I started my career as a teacher. Like a lot of fresh face young peers of mine, I struggled with wanting to both change the world for my kids and teach them nitty gritty 8th grade language arts standards. Now, ten years later, I am an independent consultant to mission-driven organizations and the founder of malinaSI Social Impact Design . While I empathize with founders and know impact can be tough to unravel, the ubiquity of opportunity to create and push social impact within so much of what we’re all already doing is what makes this broader space really exciting.
If you are an entrepreneur, especially a creative entrepreneur, you are 100% creating social impact.
- You are creating jobs and economic opportunity.
- You are solving some problem that positively affects people’s lives on the supply or demand side or likely both.
- You are creating economic and/or creative opportunity for others.
But just as I struggled to find my impact goals somewhere between all-out transforming my students’ lives and teaching them standards, you may be struggling to wrap your head around where you fit in on the impact spectrum. Figuring this out will help you and your team make decisions, especially as you gain additional resources like human and financial capital, and it will help communicate to others – whether they be investors, customers, or funders – what your company is all about. And, if you’re courting any funder who identifies as an impact investor, you’re going to want to have a stake in the ground here.
Etkie is one of my favorite creative companies that has been built around impact. As an Etkie customer I can buy really trendy high quality jewelry. But the Etkie story is so much more than that; artisans and craftsmen and women from Native American communities had not been (and still largely aren’t) paid a fair value for their work nor were they empowered to directly monetize their crafts as microentrepreneurs as much as they could have. Etkie markets and sells on-trend jewelry made by Native women, pays fair prices, and increases economic opportunity in underemployed communities.
Etkie’s impact story is an easy one to tell; yours may be a bit more complex. To help I like to use a framework called a Theory of Change to help uncover the change we’re driving. If you google “theory of change” a lot of really complicated things come up. My advice is to ignore them, at least for now; below is a very simple map I use. Work through it with your team in whatever direction makes most sense to you. If you already know the ultimate impact you hope to drive (e.g. more economic opportunity for underemployed native communities) you can start there and map your company’s work back from that point. If the right side is a little fuzzy start on the left and see if working through this can help you uncover big changes.
A really simple Theory of Change Framework
As an example, you may find that a lot of your human capital (a resource) is spent ensuring new audience or buyers are exposed to your product or service (an activity). An output may be that new generations or communities have some intellectual or creative opportunity available that had not been available before. An impact outcome could be that creativity and curiosity are instilled in previously underserved communities.