This is part of "Leaders of Color" month of the Generocity Editorial Calendar. Find the series here.
Every morning, Saleem Chapman takes the Market-Frankford Line from his home in Cobbs Creek to his office in Rittenhouse Square. Every morning, from atop the elevated rail line, Chapman notes the differences in the city’s landscape.
Growing up in Cobbs Creek, the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) lobbyist was well aware of the differences between his neighborhood and Rittenhouse. It’s why he still lives there. He wants to watch those differences dissipate.
That daily view from the MFL keeps his eyes on the prize.
“Economic inequality is the issue of our time. It’s what our generation will be judged on,” said Chapman, a poised policy wonk with the spirit of an advocate. “When I look back, will my nieces’ generation be in a better place than we were when we started out? If I can say I had some small part in moving that forward, that’s what will make me most happy.”
It might seem strange that Chapman hopes to move the needle forward on economic inequality through sustainable business policy, but to him, there’s no separating economic and environmental sustainability. There can be no silos in this fight.
"Economic inequality is the issue of our time. It's what our generation will be judged on."
“We’re working on social, economic, environmental sustainability issues. We want to be a convener of all these different parties because it makes the most sense for us,” said Chapman, extending his hands in earnest. “It ain’t easy.”
Chapman likes to say the learning curve for policy isn’t hard, you just have to be disgruntled enough to make change — even when government is notoriously slow to adapt to it.
“Government prefers incremental change. Revolutions come few far and between,” he said. “Incremental change isn’t a bad thing. It gets a bad rap. What we cannot lose is that momentum.”
Philadelphia’s new incentives for B Corps, a policy win for Chapman and SBN that was overshadowed by the sugary drinks tax, is an example of that incremental change in practice. Championed by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez in an effort to make Philly the “B Corp Capital of the World,” the expanded policy doubles both the incentives and the number of eligible businesses that can receive them, among other improvements.
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But Chapman’s advocacy for better B Corps tax policy isn’t done.
“As advocates, we can’t just wash our hands of something once we have a victory,” said Chapman. “We have to capitalize on that momentum.”
There are outcomes Chapman and SBN have their sights set on, and they will “engage anybody and everybody” who can get them there. One of those goals is diversity.
“Specifically in the sustainability movement, too often we’re looking at rooms that aren’t diverse enough,” said Chapman. “The onus is on us to make sure we’re connecting our issues with the priorities of people, and that’s something I’m going to continue to work on.”