Tag Archives: doing good

The Starfish Story: one step towards changing the world

You may have heard this one, but I find that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it every once in a while.  First let me tell you the story, and then we can talk about it. 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “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 yet 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!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

 
We all have the opportunity to help create positive change, but if you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself thinking, “I’m already really busy, and how much of a difference can I really make?”  I think this is especially true when we’re talking about addressing massive social problems like tackling world hunger or finding a cure for cancer, but it pops up all of the time in our everyday lives, as well. So when I catch myself thinking that way, it helps to remember this story.  You might not be able to change the entire world, but at least you can change a small part of it, for someone. 

They say that one of the most common reasons we procrastinate is because we see the challenge before us as overwhelming, and that a good way to counter that is to break the big challenge down into smaller pieces and then take those one at a time–like one starfish at a time.  And to that one starfish, it can make a world of difference.

 

“A single, ordinary person still can make a difference – and single, ordinary people are doing precisely that every day.”
Chris Bohjalian, Vermont-based author and speaker


Targeted Change: 3 Ways to flex your event planning muscles

Positive change sounds great.  But what does that look like, exactly?
Everyone I talk to about my EventsForChange initiative says it sounds like a great idea. But then, I can tell that their brain immediately switches to “what does that mean, exactly?” mode.  The concept sounds fine, but the implementation isn’t always obvious. 

What kinds of “good” can we accomplish?  In his book Saving The World At Work, Tim Sanders says that a “good” company is “one whose mission is to improve the lives of everyone in its footprint: employees, suppliers, customers, supporting communities, and the planet.”  In Corporate Social Responsibility, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee write that social responsibility is “a commitment to improve community well-being through discretionary business practices and contributions of corporate resources.”  So when we’re talking about events, I think it’s useful to think in terms of improving individual lives, the local community and maybe even the planet.  It all boils down to a simple question: how can we leave this world a little better place than before our event took place?

Now here’s the thing: YOU get to decide what kind of change you want to promote.  As the great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said, “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  According to Yogi, it all starts with being clear about our objectives.  And once you have an objective in mind, it’s time to design an event experience that will produce the results you’re intending.  Here are a few targeted changes that can be built into any event experience:

  • EDUCATE & INFORM: you can take the opportunity to raise awareness and concern about a cause, an initiative or a political issue.  Information is power and you have the means to inform many while you have everyone gathered together in one place.  Support a behavior change campaign.  You can help bring about changes in both attitude and behavior by creating an engaging experience that alters people’s perspective.   
  • COLLECT RESOURCES:  The most obvious example here is: any kind of fundraising strategy.  You can raise money through donations from attendees or by padding the admission or registration  fee to supply a little extra.  Vendors and exhibitors could donate a portion of their proceeds.  Sponsors can provide in-kind contributions of goods or services that they provide, often for a fraction of the retail cost. And if you design a truly engaging experience, you will inspire them to give even more.  Much of this is not any different than you normally do when executing the core elements of your event–you’re just directing some of the resources to another place, spreading the wealth. 

    But it’s not just about money.  You’re also in a position to recruit people who can provide time, expertise, problem-solving abilities and even brute force for accomplishing a task or re-shaping the physical environment.  You’ve got them right there; now it’s just a matter of creating the conditions where their money, goods, ideas or efforts can be focused on a specific task that will somehow improve lives.
     
  • ORGANIZE & INSPIRE ACTION:  You know this: it’s not enough to get people’s attention and deliver a message.  The only way you produce a lasting impact is if there is some change in behavior, and often that won’t happen unless someone champions the effort and facilitates the process of moving people to action.  While everyone is here, let’s get something done!

    Get a commitment from folks to go out and spread the word to 10 others after the event is over, or to distribute materials. Vote through a policy or rule change.  Organize an email-writing campaign to your legislators.  Build something or do something  to improve the physical environment. Back in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention, a dozen or so people from the Vermont delegation carved out a few hours one afternoon, went to a local school, and built them a new playground structure.  All it took was for someone to spot the opportunity, collect tools and building materials, and build it into the program.  Attendees, staff, presenters, sponsors…all of them can be organized to leverage their time and talents while they’re there. 

Of course, if you’re planning or executing the event, this doesn’t mean you have to do all of these things by yourself.  Delegate to a staff member, if you can.  Make it part of your agreements with vendors or venues.  Or there are plenty of cause-related or non-profit organizations that would be more than happy to have a stage for spreading their message, collecting money, recruiting volunteers or organizing action.  Your power ultimately comes from pulling together multiple stakeholders and from accessing available resources.  It’s just a matter of finding partners that match well with your audience and the change that you’re interested in supporting. The key here is to recognize the unique opportunity that occurs when you gather an audience together and to use it while you have the chance!

So if you’re an event planner, I have a question for you, while you’re here:  can you offer an example of how you’ve used any of these methods to flex your event planning muscles and create a positive change?   How did you go about it?  Share your story in the Comment section below.


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