If you want to do well by doing good, you’ll need to focus and then do your homework.
These were two of the big themes from a panel dedicated to redefining power with purpose at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif., on Tuesday.
Jennifer Morgan, president of the Americas and Asia Pacific Japan for SAP, explained that responding to hot-button issues can lead well-meaning companies into side quests that may feel compelling but are unlikely to be effective.
“You can’t stay silent, but you have to pick your spots,” says Morgan. And it’s real work. For SAP, defining purpose is a rigorous process that involves finding out what matters to its 94,000 employees, along with its customers and other stakeholders.
“Where do you find an area where you can make a difference—like diversity and inclusion—then, where can you operationalize that difference? That’s the challenge,” she said. “But leaders need to encourage this dialogue.”
Varsha Rao, chief operating officer for Medicare insurance startup Clover Health, says the smart use of technology allows for focused impacts.
“Historically it’s been challenging to meet the needs of a population in a cost-effective way,” she said. Data analysis allows you to identify vulnerable people within a large population and prompt healthful behaviors, like getting large numbers of people to take their medications. “With new technology, you can unlock that.”
Maya Chorengel, a partner at The Rise Fund, TPG’s $2 billion social impact private equity fund, says that while the impact sector is delivering market-rate returns in many cases, the methods and metrics of social good investing are still very much evolving.
“The art of measuring impact is difficult and expensive,” she said. She cites the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 17 goals designed to alleviate poverty and promote prosperity and justice by 2030, as central to their work. “But they’re not tools so much as a framework.”
Most investors have had to develop their own bespoke definition of impact, she said, and are still working toward a common language and standards. “We’re not there yet.”
Nobody is, says Rao. “Outcomes can take a long time.” Rather than focus short term, look to the likely metrics that you’ll see in years one, two, and three that will give you a sense you’re moving in the right direction.
But however an organization approaches purpose, the work is a beacon to younger employees.
“Millennials want to be part of something larger than themselves,” says Rao. “Companies that have a strong mission can attract top talent these days.”
And who doesn’t want to save the planet?
“Capitalism is amoral,” said Chorengel. Now that private capital has started to wake up to the pressing problems of the world, young people who are frustrated with government inaction are starting to engage, she says. “Young people care about the goals, the world.”