Life today is drastically different from the way it was 200 years ago. Technology has completely reshaped people’s lives and work by moving them from the land to the factory to the office. People now live longer, and the quality of life has improved in many ways. But many think that society has suffered losses as well, and a few wonder how to regain what has been lost. One of those people is Aaron Hurst. He has asked, and then answered, some very important questions: What if technology enabled impact, stronger relationships, and personal growth? What if success was measured more by the quality of what one creates rather than how much money one makes? What if companies were built to cultivate rather than exploit the planet and the people living on it? What if purpose-driven, human-centered work was not a nice-to-have but, for everyone, a must-have? Welcome to the Purpose Economy. Hurst, globally recognized as a top social entrepreneur, explains that the progression of economies, from agrarian to industrial to information, has not stopped. What will be next? Hurst says, “I look across every industry, and the post-information-economy changes we see are about increasing purpose for people and having deeper, more meaningful relationships.”
Hurst began his career in the nonprofit sector and has always worked in a purpose economy. Though he finds the work satisfying, he was not satisfied with the issues nonprofits were constantly battling concerning money and talent. After he had worked at a couple of Bay Area venture-funded startups, which further underscored the problems plaguing nonprofits, he wondered how they might get the same access to technology, human resources, and marketing that startups had. Thus, he started Taproot in 2001. The foundation offers a catalogue of pro bono services for building the infrastructures of nonprofits by using a manufacturing model. That means that Taproot provides specific services by certain people for a set amount of time. Taproot was designed to avoid most nonprofits’ reluctance to rely on pro bono work because the job just “doesn’t get done.” It also eliminates inefficiency. Volunteers are not simply given to nonprofits to do with them what they will, without regard to the volunteers’ skills or the nonprofits’ needs. It has become the largest nonprofit consulting firm in the world.
Nonprofits, then, with Taproot’s help, began to use pro bono workers. Next Hurst wanted to bump up the other side of the equation, the number of pro bono workers. To that end, he joined forces with 8 other organizations and launched Billion + Change in 2008. It is a collaborative campaign to get companies to pledge pro bono work. In five years, more than 500 companies have pledged almost $2 billion in at no cost services. Corporations get various benefits, including national recognition for their donations, and nonprofits get help in the form of a searchable network of pro bono providers and projects. But Hurst felt that more could be done, so he developed an idea for a new economy, the purpose economy.
Hurst has always known that finding the actual pro bono workers was the easiest part: “People who did pro bono work always say its among the best if not the best experience of their career.” They do it, says Hurst, because it often gives their work a sense of meaning that their paid careers do not provide. He began to wonder why people could not shape their paid careers to satisfy that yearning for purpose. After helping LinkedIn add a feature to express interest in pro bono or board service work that, within seven months, one million members opted into, Hurst decided to create his own “human-centered” platform. The platform is mult-faceted. There is a book, called The Purpose Economy, a website called Imperative that contains resources and a diagnostic tool, and a pilot project called Cities of Purpose that supports people who want to increase purpose in their careers. According to Hurst, “everyone should have the opportunity to create meaningful work.”
By Donna Westlund