BET’s Head of Social Impact: Social change is ‘a long game’


Developing a social impact initiative can be a daunting and slow process and can sometimes require personal courage. As a result, communicators working in the space must be prepared to play “the long game” and ensure that their strategy for social change does not stem from an arbitrary promise, said Jeanine Liburd, social impact manager. and communications at BET Networks.

Companies must engage in a continuous effort for maximum change, she added.

Liburd delivered the keynote address for day two of the PRNEWS Social Impact Summit in Pentagon City, Virginia, near Washington, DC.

“I’m proud of the work that so many brands do for social justice, civic education and financial empowerment. And whatever the foundation, it’s really rooted in longevity,” Liburd said. In addition, “consumers are paying attention”. As such, Liburd said, “just start.” Don’t think too much.

Be true to your brand

Liburd described several pillars of corporate social impact work. The first pillar is that social impact is not only essential for business today, but also crucial for communicating the principles of a company. She challenged the audience to identify the issues that matter to their stakeholders. “We’ve all seen epic failures from certain brands and we can see that these initiatives are moving away from who they are,” she said.

Consumers, Liburd said, can differentiate between an authentic and a performative call to action.


Liburd also asserted that companies cannot do everything. As such, partnerships, the second pillar, are essential.

BET’s COVID relief effort encompassed both pillars, she said. Liburd said that because many people shifted to remote work at the start of the pandemic, research showed that only 30% of African Americans had jobs that allowed working from home. This meant that black people would be disproportionately affected.

“We partnered with MDRC, which helped us reach our financial and media partners and our advertisers,” she said. “It allowed us to invest $1 million in six cities for food and shelter assistance and to work closely with local communities on how to distribute the money.”

For Liburd, this experience underscored the importance of collaboration and responding to community needs.

Learn more about the community

To understand your community, the first step is to do the work.

“Sometimes we think, ‘I’ve done the research, I’ve done the work, and now I’m going to follow our plan,” Liburd said. That’s not always enough. “I think the key is to find the community,” internally and externally, “and bring them into the conversation.”

For example, it has recruited experts, people on the ground who know the pulse. Additionally, building a team with diverse backgrounds that brings knowledge and experience across a wide range of issues is imperative.

Liburd referenced an instance where she realized BET had room to improve on LGBTQIA+ issues. There was no one on his team who could speak expertly about the issues of this community. Eventually, she brought someone on the team who could.

“You have to accept the fact that you don’t know everything,” Liburd said. “And be really mindful of who you’re around.”

Andre Byrd is a media associate with PRNEWS


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