The Starfish and Social Impact Written by Stacey Burns, CI4SI CoFounder & CIO, 6/8/20 ©2020 Colorado Institute for Social Impact

Many of us have probably heard the story about the child standing on a beach, throwing starfish one by one into the ocean that were stranded after a storm. An adult approaches and questions the child. There are starfish everywhere. So many of them. Too many to make a difference the adult says. The child bends down, picks up another starfish, and throws it back in the ocean. “I made a difference to that one.”

In our current climate, whether you take that literally with environmental effects, or more figuratively with the effects of COVID-19 and now a very strong push in the Black Lives Matter movement—several people in my world have expressed being overwhelmed. They have stated that these seem like such large issues, they don’t know how to help and they don’t know where to start. This doesn’t even touch on the additional social issues that our world has been battling for years, decades, centuries in some cases—homelessness, unemployment and underemployment for disadvantaged populations, generational poverty, educational inequity, and the list goes on.

As Social Entrepreneurs who seek to do good in the world, many of us feel that we should be tackling all of these issues with all of our waking hours. And that we need to have an opinion (and likely a post) regarding all the wrongs in the world. Some days it can be a lot. There are challenges with access to information. Do we believe the media or do we believe our friends? There are challenges with access to experience. Can I help the Black Lives Matter movement if I am white? There are challenges with access to emotional bandwidth to merely process the issues. How can I possibly help with all of these things? And that is usually where we are frozen. That is where we find the cause to be outside of our control and therefore unsolvable. This then can lead to hopelessness, even depression, about the state of our world.

But what if we flip the script? What if we ask ourselves—what is one thing I can do today to make the world a better place? I told my mom just last night when I could hear the overwhelming exhaustion in her voice about the state of our world and what she can do about it, “Mom, you have loved your family unconditionally. That is one of the biggest contributions you could offer.” We need to remind ourselves that kind acts do not need to be on a global scale or presented in the perfect post or immediately lifechanging. And we need to remind each other. We need to tell each other that your best is enough, and that your best may change from day to day or even moment to moment. One of my favorite Emily Dickenson quotes is “Forever is composed of nows”. And doing our best in the “now” is something. And it matters to that one.

For my Social Entrepreneur friends reading this, whatever your passion and whatever your business model—keep it up! Your ability to impact social or environmental issues, to create equity and opportunity, is only made stronger by your commitment to using capitalism as a force for change. As many values-forward organizations have found, you may not win over all customers. Not everyone will understand or get on board with your particular brand of heroism. What you will have though is a clear picture of the stakeholders that align not only with your products and services, but also with your mission to change the world. Thus bringing you one step closer to your goals of making it better and getting another starfish back in the ocean!


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