The Mighty Five: August.
A cross-sector curation of the month’s best social impact listens & reads
We read and listen to a lot around here. Articles, journals, case studies, podcasts – anything that provides nuggets of insight to fuel our mission and work. And we distill them down to our very top five in a regular monthly roundup. We hope you gain as much from reading it as we do from curating it.
Truth of inequality through art.
Unequal Scenes | 3min
We’ve all read the stats: 1% of people hold 45% of the world’s wealth. And the top 10 billionaires together have more money than the GDP of most individual countries. Despite this knowledge, we were still floored by a recent cover of TIME. Because there’s nothing like actually seeing wealth inequality. Photographer Johnny Miller combines drone technology and artistic expression in his project Unequal Scenes. From Detroit to Mumbai to Mexico City, he breaks the eye’s typical vantage point – going “to an ethical altitude” to capture arresting images that highlight community inequality. For another look through the lens at social imbalance, check out NPR’s photos underscoring the reality of separate and unequal schools across the United States.
Bright Magazine | 9min
If you’ve ever flown to or from any country in Africa, chances are you’ve boarded the plane with a team of westerners in matching t-shirts, possibly featuring a silhouette of the (entire) continent. You may have seen groups sponsored by church communities or people assembled by NGOs connecting volunteers to projects. While intentions are undoubtedly good, it’s not that simple. Courtney Martin’s 2016 essay about the Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems is still relevant today. And news stories revealing the deadly danger of unspecialized aid workers remind us of the actual, literal perils of voluntourism. All this to say, it’s worth re-thinking that international mission trip. A good rule of thumb: if no one would pay you to do the work at home, don’t assume you’re needed abroad.
...and generalists required.
StoryBrand Podcast | 41min
With apologies to Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours, forget the old saying. According to David Epstein, Jacks & Jills of all trades are, in fact, masters of much. And generalists – those who have studied and experienced a wide range of disciplines – are best equipped to solve complex problems and dream up innovative ideas. Epstein’s new book Range explains how specialists are great when working on well-defined and well-understood problems. But if we’re going to solve systemic problems where ambiguity and uncertainty abound? We need the brainpower and energy of generalists from outside the sector. A reminder for the global development community and good news for all of us who jumped around in college majors. Turns out we were just preparing to be useful polymaths.
How much is that logo in the window?
FastCo Design | 1min
According to a recent survey, the going cost for a logo is $1,200 and a home page design is $1,900. Tell that to Nike, who paid $35 for one of the world’s most iconic logos. Or to Pepsi, who invested $1MM into their 2008 redesign. The point being – and we can’t emphasize this enough – the value of expertise is subjective. There’s no commodities market dictating a standardized price for pushing pixels, no MSRP for strategy development. This might sound like we’re undercutting our own industry, but we’re not. Rather, we’re positioning this type of work within a larger and more important frame: how much actual value these services can provide. Whether you’re on the side of supply or demand, shift your mindset from pricetag to potential. What expected benefits can a creative agency or consulting firm provide and what is that worth to you? And can you apply this concept to more than external experts? Dan Pallotta says “yes.”
Stop, look, and listen.
User Interviews | 10min
So you have a product that needs input, a program that needs pricing, or a value proposition that needs refining. You know what comes next: get out there and conduct user testing and customer understanding. But what to do before this stage, when problems aren’t yet defined or demand understood? Enter ethnographic field studies: an intimidating name for what can actually be an intuitive process. Birthed by anthropologists and adopted by UX researchers and designers, these studies are an open-minded and (relatively) unstructured approach to pre-design immersion. It requires looking, listening, and learning. And it demands widening your perspective before narrowing, with a mindset that embraces ambiguity and cultivates curiosity. Whether you’re a business leader looking to improve your team’s communication or a development professional trying to nurture individual donors – get out into the field with ears, eyes, and mind open. And define problems before you start solving them.
Sign up to receive The Mighty Five in your inbox each month.