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Remote Learner Social Impact Initiative: Taking Action in Plastic Hours

By February 19, 2021August 17th, 2021No Comments

“There are in history what you could call ‘plastic hours.’ Namely, crucial moments when it is possible to act. If you move then, something happens.” -Gershom Scholem

Written by Brendan Landry, Account Operations Manager

I recently read an article by George Packer that talked about the concept of “plastic hours.” Plastic hours are moments in history that present themselves as the product of a convergence of factors that usually swirl around a crisis. Packer lays out a theory that in these moments, “ossified social order can become pliable, stasis gives way to motion.” These moments create a renewed call to action to do something to address old and seemingly intractable issues because new and brighter lights have been thrust upon them as a result of the crisis.

I found the plastic hour concept to be particularly applicable to the conversations we’ve had at Remote Learner surrounding our response to the Black Lives Matter Movement since June. Our commitment then was to listen, learn, and take action. Back in the summer of 2020, we announced the launch of the Remote Learner Social Impact Initiative, a critical action in honoring that commitment. The initiative establishes an in-kind contribution program wholly dedicated to advancing diversity & inclusion and anti-racism initiatives across North America by leveraging RL resources and expertise to ensure that Communities of Color have greater access to equitable and meaningful learning experiences.

What Informs the Work of the Remote Learner Social Impact Initiative?

As we began thinking about what this initiative would look like, I reflected upon Remote Learner’s experience over the last several months and the “plastic hour” we find ourselves in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the corresponding reckoning on systemic racism that is ongoing. I was left with three key thoughts that I believe have heavily informed this work and will do so moving forward:

    1. Remote Learner is set up to weather the pandemic in a way that is not a reality for many businesses, industries, and households across the globe. We are an established remote business in an economy that was forced to transition on a dime to remote work. We are operating, more or less, in a “business as usual” fashion, a privilege not extended to so many people who have had to close businesses, furlough staff, or suffer a loss of employment (or worse). We operate today from a position of relative strength, which I believe adds to our sense of urgency to help.
    2. This moment has dramatically underscored the injustice that persists for our Communities of Color in a host of critical areas (health care, access to education, criminal justice, voting rights…to name only a few). Simultaneously, it has brought to the forefront the full value that learning technology can have as a catalyst for positive change and new opportunity in addressing inequities for People of Color. We have tools and expertise that are effective, and we must commit to making them work for Communities of Color.
    3. While there is no single cure that will dismantle the generational impacts of systemic racism, there are hundreds of smaller ways to keep us moving in the right direction. And this particular moment has provided each of us with a mandate to grow, rewire, and redesign to collectively move toward a more just future for People of Color.

As noted by our CEO, Ron Olsen, back in June, we have seen these waves come and go before, and we are following the premise put forth by Scholem: that if we move now, something will happen. The Remote Learner Social Impact Initiative was launched to leverage our unique position to move beyond learning and dialogue and to catalyze individual commitments into a collective effort.

Looking To The Future

We view this initiative as the start of a fundamental shift in how we approach our work on a day-to-day basis, a new lens to view how we design solutions for our customers, and a commitment to look for new applications for our work and how it might benefit Communities of Color in some way large or small. Finally, it will push us to think about ways in which we can begin to connect some of those dots, influence our clients and partners to reflect on their own work, and do our part to align the many small ways in which we might chip away at this seemingly intractable injustice.

We have no doubt that this effort will evolve over time as we learn more, get different perspectives involved, and get a few test runs under our belt. What is most important now is to take action because, in this “plastic hour,” as Packer puts it: Nothing happens unless you move.