Building shared missions

About a year ago, we set out to build shared missions. Here’s an update – and an invitation.

During enso’s five years, our why has remained consistent—create positive impact at scale—but our how has evolved. Originally, we set out to build mission-driven brands around the idea of shared value. Then, we saw that an alignment of interests enabled a totally different approach to building organizations: working with everyday people around shared success, rather than just communicating at them. Last year, we came to our biggest evolution: we realized the initiatives we had built that created scaled impact had transcended from being individual brand missions, to being shared missions.

In other words, rather than just one brand and people, some of our initiatives had mobilized other cultural forces: philanthropic, non-profit, civic leadership, creative leaders. For example, the Khan Academy initiative we helped build, #YouCanLearnAnything was built around a much bigger idea than just a great education platform; we designed it as a growth mindset intervention for the world. Because it was designed around a bigger idea, it ended up being supported by significant cultural forces including Google, Bill Gates, The Department of Education, a number of mayors, Carol Dweck and John Legend. As a result, its reach and impact was dramatically amplified; Khan Academy now reaches over 55M learners and tens of millions of others have been exposed to the core idea, the growth mindset.

While some of our initiatives had become shared missions, we had not consciously set out to build them before last year — we mostly thought about aligning a brand with everyday people, not with other cultural leaders. So about a year ago, with new clarity, we began consciously setting out to build shared missions that from inception were designed with and for multiple cultural forces. This is a significant departure from business as usual.

Since that time, we’re now in various stages of nine different shared missions.

Shared missions are right for this moment. As the shortcomings of a self-serving approach to business and society become clear, we need a new mechanism for progress. The still-prevailing business culture of shareholder-oriented, individualistic activity epitomized by Porter’s Five Forces (which treats all stakeholders as ‘rival’ power centers) is quickly running out of road as employees, partners and customers become increasingly disaffected (or disgusted) with the results.

The following is some of what we’ve learned in building shared missions, and an invitation. We are building shared mission with, and for, others. If you want to be part of a new mechanism for change, join us at sharedmission.co.


The shared missions we’re building now include rebuilding trust in neighborhoods, creating abundant internet access for everyone, establishing a right to literacy, and transforming a mega resort by fostering a flourishing culture and ecology of the entire country it operates in. Some of these are led by founding brands, and some are led by founding philanthropists. In all of these cases, the highest objective is not the success of one organization, but the achievement of a mission that serves all stakeholders.

This simple fact changes everything.

While a traditional approach to new organization-led initiatives is to develop something, then try to build support (or pay for endorsement) from others, we now design these initiatives with others. We’ve held design sprints that include leaders of very disparate organizations, but who find common ground in the achievement of a big shared mission. For instance, in elevating the mission from re-energizing a mega resort to re-energizing a country, we designed with leaders from environmental non profits, artists and cultural leaders. By designing with leaders of other tribes, we’ve gained a level of insight, ideas and commitment that’s not possible in the traditional model.

Maybe an even more profound shift happens within the founding organization. By elevating to a shared mission, there’s a role for everyone to play, not just the few divisions that traditionally think about driving scale (e.g. marketing) or impact (e.g. a corporate foundation). For instance, setting out to re-energize a resort may traditionally have been the responsibility of marketing and guest relations teams. But setting out to re-energize a country includes all internal stakeholders — from marketing to employee relations to supply chain management to room design and property management. Every internal decision now has a guiding filter: ‘which option at hand serves the mission we share with each other, and with our broader community?’


In the panoply of emotions after November 9th, 2016, many of us questioned what was to be done next. One very present need was to redouble efforts around the climate. So in partnership with Michael Smith and Ponvalley, we quickly organized a summit in Santa Barbara for leaders from across culture to get together and discuss what a shared mission (or shared missions) could be to change our trajectory on the climate.

What we first imagined might be 20–30 people quickly became 160 diverse minds gathering over two days at the end of November. Opened by Al Gore and General Wesley Clark, the gathering featured leaders from science, religion, military, business, finance, hunting, advocacy and civic action.

This was part inspiration and education from some unusual voices, and part small groups working together towards ‘more shots on net’, rather than ‘running the old tired plays’ (*the words of Julio Friedmann, ‘energy guru’, on the opening night). There’s real power in diverse viewpoints looking at the same challenge. We heard from Rev. Mitch Hescox, a pro-life evangelical leader, on how his tribe could be brought into the environmental movement if framed the right way. We heard from republican-leaning business leaders, scientists from Harvard, Columbia and UCSB; Matt Rogers, founder of Nest; leaders of major family offices and leading environmental nonprofits.

Our aspiration was to form new alliances, open up new ways of looking at things, and maybe connect people around a few big new solutions. From the small working groups, more than one hundred big ideas were shared; eleven were prioritized and shared back to the rest of the network. At the end of the summit, and in the days and weeks afterwards, we have worked to connect these leaders and their organizations to the ideas that inspire them most. Two of the ideas are of particular interest to us at enso, and we are helping move them forward.

This event felt very special. In the aftermath of a period of intense division, it felt cathartic to work together on solutions—something we’ve witness many times through the design sprints and Shared Table series we host frequently. There’s real power in bringing groups together, and we’re continually improving how to facilitate progress during, and after, each convening.

As a result, we’re organizing our second summit around literacy in June; reach out if you’re interested in participating.


From this point on, some things have become clear:

First, the idea of solving together and scaling together, feels right for this time. We’re excited to build the shared missions we have under way, and more to come. We believe shared missions have a greater chance of scaled impact, but they are also better, healthier ways of working. While we admire competition-focused models for social impact (like XPRIZE), and there’s often a place for competition, we’ve witnessed beautiful relationships and ideas emerge from mission-driven collaboration that would never have come to fruition if people were stuck in their lanes.

Second, there’s a growing group of people who share this mindset, and want to be part of initiatives that align interests—a breath of fresh air from business as usual. But these people, up to this point, have been disconnected and dispersed across the world, and have not had the infrastructure and support to collaborate effectively. So we’re working to connect all those people in a Shared Mission Collaborative; if you’re interest in joining, or building a Shared Mission around your area of impact, go here.

Third, shared missions require an effective nucleus. Where we’ve had philanthropic or brand support to establish a shared mission, and a dedicated team to bring the pieces together, these can get built and scale fast. But there needs to be a nucleus setting the agenda and operating frameworks for collaboration, or things get slow. To serve that role on a growing number of initiatives the Shared Mission Collaborative wants to tackle, we’re exploring the creation of a nonprofit to act as a philanthropic accelerator of shared missions. If you’re interested in being a part of that nucleus— go here.

True to the spirit of shared mission, we see the development of this new model and community as a collaborative endeavor. If you have feedback and ideas, please reach out.


enso is a mission-driven creative company. We build mission-driven brands and shared missions. Find us at enso.co and medium.com/enso