Dalila Wilson-Scott: Unusual Suspects
Where We Go From Here | Episode 7
Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation; President, Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation
As Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation and President, Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation, Dalila Wilson-Scott bridges the for-profit/nonprofit divide in her daily work. She believes both can come together to find and fund new solutions for the big challenges we face today. Neither corporations nor philanthropy can – or should – be the sole source we look to for addressing social challenges, says Wilson-Scott. “But I do think what private sector can bring to the table is innovation, a little bit of creativity, and a different type of risk capital and pace that will help drive what those larger, government-funded, public sector-funded initiatives can be so that we get to the impact that we’re all trying to see.”
In this video:
- Nonprofits and for-profit companies: their similarities and differences, what they can learn from one another, and the importance of conversations for building consensus on how to get things done. (0:20)
- A look at a company’s obligation to the communities it works in and how it can support those communities. (2:53)
- How the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the conversations and energy in corporate philanthropy. (7:13)
- Expanding digital equity and how the conversation around broadband access and education has changed in the pandemic. (8:21)
- Outrage and optimism: Racial inequities in how outrage is received, managing things under our control, and taking time away to avoid burnout. (9:06)
ANTONY: Okay, I think I had it turned around the wrong way. Dalila, Chris had me get one of these when we started this thing.
DALILA: That is fancy!
ANTONY: I’ve been in your office. You’ve got an amazing view, from one of the most beautiful, fancy corporate floors in the city of Philadelphia. You obviously have access to the senior team of one of the most complex, largest companies in the world.
DALILA: It’s not that fancy!
ANTONY: You’re also making grants to nonprofits and have been for many years in your career. What do you think nonprofit leaders could learn from corporate leadership and vice versa? What do you think corporate leaders could learn from the best nonprofits you work with?
DALILA: There shouldn’t be as much space between how nonprofits operate and how for-profits operate. So, I think there’s just a starting point of just the acknowledgement of both, you know, that a CEO of a company and an ED of a nonprofit organization are running a business, right? You have a long-term strategy, you have goals in mind, and you have a very specific set of interventions or products and services that you are building and delivering with a stated impact, or with a stated goal. Period. There should be no confusion that both entities are set up for that purpose. I think where the rubber hits the road and where there’s a lot more challenges in the house: something happens and how do people prioritize stakeholders in that process? And I think at the end of the day, both types of entities make the same mistakes. Sometimes you’re focusing on symptoms versus root causes. Sometimes you’re focusing on root causes, but you don’t have all the right stakeholders at the table. But I think bringing that view of who are we looking to serve and how best can we serve them, that’s the right way to think of it. I think both leaders and entities can learn more from one another about how they do operate. How do they make those decisions? How do they set those priorities? Because a lot of times when you hear or you see some argument kind of out in the public spaces, where a for-profit company is taking a position and a set of advocates or a non-profit leader is taking a position, it’s clear that they haven’t had an open, honest conversation and education among them about how that works. So, I do think there has to be a little bit of patience around just the translation of, “help me understand what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” and that we should be working in concert as opposed to working against one another. And that’s where I think the learnings can take place: More conversations about how things get done and how things get done, respectfully.
ANTONY: You recently wrote that increasingly broadband access is not just a consumer good, it’s actually an essential public good, especially now when we overlay access to education as being something that’s available through broadband. At NFF, we’ve been working for years with healthcare companies, both hospital systems and insurance companies, and they’ve been increasingly entering into the space of recognizing that the work they do as private companies actually has very strong public health outcomes, especially as we recognize, increasingly, that the need for them to start taking on responsibility for all the social determinants of health, not just the delivery of health care. In those conversations, there’s often a push back from those companies who say, “Well, if we’re a health insurance company and you’re asking us to fund the homeless shelter because it turns out that that’s actually the cheapest way to increase people’s health rather than what we’re used to doing – which is just funding healthcare – where are you going to draw the line between what is the private responsibility and what is the public responsibility?” How do you see more generally what is a for-profit company’s obligation to the communities it works in and how has that shifted, perhaps, in the context of the last few months?
DALILA: I think there are a number of basic needs that anyone would agree that belong at the forefront of what our companies, what the government, and what the broader slate of sectors can be working together on. I think what is true for any one of these issues is we all need to be in a position to make sure that the largest pool of dollars are directed towards those highest, high impact points of intervention. And if you’re going to do that well, right – to your point about urgency, it’s interesting when you think about policy change because policy change is definitely not immediate. So I think it requires private sector, public sector to come together in unprecedented ways where there’s a little bit of give and take on all sides.
