Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Channing Nesbitt of Tableau Foundation Is Helping To Change Our…

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Channing Nesbitt of Tableau Foundation Is Helping To Change Our World

Find something that keeps you coming back. Be passionate about what you’re working on. This has grown easy for me to adopt while working for racial justice/equity in the social impact space. Being passionate about your work will help with perseverance as things don’t go your way over the course of time. It will push you to find alternate solutions that will help achieve what you’ve ultimately set out to do.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Channing Nesbitt.

Channing Nesbitt is the Social Impact Program Manager for Tableau and co-leads the Racial Justice Data Initiative for the company’s foundation. In his current role, Channing helps manage the success of Tableau’s non-profit partners through enablement and provides services to partners as an accredited trainer. Channing joined Tableau Foundation in 2019 while completing his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington, and it is through this experience that helped form his knowledge of public-private partnerships, social impact, and innovation, and now guides his work in corporate philanthropy.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was pursuing my MPA at the University of Washington, two things happened. First, I enrolled in a Tableau seminar that was tied to one of my statistics courses. This began my journey of looking into Tableau more broadly as a product, while also opening my eyes to opportunities within the company. Second, I took a class titled public/private partnerships. Taking this class provided me with background on how major projects pertaining to city infrastructure, corporate decision making, and various forms of non-profit development work have been pursued. After that class, I decided that I wanted to take on some of this work but wasn’t exactly sure in what form or from what side of the effort.

Working with Tableau Foundation provided me with the opportunity to bring together certain areas of interests I had for working within a tech company, while maintaining a focus on impact — even more specifically, impact in the space of racial equity and justice. Since high school, I’ve always wanted to support communities like my own in Oakland CA, especially in the space of economic access and opportunity. As my work has developed here at the Foundation, I’ve been able to see the beginning of my journey as part of this effort, and I’m looking forward to how things evolve.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I would say the development of my own role within social impact has been one of the most interesting journeys I’ve been on thus far. It was like a bittersweet evolution because as I began to grow in my role within our Foundation team, the pandemic hit. Then, after the pandemic hit, we had continuous instances of racial injustice throughout the summer of 2020. Taking the time to digest these societal occurrences and align them with how we work as a social impact team was more challenging than I presumed, especially as a Black man. Ultimately, looking back, I think the importance of this work helped keep me driven throughout the beginning phases, which were the most grueling. I think working through some of these issues in real time, as the world was seemingly spinning with new inflection points, made the process of structuring how we could be most effective both challenging and rewarding.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first began managing the training opportunities that we administered to organizations we work with, I created a bad scheduling snafu. These are usually scheduled up to three weeks in advance, and I found myself with only two days to try and mitigate the issue.

Not wanting to be embarrassed or cause too many people to stress out, I individually accounted for all 15 participants’ scheduling flaws, only later to find out that one email to our internal training staff would have solved the issue in just 15 minutes. The training proceeded without any hiccups.

That stress/extra hours of work showed me early on that communication, honesty and responsibility are few things that can help with any problem.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

At Tableau, enabling people to see and understand data is at the core of what we do. Data is a critical tool in the fight against racism and for justice/equity in cities, towns, and rural communities across the US.

In June of 2020 we launched our Racial Justice Data Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to work with organizations who are working to combat systemic racism in various forms ranging from areas such as building economic opportunity to advancing criminal justice reform. We are prioritizing supporting organizations that are Black, Women and/or URM led and staffed. This past year has been filled with learning and project scoping, so next year will be interesting as we track progress and double down our efforts and support of our partners in this space.

Then, in February 2021, we launched the Racial Equity Data Hub as a first step toward democratizing more of the types of data that can empower grassroots organizations in the movement towards equity and justice in their own communities. The Hub is designed as a constantly evolving platform to reflect and empower the work of local organizations and advocates addressing institutionalized racism in their communities. Its purpose is to connect them with relevant data, analyses, tools, case studies, and each other to advance the use of data in this work. The Racial Equity Data Hub combines our company mission with the expertise of researchers and advocates working to advance equity across the US.

The site brings together a coalition of contributors, including PolicyLink, the Urban Institute, Feeding America, and more, to publish original dashboards and case studies, as well as encourage the exploration of data across four key issue areas — Achieving Equitable Education, Building Economic Power, Building Political Power, and Advancing Equitable Justice.

