A blueprint for leading from the front through civic engagement

Your business can help transform your community. In this Q&A, Bank of America’s Business Banking president explains how.


8 minute read

Key takeaways

  • Communities across the nation are at a crossroads, confronting issues ranging from economic stagnation to racial discrimination
  • While companies have historically supported their communities, civic engagement requires businesses to take a leadership role today
  • True civic engagement means enlisting employees, industry stakeholders and customers as agents of change

The business community has long recognized the need to give back through philanthropy and volunteering. In light of the challenges that communities face today — such as the loss of major industries, a growing digital divide or racial divisions — business leaders are taking that commitment to the next level through civic engagement, says Raul A. Anaya, president of Business Banking for Bank of America. “Civic engagement means leading by example, through your own operations, your value system and everything you do as a company,” he says. “And it means bringing others to the table.”


Anaya also oversees the bank’s corporate and social responsibility activities in the greater Los Angeles area, and in 2021, he was named chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Here, Anaya offers ideas on civic engagement and how businesses of any size can help create stronger communities.


Raul A. Anaya, President of Business Banking, Bank of America

What is civic engagement and how does it differ from the ways businesses traditionally get involved in their communities?

Historically, businesses have looked to nonprofit organizations for leadership in tackling the most pressing needs of a community, since that’s what those organizations do. Companies may get involved by serving on nonprofit boards, donating to charities or sponsoring activities — all of which are absolutely essential. But civic engagement takes community involvement to an even deeper level. It’s about businesses recognizing they can’t just support; they have to step up and take the lead. They can do that by helping establish priorities for solving problems, committing resources and expertise, and actively encouraging others to join them.


Why is that level of engagement important today?

Challenges such as racial inequality, homelessness, unequal access to health care and economic mobility, and threats to the environment have always been with us. But the events of the past couple of years have exacerbated all of these things. The sudden need for children to learn at home during the pandemic only widened the digital divide and the education gap between those with access to high-speed internet and other technologies, and those without.


Communities want to find solutions so that problems no longer pass from one generation to the next. There’s a greater sense of urgency that things need to change now. One positive is that people have become much more comfortable talking about these issues and the frustrations they feel. There’s a new level of engagement and dialogue that’s not going away — it’s only going to accelerate. And there’s a real opportunity for all of us in the business community to be civic leaders.


How can companies decide where to focus their efforts?

Regardless of size, any company can lead from the front when it comes to civic engagement. One of the first things a business owner should be thinking about is determining where they can have the biggest impact. A food distributor or manufacturer might address hunger in underserved communities or help with the homeless. If you’re a technology company, how could you use your products or services to help close the digital divide? Ask your employees what the most important things are to them and their families. Encourage them to get involved by volunteering, whether on workdays or weekends.


“There’s a new level of engagement and dialogue that’s not going to go away — it’s only going to accelerate. And there’s a real opportunity for all of us in the business community to be civic leaders.”


Whatever you focus on, reach out to other businesses to get them involved. Talk to elected officials in your area about the passion you have and suggest collaborating on solutions. Sit down with philanthropic groups who may be able to support your efforts. That’s how you go from being a single business with a good idea to building real momentum in helping solve a community’s issues.


How do organizational values play a role?

A key part of civic engagement involves looking in the mirror to ensure your own operations align with what you’re supporting publicly. What are you doing to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace, and to support economic mobility for your employees and their families? Does the way your company consumes natural resources align with what you’re saying about environmental sustainability? It’s important that you articulate your values and goals to your employees, customers and the public, and that you’re able to demonstrate measurable progress in all of these areas. Your focus on organizational values should also extend to those you do business with, including your suppliers.


Why is civic engagement good for businesses?

More than ever, customers are supporting companies and brands that align with their own beliefs and values on climate change and sustainability, racial equality and education. And as companies compete for the best employees, it’s not just the paycheck; they’re concerned about what you stand for as a company, your values and the causes you support.


In a broader sense, though, companies and communities are part of the same ecosystem. We’re all interconnected, and all of us have to help bring positive change. Why should a company support education and help ensure all children have access to technology, for example? A few years from now, those students are going to be your employees, or the ones buying your products and services. Put simply, businesses can’t prosper unless communities prosper.


What have you found most gratifying in helping lead Bank of America’s civic engagement?

It’s rewarding seeing the positive impact you can have on people, whether in an after-school program for kids in underserved communities or even visiting a beach after you’ve organized hundreds of people to help clean up trash. But one of the most gratifying things is when you reach out to other businesses with an idea, and say, “We need your help and the community needs your help.” More often than not, you get an immediate and enthusiastic “Yes!” While it can be hard to take that first step, just about everybody wants to be part of the solution. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.


Raul A. Anaya | President of Business Banking | Bank of America