Realizing your full potential
The warm fuzzy feeling that makes one feel good about helping people is what behavioral economists call the “warm glow”. There are so many people who romanticize a better world that is fair and equitable, it has, thus, become common practice for them to participate in local charity events or volunteering out of the kindness of their own hearts. According to the United Nations’ State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018, the world’s volunteer workforce comprises 109 million full-time equivalent workers. However, are people truly maximizing their impact by undertaking a rational approach, or are they distracted by being too engrossed in achieving that warm glow?
One such example is the study of 1,500 charity parachute jumps in the 1990s which raised £45,000 but cost the UK health system £610,000 due to the resulting injuries. It has to be questioned whether the impact made was indeed meaningful with an eventual societal loss of more than £13 for every £1 raised.
Getting serious about the impact.
The definition of impact can be represented by a simple equation:
Your Social impact = The world with your participation - The world without your participation.
When it comes to measuring impact, what eventually matters is the degree of enhancement, that one provides on the outcomes that are important to the society while giving thought to the opportunity costs invested, whether it be supporting a small business or a conglomerate. That being said, there will still exist the possibility of unintended outcomes, such as beneficiaries developing a sense of powerlessness and over-reliance.
Finding your sweet spot
The sweet spot of one’s impact lies between the overlapping areas of the societal needs to be addressed, one’s strength in making a unique contribution and one’s goals when taking into consideration personal passions and limitations. One can also go an extra mile to think of ways to pursue impact by utilizing their job.
An article published in the Academy of Management Discoveries talks about how an entrepreneur successfully kicked off and built a Corporate Social Initiative (CSI) through his corporation. The firm set up a “corporate social enterprise” to provide its consulting services across international markets, allowing it to be self-sufficient by gaining support and be extensive in scale instead of being an ordinary corporate social responsibility effort. Its service call for a lower fee by having its consultants agree to a decrease in pay during the project period. Despite this, the project is well-accepted amongst consultants and has increased their sense of involvement within the company, thereby reducing employee turnover rate.
The firm focuses on targeting the societal issues to be addressed instead of issues that can help them generate revenue. After analysing the problems, those within its capabilities are brought in-house to generate a business plan that allows for direct involvement while others worked with the third parties engaged. In this way, the entrepreneur managed to find the sweet spot between his strengths in his career, his goals, and society’s needs.
A cautionary tale
A cautionary tale presented by Trevor Field, a sales executive in South Africa, explains how broadening insights into existing societal needs is crucial for achieving the sweet spot to maximize impact in addition to defining one’s goals and tapping on their strength.
Trevor wanted to harness his business skills to develop a sustainable business model for providing clean drinking water to poor communities. He came across the PlayPump, a mechanism integrated with a merry-go-round to pump underground water through energy harnessed from children’s play. The water pumped would be stored in a massive tank covered with billboards for advertising purposes and the rent received would be used for the maintenance of PlayPump. Though the idea captivated people’s hearts and raised millions of dollars, allowing the installation of 1,000 pumps and further plans to reach out to an even larger number of beneficiaries, it failed remarkably.
As compared to traditional hand pumps, PlayPump was way more costly and needed children to play to carry out its functions which could be perceived as child labor by some. Maintenance of the pumps was neglected since installing more pumps was the priority and the advertising projections did not go smoothly since the poor communities in rural areas were not the target audience of most companies. However, the donors were still envisioning the happiness PlayPump can bring to the communities, completely oblivious to the communities’ real needs and perspectives. When reality hit years later, the project was eventually cut back.
This shows the over-emphasis on touching stories and ramping up projects, but overlooking the actual impact of improving people’s standard of living significantly. As nothing is guaranteed to work out from the start and there will never be a perfect solution, it is crucial to devote oneself to understanding the real societal need from the communities’ point of view. Modesty, determination, test and analysis, and gaining insights are essential.
Humans have complicated motivations and cannot always remain clear-headed, especially when it comes to things that stir our emotions. While there are boundless ways to express and display impact, it essentially comes from the difference made to the world from one’s actions and contributions. One should reassess their thoughts from time to time in addition to the good intentions held as it can be challenging to find a suitable approach in making a difference, not to mention that a rocky road lies ahead of many approaches.
Credit to Professor Jasjit