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Purpose360: Why We Believe a New Field is Afoot

By Lara Galinsky and Linda Kay Klein

Want a meaningful life? Our best advice: learn from an expert… or eighty experts.

On January 30 -31, 2015, Echoing Green hosted Purpose360, the world’s first 360 degree review of what we believe to be a burgeoning field dedicated to “purpose.” We brought together more than eighty experts dedicated to transforming their sector and the world at large by helping people find ways to live a more meaningful life. They came representing education, business, research, work, faith, aging, and a number of other fields.

View more images from Purpose360. Photo by Hilary Duffy

Over the course of our two days together, key areas of consensus emerged, and a spotlight was shined on issues we need to explore as we move forward together in building a world where more people can find what’s right for them, and what’s good for the world.

Three Things We Know About the Purpose Field

1.The purpose field is growing.

It’s clear that the need or wish to living a meaningful life is one that is growing. Millennials are entering the workforce seeking ways to find purpose in their workplaces; older generations are searching for meaningful ways to use their skills and time post-career; and impact-driven purpose, meaning, and happiness are on the lips of everyone in between. The concepts are being researched by top universities, and they are being built into programming in everything from nonprofits to corporations to college career centers. This is a seminal moment, and there is a real opportunity to catalyze this energy and redefine what it means to be individually successful while pursing one’s most desirable social impact.

2.The purpose field is diverse.

While each sector works on “purpose” in their own way, there are common threads that connect us all. Purpose360 provided a way for those various sectors to break down silos and share learnings, ideas, and challenges. These cross-sector conversations are essential in helping us understand the field, but also in working together to shape what needs to come next.

3.The purpose field is based on a history of learning, and the future is ours to plan.

“Purpose” may feel like a new concept to some, but it is based on decades, or even centuries, of learning and action. Scholars in the early 1900s started to lay the groundwork for the purpose field, and certain socio-political movements throughout history brought the idea of living a meaningful life to the public domain. The work that we do today and tomorrow stands on the shoulders of great leaders and thinkers. And yet when it comes to the purpose conversation, the moment we are now in appears to be, in many ways, quite new.

What comes next? Three things the purpose field needs to explore:

1.How do we connect the various parts of the purpose movement and democratize purpose?

Purpose360 was the first step, but we need to maintain these connections, bring in new and different voices, and continue the conversation. To achieve a world where more people can find what’s right for them and what’s good for the world, we must open the doors to everyone. Purpose needs to move from an “emerging” field, to the new normal.

2.Who owns the field?

Purpose360 took a collaborative approach, and we believe that this field must be owned by all actors involved. Driving the next steps for the purpose field will be a team sport, and while we need leaders, we need spaces where collaboration and co-ownership are at the core.

3.Will purpose achieve its full potential to unleash talent to solve the world’s biggest problems?

After Purpose360, we are more certain than ever that purpose has the potential to transform individual lives and, when those individuals are social-impact driven, transform society as a whole. Yet, purpose runs the risk of being drowned out by organizations and companies who claim to be purpose-driven, but don’t back up their promise with policies, programs and other actions. This has the potential to rob “purpose” of its power to drive people to use their time, talent and treasure to make the world a better place. In order for the burgeoning purpose field to reach its full potential, is important to keep social impact at its core.

Want to join the purpose conversation?

  • Learn more about Echoing Green’s program Work on Purpose.
  • Join Echoing Green’s email list to stay informing on upcoming thought leadership and events on this topic.

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