By Melissa Waggener Zorkin 

It's hard to be an optimist these days. I'll be honest: Some days it's a challenge to even scroll through the headlines.

I'll be even more honest: I am angry. In fact, I am furious. I am among the luckiest people in this country. I have a place to live, food to eat, a job I LOVE that I can do remotely. I have health insurance. Sheltering in place is a challenge, but it's also a great privilege . Now more than ever, the most vulnerable of us are the most vulnerable . COVID-19 is a terrible disease, but it's also a symptom of a pretty profound brokenness at the center of the world we live in.

Yet still, I am an optimist. I believe the world can change. I believe we can heal what's broken. And I believe the place to start, as Michelle Obama once put it , is to look for "people who will lift you up [and] make you better." 

And so that's what I'm doing. The good news is, I've found so many of those people - and I've found them right in my own (virtual) backyard. Clearly, the only way through is by uniting, letting go of our differences and working together. "Business as usual" no longer exists. Today we must operate with our shared humanity at heart. And we're witnessing this happening all around us. Among those rushing to aid communities in need are dozens of brands that have stepped up to the plate, truly living their purpose.  

Collaborating with shared values

There's no doubt: No one is more critical or courageous than first responders, the medical professionals and support teams risking their lives, every day, to serve us. And brands have found practical, actionable ways to support them, channeling their purpose to help their communities and find new ways for us to act in service to one another.

The best part is, they are doing it together. I especially love the collaboration between government and tech: For instance, early in the pandemic, the World Health Organization partnered with Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, TikTok, Pinterest, Slack and Giphy   to start the #BuildforCOVID19 Hackathon .  The hackathon is a great opportunity to develop software solutions to many of the global challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic: regional communication about preventive behaviors, schooling when schools are closed, connecting friends and family when social distancing is pulling us apart, and more.  

Unilever is also stepping up   - and it's sparking a movement. In March, the company announced it would donate more than $8 million in products to food banks across the country. On May 21, it will go even further: Its 14 factories in the U.S., which make goods from Dove soap to Seventh Generation cleaning products to Ben & Jerry's ice cream, will donate and deliver the products they've manufactured that day to nonprofits and relief organizations. And they're encouraging others to do the same.

Pivoting with purpose

At the same time, manufacturers across the economy have been quick to pivot, devoting resources and brainpower toward making the lifesaving goods that are now in short supply.

For example, in March, as the U.S. realized it wouldn't have the medical equipment it would need to save lives, GE and Ford teamed up to produce essential ventilators . The luxury conglomerate  LVMH , whose brands include Christian Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, pivoted its global redistribution network to make and deliver tens of millions of gowns and masks to the frontline healthcare workers who desperately need them. The Kering Group, which owns the fashion houses Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, pitched in, as did American retailers Nordstrom and Brooks Brothers.

Now, as we settle into the pandemic, manufacturers are getting organized. More than 200 recently joined together to create   the Manufacturing Coalition , which aims to address the shortage of medical supplies. Leading manufacturers for brands like Walmart, Medtronic and more will make masks, gowns and ventilator components.

This is our opportunity to show - not tell

Rising to the occasion and operating with purpose takes guts. It takes heart, it takes resourcefulness, and it takes courage. It can also take money. When we talked about purpose in easier times, I would remind everyone that following your purpose can come with a price: There's simply no way around it. But, especially now, we have to be willing to spread the sacrifice around. We can't ask of others what we aren't willing to do ourselves. And that includes ME, too. 

Sitting in my home office I often find myself thinking about that Michelle Obama quote. She urges us to find people who will make us better - full stop. Of course, we would all love to FEEL better - but feeling better isn't enough. We need to BE better. These brands are lighting the way.

And so that's where I'll keep my focus through the months ahead. Every day, I will ask: How can I be brave? How can I be of service to others? How can the brands I consult be part of the solution? How can I do my part and lead others by example? As the owner of a purpose-driven company who advises other purpose-driven companies, I know this is true: The proof of our purpose is our actions. And there's never been a more important moment in our lifetimes to let our purpose shine.  

Melissa Waggener Zorkin is founder/CEO of WE Communications.