Is social impact just a buzzword?
I would like to think so. I mean, the idea of influencing something or people for the better is not really a new concept, so what’s the big idea with ‘social impact’?
That is what the guys over at Amani institute were trying to help me and a bunch of other curious people figure out.
Amani Institute describes itself as an institute of higher learning that seeks to develop professionals that create social impact. They are located in three developing countries (global south) across the globe and Kenya just happens to be the one African country. The institute takes students from all walks of life and all backgrounds and nationalities into their flagship program which is a postgraduate course in social innovation management.
In my journey to figure out what social impact my background in finance can have, I was excited to come across the event on Facebook. I saw it literally the day before the actual event and made plans to attend. On my way, I had this grand idea of walking into the venue with my hoodie on and my face masked getting no attention, sitting at the back of the room and not saying anything until the end of the session.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. The whole process of demystifying social impact turned out to be an interactive two and a half hour session which, as much as it pains me to admit, was kind of beneficial because it helped to hear what social impact means from your ordinary Kenyans in addition to the Amani Institute.
And that is probably my first lesson from this event.
Social impact means different things to different people.
The program director, in her presentation, mentioned that to date there is no agreed definition of social impact, while we talked about the main definitions I think there are as many ideas of social impact as there are people working in this space. People are motivated differently to get into the areas of social change. So it looks different to different people, it was great hearing this from the participants. The one thing though that is generally agreed is that since the impact is supposed to have some tangible or intangible effects, there must be a way to measure it
Social impact can come from any space
From governments to individuals with private companies and NGOs in between. Social impact has ceased to be privy to or a responsibility of the civil society. Anyone can choose to actively engage in an activity that creates social impact. As a student of development studies, I have grown to have very lofty ideas about poverty eradication and activities that better the lives of others. Development studies focuses on the work of governments and non-government organizations and policy to better peoples’ lives.
But, the big idea of social impact is that it is up to you and me to make a difference; it brings lofty ideas down from governments and NGO’s to you and me. What issue needs fixing right in front of you? Get up and do something about it. Social impact places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of each and every person living on planet earth.
As a follower of Jesus, this particularly touched the core of my faith since we teach that God prepared good works for us to do; meaning that every believer should be able to demonstrate what good works they are engaged in. We must move from the mentality that making a difference needs a million dollar funding with a team of 100+ to bring change. Start with yourself and what you have in your hands.
The purpose economy and careers of meaning and impact
Previously, I talked about how the millennials have a greater ability to demonstrate fluidity in their career choices and career moves. At the Amani Institute, we talked about what is called the purpose economy. One of the main motivations for the work that millennials choose to engage in is whether or not what they are doing has meaning. Faith in large organizations was battered by the 2007/2008 economic recession and passion, impact and freedom have become more important than money.
The world has gone through various revolutions from the Industrial revolution to the Information revolution; the rise of social impact and interest in work that is more connected to personal values as well as the lack of distinction between personal life and professional life has brought us to the Purpose Economy that we are now experiencing.
Caroline Gertshe, the program director at Amani Institute also gave a book recommendation on this idea of impact careers, you can be sure I will be reading it; be on the lookout for a book review on it.
A final take away was Caroline’s passionate plea to get the conversation away from social media and to start doing stuff. Social Media is great for creating awareness but it cannot stop there; we have to move away from our keyboards and actually put our time, money and skill into the ideas that will make the world a better place for all of us.
Are you convinced? What is your next step?