The majority of us – and not just Millennials, by the way – want to make the world a better place. In fact, as human beings, we are hard-wired to want to contribute. And, today, the volume of bad news makes it hard to avoid the problems we could, or even should, contribute to solving. Technology facilitates awareness, learning, and connectivity. And, as of late, the trend toward stakeholder capitalism, which respects and serves the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, positions business as a driver of positive change. This positioning gives the majority of us employed by the private sector more ways to be part of a better future.
However, large organizations and systems do not turn on dimes. This shift (back) toward stakeholder capitalism is far from complete, and so many of us are caught in an uncomfortable purgatory. We know what it looks like to run a team or a company that is good for the world, but we don’t all have the opportunity to realize that vision in our day-to-day lives. As science fiction author William Gibson has been explaining for decades, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Why Most Employees Are Open To New Jobs
This unevenly distributed future drives the fact that 73% of us are “currently open” to new opportunities, and 33.1% are “actively looking” for one. Work has become a fully integrated part of our lives, raising our expectations of how our job matches the contributions we want to be making; in other words, we want work to provide a sense of meaning and purpose. Businesses have taken notice, and there are more and more purpose statements painted on office walls and printed on packaging. Gradually, we also seeing more and more experimentation with how business can be a force for good, such as dairy supply chain innovation, airline profit sharing, and financial sector wage transparency.
So, having a job that provides opportunities to contribute a sense of purpose seems to have become not only a non-negotiable, but also an achievable target. Yet, data suggests that at least 2/3 of us don’t feel this motivating sense that our day-to-day work contributes to a broader impact in the world. There are myriad ways to have impact in a job, even if the organization isn’t moving toward stakeholder capitalism or B Corporation principles as fast as we’d like. But knowing that obstacles to this shift to doing business as a force for good can be daunting and slow, let’s focus on all the ways outside of work that we can scratch that human itch to contribute.
Contribution Starts At Home
Some of our most powerful opportunities to contribute are entirely within our own control. First and foremost, self-care is a prerequisite for any other form of contribution. By taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, we have more positive impact on those around us, by being more present, empathetic, and supportive. And in the most basic way, we live longer and stay healthier so that we can simply show up. Airline guidelines to ‘secure your own oxygen mask first’ are a basic reminder that if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we can’t be reliable helpers for others.
Similarly, the care we provide to friends and family represents life-changing ways to contribute on a daily basis. Our efforts raising children, caring for elders, or simply supporting our ‘chosen family,’ are often undervalued and overlooked. What more vivid contribution could we make than raising healthy and empathetic young people, providing dignity at the end of a life well-lived, or providing invaluable social connection known to be the best antidote to epidemic levels of anxiety and depression? Consider the mundane ways to contribute in these ways that so many of us already do on a daily basis.
Impact Opportunities In Your Community
Humans are unique for our ability to cooperate in large groups of unrelated individuals. The various communities we are each part of are facing unprecedented rates of change that make collaboration more important than ever. The work required to manage this change successfully provides us each with countless ways to contribute, whether formal or informal. The skills we take for granted in our professional lives are in high demand among smaller businesses, startups, and not-for-profits – the pillars of any local community. Consider these scenarios:
- The local farmers’ market is flailing in the face of eCommerce and falling Whole Foods prices – the management and vendors need someone with experiential marketing and pricing expertise to rejuvenate their business.
- The corner nail salon offers excellent, and affordable, massages, but their advertising and design budgets can’t hold a candle to the fancy spa downtown. Word of mouth recommendations or a group outing for friends or colleagues would give them a chance of survival.
- Not-for-profits are often looking for new board members, or willing volunteers, especially those willing to listen to what is needed most and do that.
These simple engagement opportunities allow us to support local businesses and organizations, thereby contributing to economic growth and wealth distribution, as well as civic activity and trust.
Voting With Our Wallets
Finally, we all spend money. Regardless of the amount we spend, choosing to support local, responsible, and/or minority-owned businesses is a true vote that we can make on a daily basis. When we buy from a certified B Corp or women-owned business, we put our money where our mouth is and accelerate the transformation to stakeholder capitalism. Finding ways not to buy more stuff, or buying products with a long lifespan or plan for reuse, is also a powerful way to contribute to the circular economy.
As well as purchases, we can donate to and invest in the organizations, political causes, and companies that we want to support. Making informed donations to not-for-profits is another way to accelerate the change we want to see in the world. Regardless the size of portfolio, asking our investment advisors (whether a chatbot on a robo platform or a wealth manager in a fancy downtown office) about the companies held by funds in our retirement accounts is another tangible way to contribute to stakeholder capitalism. Even better, we can leverage our voices as shareholders by voting proxies or encouraging our managers to do so.
Using our money by buying, donating, and investing in the future we want to see continues the acceleration toward stakeholder capitalism and more sustainable and equitable. That progress makes it more likely that we’ll be able to make these contributions in our jobs, as all companies start walking the talk.
The Spheres of Impact
These day-to-day impact opportunities rooted in the self, family/friends, community, and monies make up the Spheres of Impact, half of Inspiring Capital’s My Why impact dashboard (see below). Understanding these spheres guides our thinking about where we are having satisfying impact in our lives or work, and what gaps might be causing frustration. We are increasingly living portfolio lives, which creates all kinds of additional opportunities to contribute. But most of us don’t have a framework or allies to help think about all those opportunities.
Keep this My Why dashboard handy as you consider new projects, board memberships, investment decisions, or even your weekly shopping list, to remind you of all the levers you have to fulfill your human drive to contribute to the future you want to be part of!
Nell Derick Debevoise is the founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital, a certified B Corp, helping employees connect their work to its impact in the world, increasing engagement, innovation, and productivity, sustainably.