Debunking the 3 myths of Doing 'Good'
“I cannot do what you do”, is a common response I receive after sharing my story to friends and peers around me (I work in a Community-based Management Consultancy recognised as a social enterprise member of raiSE).
Curious as to why they would say that, I often seek further clarification. “Why don’t you think so? What makes us different?”
“I’d love to do what you’re doing, but I need to find a job that pays well.”
I’m at the age where most of my peers are beginning to enter the workforce. It is a time where anxiety and stress levels tend to be one of the highest. It is the first time someone determines our value and places a number on how much we are worth. It’s scary, and bound with lots of comparison with others, thus impacting our self-worth. Therefore, I understand their need to “find a job that pays well.”
However, is there always a dichotomy between working in a job that pays well and having the ability to create positive impact and benefit for others? Can doing ‘good’ encompass both a stable and invigorating career while contributing meaningfully in our society?
Personally, my friends are compelled to do ‘good’, but would hesitate because of the ‘Singaporean Dream’ that they are trying to chase. To many, life is but receiving a good education, working in a reputable company and drawing a high salary, to live happily ever after a stable marriage and maybe a kid. They find doing ‘good’ incompatible with chasing this version of success.
Is this always true? Let me try to unpack some commonly held myths some of us might have.
Myth #1 Doing ‘good’ is reserved for those who have “made it” in life
The news these days is splashed with headline articles like “Billionaire Mackenzie Scott gives away £2bn more” or “Semiconductor maker donates $100,000 to ST pocket money fund”.
The news tends to glamourise giving, according recognition to those who have ‘made it’ — individuals and organisations who have accumulated enough wealth and can make ‘eye-popping donations’. This often creates a false impression of being able to give back to the community, only when we are in a stable job and are doing financially well, and can afford to.
This is far from the truth. Giving back to the community is for everyone with a desire to do so. Often untold and not widely publicised are stories from the ground, such as Ravin (pseudonym), an 11 year old boy, who decided that the only birthday gift he wanted to receive was the ability to feed a 1000 vulnerable people in Singapore. Ravin celebrated his birthday at a Soup Kitchen where he prepared meals for the vulnerable. On top of the meals, he also hand-wrote 1000 postcards to accompany the meal boxes and delivered them to the migrant workers in our midst, thanking them for helping to build Singapore.
If you happen to be that someone who has been asking, “how can I do ‘good’ for others in my current job”, or have an idea for the community that you want to bounce off, let me invite you to reach out. We want to pave the way for you to do so, and provide you with guiding steps that would enable you to contribute more effectively. Remember, all it takes is the heart and desire, and not a million dollars in order for you to contribute meaningfully.
Myth #2 Doing ‘good’ should be done for free
In Adam Grant’s research, he found a particular profile of individuals called ‘givers’. Givers are identified as people who have a higher propensity to contribute to others without seeking anything in return.
This however, does not imply that the work givers do, comes without costs to them, or that the work they create should be undermined and undervalued.
Doing good — building up the community or another individual — ultimately comes at a sacrifice. Arguably, all other endeavours come with sacrifices as well: if we decide we want to be rich, we might sacrifice relationships, time, and possibly health in the same way one doing good might.
What likely differentiates the cost is the reason behind it. While most of us would sacrifice one thing or another to gain a longer term benefit for ourselves, people who do ‘good’ usually place others before themselves. With this understanding, the cost of that sacrifice becomes markedly higher and it forces us to think — should doing ‘good’ be done for free.
From speaking with founders and managers of socially conscious business, charities and non-profit organisations, a common remark I hear is this, “I have customers who enter my shop, see an item that catches their eye and inquire about the price. They often exclaim in shock, asking why my products are so costly, “Aren’t you an impact business/charity? How can you be charging so much for this?”
Because of such negative experiences, some founders I know actively choose not to disclose that their business supports a particular cause or causes. They explain that this mindset of doing ‘good’ should be done for ‘free’ held by customers translates into an expectation that businesses like theirs cannot charge too much or price itself like other competitors simply because they are intentional about their giving. In order to make a sustainable impact — paying fair wages and raw materials — these founders simply cannot afford to have their products and services undervalued because some think that doing ‘good’ should be done for free.
What I would encourage us to do, is to start appreciating the value created by givers. The next time you stop by a charity, non-profit organisation, or a socially- conscious business — ask yourself this: am I fully appreciating the value of the work being done? Even when givers may not seek anything in return, let’s accord them the value they deserve. This can be done by giving them a simple word of affirmation, or if finances permit, be generous and refrain from asking them for discounted or free products and services. This is a very accessible way for us to consider doing ‘good’ and honouring those sacrificing for others.
Myth #3 Doing ‘good’ translates to actual ‘good’ done all the time
In my work with non-profit organisations, government ministries, impact business and corporations, I have learnt that even our best intentions may not always result in the best possible outcome for the partners we want to support.
Our intentions to do ‘good’ do not mean that it always translates to the ‘good’ that we desire. Sometimes, in our eagerness to address an issue, we fail to fully understand how complex it is. As a result we create more problems that could be harmful. It potentially means that we may not get things right the first time and we need to recognise it.
Despite this, risks should not be a reason that stops us from trying. We need to acknowledge that issues can be complex, and we adopt a prototyping approach in our work to uncover some of these complexities. We operate with hypotheses and assumptions to test. When the risks are high, we mitigate it by starting with a small scale pilot, to understand and unearth as many unknowns as possible.
Furthermore, we also bring in various community stakeholders as we recognise their ability to value-add and cover our blind spots. This is why we have shifted to providing consulting services for the community and in partnership with the community. We have extended our consulting services beyond non-profits, to individuals, corporates, and the Government. We believe in the power of bringing communities together to work through issues and create robust solutions. This enables us to do actual ‘good’ in a more efficient manner, as we are able to reduce the unknowns.
If you’d like to find out more about our community, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll love to hear your story and learn about what you do.