Croatan Institute Staff Highlight: Liz Umlas

June 28, 2023

How does your work achieve social equity?

My work as an independent consultant and researcher in the field of business and human rights includes serving as a senior advisor to IndustriALL Global Union on “capital stewardship”, which involves engaging institutional investors on workers’ fundamental rights. IndustriALL works with its affiliate unions globally to address human rights violations in the operations of multinational corporations, and to strengthen the capacity of workers to form and join trade unions and collectively bargain for better conditions. My role is to engage investors to use their leverage with portfolio companies – publicly traded multinationals – to ensure they respect the rights of workers. The aim is ultimately to mitigate inherent power imbalances in the world of work and to advance toward models that foster decent work instead of exploitation. 

What do you wish people knew about Croatan Institute? 

There’s an aspect of Croatan’s theory of change that it calls the “magic in the middle”: I wish people knew more about it. In its goal to help move finance away from an extractive model toward a regenerative one, Croatan works to create this magic in the middle by linking audiences who are the target of this shift: financial decision-makers and capital allocators on the one hand, and those who are building resilient communities on the other. It’s an intangible but invaluable part of what the Institute’s does. It also resonates with what I am trying to achieve in my own work. 

What is something you’ve learned in the past year that has changed the way you think about the world? 

This goes back farther than the past year, but by following the work of scholars like Heather McGhee, and organizations like the Economic Policy Institute, I have become better able to understand the ways in which systemic inequities and structural racism in America perpetuate poverty and disadvantage. Although their work is focused primarily on the U.S., it has helped me more generally to take a big picture approach when thinking about complex problems. 

If you could learn any new skill, what would it be and why? 

I’d love to be skilled at conflict mediation. First, because it’s a practical life skill: there are plenty of situations where it would be handy to be able to defuse a conflict and figure out how each side can come away satisfied with the outcome. Second, because I think learning how to mediate might literally change the way I tend to perceive conflict (i.e. as something to be feared and avoided at all costs, which is not realistic or helpful) and could expand my mind to the possibilities of navigating around it.