How Adrian Haro Is Fighting to Bolster the Power of Workers Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

There’s never been a more urgent time to talk about the workers of America. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the structural inequities of our society, where workers in essential services — like grocers, delivery people and laundry attendants — risk their lives to work the frontlines of this crisis, despite the fact that they’ve been largely excluded from the economic growth of the late 20th and early 21st century.
As interim CEO of the Workers Lab, NationSwell Council member Adrian Haro fights the good fight for the workers of America. This is what he had to say about the novel ways he and his organization are innovating to not only consolidate and bolster worker power, but to provide immediate relief to those who need it most.
NationSwell’s Anthony Smith: Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the work you’re doing, and a little about how that work has pivoted amid this pandemic?
The Workers Lab’s Adrian Haro: Our purpose as an organization is to give new ideas about increasing worker power a chance to succeed and flourish by taking highly flexible, bold dollars and shooting those out to innovators all over the country — and on the ground — who are really enabling experimentation around new ideas about workers and worker power, and learning from those experiments.
Last year, we partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation and with to stand up an experiment about something that is now very much on the minds of the American people, certainly public sector and public sector leaders alike, which was to try to get $1000 in emergency cash to gig workers. Through that experiment, we were able to get $1000 in emergency cash to over 400 workers — and we learned that $1000 isn’t enough.
Emergency cash, I suspect now, is being thought of as like a necessity. But it was a necessity before this. Emergency cash, like emergency savings, like easy emergency loans should all be a part of a renewed or re-imagined social safety net. And we are now seeing why.

“What does it mean that workers are being deemed essential, but are not given essential safety gear or equipment?” — Adrian Haro, Interim CEO, Workers Lab

