When thinking about “doing good” one soon comes upon the concept of “having an impact”. People realize that there are a number of ways of doing good although they may not be equally beneficial. What is important to note however is that though there may be different kinds of impact none of these kinds are inherently superior. Here I would like to lay out a model that summarizes these different kinds of impact under four levels.
Does Barack Obama have an impact on the world? “Of course he does” many would say, “he is the most powerful man in the world”. But in fact he does not actually act in any, does he? Signing agreements and talking to international political leaders as such, does not fill our bellies, makes us have a roof above our heads or entertains us in any way – although at least in Austria many say that our politicians are just of bad clowns.
In the same fashion, Barack Obama does not actually tell workers what to do and how to carry out which tasks, but rather points out to companies how they should behave and to which rules they have to stick. Though also here he is restrained by the senate. Thus it would actually be the managers, the CEOs doing the work and having an impact. They are the one’s administrating, ordering and planning. They make up the plans that shape how we live and what we do. Surely they have impact.
However, one could again argue that these people are just designing things in their heads and do not actually produce or shape anything. In this way, only the person whose work actually leads to a realized outcome like farming or operating some kind of machine has a kind of impact. In the service sector this may translate to the “field workers”, waiters and researchers. After all they get something done which is real, which exists and which can be bought, sold and consumed.
Nevertheless, still it makes sense to claim that even this kind of impact, from the practical work many people do, is limited. After all, what it really comes down to are your early childhood experiences, the kind of conversations one has with close friends and the support from mentors. All other impact is only peripherally important. Only lasting impact is impact that matters.
I believe that all four of these perspectives are in some way true – each in their own way and none inherently more, or put differently, more important than the others.
In the graphic below is the theoretical framework of what has been outlined in the paragraphs before.
Especially relevant is the distinction between MACRO and MICRO when thinking about how it would be possible to make the “highest possible impact”.
On the one hand people acting in MICRO, those doing “real work” and have real impact are often not able to do a lot quantitatively. After all a parish priest is there for his parish alone and a mother is only a mother to her own kids. And it is important, I think that the scope of impact is very small, because that makes for concentration. A mentor can be much more effective if advising only one mentee. Thus while MICRO is low in quantity, this kind of action is high in quality.
On the other hand, those working in MACRO are aware, or hopefully they are, that thought their work, such as a book or business plan, can impact a lot of people, it may not make a big difference. Although there are a lot of books out there, only few can be said as being life changing or even being said as having had a positive impact. Equally while business leaders can, especially in the sector of social entrepreneurship, produce goods that make our lives better and easier, but how much that really helped and how long it is used is still in question. Thus in MACRO quality is relatively low (normally), but quantity is potentially very high.
Concluding, I would say that people who want to make a change should not believe that they can only do real change as a leader of some kind, advocating for human rights or producing life-savings goods as a CEO. Rather positive change-makers should do so to the best of their abilities and on whichever level they feel most comfortable and most apt.
Thus the old maxim is true, “Everybody can make a change“, and I would add “on whichever impact-level one is“.