Is Love Just a Secondhand Motivation?

Monetize. Monetize. Monetize. In every break-out room, session, and social gathering I heard this chant over and over again. In the pool, on the beach, and under a palm tree, I could not turn around without bumping into a social entrepreneur committed to ending poverty. Whether it was over $10 drinks or while choosing from one of the five different cheesecakes, the path to success was impressed upon me: monetize. Stop giving things away, charge a price, reach scale, pursue financial sustainability and pull people out of poverty as you make a profit.

Social entrepreneurs are a unique species. It was my first time being in their habitat. It was a nice one: ocean views, wide beaches and high walls to keep out the locals. There was archery, kayaking, and rock climbing. We arrived under cover of night in buses with tinted windows. Hot hand towels from the hotel staff awaited us upon arrival. I woke the next morning to walk the compound and observe them in their natural setting. It may have been mating season. I don’t know. But, their feathers were unfurled and on full display.

I also had the chance to present one of my projects to a small gathering. I was prepared to answer questions like “What is your theory of change?” or “How are you tracking impact?”  Instead, one of the first comments I received was “Your project has a lot of market potential.” Others followed up with a rapid-fire discussion of potential target audiences and pricing strategies. It was amazing to watch them work off each other. They were creative. They were imaginative. They were enthusiastic. I was enthralled. My mind started racing with the possibilities. Could I really harness other people’s poverty to pay for my son’s private school?

As someone who makes a living teaching Economic Development, I already knew that I did. But, where was the angst? Where was the discomfort? And, why was I sweating so profusely? It was not the first time. I had been doubling up my t-shirts all week long. Like most people. I sweat when I get uncomfortable. But, why was I so uncomfortable? It was not until one of the participants in my session turned to everyone and said “I think Shawn does what he does because he loves to do it” that I understood.

I was sweating because of the habitat. And, I am not talking about the tropical climate. In my habitat, I am surrounded by young people. They have a clear cut sense of right and wrong. They take a stand because they cannot tolerate injustice. They speak out because they recognize the privileged position of their relative agency. They march because of their instinctual obligation to other human beings. They do not need a business plan to take action. They are not looking to fill up their pockets. They are looking to fill up their souls. Love is their motivating factor. In the habitat in which I was presenting, love seemed to be for a great many a second-hand motivation.

Now, I am not saying that love is all you need. You need money to pay the bills. You need competitive compensation packages to attract the best talent to your organization.  You need to realize sustainability to continue delivering valuable services to those you serve. I also understand that no one has just one motivating factor. But, one does dominate. And, those who populate your organizations know which one it is. Indeed, I once had a student inform me that “If you drove a BMW, I would not listen to word you say about poverty.” According to her, the weight of my words, my moral authority, and my ability to lead were a direct function of my fundamental motivation: Love or Money?

I agreed with her. And, she is someone that I would want in my organization. So, beyond possibly influencing the makeup of your team, do you think your fundamental motivation can also influence:

  • How you view those you serve?
  • What kind of language you and your team use with each other and those you serve?
  • How feedback from those you serve influences the evolution of your programs?
  • How you measure impact?
  • Which team members you choose to reward most heavily?
  • Who in your organization has a prominent voice?
  • How you choose which programs to implement?
  • What kind of language you use in your marketing?
  • How you set the price of your services?
  • How resilient your organization is to challenges?

I think it can.

So, what’s love got to do with it?

I think a lot.

And, for the record, I drive a Ford.


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Thanks. – shawn