What we’ve been thinking a lot about since this pandemic began is what work looks like now, and how the supports workers need are perhaps important now more than ever before.
Particularly I hear things like how in some states, the process and infrastructure for claiming unemployment insurance is breaking down; when we’re having to rethink what childcare looks like; or trying to rethink what it looks like to go to the grocery store. I know there are innovators all over the country who right now are being forced to be super creative about how to solve problems that are rapidly revealing themselves, and the need to be able to respond quickly with new ideas that reflect responses to new challenges that have been exposed because of this crisis.
So the innovation and experimentation we do as a lab is more important than ever.
NS: What are some of the new ideas out there that you’re supporting?
AH: We are actually currently in the middle of the Innovation Fund, a grant competition we host two times a year. It’s our signature program. It is the main way that we put out a big open call and source innovative ideas from all over the country.
Once the pandemic really took hold, we were smack dab in the middle of that open call. What we’re doing now is doubling down on that program and asking for folks to think about the solutions that they’re submitting to us not necessarily as tools to respond directly to what’s going on, but certainly to be grounded in this moment, but also tied to a broader vision that extends beyond this moment, and where they sit in relation to the kinds of tools that need to be included in our social safety net once all of this blows over.
NS: How do you define a worker?
Workers for us are arguably one of the most powerful constituencies in this country, and I don’t know that they’re talked about in that way enough. Think about what workers need in our communities as citizens. When you think about the potential they have in our democracy as a powerful voting block in policy and advocacy, when you think about given the right conditions and access the role that workers can play in exerting corporate control — and we forget that workers are also moms and dads in our communities that need time, and space, and motivation to do things like the PTA, to run for office.
Workers are all of these things, and indeed because of all of that, because we think about workers as a massive constituency in this country within which myriad issues intersect in their lives, and what we’re working toward in our vision is that workers play an outsized role in determining how our society works more broadly.
NS: What does worker power mean at a time like this, when there are so many different types of jobs that have been classified as essential services, but the workers that work those jobs don’t get the essential support that they might need from their companies or from our governments to work those jobs and live their lives?
AH: We think about power for workers as what are we building in service of all of the outcomes that workers envision for themselves in their lives?
And so you can talk about safety as one of those outcomes. You can talk about recourse in the form of rights. You can talk about pay and benefits as outcomes that folks envision for themselves, mobility and control in the workplace; how much power do they have to participate in their democracy?
Workers need all of those things to be active and able members of our society. We are seeing now not just how unprepared our society writ large is, but how unprepared workers are in this moment to respond at work, or to respond personally on the family side — and how does that inform how we’re thinking about solutions? Where do workers sit in the conversation about the solutions like paid sick leave, the expansion of paid sick leave and the accessibility of unemployment insurance?
These are not new ideas. These are things that advocates have been asking for, demanding for decades. And what we’re looking for are, what is the solution to the problem of an overloaded unemployment insurance claim infrastructure? Who on the ground is thinking about how to fix that problem to achieve impact now and beyond? What does it mean that workers are being deemed essential, but are not given essential safety gear or equipment? When you look at an industry like care — my heart breaks for care workers for whom the notion of social distancing is really, in many cases, not an option. It’s just not an option to maintain distance when it’s your job to help somebody get out of bed or to give somebody a bath. And so in many cases the problems that are being surfaced now, the crux of them is as old as time.
There’s like this misconception that innovation and experimentation is only about solving or addressing challenges for a worker is unique to the 21st century, in gig, in tech, in digital.
Innovation is very, very much also a tool to make sure that all the workers that didn’t benefit from the policy gains of the 20th century can do so now, that they are included in those laws and in that progress. I mean I could go down the list of queer people, people with disabilities, immigrants, farm workers, domestic workers — all groups of workers that in some way, shape or form have been excluded from the progress of the 20th century. And we should be using innovation and experimentation to solve those problems as well.
NS: You mentioned that we’re at the crux of a moment right now with respect to workers and their future in this country. Is there anything that you’re seeing right now that heartens you, that says this is sort of the reckoning that needed to happen to make sure that workers get the support, the recourse that they deserve — that they’re the beneficiaries of past and present policies? Or are you more disheartened? 
AH: In many ways, this is both a heartening and a heartbreaking moment. We are seeing workers be the heroes of this crisis, on the front lines of this crisis in many ways, right? As nurses, as domestic workers, as caregivers, as the folks who check us out at the grocery store, as the folks who feed us via whatever platform. That heartens me because I feel like there is a national resonance and recognition — that in normal times largely often doesn’t exist — that workers are in fact critical and integral to the lives that we live and benefit from every single day.
At the same time, you are seeing in a matter of weeks the rapid construction and revision of the social safety net that we would argue should have been in place decades ago. And so, for me, when I see how workers are finally being given their due, so to speak, are being seen for the value and the critical nature that they play in society in normal times, and you talk about what I imagine is going to be a tremendous opportunity through legislation, through organizing, creating a new social safety net that recognizes that value of workers — that heartens me, and we are doing everything we can in the way of funding experimentation and innovation to prioritize workers in the conversation about what happens now, but also what happens in the future after this.
Adrian Haro and his team encourage NationSwell readers to subscribe to receive updates on their experiments, learnings, as well as opportunities to get resourced for their ideas on their website. If you’re able, they also encourage you to make a donation to help support workers amid the COVID-19 epidemic.
Haro is a member of the NationSwell Council. For more information on the Council, visit our hub.

Team Rubicon Coronavirus Response: How Jake Wood and the Greyshirts Are Taking Action

