Neil Tambe

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I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

The Many "Currencies" of Social Impact

After the fun commentary people had on one of my previous posts, "Why Business Must Do Good" (Published on Detroit UIX here, or this blog here). I wanted to go a little bit deeper on one of the concepts I introduce: different types of value. I'd like to try building up more knowledge on how those types of value might be stored or manifested in society. By figuring out how those types of value are stored, perhaps we can better measure them. If we can better measure them, maybe we can figure out how to create value more easily. ---

Currency was a pretty big innovation in human society. All of a sudden, we were able to store value in an object, which made it easier to exchange goods and services. For example, if you were a corn farmer, you no longer had to barter with bushels of corn. You could exchange your corn for currency and then use that currency to purchase other things. Because currency was accepted everywhere and didn't spoil the way corn did, it was very useful.

Currency, say US Dollars or Euros, are a method of storing economic value. But, as I pointed out in a previous blog post, there are different kinds of value. I'll try to brainstorm (at least as a first attempt) the different "currencies" that can be used to store different kinds of value: social, spiritual, and civic value. If the analogy holds, the currencies of value could be used to increase, build up, or expand that type of value if you add effort. For example, money (a "currency") + effort + ideas that can make money (another "currency") = economic value.

I'll begin by articulating economic value, and what some other stores of value might be.

The point of economic value is to meet material needs and exchange goods and services. This is the arena which addresses humanity's need to have basic human needs and comforts. As a result some currencies of economic value might be:

  • Money - the more money you have the more goods and services you can exchange for
  • Physical Assets - Stuff that allows you to make other things
  • Contracts - Promises that people will pay you for something you've given them
  • Ideas that can make money - think of patents, it something that will probably give you economic value in the future

Basically, anything that you'd find in the "assets" section of a company's balance sheet is a store of economic value.

The point of social value is to have an enriching community where people feel good. This is the arena which addresses humanity's need to have happiness. As a result, some currencies of social value might be:

  • Relationships - connections to other people makes people happy
  • Healthy bodies - being in better physical shape makes individuals better
  • Environment - it's not pleasant to live in a place that's dirty or polluted
  • Knowledge - an ability to understand how the world works
  • Activity  - activities are opportunities to not be bored

The point of civic value is to have interactions between people be peaceful and create institutions in such a way where it allows people to reach their goals. This is the arena which addresses humanity's need to have agency. As a result, some currencies of civic value might be:

  • Freedom - preclearance to do what you want and pursue your goals
  • Rights - basic protections from institutions that people can claim
  • Integrity / Trust - people keeping their word and acting consistently with their values
  • Shared understanding - a common view of the world and acceptance of others
  • Fairness - knowing that rules will be applied consistently and equally
  • Institutions - systems and processes which govern interactions and provide heuristics for how to get along in civic life and discourse

The point of spiritual value is to have an understanding and acceptance of our humanity. This is the arena which addresses humanity's need to have meaningAs a result, some currencies of spiritual value might be:

  • Inquiry - the ability to explore things and immerse yourself in them
  • Expression - the ability to project who you are
  • Wisdom - an ability to understand what life means
  • Peace - feeling okay with who you are and your surroundings
  • Reflection - being able to connect with yourself and understand yourself

Wrap up

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to get at the major assets (for a person, organization, society, civilization, etc.) required to have different kinds of value. The way I see it, by gradually getting deeper on value and how it's created, we might be able to start measuring value better. For example, say we determine that one of the assets of social value is indeed healthy bodies. Then we can start to ask, "what are the key indicators of healthy bodies?" Say we determine one of the key indicators is adequate exercise. Then from there we can create programs and organizations which aim to influence adequate exercise.

Obviously I'm making a lot of assumptions about how the world works. However, one has to start somewhere in a field that hasn't been developed, and then iterate.



Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com