GREAT MONDAYS: Purpose

APR 20, 2019: Submitted by Dave Kim, Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Part of a series of articles from the people who generously shared their stories with Levine for his book. Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love is available now on Amazon.


DAVE KIM WRITES:


How does purpose show up within the work or culture day-to-day?

At the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we are dedicated to unlocking the possibility inside every individual. Whether it’s sparking a global movement to eradicate polio, inventing and delivering new vaccines, or ensuring that people who live on less than $2 a day have the right set of digital financial solutions, we focus our work on the areas around the world that have the greatest need.

Create your own purpose statement at greatmondays.com


From my vantage point as a program officer on the Financial Services for the Poor team, I see our purpose best when I look at my colleagues and partners. The Foundation’s sense of purpose has a powerful gravity to it, and it brings together an eclectic mix of people from all over.


When you walk the halls at the Foundation, you’ll overhear some of the best conversations. In one room, you’ll hear about the latest efforts in combining the best of human-centered design with data science to understand how to re-imagine the role of mobile money agents in East Africa. Next door, you’ll hear about the latest efforts to rally the global scientific community around developing new platforms to accelerate contraceptive drug discovery. While the topics of these conversations are wonderfully varied, the common thread across them is the laser focus on impact and the unshakeable belief that it is long overdue for a more just world.


Photo: Gates Foundation


This isn’t easy work. And when you’re trying to crack a problem as big and seemingly ever-present like poverty, it can be easy to lose your bearings. When you’re stuck in the day-to-day and dashing from one meeting to the next, it can be tough to see how any of this will ever make a dent. But it is our faith in our work and our belief in our community of people who dare to not only dream of a better tomorrow, but actively seek to make tomorrow’s promise today’s reality, that feed our impatient optimism and bring us back into the office each morning.


But even as our sense of purpose provides us with a guiding star, there is a risk when purpose is prioritized at the expense of the other key components of an organization’s culture. You run the risk of having your team burn out. Just like you have to focus on not only what you do, but how you do something, it’s not enough to do good. You have to be good as well.


It’s not easy to find this balance. Time has a funny way of keeping that pendulum swinging, but it is encouraging to see the Foundation take culture seriously and look for that sweet spot that fosters our impatience for impact as well as our longing for an empowering and energizing place to work. We’re currently on a Foundation-wide journey to create the culture that we need for the impact that we want, and it is our hope that we’ll get to a place that lets us sustainably do solid work in making the world an equitable place for everyone.


Photo: Gates Foundation


As we all look to find the equilibrium point between purpose and the other elements of an organization’s culture, we should probably take a note from E.B. White when he wrote, “I arrive in the morning, torn between a desire to savor the world and a desire to save it. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Old E. B. may have stumbled upon something in his morning struggle, and it is my hope that we, too, can use that moment to pause, take stock of where we are and where we’re headed, and smile in the easy confidence that only comes from knowing that you’re not alone before heading out the door to start the day.


Credits: thanks to Dave Kim for sharing his story and to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for doing amazing work worth sharing.


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