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Since the Reagan era, we have been living in a pro-shareholder, anti-government age. This has caught us in a false dilemma: A choice between whether government or business should provide services. The question should not be yes government or no government, but how well are our tax dollars being spent to achieve the societal outcomes we value. But the times are changing, and business is coming to accept the need to broaden our thinking. Shareholders are only one constituent of an organization. Traditionally, organizations serve more stakeholders: Employees, partners, customers, and communities. We are moving from a shareholder economy back to a stakeholder economy. Since an organization’s products and services are developed to achieve these core goals, this shift will mean significant changes in every sector of society.

What are the problems of the world? When we shift to a stakeholder focus, there are opportunities for improvement everywhere you look. Income disparity, social justice, a healthier environment, education equity. Some of these problems are simple, some are wicked, and most are of our own creation. We live in a growth-driven economy, and the results we get derive from how our systems and social institutions work. Consider healthcare. We have arguably the worst healthcare value globally. We spend nearly twice the amount as other major economies, have the highest chronic disease burden and obesity rates, lowest life expectancy, and highest suicide rates. Adding insult to injury, our healthcare system produces 66% of all bankruptcies.

The industry designs our healthcare system to sustain the industry, meet social outcomes, and generate innovation and shareholder return. We don’t have a competitive healthcare system driven by consumer behavior. If consumers had choices, wouldn’t consumers have access to pricing and quality information to make informed decisions? In a stakeholder-driven economy, patient outcomes are the key metric. There is no upside from the adverse health and financial results of our current system. Isn’t a healthy population a productive population?

Where can we find social impact opportunities? In 2015, the UN member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Each of these goals has specific targets and indicators – these are measurable, achievable goals that are evaluated each year. This is the most comprehensive and accepted list of short- to mid-term global goals we can find, and yes, they are approved by the UN member states, which means there is significant support and opportunity to become involved – in small and large ways – in supporting these goals. Review the list and reflect on how broad, sweeping, and impactful these are.

17 Sustainable Development Goals

Source: UN

These are global BHAGs, and they are all worthy. How do you get involved in supporting the success of these goals? Let’s start by breaking down the problem. Can you identify one or a few of these goals that allow you to pursue your vision? Regardless of your background, there will be something for you to sink your teeth into. For example, Career Storybook is aligned with #4 Quality Education, #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, and #10 Reduced Inequalities. And, to the degree that we are effective in supporting you, we will have a secondary impact on the goals that our clients serve.

This can seem overwhelming. Remember that these are big goals that have lots of support and resources from many organizations and individuals. The timing is right to move to a social impact career. In the future, there will be economic rewards tied to social – not just financial – outcomes. For the purposes of this class, please identify the goal(s) you want to work on. In the remainder of the Write Your Own Story series, you will have the opportunity to dig down, research opportunities, and craft your job hunt plan.

Action Steps

  • Write out no more than three goals from the 17 UN Goals or another BHAG goal that inspires you.
  • Explore the targets, indicators, and progress for each goal.
  • Refine your list by narrowing your participation to as few targets as possible while retaining the integrity of your purpose and vision.
  • Qualify this list to goals that you might support as a donor or volunteer, and those where you want to make your next career move.
  • Review each of these Goals against your passions and values, then make a final rank-ordered list of goals.

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