17:03 PM

Working for a better tomorrow

Nationwide Social Justice Task Force members find purpose and positivity in a difficult year.

Gamal Harding does his best to be an optimist, but 2020 hasn’t cooperated. While he’s thankful for his family, his ability to volunteer and his job, he’s also mourned multiple family members taken by COVID-19. And then there were the news reports about the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

“It was really difficult to digest all that,” said Harding, a consultant in Nationwide’s Business Transformation Office. “Those are things we live with daily but now the whole world is seeing it. It was just bringing it to light.”

As an African American, Harding, knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism and discrimination, like being followed around in a store by security. So, when Nationwide asked him to be a part of its Social Justice Task Force (SJTF) to identify tangible ways for the company to further combat racism and promote social justice, he jumped at the chance.

In all, 26 associates from across the country and from all levels of the organization served on the task force, harnessing the sadness, anger and frustration many of them felt during the summer into actionable recommendations that could be taken in four key areas:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Employment/economic mobility
  • Criminal justice

The process was not just cathartic, they said, but also eye-opening, emotional and life-changing.

“If you had asked me in June how I was feeling, I would have told you lost, disempowered, and confused. I felt like I was being swept up in a current I couldn’t fight against,” said Tim Kasper, an SJTF member and manager in IT Applications. “The Social Justice Task Force provided me an opportunity to make a contribution and direct our company’s resources to organizations, causes and communities that matter, and to make an impact and amplify the voices that are often unheard.”

Guided by the words of CEO Kirt Walker that Nationwide should be known for its actions and not its words, task force members embarked on a months-long process to research actionable steps that Nationwide could take as a company and its employees could take individually.

The end result, delivered this month, is a $3 million plan consisting of four new initiatives plus the expansion of six existing programs.

Projects include some new and some expanded partnerships with multiple community organizations, such as:

  • New Nationwide-sponsored Habitat for Humanity building projects, beginning in 2021, in the metro regions where Nationwide has a major presence.
  • A partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative, announced earlier in 2020, that will work to enact bail reform.
  • An amplification of partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities to expand internship and hiring opportunities.
  • Increased amplification of efforts to expand the diversity of Nationwide’s vendors and suppliers in order to support minority-owned businesses.

An additional new program that Harding is especially excited about is support for the Opportunity House, a housing program that is in the process of being developed with Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Opportunity House program combines housing, employment, criminal justice and education aspects into one integrated program that will be targeted towards helping residents of the Linden neighborhood in Columbus.

Currently under development, the goal of the program will be to develop up to 50 affordable housing units, promote job training and financial education, and partner with organizations to promote re-entry opportunities for people exiting the criminal justice system.

Each task force member worked on a particular area and was responsible for researching and bringing recommendations to the group. By the end of the process, however, Harding said the SJTF had become more than a committee.

“This wasn’t just a working group that made recommendations,” Harding said. “There were a lot of meetings where tears were common. It was a very intense process. Many of us have made very intimate and personal connections. It has been kind of a family experience.”