How can individuals use their influence for positive change?

Collaborative action across multiple sectors could help solve society’s most complex challenges.

The world is beset by multiple crises that strain our societies. Many people want to do their part to limit suffering, promote human flourishing, and minimize current and future risks. But these aspiring change agents often struggle to harness all of their individual resources effectively to aid in the creation of a better future for people and the planet. To help fill that void, Ashoka and McKinsey & Company have partnered with Echoing Green, Generation Pledge, and Catalyst 2030 to produce a new report—Influence for good: How highly resourced individuals can work towards positive systemic change.

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Systemic change addresses the causes rather than the symptoms of problems. Think of it as the difference between teaching a person how to fish as opposed to revolutionizing the fishing industry to benefit everyone instead of a select few. Informed by four years of research and more than 100 interviews with practitioners and others who seek to solve problems by addressing their root causes, Influence for good aims to support individuals who want to help solve society’s most complex challenges through collaborative action across multiple social and economic sectors.

More than money

When people think about philanthropy, they often think of financial transactions such as donations and investments. These are the most widely recognized ways that individuals around the world engage with organizations trying to address the myriad challenges facing humanity.

Although funding systemic change may be a core pillar of engagement, money isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all. For example, individuals could examine how to dedicate their time and use their connections to bring about significant change. While the idea of moving beyond throwing money at a problem isn’t novel, strategically using many different forms of engagement to work toward systemic change has not been widely discussed. This is the conversation Influence for good seeks to start.

This report highlights the Look–Envision–Build (LEB) model (exhibit), created by Generation Pledge. The three-step LEB framework was developed for people with inherited wealth who seek to mobilize their financial, social, career, and political capital to generate more significant change. But the framework could be harnessed by all individuals whose net worth and networks may position them to move beyond donating to individual causes, by delivering what may be an even greater impact. Money doesn’t have to be a barrier. Anyone who seeks to become a change agent could glean valuable insights from the LEB framework.

The path to becoming an impactful change agent is often circular, not linear.
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While Influence for good was being researched, many highly resourced individuals shared their own stories of becoming systemic change agents. Their experiences may offer insights into the ways people can support positive change beyond financial resources, as well as the self-reflection and development process that could underpin success in effecting change.

Look–Envision–Build

Step one of the LEB model encourages people to “look with courage” at both the world around them and themselves. By acknowledging that the world isn’t perfect, people may start to understand where and how there could be less suffering; greater flourishing; and fewer existential, environmental, and social risks. By looking inward, people may recognize how their assets, investments, and conduct contribute to the status quo and gain a better understanding of their limitations, especially on social issues. That understanding could in turn create a more fruitful pathway to hear people who have experienced some of these issues, as well as those who are experts on them.

Many people approach me and ask about technicalities of social engagement, almost never about the why. I insist that technicalities are the easy part and that the real work is an inner appraisal of why you do what you do. Be courageous enough to ask these questions and start the work now.

Chuck Feeney, cofounder, DFS Group

Step two of the framework challenges people to “envision with rigor” and develop a clear vision and plan, as well as the skill set they will probably need to become better change agents. This happens in collaboration with proximate leaders, who are close to issues, and subject matter leaders, who are experts in their fields. Their knowledge, experience, guidance, and insight could help aspiring change agents to identify promising solutions and opportunities and, ultimately, to turn a vision into reality.

Being prepared to transform yourself is a requirement for a better world, but you also do this work so that you might be able to transform into a truly free person yourself. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Farhad Ebrahimi, president, Chorus Foundation

Step three is where the groundwork translates into potential action. Guided by proximate and subject matter leaders, change agents could focus on creating the greatest possible impact and “build with excellence” by tracking progress and using evaluations and honest feedback to adjust their approach regularly.

Everybody likes handing out things or funding buildings, because that’s tangible. But real value comes from systemic change, changed behaviour, changed mindsets. The buildings you build might sit empty; mindset shifts keep impacting generations to come. Ask yourself what you have to do to create truly lasting positive change and act upon that.

Nihar Kothari, executive editor and director, Rajasthan Patrika

A never-ending journey

The path to becoming an effective change agent is often circular, not linear: when a cycle ends, a new one begins. In this respect, the LEB framework strives to be a never-ending journey of learning, enabling change agents to go on harnessing their resources for maximum impact to create a more sustainable, more equitable, more prosperous world.

Click here to read the full report.

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