10 years ago, Team Rubicon CEO Jake Wood co-founded his organization to mobilize veterans in times of great emergency, harnessing their unique skillsets and experiences towards helping victims of sudden crises.
Today, the people of our world find ourselves amid one such crisis: the Coronavirus pandemic, which by some estimates is expected to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, hospitalize or infect millions more and debilitate our economy.
NationSwell spoke to Wood, a Council member, about how Team Rubicon’s #NeighborsHelpingNeighbors initiative has sprung into action to lead and assist aid efforts across the country, mobilizing its volunteer corps of “Greyshirts” towards the frontlines of the communities that need the most aid. We also had the chance to speak about his forthcoming book, “Once a Warrior: How One Veteran Found a New Mission Closer to Home.”
NationSwell: At time of publication, the Team Rubicon blog mentions at least 49 relief operations that are already in progress, and 44 more that are in progress. Can you speak to what those efforts look like, and what you’ve been able to accomplish so far?
Team Rubicon CEO Jake Wood: We have a medical capability that we really only deploy internationally. We’ve pivoted here to focus domestically. We have never gotten into issues like food security, food, transportation, logistics — things like that. But this is a pandemic that is crippling some of our governmental and non-governmental infrastructure. And I think we have an organization that can flex into the fight. And so that’s exactly what we’re doing. We have pivoted our entire organization into this fight.
On one end of the spectrum, we’ve been asked by various agencies, federal, state and local to help establish federal medical stations. We’re doing that in California. We’re now currently establishing, and we’ll begin operating, a 250 bed hospital in Northern California to help decompress the health care system there. We have similar requests for similar field medical hospitals in the states and cities that you can imagine. I don’t want to name them yet because none of those are for certain. We’ve been asked by some major metropolitan areas to oversee the command and coordination of quarantine shelters for homeless populations.
And then, on another end of the spectrum, we’re partnering with major national food security networks like Feeding America and Meals on Wheels. And I think that we’ll probably be assisting with operations and logistics at easily a hundred food banks by the end of this week. And then we developed guidance and protocols for how any one of our 112,000 volunteers could identify the vulnerable people in their neighborhood and assist them with their quarantine and shelter in place mandate. So if they have an elderly person on their street that may have difficulty in this time getting prescriptions or groceries, whatever. How can you safely assist that person or the single mother that suddenly just got furloughed and has two kids that she’s now the educator of at home? How do you assist that woman with walking, something as simple as walking their dog? Because she can’t do it with the two kids who need to be learning.

“Leaders should embrace the brutal reality of the situation, acknowledging the gaps that we have — but then inspire people to believe that we’re going to get through this.” — Jake Wood, Team Rubicon CEO

