How to find your calling in social impact

So you're interested in making a social impact - awesome. But where do you start?

Getting started in the complex world of social change means first understanding our own unique set of skills and values, and how you can best apply yourself to work that not only interests you, but that also enables you to maximise your impact.

One of the most helpful tools we've come across for finding some answers in this area is the Ikigai framework. Ikigai is a Japanese concept roughly translating to ‘reason for being’. The idea is that you can find your purpose or calling at the intersection of what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs - just as you can see in the image below.

This blog will guide you through a simple process of reflecting on your own calling, to consider how your Ikigai could help you navigate the world of social impact.

What are you good at?

In the Ikigai framework, what you're good is one of the four key ingredients making up your calling or purpose. Whatever your calling, it should be linked to your natural talents, or to the skills you've taken the time to develop and which can help you to make a greater impact.

To find this part of your Ikigai, start by thinking about any formal and informal qualifications you might have, from university degrees and diplomas to training certificates, licenses or online courses. You might not necessarily want to work in the fields that you have qualifications in, but just by listing them you can start to make a map of your current skillset.

Beyond formal skills and qualifications, you can also consider the more foundational skills that come to you most naturally. Are you a born problem-solver, or a gifted relationship-builder? Are you good with structures, numbers and plans, or do you have a good eye and a creative flair? You might be great at all of the above, but many people will identify with some skillsets more than others, and these are helpful clues.

What do you love?

This part of your Ikigai is all about what makes you tick. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What kinds of activities or situations give you most joy? What topics do you go out of your way to learn about and immerse yourself in, and what do you always find time for in your schedule?

At this stage, it doesn't matter if the activities you're thinking of are work-related or not - you're just looking for insights about what drives you, which you can generalise to other activities later. For example, if your love of hiking stems from a passion for spending time in nature, you might want to explore careers which will take you into the great outdoors.

What can you be paid for?

This part of the Ikigai framework brings in a practical mindset - everyone needs to pay the bills, after all!

For this section, think about the kinds of jobs that exist which are linked to the skills and passions you've explored already, or to the social issues and opportunities you're most interested in. This might require some research - what kinds of jobs are there in local charities, for example, compared to global NGOs?

Don't limit yourself to jobs you're already qualified for - remember, this is a reflective process to help you get your bearings. Maybe you'll decide to get a new qualification to pursue your calling, but you've likely already got the skills you need to make an impact.

What does the world need?

The final ingredient for your Ikigai is to think about what the world needs, from a social impact perspective.

This part of the framework might be the furthest removed from the careers advice you're used to - we're rarely asked to think about what problems we can solve or what social needs aren't being met when thinking about our own calling. But this is the part of the Ikigai concept that makes it so valuable as a tool for finding your way in the world of social impact.

Thinking about what the world needs can be overwhelming, given how many huge global issues are at play right now. It can help to start small, and think local first. What are the needs of people, communities, or places near you that aren't being met right now? What does your world need?

Bringing it all together

Having reflected on all four key elements of the Ikigai framework, the last step of the process is to start making connections. Where do you see natural links starting to appear between what you're good at, what you love, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs? And are there particular jobs, projects or opportunities you can think of that fall into those intersections?

Finding your Ikigai is an ongoing process, and all four elements of the framework are likely to change over your career and your life - but it offers a helpful guide to our thinking about finding purpose in our work, and it can be a valuable tool for anyone looking to make a greater impact in the world.

Ready to learn more about designing for social impact?

If the Ikigai framework has sparked your curiosity, and you'd like to learn more about the world of social impact and the role that design and innovation can play, we've got good news for you. Our much-loved social impact program The Good People is now available as an interactive online learning program for you to devour in your own way and on your own schedule.

With over 15 hours of content, 12 interactive activities and a huge library of resources and further learning, The Good People is the perfect introduction to the world of social impact and a great opportunity to reflect on the kind of work you'd like to do in the world. Check it out here!

Also watch our SkillGym, Designing for Social impact, which brought together some of the key insights from The Good People to help apply design and innovation skills to the world of social impact.

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