Our goal is to make data on race and equity more visible and accessible moving forward, as well as call attention to the need for greater investment in data in this space. The next step of the hub will focus on how we can make the entry point of data analysis for individuals and organizations even easier through a variety of enablement assets currently in development. We are excited for what 2022 will bring.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing organizations that have connections down to the community level. Because of this, the amount of impact our support has provided can be far reaching, so thinking about this question on an individual level is thought-provoking.

We are working with partners in the voting rights, youth voting and overall civic engagement space who are aiming to increase youth voter participation and combat voter suppression. A young girl named Ari once spoke about how the lack of information about the barriers in place has deterred her surrounding peers and community from being represented in local and national elections. She spoke of the potential that access to accurate data may bring to this effort and how enabling communities to use tools such as Tableau can help close information gaps and spark more efficient organizing efforts. Her talk really stuck with me and is something I carry with me as we work in this space with our partners.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think communities need to keep their foot on the gas and continue to advocate for themselves and the needs of their people. This means continue to educate each other on the issues that are most pertinent and the most actionable. Then, take that knowledge to efficiently organize and hold institutions accountable.

Politicians need to listen to these communities and continue to embrace the need for change. They need to include community stakeholders in their deliberative process and work together on effective solutions that will benefit the lives of the communities they are meant to serve.

Society as a whole can aim to be more compassionate — compassion across different communities and understanding of the hardships that everyone is facing on a daily basis. This does not mean that we shouldn’t be aggressive in how we are pushing for collective action and solutions, but we can maintain empathy towards one another on an individual level while the fight goes on.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership boils down to two main things for me: responsibility and empathy. I think both of these aspects of leadership cover a lot of ground in terms of other characteristics as well.

I believe responsible leaders are accountable, thorough, and committed decision makers that take the lead when it comes to pushing work forward. They do what needs to be done and assume the brunt of both positive or negative feedback and outcomes. I believe that leaders who embrace empathy have a sense of compassion and humility that allows for the next generation of leaders to grow under them. They understand how to connect with their team, the people surrounding them and know when and how to encourage people to take the right chances.

Leaders who embrace these characteristics typically are followed by a great succession line. So my definition of leadership is really the ability to guide and protect your team, while enabling them to take future challenges head on.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Learn how to be patient. In this work where change really stems from years and years of investment and progress, it can be challenging to define success. Patience, when it comes to developing the right initiatives, partnerships and projects will help lead to better progress.

Take chances. I have grown to wholeheartedly believe this is where personal and professional growth really happens. For example, taking chances might just mean being open to opportunities that are presented to you at a time they were perhaps unexpected.

Be open-minded. I believe this should be adopted in any role or situation in life. In the situations I’ve been in, this has allowed for me to better understand how people want to either help or contribute, while also allowing for a broader range of perspectives to be brought to the table. I don’t believe that everyone needs to agree on every little detail, but I do believe in forming a unified effort to achieve success. Keeping an open mind allows for this to be achieved.

Find something that keeps you coming back. Be passionate about what you’re working on. This has grown easy for me to adopt while working for racial justice/equity in the social impact space. Being passionate about your work will help with perseverance as things don’t go your way over the course of time. It will push you to find alternate solutions that will help achieve what you’ve ultimately set out to do.

Set a standard for yourself. Expect greatness from yourself and the team around you. This doesn’t mean overload or overwork, but simply, set a standard for yourself first. This will radiate to people around you and will help set a communal standard. Embrace this standard from every small task to every monumental task.

The good thing is that I’m relatively early into my career. These are all things that I’m still learning and incorporating into practice, and I have so much room for growth.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to inspire a movement around economic opportunity and access to education.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mom used to have this paperweight on her desk when I was a kid. On the paperweight in all caps it read “GIVE A DAMN.” I remember being young and thinking this was inappropriate and/or funny due to the lack of perspective of the gravity those words held. As I’ve gotten older, those words have resonated and guided me in most situations. To me, this means that with everything that you do, you should be invested in how you show up and affect the people around you. You should be proud of the impact you set out to create and you care deeply, without fear of judgment or failure

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are a lot of people on this list for different reasons, but I would have to say I’d love to meet AOC. Her story is obviously compelling, but I think the main thing that makes her stand out is the passion behind how she views the impact she and her peers could/should have on the world. I’d want to hear about what keeps her in this daring state of pushing the status quo and unafraid of challenging the systems that historically have kept women and people of color out of decision-making positions.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn here or follow Tableau Foundation’s latest news on our Twitter page.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Channing Nesbitt of Tableau Foundation Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.