We’ve had over a thousand acts of service logged since we launched that. 30,000 people have gone to the website so we’re confident that we have many, many thousands of unlogged acts of service. We call it #NeighborsHelpingNeighbors.
NationSwell: How can our audience help you all with your efforts?
Wood: We’d love to have #NeighborsHelpingNeighbors amplified. We don’t want this to be a campaign that just… if it stays within just the bounds of Team Rubicon, then we failed. From the beginning, one of the objectives was, how do we inspire people to action in a way that is safe? Right? So that they’re not contributing to the spread, but rather contributing to the effective social distancing that’s actually necessary to inhibit the spread of this. So we’d love to see that get amplified. Obviously we are partnering with organizations in ways that we never would have imagined. We just signed an agreement with one of the largest healthcare systems on the East Coast to help start staffing their testing clinics. And, so for those members who have a unique organizational capacity to partner with us in this, or unique expertise or they’re retired doctor that wants to get back in the fight — we need people.
NationSwell: How can leaders of all stripes step up at a time like this? What qualities mark a good leader in a time of crisis?
Wood: It’s very rare that a leader in a moment like this is going to have the necessary competencies to be the expert, right? And so what you need to see in leaders is a certain level of humility. You need them to say, “Listen, I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know when things are going to get better. I don’t know this, that and this. What I do know is, here’s what we’ve got to do. Here’s what the experts are saying. Here’s what we can control. Here are the things that we can’t.”
Leaders should embrace the brutal reality of the situation, acknowledging the gaps that we have — but then inspire people to believe that we’re going to get through this. I think one of the challenges thus far has been convincing people that this isn’t about them, right? This is about the whole. And you have a lot of people right now who are really concerned about the social distancing and the shelter in place orders, because it impacts them personally. And we need leaders who can inspire people to think beyond the four walls of their home and think about the community at large.
I think we’ve gotten that in some places. I don’t think we’ve gotten it throughout all levels of leadership right now. It’s just — f*ck man, just shut your mouth and push somebody else up to the podium who’s actually an expert, right? And let that person have the spotlight, and you lead from behind. That’s kind of a lost art.
NationSwell: Tell us about “Once a Warrior.” What’s it about? And where did you get the idea to write it?
Wood: “Once a Warrior” is a project that I’ve been working on for over a decade. I started writing pretty extensively when I was deployed overseas with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. And at first I wrote to keep my family and loved ones updated on what was happening. I was in Iraq during the surge in 2007 with a Marine rifle platoon. And then I was a sniper in Afghanistan in 2008. So that was when I first started writing. And then when I got back from the war, I started writing as a way of making sense of what happened and for a kind of catharsis.
And so, I’ve been writing ever since, and have at times throughout the 10 years of Team Rubicon written about moments that have happened. And I got to this point where at the conclusion of Hurricane Harvey and in our efforts there, there was… a bunch of things that just kind of came full circle for me, and I decided that I wanted to write this story of going to war and coming home.
It’s part memoir in that it’s the story of the last 15 years of my life, but it’s really intended to be bigger than that. It’s a story of about service. It’s a story about what happens to young men and women in war, and what happens when they come home and what is the role of service — continued service? Where’s the role of purpose in the lives of those young men and women as they come back into our community? So, I tell that latter part kind of through the lens of starting in building Team Rubicon and losing my best friend to suicide shortly thereafter. And watching how Team Rubicon has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of volunteers who’ve picked up a new mission and put on a new uniform over that time.
NationSwell: Your book’s publication will coincide with the 10 year anniversary of Team Rubicon. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in those 10 years? 
Wood: The first lesson would be that purpose is a powerful healing force, this powerful driving force for any human. Any human being on earth needs purpose. But I think for those who have served in the military, who have fought overseas, who’ve come home to a community that doesn’t always understand them and doesn’t always care about their service, that the lack of purpose that some people can find when they transition back to civilian life can be really detrimental to their ability to lead long and fulfilling lives.
And it’s really actually pretty easy to rediscover purpose. You give somebody a mission, you give them responsibility or you give them a challenge and they can find that purpose again. I think that the other thing that I’ve seen time and time again after hundreds and hundreds of disasters that Team Rubicon has responded to is that Americans truly do become the best version of themselves in crisis. I think we’re seeing a lot of that now play out with Covid-19. You see people having empathy for communities that they didn’t previously have an empathy for.
You see people reaching their hands out across the aisle in politics to find solutions to challenging problems. You see people crossing over to help a neighbor that they wouldn’t have even spoken to a week prior. And that’s always inspiring to see. And I think that what’s always disappointing is just how quickly we revert back to the former version of ourselves, and forget those lessons of empathy and compassion and service in community and camaraderie that it took a tornado to place at our feet.
NationSwell: You’ve stayed connected to the work over the course of a decade. How do you keep from reverting?
Wood: I mean, I guess I’ve never had in 10 years the opportunity to take a pause. My wife jokes that I never really left the military — I just kind of changed uniforms. And I think there’s some element of truth to that. But I’ve spent the last decade of my life running from crisis to crisis. I just always get re-inspired by what’s possible. Because I see these changes in people and in communities on a weekly basis and I always set myself up for disappointment. I always think the next one is going to be the one that sticks, the one where people finally learn the lesson. And maybe I’m just kind of a hopelessly optimistic about that.
NationSwell: What are you hoping that readers will take away from the book?
Wood: The book is really in three parts. The first part is my wartime experience. And what I really wanted, the stories I told from Iraq and Afghanistan to be was a more authentic and maybe vulnerable retelling of life in combat. I didn’t want to just add to the genre of guys who were thumping their chest and talking about body counts or fierce battles. I want people to know what’s really going through a young man’s mind the first time they get shot at. What are some of the those moments that people may not think about where… you start to explore what’s happening to people mentally and emotionally. How are people processing? I spend a lot of time talking about moments where I found myself losing kind of a grasp of who I was and who I wanted to be. Whether that was sensing that I was beginning to lose that empathy and compassion that I’d kind of had my entire life. Those moments where suddenly, war was becoming too familiar, too easy.
And I think those are the questions that I want people to walk away from the book wondering. What is the true cost of war for the young people we send to fight it? I think one of the things I tried to accomplish in the middle part of the book was an authenticity around my own challenges transitioning home. I think a lot of people look at me and, as a veteran with a fairly high profile, they think, “Man, the guy had it easy. He came home and he started a nonprofit that’s grown and done amazing things.” And the reality is I came home, I lost just as many friends to suicide as I lost to combat, including my best friend. I had to fold the flag and hand it to the mother of that best friend and tell her I was sorry I wasn’t there for her son. And then figure out how to pick up the pieces after that.
And I think that that last part of the book is really just about what happens when you ignite the purpose of an entire generation of veterans and challenged them to serve their community in a new way. And that’s really the story of Team Rubicon And I try to tell that story through the lens of as many of the amazing volunteers I’ve met over the years, who have this diversity of experience and backgrounds that is so compelling, but who have so much more in common than they ever have had different now or at any time in their past. And I think that’s the really powerful thing is this unifying power of that purpose and that service.
I mean, I’m excited for it. My mom thinks it’s really good.
NationSwell: It sounds like your ideal reader or readers for the book isn’t just veterans and service members, right? Who do you see as someone who can potentially take a lot away from it?
Wood: There was a big debate with the publisher and me about the timing for the release of this book. They were cautioning me from releasing it in the lead up to the election, or too close to the election itself. And I kept saying, “No. I want this to cut through the divisiveness and the vitriol that we’re undoubtedly going to hear in 2020. I want this to serve as a break that Americans can pick up this book and read something that re-inspires them about what America should be and can be.” I think the audience is anybody that is sick of hearing about how fucked up this country is. And believes that there’s a better version of this country that we can achieve. I’m hopeful that this can serve to re-inspire that sentiment among some people.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity. For more information on the NationSwell Council, please visit our splash page. You can pre-order Wood’s book, “Once a Warrior,” here.

