Being Fearless in the New Year

By: Liz Maw | January 17, 2014

Trying to change the world can be exciting and gratifying. It can also be lonely and scary. That's why so many social sector organizations - including our own - have loved to see examples like the Case Foundation's Be Fearless campaign.The Be Fearless campaign recognizes that true, transformational change is hard and takes courage. To make significant impact, you need to ask unpopular questions, upend conventional norms, and form difficult collaborations. There's a reason that the world's most powerful changemakers - people like Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem, Nelson Mandela - had as many enemies and detractors as friends at the height of their revolutions.

Net Impact is trying to drive major change in the world. We envision a world where people go to work to make impact first and money second. We aspire to embolden hundreds of thousands of people to achieve careers with meaning and purpose, throughout the sectors, resulting in a sea-change of social and environmental impacts throughout the world. Ten percent of the United States population in the social sector isn't enough. Volunteering with your company for a day a year isn't enough. In order to solve the immense problems facing our planet and society today, we need everyone's best ideas, time, and passion.

We need to be fearless.

My colleague Linda Gerard, who heads up Brand and Innovation at Net Impact, introduced our staff of 40 to the Be Fearless concept through the Case Foundation's inspirational video a few months ago. The concept highlights five core values of this courageous ethos:

  1. Make Big Bets and Make History. Set audacious, not incremental, goals.
  2. Experiment Early and Often. Don't be afraid to go first.
  3. Make Failure Matter. Failure teaches. Learn from it.
  4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble. It's comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections.
  5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear. Don't overthink and overanalyze. Do.

More recently, our staff shared some of the specific ways they had brought one of these five values to life. Here are just three examples from the past year of how Net Impact has tried to embody these goals:

  • Make Big Bets. Our current 10-year strategy has a very ambitious goal: to grow our network of 50,000 exponentially to 1 million people over the next decade. We have a vision of what we want the future to look like, and many more hands need to pitch in to get there. (And if you're not a member already, sign up if you want to change the world through work!)
  • Make Failure Matter. After setting out with good intentions, we invested a lot of time and money with various digital consultants in the last year and a half. And many of the results were poor: clunky platforms, poor usability, tech vendors that went out of business. That kind of organizational failure hurts, in terms of money, opportunity cost, and impact. In place of that, we've decided to change course and build our in-house expertise with a small but mighty web team. Our current web re-launch process is night and day smoother than the last few rounds.
  • Reach Beyond Your Bubble. We've entered into a number of significant partnerships this year - and I don't mean partnerships where you talk once a year and slap your logos on each other's website. Instead of these low-engagement relations, we're now co-running campus events with a major multinational (Unilever) and leading our major undergrad program with a new technology partner (MyActions). Both these partnerships have taken way more time that our team predicted, but resulted in far stronger impact than we could have achieved alone.

As the Net Impact community faces 2014, I want to challenge you to set your own Fearless Goals (or whatever you'd like to call them). What are your big bets, how can you celebrate failure, and what new partnerships can you explore? And make sure to stay in touch, share your story, and let us know how Net Impact can help.

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