that was the journey where I was really trying to see how could the clinical setting, especially for children and families, because we had this opportunity where [00:24:00] children had to come see us. Just like school.
Like you have to come to the doctor, immunizations, and it was a opportunity to capture the family, find out what was going on and get them resources that maybe they wouldn't have proactively either known about or been able to access.
And so it became this journey of making the clinic into like a one stop shop for everything. So, I did that inside of the institutions that I was working [00:24:30] with.
And then I was realizing some of the difficulties in terms of referring people, and lost the follow up people not being able to connect.
And so my thought was with my co-founders of Strong Children Wellness, I was saying, "Could we just bring like clinical care into the community settings? Because it seems the community settings, and community organizations really are connected. They're inside communities. They have people, they have staff. And it [00:25:00] seems like we are the only missing link. They have social services, they have all of these things, mental health services."
So I ended up working with one of the organizations who I had partnered with and said, "Can we try this opportunity where we actually build out physical health, medical space, in your organization?"
And that way a patient comes in or not even a patient, a client of yours comes in and they're coming there for housing, but then we can ask them if they have any [00:25:30] unmet medical needs, they can get their clinical care there.
We can screen them for mental health, and it becomes this really amazing space. And so because we did not have capital, which is another great thing that I love talking about.
I actually took a lot of my grantsmanship from being in academia, and my co-founders, and I wrote a grant and we helped basically, we used something called fiscal sponsorship, where we [00:26:00] had our nonprofit partner, with this grant. We helped them write a grant that would include what our services looked like.
And then they positioned that to a funder. And we got our first 125,000 for Strong Children Wellness.
And this work is so powerful to me because I think for many of us who are doing social work, social impact work, we're not partnering as much as we could, and this has been a great road to be able to do that.
And using fiscal [00:26:30] sponsorship or just identifying who are nonprofit partners that we can work with?
Who are partners within communities that we can work with and not feeling like we have to do everything on our own.
That's amazing, because you're right those partnerships are so important. What you were describing in terms of having...
You have that social component, but you also have the physical component, and one can't be without the other, because like you were saying, it's like the [00:27:00] child is healthy, but the surroundings might not be.
And that might have a massive impact down the road, whether it's two years, three years from mental health and eventually physical health, too.
So, yeah, it's very fascinating about that. And [inaudible 00:27:16] how have you been able to expand that kind of fiscal sponsorship?
Not just, I guess, can you see it going beyond just your organization?
Can you see it going [00:27:30] into different businesses that are looking at kind of that type of model?
Melanin and Medicine
Yeah. So, that's what Melanin & Medicine is. So, Melanin & Medicine, basically we had this success and we've been able to get more funding through this model.
And then what I was noticing was that there were a lot of women... I did not include the fact that as we were founding Strong Children Wellness, I actually ended up hospitalized.
[00:28:00] We were founding Strong Children Wellness while I was still working full time and was very burnt out doing a lot of work, and I ended up being hospitalized. I was unable to walk, and I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
And so, in that time I had to take a leave from work, which is the first time in like, since I was 15 that I wasn't working.
And in that space, I had to be alone with my [00:28:30] thoughts. I had to actually be a human being instead of a human doer, a human being, and start to say, what is it that actually is my purpose?
And I think it's really important because many of us who are human doers, especially people who are interested in social impact.
We're so used to that, that helping, helping, helping in all different areas that we don't have the opportunity to sit in the area that we are most like equipped to be able to [00:29:00] truly provide amazing impact.
And so what I recognized was that the place that was my zone of genius was actually supporting other women.
I had done this with other faculty, other physicians, and I was creating something.
And then I realized there were other women who were burnt out, and just felt like their gifts weren't being utilized within their workplace, especially in healthcare, which is really draining.
And I started, Melanin & Medicine [00:29:30] just as a way that people could come together, women of color health professionals, initially it was physicians, and we would talk and as these women were starting to focus on them, they started realizing, "Ooh, I have this idea. I have this thing that I want to create that I think is going to be amazing, but I've told myself that's ridiculous. Go back to the clinic."