How to Show Grocery Store Workers That We’re Grateful

Leaders and readers,
I hope this edition of the Impact Weekly finds you, your teams and your loved ones in good health, and that you’re finding moments of joy of peace throughout this sometimes taxing period of social distancing. 
I want to take this opportunity to be radically honest about something I’d taken for granted. Before this crisis began, if you’d asked me to name three service or purpose-driven career paths that are essential to the health of our communities, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the people who work at our grocery stores. Now, I can’t imagine making a list that doesn’t include them at the very top — and I bet I’m not alone in that. 
Like doctors and nurses, grocery store workers are at the frontlines of this crisis. But unlike doctors and nurses, these essential workers are far less likely than most to be able to afford health care, child care, rent on a one bedroom apartment in the state in which they live — the list goes on.
I’m grateful to these people; and if you’ve been to your grocery store to pick up food for your family, I’m sure you are, too. But gratitude can and should be more than just a thank you. To that end, I’d like to mine the compassion and good thinking of my readership to find ways that we can show up for them the way they’ve shown up for us.
If you have any ideas, please reach out. I’ll be spotlighting them on NationSwell and in this letter. 
Many thanks,
Anthony Smith
One Harvard Medical Expert’s Idea to Fight This Crisis
Dr. Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health & Associate Physician at Harvard Medical School, has a proposal for how we can fight the health and economic impact of the pandemic: Take U.S. workers who’ve lost their jobs amid this crisis and hire and train them to be Covid-19 community health workers, empowered to do everything from delivering elderly people food and medicine  to organizing transportation to testing centers for people who might be sick. How do we pay for their training and their wages, you ask? Through the public-private sector collaboration of federal stimulus dollars and philanthropic efforts. Read Dr. Panjabi’s full proposal here.
#WeavingCommunity Matters — Now, More Than Ever
It’s on all of us to practice social distancing amid this crisis. But social distancing is lonely, and loneliness is America’s most under-discussed health crisis. That’s where our partners at Weave: The Social Fabric Project come in. Rising to this moment, they’ve created a digital toolkit that empowers you to connect and converse with, and care for, people who might be struggling right now.
Learn more about Weave’s Coronavirus response here, and see more about how we’ve worked with Weave and the Aspen Institute here.
Three From the Council
I wanted to use this space to express gratitude to the social impact leaders in our Council by amplifying their efforts to respond to this crisis. Here are just three examples, and ways you can get involved. 

