Project Management Institute

Creating Positive Social Impact: From Intent to Action

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Every project has an impact. And increasingly it’s up to project leaders to ensure that that impact is positive. One key ingredient to making it work is oxygen—ensuring that the whole team hears the message and that everyone feels inspired.

KHULAN BATKHUYAG 

I think most important thing for project leaders is to allocate sufficient time for your team to talk about this. This really helps because if you don’t talk, then no one’s going to know. We are a part of a society, so it’s really connected to us. And if you are a person who is working for an organization, then it may take only one people to just take action.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot. 

Profit … and. Profit has long been the one and only goal in business, but in recent years we’ve seen the rise of “and.” It’s the idea that projects have the power not only to boost the bottom line, but also to make a better world—to create new jobs; advance diversity, equality and inclusion; to provide essential infrastructure; to enhance education; and to improve public health and safety.

Pursuing positive social impact isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing. To quote B Lab, the nonprofit behind the “Benefit Corporation” or B Corp designation, “a historic global culture shift is underway to harness the power of business to help address society’s greatest challenges.”

The idea is catching on. About two-thirds of organizations say their approach to social impact has improved over the last three years, according to the new PMI Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Why Social Impact Matters. This next stat, also from the report, is remarkable to me: The number of project professionals who say social impact is a concern for their organization—at 87 percent—is even higher than the number of people who rated social impact as a personal priority.

So corporations, institutions and project teams are working to bake this idea of social good into their projects. For some prime examples, look no further than the list of top 10 social good projects on PMI’s list of Most Influential Projects at MIP.PMI.org. Today we’ll meet two project leaders who are working to ensure their organizations deliver positive social impact.

Our sponsor for this episode is PMTraining.com. From live virtual classes to online courses available on demand, PMTraining equips students to earn PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®. And Projectified® listeners are eligible for discounts of up to $400 per class; just enter the link PMTraining.com/podcast.

We begin in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with marketing consultant and environmentalist Khulan Batkhuyag. She’s working to make a positive social impact at the marketing agency she founded in 2015. Khulan spoke at the 2020 [email protected] event about her transformative trips into the Mongolian countryside. I followed up to see how those trips have affected the way she approaches social impact.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

You’ve spent a lot of time with Mongolian nomads, getting to know their way of life. How has that experience changed you?

KHULAN BATKHUYAG

So just imagine yourself as a nomad, living in an extremely remote area, where your nearest neighbor is probably 30 to 40 kilometers away from you. You have to survive in Mongolian extreme climate, and it’s so extreme that could easily get to minus 50 degrees Celsius in the winter. It’s just the usual degree in Mongolia. And in the summertime, it gets to 40 degrees. And on occasions, there will be natural disasters like storms, sudden floods, and you’re still in that remote place. You have to survive in this extreme weather in a remote environment. So it’s forcing the nomads to be always ready for extreme changes, which is now what we call being agile.

I think how nomads cope with extreme changes so fast is that they keep things simple. They carry and acquire only the necessities to survive. But when we look at our daily lives, we purchase and do things for comfort and convenience, and it’s really beyond fulfilling our necessities. But we don’t really notice the consequences behind this process. The key point here is that the abundance and greed is not only harming nature and climate but our mental and emotional health as well.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

One thing you said is interesting—equating agility with simplicity. Because I think many people would think what enables you to be agile is having lots of stuff on hand in your toolkit so that you can adapt to different circumstances. Why is a streamlined and simple approach better in terms of equipping a person or a team or a family to be agile?

KHULAN BATKHUYAG

The environment and global issues these days are requiring us to change and adapt fast. And I think to be able to change fast and adapt to new needs and goals, we’ve got to keep things lean as possible. Keeping an open mind is very important for humans. And just like that, it also applies to projects that we work on. In this case, let’s imagine that our project or business model is like a human’s mindset. Before we plan and take action, we’ve got to work on our mindset, right? So just like that, keeping the project model as flexible as possible is like keeping a radically open mind.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Sustainability is a priority for you and your company. How did your time visiting nomads shift your views on that issue?

