Perspective Piece: It’s Time to Rethink Impact and Responsibility
Guest blogger, Shivani Choksi shares her thoughts on social responsibility and entrepreneurship. Shivani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Impaction. Impaction’s mission is to create a collaborative world where we can inspire people to take ownership in solving social issues by building a supportive environment to turn every idea into an actionable step. She currently resides in Chicago, IL.
You know the story. A smelly 20-year-old experimenting in his parent’s garage. He makes an invention that can change the face of the planet. He faces adversity in his journey only to win in the end, becoming an international hero. Cue inspiration. Cue empowerment.
Cue inaccessibility. Cue helplessness. And it repeats.
I’m sick of this story and you should be sick of it too. In reality, not all of us can live jobless in our parent’s house. Not all of us can work on an invention that our parents have invested thousands of dollars in already. Not all of us can live without showering for an entire week because of our obsession with the task at hand. With that image comes a high sense of privilege that many are not given. Why are all of the “success”-driven movies and books feeding us the same linear narrative? Why do we need to check all of the boxes (smelly, jobless, garage, invention, boundless time) to feel like we are on the money? Why do we often turn to unattainable stories to feel empowered in our own lives? I don’t know - I don’t have one answer that can satisfy these questions. What I do know is that when I turn to stories like this for a sense of comfort and security, I feel dissatisfied with my own capabilities. I lose hope until I watch the next flick and feed false endorphins to ease my discomfort once again. I regain a self of false inspiration. I become further content with inaction.
In turn, what do I propose? Change the narrative. Instead of feeding us linear narratives, show us the heroes in our day-to-day lives: the teachers, the mothers, the employees who have been the true innovators from the beginning. Shift the “entrepreneur-savior” narrative into one where everyone is responsible for a better future - where you do not need someone to create an invention to make the world a better place. The world, and each of us in it, has more promise than we think, we have recently forgotten it. Let me guide you through this journey - in which we talk about the present challenge, what we need to do to start fixing the challenge, and what this proposal can lead to in the future.
The Present: The Current Narrative
I’ve spoken to you about the problem with fetishizing the entrepreneur’s journey. A world in which people like Steve Jobs are revered and the ones who have supported him from the beginning have often been forgotten. However, also think about what feeding into this narrative can entail - fetishizing people who already have the privilege to invest their all into their inventions only places them higher on the pedestal when they succeed. I’m not saying that being an entrepreneur is a breeze - I know it takes endless work and dedication to make your vision come alive. But what I am saying is, due to this narrative, the social impact space remains inaccessible by a majority of people. What feeds this narrative? Negative news showing us the world’s destruction and what I call “privileged-news” which is news about rich, powerful people with influence throwing money around to stop the world’s destruction. In turn, this makes us, the people in the middle, feel grateful for the powerful but content with inaction. In this, the gap between the rich and poor grows wider. In this, hopelessness becomes more deeply ingrained. In this, we are always wanting more. I have one word for you: No.
What We Need to Do
First and foremost, cut this narrative out. Rid yourself of the notion that you need to create a new idea, enterprise, or product to make an impact.
Second, when you read the news, read it with a critical eye - check in and ask yourself, “What impact is this article going to have on my perception?” The fact that you exist and can even think about ways to make a difference is enough. That mindset shift is when the scales tip in your favor.
Third, check in with yourself. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, check in with yourself: are you an entrepreneur because of this “success story” you’ve been fed for your entire life or because there is actually an unmet need? For example, the goal of creating a social enterprise, charity, or a foundation is to end the social challenge that particular group is facing. According to the Charity Navigator, there are over 40,000 American charities with military-related missions. However, last time I checked, veterans do not face 40,000 different problems. This is a clear example of the entrepreneur narrative doing more harm (oversaturating the market, duplicating efforts and resources, and reducing overall impact) than good. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to make change. Period.
Fourth, recognize your responsibility. Destruction, inequality, and despair. These results were created by a collective society - entire systems of people in positions across the socioeconomic scale. If these outcomes were created by everyone, why is everyone relying on “powerful” people to change the world for the better? Why is everyone blaming instead of doing? Creating the future is all of our responsibility - not only the policymakers’, the billionaires’, or entrepreneurs’. We have power in our own communities and if you want to see a change and there’s nothing being done, start the movement yourself. Oftentimes, you don’t need to quit your job and start an organization to do it.
The Future: Hope and Impact
Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” method to creating change. What’s interesting is that we all know this, but we are content with relying on “powerful leaders” to enact change and, more often than not, they employ lone-size-fits-all methods to enacting change. This is another reason why the best way to create change does not rely in the hands of the elites, it relies in the hands of the people. People in local communities know what’s best for their communities. People know the depth of the challenges their communities face and what solutions can create systematic change. This is why it is crucial to distribute power and be aware that the power has been distributed. People have the power to change their environments - the elite who come with their influence and their resources should be supporting the people to create a difference, not vice versa. We have to be aware of this shift and spread the message to others.
Conclusion and Take-Aways
In order to create a better future for ourselves, our loved-ones, and the world (if that is where your mission lies), cut out the entrepreneur narrative and find power in your own community. Invest in the many ways you can create a difference - whether it be: providing advice to your loved ones; sharing an insightful (instead of negative) post on social media; volunteering at your local shelter; or shopping more consciously and conservatively from your local grocery and retail stores. These are small waves that can turn ripples into waves. The moment we stop hoping for change is the moment we shift responsibility onto others and the last thing we need is to fetishize the jobless, smelly entrepreneur even further.
By Shivani Choksi