A life you love, a self you love: Pinterest’s Ari Simon on Emotional Well-Being

05/28/2021
Head shot of employee Ari Simon.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, we sat down with Ari Simon, Head of Social Impact and Philanthropy at Pinterest, to discuss Pinterest’s support of mental wellness and emotional well-being.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about emotional well-being at Pinterest. Can you share more about your role at the company?

Of course!

I joined Pinterest just over eight months ago— in the thick of the pandemic, making for a surreal cross-country move— to become the Head of Social Impact and Philanthropy. Before I arrived, Pinterest had made a significant commitment to build out its social impact work, including earmarking 250,000 shares of stock (currently valued at roughly $16 million) in grants for philanthropic giving in the coming year.

Early on, building out a strategically compelling, authentic, and impactful charitable giving program was a clear place to start. But when I arrived, I discovered the wonderful range of social impact work already underway at Pinterest. That took all sorts of forms: from grassroots programs like Community Rebuild (led by Pinterest’s Employee Community for Black employees and their allies, Blackboard) to our “compassionate search” initiative on the Pinterest platform to our deep and long-standing relationship between the Bessie Carmichael school here in San Francisco. It quickly became clear that, between a platform that reaches nearly half a billion people per month, an amazing philanthropic commitment of resources, and the incredible passion and unique skills of Pinterest employees, my job was as much about aligning, organizing, and supporting as it was about giving.

So, at core, I really see four dimensions to this work:

  • Philanthropy, which is how we make change through giving;
  • Civic and volunteer service, which is how we make change through the urge to act;
  • Donation matching, which is how we support the passions and commitment of our colleagues;
  • And Public good, which is how we give life to our social commitments through our platform and our voice.

Each of those dimensions involve multiple partners across Pinterest — from Communications to I&D to HR — and in some cases (especially when we’re talking about employee impact) Social Impact and Philanthropy is playing a supporting and facilitating role. But taken together, I see my role as helping to make those dimensions of this work as sharp, meaningful, cohesive and impactful as possible.

The good news is that we have a running start. This past year has demonstrated how essential it is for Pinterest to be supporting this sort of work — and, in turn, the company has already shown up in ways it never has before in response to ongoing issues including COVID-19 and racial equity.

Do you have a personal connection to social impact work?

I see this as my life’s work. I’ve dedicated most of my career to the nonprofit sector. That’s a function of both personal connection and, if I’m being honest, stubbornness: I discovered pretty early in my career that once you have a job that lets you align your deepest sense of personal purpose with your professional purpose, well, it’s hard to accept anything less. And I’ve been blessed to have more than a few jobs like that — from working with the Innocence Project to serving on NASA’s shuttle Columbia accident investigation to helping to lead the Kresge Foundation in Detroit to serving on the boards of nonprofits that I’m deeply passionate about.

And, yes, there’s also a personal dimension to this work, drawing from the sorts of influences that have driven many people into the social sector: family and faith. I come from a family of immigrants and refugees, and was taught from a young age that service and giving — in Judaism, the proverbial tikkun olam (“healing the world”) —was simply core to who we were. I never really had a piggy bank as a kid, but we had a lot of tzedakah (charity) boxes around the house. And as my mom and dad told me and my sisters about their experiences as kids, of reckoning with the after-effects of the Holocaust, of coming to the United States, of the varied challenges their families went through, I found myself with both a deep sense of gratitude and indebtedness. It was clear to me, from a very young age, that I was the beneficiary of their unique Horatio Alger stories — and also blessed with advantages that were (and are) far from universal.

Pinterest’s mission is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love. How do our efforts around social impact further our commitment to this mission?

Before I arrived, Pinterest elevated the issue of emotional well-being as core to its social impact goals. That was a huge part of the draw for me, amidst a global pandemic that has provoked an unprecedented crisis of both physical and mental health that is disproportionately impacting communities with low incomes and communities of color. Pinterest has long been known as a corner of positivity and wellness on the internet. And given that Pinterest has anchored its identity on well-being and finding your passions — on authentically bringing a positive dimension to people’s lives — It just felt to me like the alignment of “right issue, right place, right time.”

