Lessons in Leadership: Yusuf George, Board Member, Net Impact
“Lessons in Leadership” is a blog series that was launched in March 2021 to highlight the inspiring work of Net Impact’s network of social impact and sustainability leaders. From NI Board Members to Chapter Leaders, you’ll read about how our community is tackling global issues and challenging their industries to create change. If you are interested in being interviewed for the series or to nominate someone you are inspired by, please send an email to email@example.com, with Lessons in Leadership in the subject line.
Name: Yusuf George
Role, Company: Managing Director of Corporate Engagement, JUST Capital
What are you currently working on?
I am the managing director of corporate engagement at JUST Capital, a nonprofit focused on stakeholder capitalism and the idea that companies should be meeting the needs of their workers, customers, communities, the environment, and shareholders. Our organization was born out of the idea that markets can be a force for good, and at JUST, we are working to build a more just economy that works for all Americans. In my role, I help the largest companies in the U.S. understand what issues matter most, based on the priorities of the American public, and how they are performing versus their peers. The goal is to help companies address crucial issues such as wages, racial equity, and climate change.
- Sea Change | Was there a singular moment in your life/career that made you want to pursue social impact work?
There wasn’t a singular moment. I was born in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, which during the ‘80s was fairly impoverished. We were a lower-middle-class family, and while I always felt that my needs were met, there was definitely a gap. I didn’t realize that gap until I got to college and later on when I was working in finance. I felt split between two worlds - working in finance and then going home to Bed-Stuy where there was this pre-gentrification world that existed. I’ve always been focused on what it means to help folks in communities that look like the one I grew up in and how to drive impact because I am a model of that. After leaving finance, I realized that in order to scale initiatives that truly help communities, we need to be working collectively, with large nonprofits, social impact firms, and the biggest corporations in the world. So I didn’t come to this path with the idea that I wanted to be a social impact person; I came to it because inequities exist, and I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of helping folks within communities and the impact it can have, if scaled. This is what I am driven by.
- Reimagining Capitalism | What role do you see yourself and your organization playing in building a more equitable and sustainable society?
The thing that is most exciting about my work at JUST Capital is that I get to talk with C-Suite leaders about moving the needle on important social issues. I have conversations with CEOs, Chief HR officers, and Heads of Investor Relations about why something like racial equity or hazard pay matters. These are critical issues that impact the lives and livelihoods of thousands of workers, so that is why I’m driven to be in the role I am in.
And from a more personal standpoint, I started, around ten years ago now, giving $1000 scholarships to students in Brooklyn to aid in their college expenses. While that scholarship is beneficial for that one student, in my career now, I get to work on issues that impact tens of thousands of people and that is really where you begin to identify and build scale around driving change.
- Net Impact Community | How were you first introduced to Net Impact and what motivated you to join the Board of Directors?
As mentioned, I started giving out college scholarships because I had experienced for myself the impact that it had on me when I got a $500 scholarship to help buy books for school. But when I began giving out the scholarships something really interesting happened - one of my first scholarship recipients ended up giving $100 back to me so that I could add it to the pot for the next scholarship recipient. That was the moment when I really began to recognize the impact of shared value and what it means to help develop and push next-gen leaders who are trying to build things for themselves.
Thinking about the future of sustainability and who drives it is 100% what the members of Net Impact strive for. So when I first became introduced to Net Impact through my work, I got excited to engage with the community. It wasn’t until I went to my first conference in 2019 that I really experienced the full breadth of what Net Impact does. You have to start thinking about who is going to hold the torch, to move this mission forward, and it is this next generation. That’s what gets me excited about being on this board, and helping to shape the directionality of where the organization grows and goes is paramount to me.
- Looking Ahead | How will you challenge emerging leaders from the Net Impact community?
We spend a lot of time thinking about what capitalism can do and how it should look moving forward, but we don’t have fully inclusive systems here. Capitalism, itself, isn’t inclusive. I would challenge next-gen leaders, or any leader, to think about remodeling systems to be inclusive, whether it’s about gender, race, disability, etc.
Companies create products and services, and often, they only think about the bottom line. Many companies don’t think about the impact of their products or services and how it is being developed to be inclusive. Every product and service can have an element of inclusivity embedded in it, so you have to adopt that mindset at the very beginning stages of any project because it is really hard to do this later on. That is my challenge to emerging leaders, that you adopt an inclusive mindset in every aspect of the work you do moving forward.