When people ask why social activities can make a difference for business...

There have been a lot of questions and I could tell many stories, describe places, summarize events … I may be wrong, but I have the impression, that the people who ask these questions often expect answers that support the stereotypes of what we hear about India. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, these are rather negative things… But what about the positive experience gained? What realizations remain? 

 

The inspiration – lasting impressions

Strange, but true: there is one question, in particular, that is rarely asked, although I consider it the most important one: Which were the moments that inspired you most, the moments that made you uncomfortable, challenged you and will last longer than a souvenir to take home? 

In short, here are my most memorable moments, the ones that inspired and enriched my life, by pushing me out of my office comfort zone:

Awareness: Some situations are really tough to watch. This is not a TV show or news coverage about someone somewhere whom I can’t relate to; this is real Life. It happens in front of you and you are a part of it. In the office or at home I can turn off the media and just ignore it. Here you can’t. You can’t stay out of the process. The contribution you give will leave a lasting impression. What you do matters. A positive side effect is that you get the feeling, of being someone who can create change, do good, and implement positive changes which can create an overall awareness.  

Passion: Doing something requires more than willingness and a good concept. It needs people who implement concepts with passion. That’s what I experienced when I went into the villages with the local NGO representatives. Passion gives you the energy and strength to follow through and go the extra mile. It gives meaning to what you do on a personal and professional level. It matters! In every step of working with local representatives or having discussions with people of differing opinions (business and social), are small hidden teachings. The notion of creating value and making a difference comes naturally, as you see and experience the results of your hard work. 

 

This is the energy we need to bring back into our daily work. If we don’t, we should really ask ourselves why we keep going and do the things we do – at home, in the office, and in our daily lives. The direct contact with the outer world has another big advantage: The NGOs really understand how to make their message resonate with their audience. They get immediate feedback for what they do. The face to face human interaction allows for a type of growth that would not be possible solely based on agency research or statistics. If you know someone interested in learning more about intended and unintended positive/negative effects of this type of experience, about impact making and performance management should definitely think about an exposure trip to India and work with the NGOs. 

 

Innovation: We do a lot of things as a matter of fact and without second-guessing because they are part of our culture, our values, and our daily routine. We do them without noticing that they may seem strange to others because we have been accustomed to doing them all of our life. Then, suddenly, these same routines and behaviors are being questioned, and may not hold “true” any longer. These situations force me to be creative, to invent a new way of achieving similar results or realizing that they are no longer needed. At home and under normal conditions these deeply held beliefs on how things are done are rarely questioned and even less likely to be discussed and changed, due to the level of difficulty. There is no better model for learning how to serve “customers” than experiencing it every day with “change makers”. Nonprofits and NGOs are masters of engagement, often finding creative ways to do more with less. In combining social – business - disruptive social entrepreneurial ideas take you to a very different higher impact level of strategic thinking and concrete implementation.

 

Simplicity: The strategic paperwork is nice, but the reality is often different and needs simple and pragmatic solutions. Implementation is based on people who make it happen. The key to success is to make complex things simple and create trust. It is about learning how we can move away from ‘let’s do technology or distribute items’ (or to give huge amounts of money as a declared CSR contribution) to a real engagement that aims to help build the capacities in underserved communities. What matters most is the collaboration with local stakeholders from diverse backgrounds - wherever possible - to ensure that it is accepted and sustainable. We cannot do business if we do not create marketplaces first!

I am convinced: These learnings are essential – for everyone who wants to make the world a better place and those who want to ensure that they are successful in the future, on a personal and professional level. Multiple challenges need multiple solutions. Complex health issues cannot be solved by one player, one project or one institution alone.

"Multiple challenges need multiple solutions. Complex health issues cannot be solved by one player, one project or one institution alone", says Manuela Pastore.