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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Swedek

Living Your Truth: Creative ROIs to Solve Failed Systems

If I've learned anything over the past 18 months it's these four things:

  1. Use your knowledge and talents to make the world a better place.

  2. Work with good people.

  3. Comfort is killing us.

  4. Transition, don't pivot.

I have many people to thank for helping to reframe my thinking during a tragic pandemic, recession, and some major personal life changes. Stay with me here.

As a freelancer, my success is measured by far more than the dollar. I am a human first. My interests span beyond digital marketing and seep heavily into tangible spaces and tangential industries that cultivate progress, opportunity & equity. At the end of the day, if I am able to facilitate relationships, spread awareness, and identify common threads while creating a positive change in the world, I feel fulfilled.

I have had my fair share of conversations with potential clients. My question to them is always "what is your purpose?" If our purposes or values conflict, I thank them for their interest but pass on the business.

To be able to do this is a privilege. Damon Lawrence, Founder & CEO of Homage Hospitality, reminded me that it is possible to choose to only work with people you truly like. For me, that means no more surface-level business relationships. I was recently reminded of this while scraping old paint off the walls of an empty building which was once Robert Fulton Elementary School.

Alignment & Living Our Truth

The day of service is part of Corey Hackett-Greene's initiative Onward & Upward: Community Clean-up. These clean-ups serve in preparation of the re-use and re-opening of the building as a community resource center in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The project will serve as a safe and positive environment for the nurturing of our city's youth.

Video by Adonis Chavis

Corey and I met virtually as guests on J PR's podcast "Priority Status" in late 2020. On the episode, we discuss using social media to do Good and dig in to what 'Community' (the ultimate buzzword) actually means. We engaged on social platforms following the chat but never met in person until Saturday, July 10 where we practiced exactly what we preached, together.

There is nothing like feeling the energy that is created when coming together for a common cause. That feeling is called Collective Effervescence, as sociologist Emile Durkheim would say.

When our purposes align, we are living our truth.

Real Estate as a Vessel: Empty Spaces + Clean Slates 🤝

Philadelphia closed over 10% of its traditional public school buildings in 2012 and 2013, displacing thousands of students and overwhelming an already struggling public school system. Most of the 30 schools closed were in underserved neighborhoods in North & West Philly.

Last summer I spoke with Lindsey Scannapeico, managing partner of Scout, who purchased her main adaptive re-use project Building Bok 2 years after the 8-story vocational high school closed. The building now serves as a place for local creators and businesses which was her initial vision. That utopian idea was not going to get funding by itself; it took a rooftop bar and shiny F&B concept to prove steady future revenue and growth to investors.

Lindsey & Tatiana at BOK, January 2020

According to Fortune, over 110,000 eating and drinking establishments closed for business last year, with nearly 2.5 million jobs erased. And now there's a labor shortage. Not as sturdy as everyone thought! But props to those who pushed through, treated their employees with the respect they deserve, and are reaping the benefits of true leadership today (shout out to Chef Eric Rivera, owner of Addo in Seattle!)

Why can't investors look outside the box even more? See that the future lies within our youth, young businesses, and ideas that only seem impossible because they've never been done?

When the System Constantly Fails Us, the ROI Takes Time

As I've discussed in-depth with Marquise Stillwell, Founder & Principal of urban design firm Openbox, there’s an ROI 💵 on doing Good - but community resources need the Funding and Time. Invest (both time and money) in something that will have a long-term impact, which will last for generations, and boast an ROI greater than a dollar sign. As a collective, existing systems have failed us in many ways. At the same time, we've been forced to play along.

Have patience. Don't accept something simply because it is comfortable or familiar. That's like staying in an abusive relationship and thinking the cycle will magically change. As the wonderful Bobby Lyle said: "Comfort is Killing Us." Taking action is uncomfortable, but we don't grow in spaces that don't challenge us.

Change takes time. It must be sustainable. Sure, Philadelphia is my chosen analogy (and reality) of a system which needs adjusting, but it is also a place I am deeply connected to and want a future which provides opportunity to everyone who calls it home. The same goes for the marketing and advertising industry. Luckily, people like Steffi Behringer of Palette Group, are working to make a difference through Allyship & Action.

People > (traditional) Profit

My friend and mentor hotelier Bashar Wali, gave me some words of wisdom this week: "Don't let anyone make you think they're better than you. At the end of the day, we're all just people."

We should always treat the janitor the same as the CEO - a notion George Matysik, the Executive Director of Philly's largest foodbank Share Food Program, recently shared. Invest in your relationships, no matter their title.

I live in a city which prioritizes things like beautifying tourist destinations while leaving local residents in the dust. What has this lead to? High poverty and crime rates.

Remember those 30 closed schools I mentioned? According to a Penn study: “Displaced students had more absences and received more suspensions after their original schools closed.”

The city of Philadelphia is on track for a record homicide rate (600+ homicides expected at the end of this year) and $155 million was recently committed to gun violence prevention.

Perhaps if we started with adequate funding of organizations focused on the above to create opportunity & equity, aspects of the initiative wouldn’t be lumped into the category of “gun violence prevention,” but rather, Community Empowerment. Chicken and the egg.

To the Future

We did not survive a pandemic to live the same way. We did not survive a pandemic to make the same exact mistakes. It's very apparent who simply pivoted during the past 18 months - they're going right back to business as usual. My respect is for the ones who chose to transition instead.

I had a wonderful chat with Anthony Demby, Founder of Humbleriot, in June of 2020. Here's a little of what he had to say:

"When you’re transitioning, you’ve fully left that other thing into something new. What the world is requiring of us all is to transition. Because what we knew before is no more, unfortunately. It’s hard to say that out loud and reconcile that so we can actually co-create this new reality around what’s actually happening. I think when you’re pivoting, in a lot of ways, there’s still that element of copy and paste in there."

As the hussle and bussle returns to pre-COVID levels, please remember that what we were doing was not working. Let's continue to do things differently: as people and in business. Let's practice empathy and humility. Think of your working relationships as a city and water where it is needed. Let's re-build what was left behind, break unhealthy cycles, and continue to co-create in this new reality.

If this resonates with you, you want to work together, be friends, or you're interested in getting involved with the adaptive re-use project, please do reach out. It's highly likely our purposes align. We have more work to do!

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