Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month arrived this year amidst great heartache from AAPI violence and the great achievement of Chloe Zhao's breakthrough Oscar win. The events invite a different response, one that acknowledges history, achievements, and heartaches. We must rethink how we honor the deep, rich, and complex contributions of the AAPI community during this heritage month to break through myths and engage in allyship.

Moving beyond myths and stereotypes

The AAPI community is often overlooked or "invisible" when it comes to policing, racial injustice, systemic racism, discrimination, implicit bias, and stigma of the model minority myth. There is a long history of AAPI communities being segregated, abused, and untrusted in the United States. Yet, when asked to name AAPI contributions to society, some think primarily of Asian foods such as sushi, dimsum, or curry, or stereotypical images of Ninja warriors or computer programmers, none of which capture the breadth and depth of the AAPI experience in the U.S.

To honor the AAPI community, it is necessary to bust the stereotype that the AAPI community in the United States does not have a loud voice. On the contrary, they have a resounding, billowing baritone full of richness and strength. Yet the burden of convincing others of this richness should not sit on the shoulders of the AAPI community.

The question is, how should your company approach this task of honoring in an inclusive and sensitive way?

Try crowdsourcing.

Why crowdsource?

Celebrating community is critical to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) aims at many organizations. At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, we believe that we can only make progress on our DEI goals when many are involved, that deep and lasting change will not happen through a mandate. Rather, we see our work as creating a movement of movements, where everyone participates and brings their expertise and passion to the table. Crowdsourcing is emblematic of our approach--an approach that aims to include all, and honor all. 

We piloted this approach in what we call crowdsourcing allyship -- inviting our community to create an AAPI resource together. The Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month of Learning resulted from a unique collective experience of co-creation. Some lessons learned:

  1. Shift your mindset. Instead of creating resources or presentations by a few, invite your entire community -- as well as friends from other organizations working on these areas -- to design the content based on topics they deem meaningful. Thus, crowdsourcing creates a sense of inclusion that is a stark contrast to the typical top-down approach. Pulling from the collective wisdom of the community means people who might not typically share their perspectives otherwise have the chance to do so here.
  2. Provide guidelines for inclusive feedback between contributors. The community may want to comment on one another's contributions. Feedback can range from being a gift to squashing participation. To invite inclusive feedback, invite contributors to take a look at others' ideas and to give generative feedback, which we define as feedback that is generous and kind, and meant to foster improvement and collaboration. This did a few things: 1) established a community norm of support and engagement, 2) welcomed perspectives and ensured that each person felt safe in submitting their day, and 3) nurtured mutual respect throughout the process. Thus, we encouraged crowdsourcing feedback with care.
  3. Catch blindspots. Even when we hope to contribute to celebrating communities, we know that we also all have blindspots. Even allies are not immune from non-conscious biases and stereotypes that could shape the learning experiences or even inadvertently replicate harmful tropes. Through a crowdsourced approach, contributors can take action -- the foundation of allyship -- as contributors and curators of others' content, to weed out stereotypes that can inadvertently creep into depictions of culture.
  4. Find partners with complementary expertise to amplify the resource. To make resources come to life, we need producers, either on the web or, in person, at events. Enlist creative folks who could craft the tone of the project from a perspective of cultural humility and allyship. In our project, we relied on artists -- both visual and written -- who were committed to depicting each contribution in a way that was both authentic and respectful.
  5. Communicate often and with humility. The final component of the creative crowdsourced process is communication. Communicating with contributors, artists, and with one another in a way that is open to changes, critiques, and diverging opinions and perspectives is the foundation of successful engagement.

Even if our final product is not perfect -- and it never will be -- a measure of success is in starting the sometimes difficult conversation between and among folks from different backgrounds and different sensibilities. It is through this dialogue that we acknowledge that each of us is a work in progress. Focusing on a process that is generative rather than mandated creates the space for each of us to embrace the challenge and benefit of a diverse, inclusive, and equitable society.

Now it's your turn

We invite you to try out our approach. Welcoming the expertise of others and honoring collective wisdom is, itself, an act of allyship and one that is truly inclusive and can foster a sense of belonging on your team and in your organizations. The challenges may be thorny, complex, and deep, but the value of using collective wisdom in this ongoing process is priceless.