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Everest or Bust – Set Your Organization’s Goals Even Higher

This is the third in a
 series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change. This post is in response to last week’s entry ‘Insight #1: Be Bold and Believable.”

mountain_7When asked “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?,” George Mallory, an English mountaineer who many believe was the first man to ever summit Mt. Everest in 1924, responded, “Because it’s there.”

How would you respond? For many social change makers, solving the problems we face—poverty, inequality, disease—at the scale they exist seems to be an insurmountable feat. But we continue to climb, we continue to dream big, and we push toward astronomical goals related to solving social problems.


Why seek to eliminate poverty? Why shoot to end inequality? Why dream of disease eradication?

“Because it’s there.” And that’s not okay.

These problems tower over our society like Everest’s unparalleled peak, and social change agents refuse to just let these problems sit there without doing something about them.

Setting these bold visions is critical to creating transformational social change. Mallory was indeed bold, but he was also quite clear—he was going to climb Everest. At Community Wealth Partners, we have found one simple question has helped social change agents set strong goals:

“Does it pass the Mt. Everest test?”

In other words, is your goal…

  1. Clear enough that anyone could understand what it would mean to achieve it?  Is it easy to believe in? (e.g., specific, concrete and free of jargon),
  2. Bold enough to motivate your actions? (e.g., positive, compelling and meaningful)

You pass the Everest test when you effectively balance bold and believable. As our previous post stated, big visions achieve big outcomes. But this boldness must be complemented by believability and action.

We can see a perfect example of this combination from our post last year on Malaria No More.

While Malaria No More’s vision of “ending deaths from Malaria in Africa by 2015” may seem less ambitious than eradicating the disease from the planet completely, it is still an extremely ambitious goal that set the strategic vision for the organization and led it to stretch its resources as far as possible. As Jonathan Kozol might say, the goal is “big enough to matter, but small enough to win.”

Contrasting a few strong examples with weaker examples helps drive home what it looks like to find this magical balance between bold and believable:

(Bonus Quiz: Can you name which organizations set the first two goals on the left?)

So while we can’t all literally climb Everest, we can all pursue similarly ambitious goals—we can strive to solve social problems that are bigger than us. By balancing bold and believable we can set our sights on building solutions to the problems facing our communities at the scale they occur.

“Because,”—the problem—“it’s there,” towering over us. And we are collectively committed to doing something bold and believable about it.

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Will DeKrey

About Will DeKrey

As Manager of Networks & Knowledge, Will DeKrey oversees the curation, synthesis and sharing of knowledge within Community Wealth Partners and with external stakeholders in order to advance our collective understanding of how to solve problems at the magnitude they exist. Prior to this role, Will served on the consulting team at Community Wealth Partners. Will was a 1st Place Winner of the National Conference on Citizenship’s 2012 Civic Data Challenge. See Will's full bio

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