How Leaders Inspire Empathy

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

What do leadership of health services in Haiti and leadership of a restaurant in a hip Boston neighborhood have in common? Conor Shapiro, President and CEO of St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, talks with Jefferson Macklin, business manager and partner of Boston’s Bar Mezzana, about empathy, leadership and how their organizations help spur economic activity and community revitalization. Both men cite empathy they learned from world travel as the basis for their leadership style. Shapiro’s interactions with Haitian patients informs the philanthropic approach of the Foundation. “Walking out to a patient’s home and seeing how their journey to our hospital affects the kind of care they receive…For me the constant reminder to listen to the patients and understand where they’re coming from has been incredibly formative,” he says. Macklin had a similar experience during his time serving in the military in the Middle East and Asia. “Anytime you see people in dire straits that you have never experienced, it tends to wake you up a little bit. That’s the reason why people should travel more and see the world – once you realize how good we have it, you start to realize how fortunate we are and that you need to give back,” he asserts.

Shapiro discusses philanthropy’s role in the overwhelming problems facing Haiti, where 90% of the population is underserved and the country is in a perpetual poverty trap. “If people knew just how difficult the situation was… and they knew that there was something they could do about that, and they also knew that basically all people are people…,” he believes that Americans would give generously. Macklin, who earned a Bronze Star for his service in Desert Storm, sees parallels between leading troops to leading restaurants. His restaurant in the Ink Block section of Boston’s South End is a social and economic hub for the neighborhood. “As restaurant owners, between your employees, suppliers, investors, guests, you touch a lot of people and have an impact on a lot of people,” he notes. He includes strategies in his business model that support immigrants and local charitable causes and help his workers earn a living wage, live locally, and grow with the business. “To me the base root of hospitality and philanthropy is empathy. I’m someone that really believes in empathy and I think the world could use a lot more of it,” says Macklin.

Let this conversation inspire you to travel more, find deeper empathy and serve communities in need.

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