Why you should care
For better or worse, business leaders have a greater responsibility to right society’s wrongs.
In downtown Manhattan, Keri Rapisarda stands in front of her fidgeting class of third-graders. “We’re going to connect with our partner school,” she says. Soon enough, a gaggle of fifth-graders from Toronto stare back at them over an interactive whiteboard. The children take turns telling their new international friends about their lives. They compete with chants of “Go Maple Leafs!” and “Go Yankees!” The Canadian children start teaching French to the New Yorkers: Bonjour, comment ça va. S’il vous plaît.
Dozens of similar exchanges have taken place in elementary school classrooms across the globe since October, when Empatico launched. The video conferencing program is not the work of some education nonprofit or feel-good government initiative though. It’s the brainchild of Daniel Lubetzky, the founder and CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks. The platform hopes to expand the horizons of children “across different cultures, religions,” he tells OZY in his midtown Manhattan office. The Jewish-Mexican immigrant is a lifelong businessman: As a kid, he performed magic as “The Great HouDani,” and sold watches while a college student at Trinity University in Texas. But more than that, Lubetzky is the son of a Holocaust survivor, a history that haunts his decisions more than any bottom line. “I’ve felt this enormous weight of having a responsibility to prevent what happened to my father from happening to others,” he says.
It has to be authentic. There is this trend toward ‘corporate social responsibility’ or ‘corporate citizenship,’ and sometimes it’s just gimmicky.
He is not alone. Today, more business leaders are willing to embrace practices that value more than just profits. KIND was one of nearly 130 companies that signed an amicus brief arguing against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in February 2017. That same month, Lubetzky pledged $25 million personally to form Feed the Truth, an organization promoting “public health over special interests” in the food industry. The company started a “radical kindness” campaign and produced a film showing volunteers leaving jugs of water across the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent deaths in the desert. KIND is instituting the policies it wants to see in politics, including a Hardship Fund, which team members can draw from in times of financial difficulty. “He has a very human approach to leading,” his chief of staff, Elle Lanning, says.
Still, trying to solve society’s ills is a burden. Lubetzky is confident and empathetic, but he doesn’t look at peace, despite building KIND Snacks to become the fastest-growing nutrition bar company in America with a valuation in the billions of dollars. The 49-year-old is running an hour late for our interview. Or more accurately, limping, his left leg in a cast after an accident playing soccer with one of his four children the day before. “When my team asks me what keeps me up at night, they tend to be asking in terms of the business,” he says. “I almost always answer that it’s not about the business: It’s about where we’re heading as a society.” He sounds eager. And exhausted.
Despite a reputation for being tight-lipped, business leaders like Lubetzky — including many who enter the political realm — have increasingly been willing to speak up on social issues. In February, businesses including Delta Air Lines, Hertz Corporation and Dick’s Sporting Goods took public stances against unfettered gun sales following the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Lubetzky couches his argument by saying he speaks on how business can solve societal issues, not political ones. However, it’s often been progressive businessmen leading…