  • In one week, Eric Leslie and Union Capital Boston have ordered the direct delivery of Visa cards for 374 families in Boston in need, totaling $56,100. Contribute to the fund here.
  • With offices closed, many companies are entering the brave, new world the completely digital workplace. Council member Rachel Renock created a great, great guide with insights on how Wethos built their fully-remote team, and how they keep it running smoothly each week across 17 different cities. 
  • Simone Marean and Girls Leadership have created a guided meditation for you. You are 30 seconds away from feeling calmer and ready to embrace what this week might bring your way. GL’s Certified Yoga Instructor & Meditation Practitioner, Sybil Henry, has created a meditation to help you and your people start your day off right. Check it out on Youtube here.

Helping Hands
One more quick thing! Like so many of you, I’ve been practicing the CDC’s guidance on hand-washing: do it many times a day, use lots of soap and scrub 20 seconds minimum. It’s helping keep all of us healthy, but it’s also leaving our hands dry and raw — mine included! And that’s why dermatologists have an additional reminder for us during this crisis on how to properly care for your freshly and frequently scrubbed hand: Always pat your hands dry after you wash to minimize dryness, and if that still doesn’t help, it’s time for a hand cream or a moisturizer. It isn’t just cosmetic — it could keep a bacterial infection away.      

How We Foster Cultures of Purpose Amid This Crisis

On a Tuesday evening in March, members of the NationSwell Council gathered around the digital table to discuss how social impact leaders can better foster cultures of purpose in our professional and personal lives. Given the ongoing health crisis, we also took a moment to discuss how we’ve been showing up for ourselves, our teams and our partners.
In the hope that these might serve you on your mission to make this world a better place, we’re sharing out some of the key moments from our discussion. These insights, practices and recommendations all come straight to you from the inspiring Council members in attendance.

  • Moments of intense pain can be where the most opportunity lies.
  • One of the most valuable traits in a good leader is transparency, especially in times like these.
  • Being present in whatever way you can be present is of the utmost importance.
  • Remember that you’re not alone; there isn’t anybody in the world who isn’t dealing with this right now.


  • Ask yourself: How do we respond to this crisis, and other crises, through the lens of equity? How can we slow down and think about whose voices are missing, and who’s not at the table, when it comes to our responses and our solutions?
  • Imagine it forward: Ask yourself, “What does good look like? What might we be able to do that we feel good about in six months?” That way, you’re not always talking about doom and gloom.
  • When you’re communicating with key stakeholders, be clear about what you can control and what you don’t control.
  • You can’t do enough for your employees during times like these: Hold open office hours, share your vulnerabilities with your team.
  • But as you think about your employees, don’t forget to show up for your customers and partners too — They want to hear from you!
  • Inspire others: They need to hear in challenging times that we can get through it.
  • As our team workplace meetings become more digital, it’s a great time to get creative about how you can foster a sense of togetherness while we’re apart: Take people on home tours with Zoom and Hangout; recommend recipes for meals and cocktails and have everyone make them together.


Welcome to Dispatches From the Council, a new series capturing insights, practices, recommendations and other powerful moments from some of our NationSwell Council events. If you have any feedback on this series, or if you attended and you’d like to add something you think we might have missed, please reach out via email. To find out more about the NationSwell Council, visit our digital hub.