Once I posted that my solemn reason to be active professionally was to help make a positive difference in the lives of others and enjoy it.
The majority of readers were supportive, but there were some who either thought I was pretending in order to impress my audience or that I was very rich, so I could define my work activity in the above way. Of course both objections were not valid in my case.
It made me sad that people believed that doing good is either manipulative (as a publicity tool) or reserved for the rich and influential. I believe that such a mindset is the curse of modern times and the root cause of a lot of pain happening in the world.
Just imagine that a substantial group out of seven billion people believes the above and does not take any action, waiting for “others” to make a change in the world.
Of course I am slightly exaggerating to make a point, but let me explain myself by providing ways that anyone, not only a leader, can make a difference in the world by taking action in his work environment.
These areas of your business can bring about a change:
It is a natural trend that industries which solve the major problems of society attract investors who want to take part in the potential technological breakthrough (eg. biotechnology). Moreover, many successful projects built by startups are addressing problems that haven’t yet been solved. An example that I value is the Dyson vacuum cleaner. It was developed as a remedy for the personal discomfort of the founder. Sir Dyson’s child was allergic to dust and traditional appliances hadn’t been efficient enough. And this is how the bag-less vacuum cleaner was built — solving a real problem and becoming a successful business at the same time.
Amazing things happen if you invest time in listening to other people. Sometimes it is all they need. In other moments they may ask for advice or support of some kind. Some managers do not want to “babysit” their employees and perceive minutes spent talking about their team members’ needs as a waste of time. I believe them to be wrong. Giving the other person attention can, not only build a meaningful relationship, but also pay off in their attitude towards work and the company as a whole. It is not easy for many people to listen and not judge. The audiobook — “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg can be of great inspiration.
Purchasing departments of large companies often set standards for their suppliers. They buy only Fair Trade coffee or monitor the subcontractors’ facilities for signs of child labor and other mistreatment. It can be used in a business of any size and successfully communicated to consumers adding to the brand perception and building brand loyalty. I once worked with a company that, unlike their competition, manufactured in the EU. I suggested they use this to their advantage and use it as a marketing tool and it worked just fine. Consumers tend to vote for good products with their money.
You can share a bit of your profits with a local NGO and build your reputation as a trustworthy employer in the local community. It will make a difference and help you attract employees. I would advise you to develop a close link between your brand and the supported cause. A good example is Tom’s Shoes, which in exchange for any pair of shoes purchased by a customer, will deliver a pair to someone needing it in an underdeveloped country.
If you are responsible for managing the companies investment portfolio think about selecting companies that take care about the world. A friend and a seasoned VC recently told me: “I want to make a difference. I don’t want to just make the privileged and wealthy even richer and more privileged. I am looking for ways to invest in solving problems in emerging markets to make good use of the invested capital”. Every investment decision we make is a statement towards our values. As I mentioned before in the point about product development — value is where true problems are.
The power that lies in business can be more influential, faster and more progressive than any government. I see it as an opportunity on both an individual and company level.
What I find tragic is that more and more people seem to be indifferent. We have less rebels and more people following the materialistic set of values.
I believe that anyone can become a positive rebel, making their life more vibrant and rich.
The only thing one should do is listen and observe with the intention to understand and help. This is how great companies are built — by reading the pulse of society and solving problems.
Regardless of what one does it is possible to take action today and make a small difference. Don’t let people around you become bitter and suspicious. Individuals who feel disempowered are unwilling to take action.
“Be the change you want to see in the World” — Mahatma Gandhi