In the past six weeks, I’ve been all around the world. Literally. My new book came out last month, and I went on a tour to promote it. After more than two years of little to no travel, flying from The Hague to Sweden to San Francisco to Dallas to DC and back again was quite something!
While I could tell you all my fun airplane stories (I’m now obsessed with IcelandAir cheesy crackers, but I could do without blistering rain, wind, and cold walking off the jetway onto the tarmac at 4am!), instead I thought I’d share some reflections that might be a little more relevant to the work of doing well BY doing good:
Unique, but not special: I used to travel all the time, talking to people about their work to create equitable impact in their communities. I still spend my time talking to people about that, but since Covid, I’ve had less opportunity to just run into people and start up a conversation.
When I have these more unstructured interactions — whether it’s people coming up to me at a conference after a talk, being with someone on a panel, or just running into someone in the hallways wherever we are — I get a better sense of what people across industries are struggling with. In Sweden, I spoke with someone working on economic development who is having a hard time getting capital to entrepreneurs who need it. I met someone at the Global Impact Investing Conference in The Hague who was doing something very similar to Path to 15|55 in Johannesburg. I met someone at SOCAP in San Francisco who was struggling with impact measurements with her work in Muslim communities.
While each person had an interesting background and worked on diverse things, everyone was fundamentally struggling with similar challenges. They want to create better outcomes in places, and they need data to do it in the best way possible. This is no different than continuous improvement conversations I’d have back when I was at GE, or shared measurement meetings I’d have as part of collective impact initiatives.
Each of these people I spoke with were unique, but they were not special. They had similar challenges, whether they knew it or not. Which brings me to my next reflection….
An adolescent movement: All of these individuals who I spoke with probably didn’t think they had much in common with each other. But they all could have learned something from each other given the opportunity.
In this way, I believe our doing well BY doing good movement is still in an adolescent stage. We are aligning around challenges, and slowly moving to alignment around solutions. Of course, not everyone believes that we even need this movement. Case in point: The ESG or “woke capitalism” backlash that’s still on-going.
But just like the climate movement, we will eventually mature into fully accepting our challenges. Very few people now (in good faith) question the need to reduce greenhouse gasses, and we’ll be in a similar place with harnessing the potential of business for equitable impact in a few years. When that happens, we can move from alignment around challenges to thinking about solutions. Solutions like…
Building a mousetrap: Once we can agree on the challenges, we can move on to the “how” of solving them. I always think of solutions as a mousetrap, which is an elegant, if not crude, solution to a problem pretty much everyone has at some point. It’s hard to come up with a better solution to a mouse infestation than the standard mousetrap. It’s already been improved to perfection over the years.
What will be our mousetrap for the challenges I heard about in the Netherlands, Sweden, San Francisco, and other places? We all are struggling with similar problems, and I know we can create a set of solutions that work for all of us.
In my book, I write about my time as a NASA intern, when I supported the building of the International Space Station. They gave us a big binder of papers called an “Information Kit”, which outlined basically everything we needed to know, from maps of the buildings to the processes the engineers needed to follow. The challenge was big, and the solutions complex, but NASA was able to come up with some complicated yet straightforward processes to make even an intern like me able to participate in the process.
What will our information kit for equitable impact be? I believe CapEQ is working towards that now, with all of our partners. But we won’t do it alone. We need everyone on board. Have you joined us yet?
Like what you’re reading? My new book, The Social Impact Advantage: Win Customers and Talent By Harnessing Your Business For Good, is out now. Order your copy today!