Unity As a Business Practice

One of the qualities of heart-based leadership is an ability to see opportunity where others don’t. This often means a willingness to do business in places and with people that many businesses disregard. Without a doubt, this takes a creativity and vision that single-minded focus on the bottom line may stifle. But more than that, it requires the belief that business isn’t a zero sum game, and that by enlarging the so-called “pie” so that more people and communities can participate, we all benefit.

One inspiring example of the power of inclusive business practice is the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago, and its founder and executive director, Rami Nashashibi, who was awarded the 2017 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award last month for his work in one of Chicago’s South Side poverty areas. The organization’s activities are extensive and various — from organizing farmers markets in previously run-down public spaces, flipping houses to sell to low-income residents, organizing cultural events, and running a health clinic — but address the needs of Chicago’s most underserved neighborhoods while simultaneously promoting intercultural understanding and dialogue between communities that differ across racial, ethnic and religious lines.

Nashashibi’s commitment to inclusion has contributed to the strength of his organization, but this type of leadership requires the courage to choose love over divisiveness. In doing so, he’s created, in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, a “unique coalition of typically disparate constituencies—most notably, African American Muslims and Muslim immigrant communities in both low-income urban areas and wealthier suburbs.”

Could an organization comprised of one of these groups alone have created the value that IMAN has? It’s unlikely. It takes visionary leaders whose personal belief in unity — in Nashashibi’s case, this belief is grounded in his Islamic faith — translates to their business practice.