So, I think on the one hand, you can’t expect any private sector industry or private sector company to be the sole solution for any one issue. Not because it’s not, you know, an effort that somebody would applaud, it’s because it’s impossible, right? No one entity can absorb that. But I do think what private sector can bring to the table is innovation, a little bit of creativity, and a different type of risk capital and pace that will help drive what those larger, government-funded, public sector-funded initiatives can be so that we get to the impact that we’re all trying to see. I think private sector companies do a whole lot more thinking about these issues than people might give us credit for, but we don’t often do that or hold that up for debate in a broader audience. So, I think continuing to educate communities, elected officials, public sector leaders about the true economics of any one of these solutions really helps us to get to a long-term sustainable funding source, period. What I think we can often sort of run to is that philanthropy can be the answer for everything, and I think in this moment everybody recognizes philanthropy can’t be the answer to everything and it shouldn’t be the answer to everything because if it is then we’re basically not focused on root causes, we’re focused on the Band-Aid approach. And while some of them are, again, great efforts that we need to do as we’re searching for the longer-term solution, you don’t want to fall into that, that – I think a tricky place where philanthropy is the end-all solution and the only solution any of us are willing to put on the table. So, I think private sector companies are digging deeper. I think doing our business differently. Handling our employees more responsibly. You can be customer-centric and not feel like, you know, you have to run a company that doesn’t have a social purpose at its center. It’s not easy to do, but it is absolutely possible. So, I think that that conversation is happening much more publicly and much more intently and throughout all frames of private sector companies in ways that it probably didn’t just six months ago, certainly not 10 years ago.
ANTONY: It does seem that a lot has been opened up by the last few months: First, the crisis from COVID that leads people to think, let’s not just go back, but go forward in a new way, and then the mobilization – and especially where you sit in a company that is very customer focused, has millions of retail customers around the country. What do you now believe is possible for your work, either within Comcast or the broader field of corporate philanthropy, that you couldn’t have hoped for on March 1 this year?
DALILA: You started by talking about the aligned action that happens in times of crisis and the unprecedented collaborations. I still do very believe that there is energy around, you know, unusual suspects, unusual bedfellows coming together to make big things happen because we have to. So I think that there is a different voice and energy and spirit around collaboration that I’m not sure existed before. I think now you hear a lot more funders and stakeholders saying, “Okay, what can I do differently in this moment that signals we’re ready to have a different voice in this, or we’re ready to see different sorts of impacts in this.”
ANTONY: Do you have an example from your work that you’re able to share about a collaboration that either was formed or accelerated in this moment that might not have otherwise been?
DALILA: Where we see it most as a business is just around a number of school districts, mayoral offices, foundations, private sector companies coming to the table around digital equity, around broadband connection in the home. So many people are understanding how critical and how essential this need is, to be connected. And I mean, a big part of equity that I always talk about is, when we can all get to the point of, we want for all children what we want for our own children, it changes the dynamic, right? And I think that’s how people are treating education now in ways that they were not pre-COVID.
ANTONY: I think you’ve probably heard me say this before, the observation I’ve had that in my life at least, the most charismatic people I encounter are the ones who keep their outrage and their optimism in balance. Because without outrage you can be complacent and without optimism you could be, frankly, kind of a pain to be around. So, these days I don’t think there’s any struggle to find reason to be outraged, how do you keep that in balance? How do you make sure you’re not being naive on one hand and paralytically despairing on the other?
DALILA: You know, sometimes it helps to bring a little bit of urgency and outrage to conversations, but doing it with intent, and articulating the why – you know, my why and the bigger why – is important for people to hear. Everybody has a different acceptance level for that balance, right? What some people call outrage, especially in women of color, could just be a spirited reaction if it were a white woman, or a white male, or, etc. And so, I think, one, we just have to recognize there’s inequity even in just how our emotions are displayed and received. But I also think that the how I get things done and how well I navigate is going to lead to the success and the goals and the impact I’m trying to have, and that’s important. I have to understand what I control in that situation and to absolutely manage every single aspect of what I control – and not to be swayed by what I don’t control, but be very thoughtful about what I have the ability to influence. And I think if you can focus your energy on what you can control or influence, versus what you can’t control and what someone else is doing or saying over here, it’s much easier to keep your eye on the prize and not be negatively distracted. But, you know, hey, it happens. It happens. But I just try to make sure that I take the time to reflect, know when I can. Just a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t burnt out yet, but I was definitely feeling like I was on the verge. And, you know, took a week with my family, protected my time and that was just so important. Was it busy? Yes. And, you know, but if you don’t do that, it doesn’t necessarily get you where you ultimately want to go, and what you want to achieve, and what you want to see have happened. And I think, you know, in this moment, in every moment, but particularly in this moment, those of us who operate in this space, we want to see real change, sustainable change, and a different level of acknowledgement on how each of us contribute to that. And I think that’s important.