The gigantic problems that spangle across our TVs, magazines, and blogs every day create a sense of fatalism. Every day we are pulled in to the world of negative megatrends. Population growth rates are escalating. Non-renewable resources are disappearing. Climate changes are devastating coastlines and making weather more and more unpredictable.
Add to all these industry groups that see non-profit organizations, or NPOs, as adversarial troublemakers, community groups that distrust industry, and government that seems to become less and less capable of dealing with big issues. The net effect is a growing sense of policy paralysis and a new emerging social compact that seems to say, “Buddy, you’re on your own so hunker down and take care of yourself.”
But if, as business owners, we invest in what matters through the efforts of non-profit organizations, we can create change.
In this time of resentment and umbrage, one of the harder questions is how to stay reasonably buoyant and make positive contributions. Here’s one answer that traces its origins to Loren Eiseley, a gifted anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural scientist, who taught and from the 1950s through the 1970s.
One morning an old man was walking on a nearby beach after a big storm had passed and saw the shore littered with dead and dying starfish as far as the eye could see. Off in the distance, he noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused once in a while, picked up one of the starfish and threw it into the sea.
When the boy came closer, they had the following conversation:
Old Man: Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?
Young Boy: Well, I’m throwing some of the starfish back into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves and when the sun gets high, they will die, unless I get them back into the water.”
Old Man: But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.
The boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said: “It made a difference to that one!”
We have many words for starfish throwers. In older times that function may have been done by leopard chiefs (Central Africa), talking chiefs, (Polynesia), big men (Papua New Guinea), haku or lei makers (Hawaii), or rabbis, priests, counselors, or “confianza” in Latin America. Today, they may be called brokers, intermediaries, conciliators, mediators, facilitators, team leaders, referees, coaches, or resolution advisers.
Regardless, they take their satisfaction and small joys, one starfish at a time. But here’s the big question: What happens to the starfish after we throw it back in the water?
Non-profit organizations are focused on policy; they’re focused on change. By putting our efforts into helping them succeed, businesses bypass those seeking an agenda or watching their bottom line. Supporting their efforts is a great way to promote change and to find real movement within a cause.
Partners at GUILD Consulting will be happy to talk to you about our work with non-profit organizations and the impact they can provide to business. Email us at [email protected] or call (808) 729-5850.