“The concept that hasn’t been making headlines is ‘meaning’. This is a problem. Without meaning, impact is a neutral term: ‘a marked effect or influence,’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Similarly, purpose without meaning is a lofty aspirational statement. And while other creatures also are driven to contribute to something larger than their own evolutionary success (ever seen an ant colony work, or eaten honey?), what is uniquely human is the meaning that we are able to ascribe to those efforts. In other words, the impacts of our actions, and what purpose they serve. So without making meaning of the impact of our actions, and why they matter in a larger sense, over time, we are not fulfilling our human potential. We’re just ants building a hill.”

Impact, Meaning, Purpose

In a recent Forbes article titled How Impact, Meaning, And Purpose Are Different (And Why You Should Care) by Nell Derick Debevoise, the relationship between impact, meaning, and purpose was examined, and how they can connect for the greater good and personal fulfillment. The three concepts almost have a symbiotic relationship, each impacting and overlapping the other.

“We need all three to fulfill our human potential and build a healthier, more equitable version of capitalism,” Debevoise states. Without meaning, the impact is neutral and purpose without meaning will fail to engage or motivate the people required to get it done. “Purpose, impact, and meaning are closely related, but they are not synonyms or substitutes.”

We, as humans, are constantly striving to find our overarching purpose. According to Debevoise, we can become anxious when we do not understand the larger goal that our daily efforts are working towards. We naturally have a predisposition to work towards an outcome greater than just our daily survival.

Similarly, when we think about purposeful giving, we want to contribute our time and talents to an organization, charity, or non-profit that can make an impact, show meaning, and works towards the greater good for all humankind.

The direct impact was not immediate for many generations – it involved operating machinery, pushing paper, and mundane processes. We have evolved with the introduction of better technology and faster ways to get things done. The greatest example we see of this is through the younger generations. “Millennials have become famous for wanting measurable and immediate impact from their jobs, purchases, and donations. They are not the weird ones; it is just that the rest of us are products of the last industrial revolution,” says Debevoise.

Purpose and impact are not new concepts, but the idea of also integrating meaning along with them is critical for creating a better place for people and our world. According to Debevoise, “Without meaning, impact is neutral: defined as a marked effect or influence,’ by the Oxford English Dictionary. Similarly, purpose without meaning is an ambitious mission that fails to engage or motivate the people required to do it. Purpose, impact, and meaning are closely related but are not synonyms or substitutes. We need all three to fulfill our human potential.”

So what is your purpose? Is it creating a better world for future generations? One where we have gender equality and equity for all people? By defining your purpose, you can start thinking about making a meaningful impact. “All that’s required is that we believe that businesses can and should work alongside the public sector and not-for-profits to impact the planet and all people positively. And then remember that work can be a powerfully meaningful part of the human experience if we make these fundamental shifts in belief systems (which have long been and are still held by many global communities). We are positioned for a rapid transition to the most equitable, peaceful, and healthy global society ever,” states Debevoise.