KHULAN BATKHUYAG

Well, to me, sustainability is about developing something that is resilient over time. So for project teams to develop a product that is resilient is very important in this fast-paced world. We just have to accept the fact that this is just going to go further and further. We’re never going to say, “Oh my God, my internet is so fast. My 4G is so fast that I want to go back to 2G.” We’re never going to say that. And we’re never going to say, “Oh my God, my phone is so smart. I want to go back to Nokia 3310.” We’re never going to say that. It’s just very constant thing that change is always going to happen, and we’re always going to go further. We’re always going to get faster, and it’s always going to go smarter, so we have to understand and accept this.

And it’s also important to define the word resiliency in terms of your project and with your team as well. Because it might mean different things to people, because resiliency can have many different meanings in different contexts. So it’s really important for the team to have the same understanding and to be on the same page. About resiliency, I could take a small example from my trips around Mongolian rural areas. As I mentioned in my TED Talk, yurt or ger, is a traditional Mongolian dwelling. Have you ever seen it before?

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Pictures, yes. In person, no.

KHULAN BATKHUYAG

All right. So on the picture, you see this round-shaped, small dwelling, right? So it is made from 100 percent natural materials that the nomads can produce from their livestock. Let’s say yurt is the product and Mongolian nomads are the customers. Nomads needed a dwelling that is resilient during natural disasters, and it had to be easy to assemble or disassemble, convenient to move from destination A to B, and that the materials had to be made from natural materials because nomads live in harmony with nature. Also, they don’t have access to varieties of materials as if you’re living in the city. So, yurts are round-shaped, so it’s easier to warm it. Also, it requires at least three family members to build it. So assembling a yurt is a mini-project for a nomadic family. And they do it often because they move around a lot.

But I want to be clear about one thing, I’m not saying that everyone around the world should leave their jobs and become nomads and ride horses. No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that we could use this concept. I think the first thing that I did was that after my travels, I came back to the city and then I ran a workshop for my team. I asked them to imagine themselves as if they were nomads, and I gave them scenarios that I saw in rural Mongolia. What if there’s a raging storm coming to you right now, what would you do? That actually made them empathize the situation and then practice their mindset toward agility. And I think this could be a great example for any type of project teams to just conduct a workshop.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Another change you made was focusing your client list to work with other businesses that were also sustainable. How did you pursue that strategy, and how has it worked out?

KHULAN BATKHUYAG

Yeah, it was a big decision, and many people were surprised with my action because I was quite popular in the market regarding the marketing campaigns that I ran in the fast-moving consumer goods industry. And I was really into it. It was fun. It was interesting. I learned a lot, and I felt like I was good at it. But after a while, I started to think thoroughly what kind of impact that I was building.

It’s really important for all of us to just have the time to really, really think about what we’re doing. We usually do things without thinking thoroughly, most of the times, and it’s okay, we all do that. But maybe it’s just time for all of us to really, really think through it and make the right choice.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

As you made that change, did that affect the way that you worked at all? The kind of messaging you thought would resonate or the lifestyle you wanted to promote or thought about as you were working with the new list of companies?

KHULAN BATKHUYAG

It definitely changed everything. Just for my personal life to professional life, everything has changed. I was happy, to be brutally honest about it. It created this environment where I could be honest about almost everything. And I think it’s really important for project leaders to message around social impact, because sometimes the uniqueness of the project may lead you to somewhere else. But for project leaders personally to be aware of this concept is really important, and to be honest about it is also very crucial.

We’re living in a media-driven world where events are exaggerated or under-explained, and there’s a thin line between the truth and how it is being described. So honestly, I think as project leaders, the real doers, it’s our responsibility to be honest with the society. If there are downsides and improvements need to be done, then be open and honest about it. Share it to your community and ask for their opinion. Your honesty will encourage your community’s creative thinking. Because you have now built a real connection to them, just because you were honest with them. So they will also be open to offer their help and ideas to you.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

It’s interesting to see how leaders in very different industries are finding creative ways to pursue positive social impact. You’ve got professional services firms like Khulan’s, and also big, multinational manufacturers with global supply chains.

Sometimes companies like that can use a little local help. That’s what’s happening in Myanmar, where RecyGlo is using tech to reduce pollution in waterways through better waste management and data analytics. Projectified®’s Hannah Schmidt spoke with co-founder, CFO and CMO Okka Phyo Maung about how his startup is helping organizations meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals—and why it’s so important for organizations to keep them in mind during projects.