And what we did was in Melanin & Medicine, it became a space to talk through, "Well, [00:30:00] can we actually build that?"
And I used Strong Children Wellness, the model of building something that we were completely scared, and did not think we could build.
And then using the fiscal sponsorship model to be a way that these women could identify in their community who were nonprofits that were serving the population that they wanted to serve, not in the way that they wanted to, but in whatever other ways they were serving, and then to bring their idea to those [00:30:30] nonprofits, and go in together jointly as a unit to be able to get funding from a foundation.
And so that's been happening.
That's basically what we do now. And so we support black women, women of color who are health professionals to identify what is the space that they want to fulfill in terms of achieving health equity, and helping them find partner organizations, helping them find [00:31:00] funding opportunities, and then helping them create their pitch decks, their executive summaries, all the assets they need to then be able to secure that funding and get going.
Is the funding like from any entity? So, are you looking at grants or from governments, or nonprofits or is it just from like even VC backed?
Yeah, so we support them to think about any entity, right? So, [00:31:30] we help with both.
We're like, "We'll help you with your pitch deck and your exec summary, but we'll also help you with your letter of intent, and grant for grant application. Or your social impact investment application for an accelerator."
The thing is what we want to do is we want to think of what is the best format for your business, right?
So, for example, we're going to say, "I know you're seeking VC funding, but you just said to me that you want this to be a legacy [00:32:00] enterprise and stay in the community forever.
You never want to sell it. And you want to like be able to have time with your kids."
Right? So, if you want to do that, the VC model is quite different, in terms of how they're investing, and the timeline.
So, we're like, "Have you thought of this kind of social impact investor, or have you thought of potentially being able to work with nonprofits in that community, and [00:32:30] then getting funding through grants?"
So we just try to help like curate, but we try to make sure they have all of the assets and all of the skills, particularly around pitching, because I feel like a lot of women of color have been told no so many times that there's a lot of doubt, worry, and anxiety, and pitching, and knowing that you're not begging people for money, but you're actually offering them an opportunity to work [00:33:00] with you.
And sitting in that mindset is a big thing that we have to overcome due to kind of decades of both structural, and societal, I would say discrimination.
And then in addition to kind of what's internalized.
So, that's the [inaudible 00:33:20] So it doesn't matter where they're going, which way, but we wanted to provide them with different opportunities to be able to get things going and [00:33:30] get capital so they're not bootstrapping solely, which we know can be a disaster for businesses.
So we could be, this was an awesome conversation. We could have hours upon hours about this, but if anyone in our audience wants to connect with you or wants to know more about Melanin & Medicine, or even the Strong Children Wellness, what is the best place to connect with you and these organizations?
So LinkedIn is [00:34:00] my stomping ground for like everything, because I've curated really nicely so that you can find everything.
We have websites for both. So, strongchildrenwellness.com, melonandmedicine.co.
But you can follow me on LinkedIn at Omolara Thomas Uwemedimo, which I'm sure will be on the show notes since that might be difficult for people to spell.
You can find me there.
And once you find me, then you'll see the list of all [00:34:30] of our organizations that I'm in, and yeah, and then you can get in contact with me. I'd love... I'd really want to make sure that more women of color, specifically those in health who are interested in healthcare have feel like if they have some innovation that's been stirring in them that they have the ability to bring it to reality.
I think the biggest thing for me has always been, just making sure that you think about the fact that your purpose [00:35:00] right now is I always like to say your purpose is somebody's promise.
And why I say that is it's really easy for us to look at the circumstances around us and say that feels like what I want to do, but everything's standing in my way.
And I think I often say to my clients, I say, "Think about what's the smallest, most courageous step that you could do. Just the smallest one. If it's a phone call, if it's just writing it down, and start with that", [00:35:30] because I do think people start to be very ambitious and are like, "This is huge." And I think the first step taking your 1D idea is to just make it 2D so that's just writing it down or voicing it out to somebody.
So I would say those are the big things. It doesn't have to be a big step today. It could be a really small one and it'll be really powerful.
Question of the Day:
How has your business addressed social and cultural responsiveness? How do you ensure it's top of mind and action?