“What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr
Kaanji Irby’s mom used to ask her this question often and Kaanji has taken this with her every step of her career; starting as a middle school Spanish and History teacher, to then a flight attendant, lawyer, and now head of Diversity & Inclusion + Social Impact at Next Insurance. Kaanji is also the co-founder of an anti-bias and awareness nonprofit called Embrace Action as well as co-host of the “Motherhood in Black and White” podcast. Impact doesn’t even begin to describe Kaanji. Let’s dive in.
Listen to the episode here, or wherever you get your podcasts:
“There are no wrong turns. There are only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
While Kaanji’s path to Social Impact has not been traditional, it has given her the unique perspective to be successful in this space. As mentioned above, Kanji started out as a middle school Spanish and History teacher, while an active member of the Teach For America program. She worked as an international flight attendant during the 9/11 crisis. After that, she pursued a career in law, graduating from law school and working at law firms in Manhattan. After relocating to Dallas, she took a position in litigation and compliance at a financial services institution.
“I think that if we as a society, and we as humans start to realize and recognize that there are many paths to success. And success doesn’t necessarily look the same, and it is not static, it can change. But the foundation of it, I think the foundational underpinnings have to remain the same.” Throughout her path, she also became more and more familiar with the many challenges that come with being a mom in the workforce. These experiences helped pave the way to her journey of starting a nonprofit…
“What are you doing for others?” MLK Jr
In the wake of the racial pandemic after George Floyd’s murder, Kaanji did a personal inventory and realized there were skills and talents that she was not utilizing for social impact. After having real, honest conversations with other mothers and community leaders, Kaanji co-founded a nonprofit.
Embrace Action is an anti-bias and awareness nonprofit, which is focused on providing education and resources and support for mostly mothers, but also community leaders that want to support inclusion and build inclusive practices; in their homes, in their schools, and in their communities. And as a part of working in this nonprofit, they created the podcast “Motherhood in Black and White” that she co-hosts with another one of the Embrace Action volunteer leaders.
Motherhood in Black and White
Motherhood in Black and White is a podcast about family, faith, friendship, the future and fears. It is an inspirational show about motherhood with real women having real conversations with open minds and open hearts (and a little humor) and the tagline, “to have a conversation about race and color, first you need to see the world in black and white.”
Kaanji’s work was well-noticed by the NEXT Insurance CEO (as well as many other companies) and she was approached to spearhead a Social Impact program for NEXT.
NEXT Insurance’s mission is to help small businesses and entrepreneurs thrive. They do this mainly by providing small business insurance for entrepreneurs.
Coffee with Kaanji
When beginning her role for in-house social impact at NEXT Insurance, Kaanji was the first person to build up this program. She began with two objectives:
- How do we create a workspace that feels inclusive where every individual can thrive?
- What can we do to support the communities that we serve?
Kaanji’s mission in starting this program was to have one on ones with at least 200 people from the company within the first 90 days, which she called the “Coffee with Kaanji” program. This program spearheaded the tone of the department moving forward. Kaanji was able to not only learn what is important to the NEXT insurance team, but was also able to develop the beginning stages of an ambassador program. NEXT has departments in many locations with their own subcultures, so taking the time to do this was a great benefit.
The Two Pillars of a CSR Program
One really impressive aspect of the framework for NEXT Impact (the name of the social impact department at NEXT) is that there are two pillars:
- Social Impact – External
- Diversity & Inclusion – Internal
Diversity & Inclusion is thought of as the internal program. This highlights employees’ experiences within the company. Social Impact is looked at as external; what are we doing within our community to help make an impact?
The Ambassador Program at NEXT Insurance
Since the social impact department was brand new and starting up in the middle of the great resignation, Kaanji needed to do something fast and on a limited scale. She goes on to say one of the “best things she did” for NEXT Impact was found an amazing social impact platform….say what!?
Because of the scope of NEXT, she had to think globally, but act local. And so finding the Millie platform was a game changer because it gave the new ambassador core the opportunity to easily create and promote local volunteer events.
Millie Finds a Home for ERG’s
NEXT Impact also has ERGs (employee resource groups) that they call inclusion networks. Millie created a space for these inclusion networks to have their own presence on the website. So Millie not only was beneficial for the social impact side of things but was also supportive of the diversity and inclusion work.
ERGs (or inclusion networks) at NEXT Impact use this space to connect by sharing resources and information, community conversations, and educational event opportunities like “lunch and learns.”
The Future of Social Impact and DI at NEXT
“None of us see the world the way the world is, we all see the world the way we are.”
In the DI space, NEXT’s mission is to help “Nexters” thrive. Kaanji aspires to do this by providing a framework of resources for finding “blind spots”, since we all have them. One way to do this is by providing education and building and flexing those awareness muscles.
For Social Impact, NEXT Impact hopes to really start to build transformative relationships with local charitable organizations.
The future of NEXT Impact will also include connecting solopreneurs to skills based volunteer programs that can support them with other small business needs, such as marketing or accounting.
Kaanji’s Advice on Convincing Leadership to Start a Social Impact Program
“When we practice loving kindness and compassion, we are the first ones to profit”. – Rumi
How do we convince leadership that this is important? Because it’s not profitable, right? This is a challenge heard often. Kaanji quotes Rumi and states that the challenge is getting folks to understand that we can do good work AND do good. And the type of profit that we are generating is different from the other profit, but equally as important, if not moreso.