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HANNAH SCHMIDT

Let’s talk about data. How does collecting information help project leaders increase a positive impact on their projects, and what role does it play in RecyGlo’s work?

OKKA PHYO MAUNG

Data is very important, especially in this period of time. You can collect data to make decisions. You can monetize those data. You can study the behavior of the business, of the person. You can basically predict what is the future look like. So what we provide is the data for businesses and the individual, also for the government, to help them to make informed decisions so that they can make better policy. We can work together by providing data and also providing real solutions.

We provide a platform that everybody can play a role for recycling of plastic, can, paper, glass, electronic and really create a circular economy solution for anybody who wants to use our service. And that should be affordable for them as well. And at the same time, we use data collection mechanism. That makes it really interesting. So we’re providing data. We are also providing the actual solution by aggregating. So that’s how we work with Fortune 500 companies. That’s how we work with multiple governments and individuals and SMEs.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

And your organization’s focused on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. How do RecyGlo’s projects work to help the world achieve these goals?

OKKA PHYO MAUNG

Our main goal is the ocean SDG, so Life Below Water. In this part of the world, you have a lot of wastes that are going to the streams, in Mekong River, in Irrawaddy River. The top polluted rivers, they are in Asia. So those rivers are polluting because people just have no place or no infrastructure to throw this waste. So what we do is we provide the solution on the land so that the waste don’t need to be washed away by the rain and it eventually ends in an ocean. This is our primary target.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Why is it so important for organizations to keep these goals in mind when they’re considering projects and programs?

OKKA PHYO MAUNG

It helps your business to be meaningful. If you have this meaningful goal, high-level goal, you know that your business is always going to the right direction, and you also know that you are doing a meaningful job and that keeps us motivated.

Personally, I feel very motivated. Like every day I wake up, I feel like I’m doing the thing that are meaningful to the world, to the community. I think that’s why it is very important to have those SDG goals.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Speaking of SDGs, RecyGlo is also on UpLink, a platform connecting social entrepreneurs with resources to deliver on these U.N. goals. It’s also number 13 on PMI’s 2020 list of Most Influential Projects. How has UpLink helped your organization?

OKKA PHYO MAUNG

We have a lot of media attention by using this platform. We have direct access to global leaders. Also people who come to World Economic Forums, they can be very high level. So the top business leaders and global leaders, and also the youth community that World Economic Forum has created—so you have access to all those people. At the same time, we are also attending a lot of conferences, and we got invited to advise on the national plastic action plan policy for multiple countries in Southeast Asia. So I feel like UpLink is broadening our horizon.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

What’s one area where you hope to see more projects deliver positive social impact in the future?

OKKA PHYO MAUNG

I think COVID-19 make us realize that I think our priority has changed. Maybe in the past, buying a big house, buying a big car, consuming a lot, maybe it is our goal. I think if you watch Hollywood movies, everybody’s living in a big house, fancy house. Living standards are really high in developed economies. So people in Asia or similar countries are developing really, really fast. So they see that this is a trend and this should be the way it is. Consuming and buying, wasting, that is a goal. Everybody should live like that.

But I do think that that thinking has changed tremendously. So what we are doing is we are going back to the basic. It’s not about wasting, producing too much carbon footprint. It’s about helping the economy, helping the local economy and also be sustainable. It’s having the right balance in your life to be able to cohabit together and share the resources globally.

MUSICAL TRANSITION 
STEVE HENDERSHOT 

How do you build that focus on social impact into your team’s culture and mission? There’s no reason the same strategic mindset behind the drive for bottom-line results can’t also be applied to ensure projects create a better world. Start by talking about it, and then put pen to paper. PMI’s latest Pulse in-depth report shows that among organizations that initiated at least some projects with a clear social impact statement, 77 percent improved their social impact outcomes. 

Every project leader understands the potential of a talented, cohesive team to achieve amazing results. When the goal isn’t just profit but the greater good, everybody wins. 

Thanks again to our sponsor, PMTraining.com. From live virtual classes to online courses available on demand, PMTraining equips students to earn PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional, or PMP. And Projectified® listeners are eligible for discounts of up to $400 per class; just enter the link PMTraining.com/podcast

NARRATOR

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