In August, one of our Ask Me Anything sessions focused on “Communicating your purpose”. (You can check the video here).
Here’s the set of questions we looked at:
Question 1 Why is having a clear purpose important?
Servane Mouazan: Let me share with you a conversation I had with Isabel Kelly, a social justice advocate and founder of “Profit With Purpose”, a consultancy she founded, after a few years at Salesforce. She ran the international team at Salesforce Foundation and turned it into a profitable ($12m revenue) business unit within the company. This enabled the delivery of the 1/1/1 model of corporate philanthropy - volunteering, grants and product donation, which was, in effect, a start-up social enterprise embedded into a fast-growing commercial company.
Now with Profit with Purpose, Isabel is bringing both the NGO and corporate worlds together by creating strategies with SMEs who want to integrate real social purpose into their business.
I asked Isabel: What questions do your clients never ask you, you wished they did…?
Isabel Kelly said: “I wish clients were more questioning about WHY they do the things they do… Organisations tend to get very focused on the tactics (the ‘what’) and the 'why’ gets lost along the way. It’s essential to have a clearly articulated purpose or vision for the social impact they want to create, together with a great plan for how to get there. Clients rush to wanting to fundraise or increase their income but often need to take a few steps back to better articulate their proposition”.
Question 2: I think I need to be clear about my own purpose first, what do you think?
And these things change or can appear to you suddenly.
Look at how Cecilia Milesi, from Global Change and Subir al Sur in Argentina, states hers:
“I’m a woman with a clear purpose since childhood. I work collectively with many others to co-create a world of justice and dignity for all. “
“I was never an environmentalist on purpose - I think I fell into it! But now I’m seeing that we need more people like me to make some noise about the environment. Most people do not think environmental issues are important. Changing this is a matter of life and death.
It doesn’t matter where you are, the well-being of the planet affects us all! Some people think: Well, oh, what we need in Africa is roads and security, or this and that. The environment is not high on their list of priorities.
They talk about securing the pyramid of food, shelter, and clothing before you get anything else. People need to hear that the real base of the pyramid is the environment – if you don’t have a stable, safe environment, then you cannot survive”
The last example is from Essma Ben Hamida from Enda Inter-Arabe in Tunisia.
Essma co-founded enda inter-arabe with her husband Michael in 1990. It is now one of the highest rated microfinance institutions in the world, and has distributed over one million loans, benefiting over 330,000 borrowers.
“I left teaching to become a journalist – I dreamt of changing the world. But despite writing about the big issues, I realised I was disappointed because nothing changed; they were not solving any problems.”
At some point she realised something about the contributions of small NGOs who were really doing something against poverty despite adverse contexts.
“An article on why farmers in Tunisia were not paying back their loans brought me home. I talked to a lot of people, a lot of women - the situation was very bad. Suddenly, while talking to a woman, something struck me very significantly. In Tunisia, we call it ‘maktoub’ - it was a moment of seeing my destiny, my purpose. I was sent to do this article so that I can reconnect with my country, and do something to help the women of Tunisia”.
Essma Ben Hamida
Question 3 What do you need to focus on when you work on your organisation purpose statement?
SM: When you run a social business - meaning, when you align your commercial objectives with your social purpose - you are not always selling easy products or services (at least not all of us), you put some social and environmental parameters in the equation. What we do is connected to a change that is needed, pain, sometimes horror stories, issues we want to see gone. And the first hurdle - after making sense of our why - is to communicate what we do without making people run away, or roll their eyes with early exhaustion. We need to keep them on board. Not just feel inspired…
When you start crafting your organisation statement, something you need to think about is “Am I challenging enough?” or “Am I overwhelming / confusing my audience?”
At Ogunte, since 2001, we have chosen to explore social entrepreneurship with a gender lens and specifically highlight and support women who focus on changing people’s worlds, and their environment. It is a very wide angle as we have to be intersectional to cater for the various needs or objectives women have in this space, and at the same time we want to see them shine and make decisions at the highest level possible, without victimising them. Our challenge is to make this topic exciting enough and not overwhelming for people who might be overwhelmed by feminism… (although I think they have a problem of their own, if that is their case!)
We have a tagline that helps us in the process: “A better world, powered by women…”
This is a conversation trigger… it assumes something is changing, and that women are heard, at the heart of decision-making, valued and recognised in the process of powering, fueling change, alongside men, and in all their diversity, and intersectionality.
(At least, that’s what we hope this tagline vehiculates… Maybe some people feel overwhelmed… so we need to balance this by explicitly adding specifics on how we do this and how OTHERS can do this. So it shouldn’t’ be instructions, but guidance, and beliefs, a “rallying value layer” that gives a flavour of your ethos and how you do things.
We believe in ImpactWomen:
Influential, skilled and connected women with bold solutions to social and environmental issues can create sustainable opportunities to make the world a better place. They are also more likely to be listened to and valued as civic, political and economic contributors.
… and a strong support ecosystem
We believe that a stronger ecosystem of advisors, supporters and finance providers, that operates with a conscious gender-lens, can contribute to grow women in social enterprises and their work.
Our purpose is to make this healthy ecosystem a reality, to address gender equality, and contribute to social justice.
So the final bit is about Repercussions and Rewards.
• What is the cost of you not intervening.
• What is the reward and the benefit of your intervention?
Question 4: What if I am in a place where it is not safe to speak up and share my organisation’s purpose?
When you are in an unsafe place/ social or political context, you need to create alliances, and form a block with other like minded organisations, a united voice. For your personal support and also to never stay isolated. Find common purposes beyond your own, a network organisation for instance that understands your objectives. A great example is the Association for progressive communications ( APC). APC is an international network of organizations that was founded back in 1990 to provide communication infrastructure, including Internet-based applications, to groups and individuals who work for peace, human rights, protection of the environment, and sustainability. So very frequently, when their members see their internet shut down, APC creates a relay network to provide support, and continue to provide information on their behalf if that is what they need.
Question 5: Why is willing to change (or save…) the world not enough?
SM: Because it is vague, whose world is it? Maybe it’s not believable, changing the whole world? Who is changing it, who is helping, who is likely financing it? Who is calling the cards? Changing it t what, to whose image? Who is inclined to campaign and change the law to support this plan?
Why hasn’t been done before?
And whilst you are focusing on this, what would be the systemic repercussions of achieving your purpose?
a) The brain doesn’t like a blank sheet. It finds it horrible, you have to plant the seeds of your story, so set the context, bring in evidence.
b) Start to work with what you know, the evidence you have, you need to buy in this purpose 100% and contribute to it day and night, as a matter of principle, otherwise you will feel mis-aligned.
c) A course I encourage you to take up to grasp the origins and consequences of issues and how to affect change systemically, is the System Practice course by Acumen+ (Next intake October 2018 - Free course)
Communicating your purpose is about clarity of intention, it is about timeliness, and audience. It is about why your presence is relevant, how you fit, now and overtime. At some point you will have to explain how you serve, how you create change, which tools you use. Immediately after this statement, you should be able to bring about evidence, traction, and arguments that support this statement.
At the core of it, at its foundation, is of course, how you as an individual are able to find your MAKTOUB.
Like Essma Ben Hamida from Enda InterArabe, when stars align and you take a step back, you can find yourself at the intersection of duty, care, dream, passion and skills, you find your purpose, your destiny. Listen carefully and observe!
Please look at our previous videos on our Facebook page, they are packed with links, resources and tips (we previously talked about leadership, governance, and today was the AMA on Communicating your Purpose).
There are many ways we can help you grow your social venture, check out our services here