“The hardest part is developing the idea, and that can take years.”
- Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, who died this week.
If we were to ask you what you wanted the bigger-picture impact of your life, career or organisation to be, what would you say? Would it feel like a curly question: hard to envision, let alone explain?
If you answered yes, that putting words around your desired ultimate impact is difficult, you’re not alone. We’ve struggled with articulating this too — ironic given that vision, social impact and communications are our daily bread. Even though our purpose is clear and lived — “to elevate others to elevate others” — we’ve wrestled with explaining how the key issues we focus on hang together; why we focus so much effort on supporting gender equality; human rights; climate and sustainability; leadership for impact; and holistic health. Aside from being worthy in their own right, we struggled to put a concise frame around them. What did they all add up to?
“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf”
- Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar
We’re thrilled to say we’ve got clarity now, having gone through a facilitated process, and want to share it with you and invite you to use it to become clearer on what your impact could be. The framework? The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - or Global Goals. The process? A Ten-Point SDG Plan for our business, led by our friends in Ireland, Change By Degrees.
The UN SDGs - don't be put off by that mouthful. They look like a lot, right?
“That night he had a stomach ache.”
- Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar
But these buzzwords are actually an incredibly useful tool. Boiled down, they are a piccolo espresso for progressive leaders.
The SDGs are a collection of 17 goals put together by the UN in 2015; a “blueprint for creating a more sustainable future for all by 2030”. Governments, businesses and organisations play an enormous and important role in making progress towards them, by firstly understanding them, mapping strategy against them, and then embedding them into the way they operate. This is corporate activism: using your organisational influence for positive social impact.
As an individual you, too, can think about how you want to align your life and leadership with the SDGs and wider global goals that support us all, and make decisions on the roles, work or projects you take on, or even your broader career direction, based on what you discover.
In the process of exploring the SDGs, we became clear that everything we do — all the programs, events, strategy work, consulting and coaching — is in service to two Global Goals in particular: number 16, “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”, and number 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”. These two goals are the lynchpin for all of our work.
One of our biggest Aha moments was this: though we’re well-known for our work supporting women into greater visibility, it’s not about gender equality for gender equality’s sake; we believe in gender equality because we know that by having more women-identifying people in leadership, the outcomes and environments will be better for everyone, leading to systemic change and… drumroll… Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Gender equality is a goal in and of itself (SDG 5) but for us, this sits inside our wider goal to create strong institutions. When we deliver on gender equality through our work, we directly contribute to SDG 16.
Similarly, by partnering with social-impact focused clients and partners, such as Change By Degrees, or organisational clients wanting to create positive shifts within their cultures or out in the wider world, we’re working towards Partnerships for the Goals. When we combine our skill sets with others who share our values we deliver on SDG 17. We never knew how to describe this until now, despite years of collaborative work. SDG 17 describes perfectly our ability to create impact and gives us a framework by which we can measure our collaborations against.
So helpful! So simple!
The next step, after identifying which Goals are our ultimate destination, was to embed them into our strategy. It’s been invaluable, helping us to see where we should be putting most of our effort and to see what to let go of. From there, it’s translating into operational decisions and changing the way we think and work in myriad ways.
Keen to know how to go through this process yourself? Here are four ways to align your visible leadership with bigger impact:
To find out more about the SDGs and corporate activism, we’ve listed some helpful resources below.
Once you’ve done some reading, let us know: which of the Global Goals might become your own?
“One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and - pop! - out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.”
Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar