Circa 2005, I boxed up the leftovers from one of my client’s corporate lunch events and dropped it off at an industrial estate near Sydney Airport. Oz Harvest was in its nascency, having started in 2004 by Ronni Kahn, who noticed a huge volume of food going to waste. Since then, it has grown to become Australia’s leading food rescue organisation – a simple idea that satisfies two social goals – reducing waste and feeding the homeless.

Ronni came up with the idea through her work as the owner of an events company, where she saw huge volumes of food going to waste. Ronni’s idea was simple and started small: she took her own surplus food from her events to local charities.

Laws needed changing for Ronni’s idea to really take off – and in 2005, Ronni and a team of pro-bono lawyers were instrumental in helping pass The Civil Liabilities Amendment Act in NSW, to allow potential food donors to give their surplus food to charities without fear of liability.

I’ve been highlighting the work of OzHarvest in my digital marketing courses for years and have witnessed the organisation go from small and Sydney-centric to becoming more widely known, to inspiring other businesses. This is the power of a good idea that needs little explanation – it takes off.

Good news! Using your business to grow your impact to change the trajectory of society is on the up-and-up. It takes time, commitment, and the support of thousands of others.

Hustle and Heart program infographicMy Hustle and Heart impact framework equips and empowers business owners to stop being the town’s best-kept secret and magnify their impact to create real change. There are three pillars to impact: growing your reputation, building thought leadership and investing in your character.

Our first hurdle is compassion fatigue.

The problem of compassion fatigue

Believing that the social cause close to your heart should be self-evident is an attitude that’s sure to end in tears. No, your cause isn’t necessarily my cause, and attempting to bully or shame me into caring is likely to have the opposite effect.

We are all suffering from compassion fatigue, long before the pandemic came along and things have worsened exponentially since. Compassion fatigue – emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion which results in a diminished ability to empathise or feel compassion for others – most often affects front-line workers (it’s sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress) but is also a problem for ordinary people.

When a caring, sensitive person feels emotionally assaulted by the news or constant requests for charity, their guard goes up to protect themselves. If you’ve noticed yourself being short with people, you could be experiencing it too. Opposing sides become more firmly entrenched in their position, with less patience or compassion for the opposing point of view.

This is a real problem, not only for individual wellbeing, but for enacting positive social change because to win the hearts and minds of people and politicians, to change policy, to lobby key stakeholders, to achieve higher vaccination rates, to donate money or time to worthy causes, requires advanced skills in persuasive communication.

Growing your reputation

To communicate powerfully and effectively requires several ingredients and several stages. First, you need to say something worth listening to. To do this requires empathy, emotional intelligence and creativity. Once you’re saying something worth listening to, you need to amplify this by raising your visibility.

Without visibility, you don’t have the opportunity to reach and affect great numbers of people.

Growing your professional reputation, whether you’re an individual or organisation, is critical. This goes beyond producing your own media assets for your own platform, such as whitepapers, blogs, podcasts and videos.

To grow your reputation quickly and powerfully, you need to create purposeful partnerships, build networks, engage public relations, and work with media to help amplify your message to new audiences.

Building thought leadership

It’s not enough to have visibility and an audience. Your thought leadership is the difference between developing widespread trust and having limited influence bound by your own community who love you.

Thought leadership is all about credibility. Without credibility, we have very limited trust from others and our impact is stymied.

During various controversies that are amplified on social media, I go looking for influencers’ response. It’s clear that some influencers don’t bother doing further research or background checking before they share a video of “freedom” protests in Sydney and Melbourne that are produced by a neo-Nazi, or don’t think too deeply beyond their own selfish needs before mouthing off about “not wanting to be relatable”, thereby destroying their personal brand, and future wealth, with one self-centred social video.

Many don’t realise that they’re being deliberately co-opted into supporting tangential causes that they may only be vaguely aware of.

A massive online social media community doesn’t make for thought leadership. Thought leadership is different.

To develop your thought leadership so that you can influence the mainstream and have real impact, you need to research widely, develop your empathy so that you’re better able to appreciate the diversity of viewpoints, follow your curiousity, and cultivate your creative thinking. You need an open mind and an open heart.

This process isn’t always fun.

It can be hugely destabilising to examine your own thinking and realise that you are – upon further reflection – wrong. It’s not enjoyable to see how your good intentions may have negatively impacted others. It takes strength of character to change your hard-won opinions and embrace paradoxes and ambiguity. Indeed, appreciating that ambiguity and paradoxes exist is a good start to move away from linear, overly simplistic thinking.

Truth with a capital T has been used to justify violence for millennia. We can do better.

Investing in your character

Much is spoken about leadership and how to cultivate it. It appears everyone is a leader. And while it’s understandable that businesses want to get the most out of their people and equip them with leadership skills that are largely learned on the job, the related subject of character doesn’t get talked about nearly as often.

And yet developing your character is critical, for many reasons, not least of which is our future. For our planet’s survival, we must have leaders who are highly ethical, compassionate and brave enough to choose the unpopular path and then to compassionate persuade their constituents to support this.

The best leaders in times of crisis and upheaval are those who are empathetic and courageous enough to admit, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But here’s what I think we should try. Come along with me and let’s be open with each other about what’s working and what’s not.”

When everyone else is fortifying their positions of judgment and throwing hurt barbs across the division, it takes real strength of character to try to build a bridge. But if positive social change is to happen, a bridge must be built. Your contribution is needed. Your business can be a force for social change. Together, we create a bright future. There’s still time.

Our flagship Hustle and Heart program is built on our impact framework, comprised of the three key pillars of growing your reputation, building through leadership and investing in your character. Won’t you join us?