For all of us ‘almost grown-ups’ who still don’t have a clue
“I just want to earn a livable wage from a job I enjoy, respect the company I work for, and feel like I’m making a positive difference in the world. Is that too much to ask?”
Cynics would say yes. Really, it’s not. At least, it won’t be in the near future.
There are so many movements happening right now. Corporate social responsibility initiatives continue to grow. Livable wage laws continue to develop and change. Organizations have begun to proactively address internal issues such as discrimination, pay gaps, and responsible sourcing. And progress will only continue as time goes on. .
In other words, it’s a good time to be a young, socially-conscious professional, and it’s not unrealistic to dream of a job where you feel like you’re making a difference in the world. While you can’t get step by step instructions on how to live your dream life, you can take a good look at the different types of organizations and how they fit in the fabric of our economy. With this understanding, you can choose how to position yourself to make a difference where you feel most needed.
So.. what are my options?
There are three main types of organizations: business, government, and nonprofit. As you figure out which of these quadrants you resonate most with, you can invest your energy and passions into the organizations in that space. Each of organization type has LOTS of sub categories, but for the sake of the big picture, we’ll just look at these big groups in the context of an economic theory that won Elinor Ostrom the Nobel Prize in 2009. This theory divides the economy into four sections and assigns each section a type of organization that is best fitted to provide and protect those resources.
(Quick side note: if you look for them, there are criticisms against every single one of these organizations. No, none of them are perfect, and yes, each of them are needed – just like us. We’re all looking to make the world a better place. Be aware of the challenges in that quadrant, but don’t let them scare you off.)
(For reference, excludable means if I have it, you can’t. Rivalrous means if I use it, it’s gone)
Businesses are responsible for producing private goods – items that have an exclusive owner. The capitalist market system in the United States suits businesses well – products are developed so people will buy them. If an item doesn’t sell, it’s because it’s unwanted or costs too much, leading the business to make changes. There is a wide range of private goods: the food we eat, homes we live in, cars we drive, etc.
Governments have the ability to pull resources from individuals living in a specific geographic region, or with a specific citizenship. As a result, governments are responsible for the goods everyone in that region has access too: public goods (law enforcement, national defense, rule of law), and common pool goods (timber, fisheries, clean water sources).
Nonprofits are designed to reinvest all company surplus back into the company. As a result, they are well positioned to provide club (or toll) goods at affordable prices. These are things that can take a lot of money to initially produce, but once it’s there, it costs very little (if anything) to give one more person access. These could be items like wifi, cable TV, and toll roads.
So where to go?
Is there a specific quadrant that’s speaking to you? If you’re interested in inventing flying cars, owning your own bakery, or writing the next best seller, business is probably the place for you. If you’re interested in ensuring people are safe, play fair, and have access to natural resources, government could be the way to go. If you’re interested in research and/or ensuring people have affordable access to important goods and services, nonprofit could be your life calling.
Made your selection? Great! Stay tuned for more articles coming soon that’ll dive deep into each organization type.
What if I’m not looking for a job?
You can still make a big difference without devoting 40 hours a week to these organizations. If you want to make a difference in business, remember what motivates them. Their purpose is to sell. If you don’t approve of their goods/services, don’t purchase them. Leave accurate, insightful reviews. These small, everyday actions make a big difference. If you’re looking to impact the government, be informed and vote! Send letters to your elected officials. Pay your taxes. Take a stand in social causes, and make your voice heard. If you’re looking to impact nonprofits, invest in those with causes that resonate with you. This could be an investment of volunteer time, promoting their platform on your social media, or making monetary donations.
The bottom line is this: you’re going to make a difference. You’ll impact the people and organizations around you, intentionally or otherwise. If you take the time to identify what matters to you, and act in accordance with those values, your chance of making a positive difference grows exponentially.