People Want To Do Good Things

Earlier this afternoon news broke that former Bloomberg and BusinessWeek tech reporter Jack Clark joined Elon Musk and Peter Theil-backed OpenAI to lead community outreach, policy, communications and strategy.

A lot of folks will look at this move as yet another reporter jumping ship for the cushy life of a high powered, gate keeping flack. They might be right. Who doesn’t want a little extra cheddar lining the pockets of their cargo shorts?

But then I see OpenAI’s mission:

OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence research company. Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.

And it gets me thinking: Smart people want not only to do exciting, meaningful work that matters, they want to do it inside organizations that matter, too. Organizations that tackle problems of humanity, not convenience. Organizations that seek a human return, not solely a financial one.

It’s not like you have to look very far or listen too closely to recognize the pervasive sky-is-falling mood that has engulfed the globe. But our world is not all doom and gloom. There remains a metric ton of good on this big blue marble spinning through the cosmos. You don’t even have to dig deep to find it.

I recently posted this question to my social networks:

If you could work for any organization — not because of what you’d do, but because of what they stand for — who would be your top three?

You know what I discovered? People want to do good things. Take a look at some of the responses I received:

Doctors Without Borders
 St. Jude Children’s Hospital
 Gift of Life
 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
 Special Olympics
 Share Our Strength
 Habitat for Humanity
 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
 Sandy Hook Promise
 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
 Save the Music
 March of Dimes
 Sierra Club
 Smithsonian Institute
 World Economic Forum
 Engineers Without Borders
 Network of Victim Assistance
 Gates Foundation
 Team Rubicon
 Common Cause
 The White House
 Southern Poverty Law Center
 On My Feet
 Veterans Administration
 National Women’s Law Center
 Innocence Project
 Planned Parenthood
 American Cancer Society

This list doesn’t even include those who saw similar missions and qualities in organizations like SpaceX, Disney Imagineering, National Geographic, Chobani, Alphabet and Mozilla. These are all organizations which, by any measure, make the world a better place to live.

Which begs the question: What’s stopping people from using their talents to help the causes and organizations that mean the most to them? What’s stopping people from making a move like Jack did?

Josh Lyman: So, now you have two choices — meeting with an unruly mob or meeting with lunatic mapmakers.

Toby Ziegler: Or getting paid a lot more money working almost anywhere else I want.

I get it.

Non-profit organizations typically don’t pay as well as a venture-backed Silicon Valley startup or a 100-year-old IBM. Yet, some of the best talent in the tech industry has shown up on the rosters of government organizations like 18F. These are people who left lucrative salaries and perks to work for…wait for it…the government. If they can make sacrifices for something they believe in, can’t others?

Each of us has an opportunity — nay, an obligation — to move humanity forward, to make others’ lives a little easier. We owe it to our own souls to do work that fulfills us. It need not be a lifetime gig, but there is opportunity for each of us to contribute our individual talents to the organizations working on the issues that matter.

So, let’s keep this list going. If you could work for any organization — not because of what you’d do, but because of what they stand for — who would be your top three? Sound off in the comments.

Image courtesy of cdooginz via Creative Commons.

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