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Fortune Connect: what I’ve learned in my first month

Written by: Jonathan Dunnett

Last September, I got my usual CEO Daily email from Alan Murray (CEO of Fortune Magazine), and while I always see value in the content, I saw text for a program that caught my eye and interest:

Fortune Connect is designed to help the next generation of top leaders prepare for this change. We provide weekly programming aimed at allowing Fortune Connect fellows to interact with the leaders at the frontiers of business change, with a special focus on purpose-driven business, stakeholder capitalism and inclusive leadership.

After a quick email exchange and getting pointed in the right direction, I began getting things put in place so I could join this community. To me, I was excited about the potential of meeting like-minded individuals that want to make the world a better place through business and leadership: and I will say, it’s definitely been worthwhile!

Connecting Through Connect

In our first meeting, we did a meet and greet, with Bennett D. Bennett, Co-Founder of 600 and Rising. During our discussion, Bennett shared a remarkable story about his experience of writing an open letter, demanding change following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. In a year filled with violence and needless deaths (among other challenges), Bennett shared his experience about starting this organization. I’m excited for Bennett: he is and will continue to be a great catalyst for change.

The second meeting I was able to attend featured David Kyuman Kim, Founding Director at The Center for Values, Ethics, & Culture at The Graduate Theological Union. I really appreciated the discussion, hosted by the very talented Ellen McGirt (who also writes raceAhead for Fortune), where we discussed the importance of rituals: what does it mean to put up a Christmas tree? How can such an exercise be cathartic during what has been an overwhelming year for some? Do we give gifts? Is there a point to doing that in 2020? We also dealt with some of the thorns of unrest, and the lack of civility we are facing in society. I referenced a gentleman, Dr. Harold Heie, who once came to my university, who – over a decade ago – talked about the concept of “coming alongside” another person.

His thesis was that we don’t have to necessarily seek to agree with everyone. Yet, if we come to the other side of the table, putting our biases and preconceived notions away, we can create an opportunity for understanding another person by listening to their “what” and their “why”. In 2021, I KNOW we can use more of that.

What I’ve Learned So Far

Needless to say, when you get a bunch of fascinating and talented people together in a room, especially with someone who is innately curious (me!), it’s such an exciting and time-limited opportunity. I’ve seen some common threads:

  1. People are tired. It seems to go without saying, but, there have been a lot of faces on the calls that are pandemic-fatigued, but the good news is…
  2. People want meaningful connection. What’s been very cool I would say is that a great percentage of people are willing to share and connect (aptly): we’ve talked recipes, real estate, we’ve shared thoughts and philosophies on life. This time and real opportunity for connection, if only via video for now, is vitally important to help counter the trend: according to Marissa King, an author and professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management (and an upcoming guest), the size of an average person’s network shrunk by 17% during the pandemic.
  1. People want a better world. In a year plagued with a lot of negativity, I’ve really appreciated connecting with like-minded people that believe the status quo isn’t good enough and that we can do better. We want to improve our business practices, our approach to social issues and our posture towards how we treat the planet. It’s been a wonderful breath of fresh air to find other people on the same wavelength. These amazingly cool, talented people (I’ve had opportunity to connect with folks from the East, Midwest, and West Coasts of the U.S., as well as from India in our breakout sessions), are all pulling in the same direction of creating a better world, and that’s exciting.

What comes next?

As has been the trend, the Fortune team is bringing in some amazing people as guests, including people like Alicia Garza, Co-founder, Black Lives Matter, Marissa King (mentioned above) and many others.

While I’m excited about the guest list, I’m equally (and perhaps more) excited about the other Fortune Connect Fellows. As we compare notes on the big and small things of life and dialogue on how we can collectively help shape a better world, I’m ready to dig in further and continue to connect with these amazing people.

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