“If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.” – Michael Phelps, US competitive swimmer, most decorated Olympian of all-time
Whether you have have been glued to your screen of choice watching every Olympic event possible or have caught highlights from posts on Facebook, there is little doubt that spirit of the 2700-year-old games have once again challenged our view of the possible, propelled us to deepen our focus, and maybe even inspired us to play our favorite sports again.
So, what can the social impact sector learn from the Olympic Games? Here are 3 takeaways that have been on my mind.
3 Things the Social Impact Sector Can Learn from the Olympic Games
1. It takes time to build a tradition.
In looking at nearly 30 centuries since the Ancient Olympics which took place in 776 BC or considering the 120 years since the launch of modern Olympic Games…it’s clear that it has taken a hot minute to build the global, pervasive tradition that is the Olympic Games.
We all might wish the social impact sector was growing more quickly, that resources to grow and scale social enterprises were more readily available now; however, we might do well to ask ourselves how we want this space to look in 100 years. These critical moments, somewhere past inception but before full maturation, are when we can inform, influence, and shape the sector and how people across time (and perhaps space) may engage with it ahead.
With the long game in mind, we afford ourselves the opportunity to think more broadly and hopefully more boldly about what we are creating and how we can impact this growing sector that we hope, in turn, will go on to positively impact many others.
2. To make it stick and mean something, you have to invite people to the table.
It was only during its resurrection in Athens in 1896, and with delegates competing from 34 countries, that the Olympic Games became truly global. Fast forward to the Rio De Janeiro Games in 2016, and we witness participants from 206 countries and a first-time team of 43 refugees in competition.
The Olympics did not achieve its je ne sais quoi from limiting participation and involvement, but rather, by opening up the opportunity to everyone while also raising the bar for who could qualify and how. As a result, it has become a global symbol of excellence, rather than exclusion.
Applying this sense of community and possibility, we have to remind ourselves that the greatest innovations in impact will likely not come from behind closed doors, but rather at open tables. From my experience of covering social impact through Innov8social for over five years, I have seen (or later heard about : ) many private, closed door events. Or others featuring prohibitive entry fees. Technology is enabling innovations such as livestreaming and virtual participation, but it still feels like as a sector we can do more to include, invite, and raise the bar for how individuals and entities participate.
3. Planned, live events let people plan, get excited for, and train to innovate to the next level.
With all of the concerns we have seen in recent years as to whether Olympic host cities will “pull through” and be prepared by Opening Day, it is tempting to wonder if there might be technology-enabled solutions that would allow for remote competition and likely save hundreds of millions of dollars for host countries. However, time and again we are shown that the magic happens in the midst of live, in-person interaction.
In May 2016, Innov8social hosted our first live event, “Impactathon”. After years of creating content and syndicating over digital channels, through blog posts, podcast episodes, online course, book, and other online content, the inaugural in-person event did wonders to show the power of having committed, mission-aligned individuals in the same room ideating together.
Extending this more broadly to the social impact sector, there already are growing ways and events to bring together individuals for a live, planned event. Whether through fellowship such as Starting Bloc, Echoing Green, Global Social Benefit Institute, Opportunity Collaboration, Hive Global Leaders, or others; or through events or through pitch competitions; these exist and are growing by the day. However, there is not an “Olympic” standard type of event as of yet–one that is marked by its openness and rigor and which somehow recognizes or furthers the profile and legacies of its participants.
To reach our olympic potential in social impact, the opportunity is ripe for action and innovation, and more reasons than ever to #goanddo.