Natalie Tran’s role as co-founder of the Civic Alliance grew from her job as executive director of the CAA Foundation.
Two years ago, she led the philanthropic arm of talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency in creating a coalition in the entertainment industry to boost voter turnout for the midterm elections. In January, she launched Civic Alliance with Mike Ward, VP of voter engagement at civic engagement nonprofit Democracy Works. When she thinks What the Future, she sees a culture where everyone can vote and participate in shaping our country.
Kate MacArthur: How does getting companies involved help improve democracy?
Natalie Tran: Studies have shown, especially in this past year, that amidst all of the media noise and things that we are getting bombarded with via social media, employers are actually one of the most trusted sources out there. So, if companies can improve their Election Day policies and give more time for employees to go out and vote, that automatically becomes good for democracy.
MacArthur: How is that similar or different from corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
Tran: It’s different at every company, but this is part of being a good citizen both to your employees and to your community. This has now evolved into some companies’ marketing plans, having looked at their brand partnerships and how they interact with their consumers. This has also moved into the business side as well, as we are seeing this younger generation not only asking this of the brands that they’re purchasing from, but they’re almost demanding or expecting it.
MacArthur: How does this compare to lobbying?
Tran: The Civic Alliance is really focused on being nonpartisan and non-issue-based. Most of this has been about expanding Election Day policies for employees and communicating to their consumers.
MacArthur: Is there a need or process to somehow keep companies accountable for making sure that whatever policies they try to promote are actually good for democracy as opposed to just capitalism?
Tran: I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Civic Alliance on that. But I do think as we’ve seen over these past few months, employees and consumers really do have a loud voice in this. It will be interesting to see how they respond and whether or not they choose to express or use that platform.
MacArthur: Do you see other ways for companies to support democracy beyond the electoral and Census processes?
Tran: Oh, yeah. We also want to make sure that we are expanding what the general definition of civic engagement is. And that could lead into participating in local town halls, running for a local city council, really getting involved at the local level.
MacArthur: How much influence should companies have in promoting democracy as they expand globally into countries under different government types?
Tran: I have to really tip my hat to one of our member companies, H&M, which is a Swedish retailer. They turned every single one of their stores here in the United States into a voter registration center. That could be a really interesting case study for the reverse of that, too.
If an American company wanted to participate in something locally elsewhere, I think staying nonpartisan and really making this about voter registration and voter turnout, as opposed to getting into a very specific issue or a candidate, has given brands a little bit of a safe space to come in and do that.
MacArthur: We’re still seeing so much disinformation and pushback on the election results. Does Corporate America have a role in pushing back on disinformation?
Tran: We saw business leaders step up and push back against our current administration. We will continue to push for safe and trusted elections and really stand by local election officials. For the first time, so many people across the country even knew what the definition of a local election official was, or even knew their names.
This has forced a lot of Americans to understand the process a little bit more and businesses to see the value in them participating in our democracy and participating in this conversation.
MacArthur: How could companies play an active role in education of the democratic process?
Tran: That’s where perhaps there are opportunities for companies’ CSR programs to support or continue to support civics education in schools, civics education programs or organizations in their communities.
MacArthur: Our polling shows that Americans feel like the country is very divided and a majority of Americans feel that our democracy is in trouble. So where do we go from here?
Tran: We saw record voter turnout this year, and people across the country are really engaged. My hope is that voter turnout only increases, that people continue to stay engaged at their local and state levels and companies continue to push to do more, to continue to activate their employees and their audiences. I think this next generation is pushing us all to do more. So, I think we’ve just entered a new chapter.
MacArthur: Can companies take a more active role in promoting a multiracial democracy?
Tran: Yes. In every sense, we have seen voter suppression happening across the country. Voter access for all doesn’t necessarily mean an equitable future for all. One has to really be intentional and really seek out the reasons why individuals may or may not be able to vote and start unpacking that. And that gets complicated. This is years and years of suppression for a lot of groups that will not be undone in 10 months or over a summer of racial reckoning for many. So hopefully, companies and individuals will continue this work.