The impact you can achieve with your idea is the real reason for working
Why your business model is not just about earning money!
Opinions about Elon Musk range from adoration to contempt. For some people, he’s a visionary for others just someone who wants to make money.
But it’s not quite that simple: All his companies serve to improve humanity and enable new possibilities outside the earth because that’s the only place he sees the future. The fact that he is now the richest person in the world? Doesn’t interest him —he continues to work. He wants to make the world a better place of his own accord. The methods can be discussed critically, but we are interested in the approach that he does not work for the money.
Like many of my generation, I believe that important information should be unrestricted and freely available to everyone.
I personally believe that no one should hold a better professional position simply because knowledge and information are misused as an instrument of advantage and power. (This also relates to companies and also shows the political problems that states have with the big tech companies.)
What is the reality in this regard? The majority of companies are divided up according to specialist disciplines. The head of a specific department usually has not only the personal but also the technical leadership. The consequence is information silos. Knowledge is centralized in individual strands and not part of a large corporate network. However, digitization is increasing the complexity of today’s challenges more and more. So we need to think about how we can make knowledge available better, easier, and faster so others can benefit from it? One practical example is our cities: Under the name smart city, the government is thinking about what data can be made available to everyone free of charge. This data can be used and aggregated by companies to develop new business models.
The social economy (or also called social startup or social entrepreneurship) is currently gaining in importance, especially through young entrepreneurs: For these companies, the social impact of their business idea is crucial. The goal and purpose are to solve a social or ecological problem and to generate profit at the same time. For these entrepreneurs, what counts is the impact that can be achieved with the idea and their own work. Of course, not every company is a so-called social startup, but the basic idea is worth a closer look:
How can I make the greatest possible impact with my work?
If you only look at the turnover of a company and take, for example, Uber with an estimated 12 billion euros in 2019 and compare this to the tax revenues of the Federal Republic of Germany (about 800 billion euros), you would only need to change one percent to save as much money as, for example, the entire turnover of Uber.
The increasingly strong drive of many people, especially young people, is to want to make an impact with their work. A job is no longer just about bringing home money; people also want to achieve something and, in the best case, do something good for society.
Share your knowledge
A similar idea of making knowledge available to others free of charge is pursued above all by the open-source community. Especially in the area of digital solutions, there is a free offer on the Internet for almost everything. You should always keep in mind that you are most likely not the first person to think about this or that problem and search for something.
In 2014, I founded my first IT startup together with friends. Around four years later, we had to take the servers offline and admit to ourselves that we had failed with the idea. Nevertheless, we had turned over around half a million euros with our company and didn’t want to just let the software die.
Therefore, we decided to make it open source. The work and commitment were thus not in vain. Our hope is that we can still give something back.
It is not only the image that can be strengthened if you give something back to the society of your own accord. In the future, it will also become increasingly important to deal with this topic, following the youth movements around the world, which demand more consideration, sustainability, and a sense of responsibility.
Sharing knowledge is a very simple but effective way to help others. A good example of this is the “Public Money, Public Code” demand, which calls for public institutions to make software solutions developed with taxpayers’ money freely available to everyone — after all, they were also paid for by society in the form of tax levies. In 2017, Munich’s city council fell into disrepute because it ended the LiMux project, in which they wanted to run all of the city’s roughly 15,000 computers only with freely available open-source software. Now, the current governing parties have decided to run more open source projects, make them available to society, and allow external programmers to actively contribute to city software systems.
Engage for society
Another increasingly popular movement comes from philanthropy and was originally created by the company Salesforce: it is called 1% Pledge (the 1% promise). The idea behind it is to give something back to society as a company for free — either 1% equity, 1% of its employees’ time, 1% of its product, or 1% of its profit (or a combination of all). This doesn’t sound like much at first, and it shouldn’t present companies with unachievable challenges, but in aggregate, this represents a lot of leverage.
Let’s imagine a well-known global corporation like VW with its nearly 671,000 employees would allow them to spend 1% of their own time on charitable causes. With an average of 1,642 working hours per year, this would amount to a total of approximately 11,000 hours, which in turn would correspond to 6,700 employees in total. 6,700 people would be working for charitable purposes. That sounds a lot in total, but for each individual 1% of working time (just under 16 hours per year) is not much.
Many small possibilities have an effect in sum then nevertheless and exactly that is, which the 1% Pledge movement would like to reach. The worldwide commitment of young people shows that it is precisely such approaches that will also be a further decision factor for or against working for a company in the future.
sevDesk, a young startup based in Offenburg, Germany, with around 149 employees, recently decided to take precisely this step: They want every employee to use 1% of their time to do something good for society. At the same time, they will provide their product, a cloud accounting software, for 1% for free (e.g. NGOs). There is a conscious effort to ask employees to do charitable work.
The international Delphi study Work 2050, which the Bertelsmann Foundation produced in collaboration with other partners, looks at possible future scenarios in our working world and comes to the same conclusions: Business must take a longer-term view and also consider social aspects. Pure profit considerations are not helpful for the future — in fact, they are rather counterproductive and can lead to an increase in skepticism and prejudice against multinational corporations.
“I would develop my talents and try to get as good as I could to figure out how I can build these things so they’re affordable.”
This quote comes from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and was recorded during an interview at the 2018 WeAreDevelopers World Congress. He complains that many companies in today’s world only pursue the goal of increasing profit and less the goal of creating things that truly support people and are affordable at the same time. He refers again to the impact that a company can have on society and that this should be more than pure profit orientation.