Entrepreneurs face unequal challenges even before getting in an investor's door. Data illustrates disparities in the social innovation sector.
Don't Quit Your Day Job: Use Your Time and Talent to Make an Impact
Direct Impact participants visit Echoing Green Fellow Solomon King Benge, founder of Fundi Bots, in Uganda.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.
Today’s generation of young professionals don’t just want to clock in, clock out, and take home a paycheck. They want to make a difference. Studies show that 30% of millennials say that finding meaningful work is more important than high pay, and 90% want to use their skills for good.
But, today’s diverse social impact ecosystem means that there are many ways to get engaged. For young professionals, one way to truly direct impact is to join a nonprofit as a member of the board. As a board member, these leaders have the ability to shape, strategize, strengthen, and grow organizations to ensure that they are not only doing good work, but that they are working efficiently and effectively for the greatest impact.
Similarly, organizations and social entrepreneurs need a strong board to thrive. In today’s current environment, 48% of board members say that they don’t feel that their fellow board members are engaged in the work of the board, according to a 2015 survey from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This level of engagement is essential because the best boards will help a social entrepreneur challenge the status quo, and bring a unique and diverse set of perspectives.
But what characteristics does someone need to embody in order to best contribute to this relationship, and ultimately, to social impact? There are six guiding leadership principles that all private sector leaders should exhibit as they collaborate with nonprofit leaders.
Personal Mission and Purpose
In order to have a personal impact on the world, it is important for leaders to first understand their own story, so they know why they do what they do. Within the first several hours of Direct Impact, Echoing Green’s experiential board leadership program, corporate leaders go deep into their past personal successes and failures to understand what is at the core who of they are, who they want to be, and the impact they want to have. Once someone develops an understanding of their story, the process to uncover a personal mission can begin. While someone may work in investment banking during the day, perhaps what’s actually most important to them is uncovering the economic barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face upon returning home. Or someone might work in supply chain management, but are most interested in how to provide safe prescription drugs through last mile distribution.
Be Confident, Be Humble
While there is no perfect measure for extraordinary leadership, it is important for leaders to constantly work to learn more about themselves so they can adapt and regularly improve themselves. In Direct Impact, individuals take part in peer consulting and feedback, where they receive immediate and honest feedback from others in a safe space. As self-awareness develops, individuals can become increasingly confident in their ability to create impact—yet at the same time, they become increasingly humble, knowing that they cannot solve any big problems alone and that they don’t have all of the answers. They aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and when they or others do, they learn from them and move on without placing blame on anyone.
Ability to Attract and Influence Others
Beyond investing in understanding themselves, strong leaders also invest heavily in creating and sustaining strong relationships. They know how important inclusiveness is, and seek to develop relationships with CEO’s, peers, their barista, local teenagers, and everyone in between. While developing their own strong, diverse network, they begin to develop the ability to influence others. In Direct Impact, candidates go on site visits with Echoing Green Fellows and begin to see the immense networks each individual has created in their own sphere—from those most directly affected by the problem, to those with the political power to change systems, to collaborators in other fields.
Openness to Change and Disruption
Like social entrepreneurs, strong leaders know that innovative solutions are required to solve the world’s biggest problems. They know that failure should be embraced, and is required throughout every step of the change process. They are unafraid of reality, and know that facing big problems head on is more important than developing quick solutions that only solve surface level problems. When working with an organization long-term, they don’t believe in the sentiment that ‘this is how things have always been done’. Instead, they constantly disrupt, even when it goes against what they previously thought.
“This experience has affirmed that nonprofit boards today are not working as they should, and like many other industries and structures, they are ripe for disruption. Nonprofit boards should be effectively helping the organizations and executive directors they support to not only grow and scale change, but to make sure the sustainability of the organization is at the forefront of this growth.” – Maria Brewer, RRE Ventures.
Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Leaders consistently try on the perspective of others, seeking to understand how their actions or decisions might affect others. They don’t make assumptions based on the perceived backgrounds of others, but instead ask deep and honest questions and recognize and respect their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
“The site visit to [Echoing Green Fellow organization ConTextos, working in El Salvador] was motivating and powerful. It was a reminder that we cannot ignore what happens in other parts of the world, as it has a direct impact on us.” – Marion Ntiru, Citi
Strong Curiosity Fueling Desire to Learn
Leaders are intrinsically curious. They blur sector lines, are voracious learners, and go far beyond one or two sources to understand complex issues. They welcome disagreement, as they know that is where true learning begins. Each Direct Impact participant chooses to go through the intensive program because they know how important it is to learn and practice leadership and board governance in order to best serve the missions they ultimately support.
All young professionals should be thinking about how they can drive social impact. And, it doesn’t always mean quitting your job. What’s important is to identify and hone these leadership principles, and to use them as a guide to living an impact-driven life.
One clear way to drive change is to invest in leaders who have a direct connection to the communities they serve.
More than 150 Echoing Green Fellows gathered in Joburg for the 2015 All Fellows Conference to refine and re-energize their leadership. Here's what we learned.