I’m lucky to be bringing our social impact work to life in partnership with folks from around the company, so we’ve talked about that link a lot. Early on, one colleague shared an insight that really resonated with me: that to create a life you live, you have to have a self you love. In that sense, I see our work around emotional well-being as a critical enabler of our mission. And that’s not just true in our philanthropic giving — it’s also something that will shape what shows up on our platform, how we use our voice, and how we serve our communities.

What’s unique about philanthropy is that it massively expands our existing toolkit for bringing inspiration and well-being to the world. It allows us to more fully engage with, and support, the remarkable work of nonprofit organizations and NGOs around the world — be it on emotional well-being or other issues we see as core to our values and mission. Very simply, it means Pinterest — the inspiration company — can more fully and meaningfully connect with and support the inspiration sector of our global economy.

May is Mental Health Awareness month, which goes hand in hand with emotional well-being. What are some of the initiatives Pinterest is taking in support of emotional well-being this month and beyond, both internally for Pinployees and externally for Pinners and the community?

Well, I’m excited to share that Pinterest has committed $10 million in the next 12 months to fund organizations that are on the frontlines of bringing emotional well-being to the world and tackling mental health challenges. That ranges from increasing awareness of those issues to explicitly tackling racial and other disparities in the mental health landscape.

But, crucially, that financial commitment reflects even more powerful efforts on our platform and throughout our organization. For instance, Pinterest is partnering with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, Bebe Rexha, to start an open conversation around mental health ahead of her new album release. We’re also supporting a major campaign by #HalfTheStory, a non-profit on a mission to shape a healthier relationship with technology through advocacy, education, and research.

Internally, Pinterest is continuing our Pintentions program and closing offices worldwide from May 28 through June 1 so employees can take time to disconnect and be intentional about self care. Throughout the month, we’re also featuring programming to inspire all members of the Pinterest community with positive ways to prioritize mental health every day.

What’s on the horizon for emotional well-being initiatives at Pinterest? Where do you see things going?

There are so many ways to answer that question!

Our philanthropic giving in the space is really focused on three components: 1) increasing awareness of challenges to emotional well-being so that mental health is seen to be as crucial as physical health; 2) reducing racial and other disparities both in access to well-being resources and in outcomes; and 3) supporting next generation research and innovation in the field. But —at the risk of repeating myself, part of what makes Pinterest’s commitment to emotional well-being a real and resonant one is that it cannot and will not just be about writing checks. It’s going to show up as a core priority in our partnerships with creators and organizations, and in our own building. I think Pinterest has the potential to become one of the leaders in advancing emotional well-being around the world.

This is all so exciting, thank you so much for sharing. If you had to choose, what is your favorite part of your job? What’s most challenging?

It’s a gift to do this work — to be able to support amazing people and organizations that every day are doing inspiring things. Learning about their work, hearing their stories, witnessing their resilience, understanding the many ways they’re supporting their communities — that, for me, is an endless source of inspiration and call to action, and is my very favorite part of the job.

The most challenging part of the job is the flip side of that coin. There are so many inspiring organizations out there, so many inspiring people hustling incredibly hard to make a difference in their communities, that it can be extraordinarily difficult to answer the question, “why this, and not that?” At a bare minimum, answering that question requires us to be honest and transparent about what drives our decisions — be it our strategic commitment to emotional well-being, or our sense of deep obligation to the communities where our offices are physically located. It also means building trust over the long term with the communities we aim to serve, to show up with humility and integrity, and to always speak and act with both our heart and head.

Thanks so much for sharing all of this, Ari. We’re honored and empowered to keep this work propelling forward as we close out Mental Health Awareness month. To finish up — we have to ask — what are you currently Pinning?

Well, I’m obviously loving the emotional well-being content on Pinterest, and Pinning the heck out of it. I also go big on Pinning articles and books I want to read or share with friends, and (ha!) so many album covers. All of which is very blog-era internet, but I am who I am.

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