Akhtar Badshah is former Senior Director of Microsoft Citizenship and Public Affairs, founder and Chief Catalyst of Catalytic Innovators Group, an expert on social impact, philanthropy, and international development, and the author of Purpose Mindset: How Microsoft Inspires its Employees and Alumni to Change the World. In this interview, he shares how harnessing a purpose mindset can help NetHope Members improve their staff wellbeing and make even greater impacts in the world.
Learn more about developing a purpose mindset in your organization. Join Akhtar Badshah and NetHope CEO Lance Pierce at our Member-only webinar on Tuesday May 4th at 8am PST, 11am EST.
What is a purpose mindset?
Every single one of us has a purpose driver. However, many of us get subsumed with our careers, and we don’t focus enough on ourselves to discover the value we can bring and add to the world. We get focused on the growth mindset, which is self-growth, self-improvement, which then leads to business growth and business improvement, which again leads to self-growth and self-improvement. But we work in that closed loop.
Purpose introduces the element of community into that cycle. You grow, business grows, the community grows. And it is about moving from the focus on the me to the focus on the we and the collective good. Growth is important – but I think what we need to focus on more is why are we improving? And how is that benefiting the common good?
Purpose is that renewable energy that lights up humanity. Every single one of us. It’s not about what we do. It is all about who we serve. It’s about the service that we want to do, and not the job that we are in.
What difference does having a purpose mindset make for the individual? And what difference does that make for the organization, and for the world?
I highlight five principles in the book for how we cultivate a purpose mindset.
One, it is about discovering your strengths, and building on and amplifying them. To a large extent, we are focused on discovering or addressing problems. But the focus should not be on addressing problems, it should be on creating solutions. And creating solutions comes from the discovery of strength.
The second is about working from abundance, and being innovative about accessing resources. This is particularly important for the nonprofit community, where we often put on a lens of scarcity rather than a lens of abundance. Scarcity is digging deeper, abundance is reaching up to say, how can I be innovative in accessing resources, however small they may be, and how over time may they actually become bigger?
The third is about focus. Is the focus on efficiency, or is the focus on effectiveness? We generally tend to get focused on doing things right, instead of doing the right thing. And that’s a big difference. And even in the nonprofit sector, at times our work brings us into this. We think, ‘I just need to get this work completed. I need to be efficient’. And efficiency starts driving our decision making rather than effectiveness.
The fourth, which I think really applies to NetHope, is moving from organizations into building movements. NetHope has built a movement. It is a movement of people, of entities, of ideas around how technology cannot only improve the organization’s capacity to do more and be more effective, but also technology’s capacity to change people’s lives for the better. And that’s why people join it. The vessel is an organization. But the purpose is the movement
And then the last piece is a journey moving from generosity, to empathy to compassion. Most of us will never reach that center of compassion. The Dalai Lama, Kailash Satyarthi, Malala Yousafzai, and other Nobel Peace Prize winners are truly compassionate people because they are willing to sacrifice their lives for anybody, but that’s not what we really want everyone to become. It’s not about martyrdom, but it is about moving on that plane from being generous to empathetic to compassionate.
Looking at the model of NetHope, there are some people who might think, these NGOs are competing for funds, why are they working together? It would seem maybe counter-intuitive and yet it is so effective. Why is it so important that actually we do things together as a collective?
NetHope, to me, is the ultimate organization of creating bridging networks, because it is actually bringing people in from different persuasions, different organizations, different communities, around a set of purposes that allows them to then collectively feel that they are part of a movement to build change.
The prosaic work is that we are competing for resources. The more altruistic approach is that we are actually coming together to change the world. Most people want to be part of an effort that drives a much bigger change. That collective ability to talk about a higher purpose and a bigger need, then also motivate those that want to invest, can actually see a much larger impact or possibility of impact. So, in some ways it opens up more resources.
I mean, just think about 20 years ago. There wasn’t that many organizations, probably two or three, that were even talking about the importance of technology in the nonprofit sector. Today, that’s not the case. And NetHope has been in that journey to make that change, which has opened up resources.
For leaders of NetHope Members, how can they still harness that purpose mindset and have their employees be enthusiastic and feel like they’re part of the bigger, important mission of the organization, when maybe their day job is working on spreadsheets or writing blogs and feels quite disconnected from the impact they really want to see?
There are many lessons from Microsoft for companies, but a lesson from Microsoft for the nonprofit community is, how do you create space for your employees to engage their purpose? Even if you are a purpose driven organization that is focused on driving change, you have to be able to give room to your employees to grow and discover their purpose, which might be slightly different from what they’re doing in the organization, but their ability to then show up in their own community in the way they want is critical. We need to get all our Members of NetHope to find ways in which they can give the opportunity for employees to discover their purpose drivers. And then how do you take that and say, “Here is an opportunity for you.” I’ll give you an example.
In November 2019, I ran a workshop for Junior Achievement and their 300 leaders from around the world. It was a one-day effort where I did an exercise and an assessment tool to help them discover their purpose drivers and then got them connected with their purpose. And then through their purpose, took them through an exercise around the future of Junior Achievement that they could collectively participate in. The gathering was about that conversation and the CEO of Junior Achievement had created a strategy document and this became a way by which, without them seeing that document, they were able to provide their input. And what we discovered was there was so much alignment, which then became a renewed sense of purpose for the leadership which then translated back into each of the communities that they went to.
Even if we are doing purposeful work, eventually it becomes work. I mean, nobody’s going to Microsoft or a tech company or any company and saying, “I’m just doing mindless work.” We go there because we believe in the mission. Because we have these aspirations. But eventually whatever position you are in, work still becomes work. And if we’re given the opportunity to reignite our sense of purpose, then that reactivates us, that renews our energy and then it comes back into the organization.
It can be a trend in NGOs where burnout is sometimes quite common. Where people feel because the work is so important, there are a lot of things to do and there’s not enough time, they end up exhausting themselves. Do you think having this purpose mindset can do anything to help prevent people getting burned out?
That is the point, right? That purpose is that renewable source of energy. So, purpose gets ignited in multiple ways. An organization can put somebody in a position where they’re like, “Well, this is great. This is a new thing I’m going to do. And now, I’ve got a renewed sense of purpose.” But most of us are not going to do that. And two years later, that still becomes a mundane thing. So how do you get put in a position where you’re given this opportunity on a regular basis to engage in the community at large so that you are rediscovering and reactivating your purpose? And that is what Microsoft did through its Employee Giving and Volunteer Program. That’s not what every organization can and should do, but every organization should create a space where people do come together in a way that helps them reignite their purpose and puts them on that path of healing rather than getting completely burned up.
Finally, do you have any specific advice for NetHope Members who are reading this about how they can try and better support their teams and help them find their purpose?
At least do these two initial exercises. Write down three strengths. What are you good at? And even in your own small groups have that discussion. And then find ways in which as team members, there is an opportunity for some of those strengths to get amplified in some form or another. That just brings joy to people.
Second, put on this lens of abundance. What can each one of us bring and what does that add to? Look for where those resources are. Small resources, small wins.
For more, get your copy of Purpose Mindset and join Akhtar and NetHope at our Member-only webinar on Tuesday May 4th to delve deeper into harnessing the purpose mindset in your teams.
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