What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a well-intentioned question sparking many ideas and pictures of the future. It’s often presented to children early on by a parent or teacher, and becomes a guiding force for decisions around course electives, post-secondary degrees, and job applications.

Undeniably idealistic at first, the question typically doesn’t ever take into account the state of the world. Perhaps a useful follow up would be: And how will you use that to make a difference?

As grown adults and entrepreneurs, the latter question is one we find ourselves thinking about a lot.

With a constant barrage of headlines reminding us of the prominence of major issues from gender inequality to environmental catastrophe, the need for collective action is more apparent than ever. Our agency, Nordest Studio, works with clients to create meaningful campaigns to inspire large-scale change. It was founded by two like-minded women who value the world we live in, the people in our communities and believe that every individual has the potential to make a positive impact.

Since we statistically spend at least 30 per cent of our lives working (much higher for us), we might as well put that time, energy and resource into something meaningful.

Our agency has been a part of producing a signature youth empowerment event, revitalizing one of Toronto’s most historic venues, and leading the creative for a national campaign that highlights young Canadians who have found innovative solutions to complex issues.

Creatively meaningful. It’s our tagline, our philosophy – and the driving force behind the work we do. We’ve decided to commit our professional lives to work that doesn’t just pay for rent and annual vacations, but also fulfills us on a much deeper level. There’s an unprecedented satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re a part of something greater than yourself, and studies show we’re not the only ones who think so.

According to one article more than 50 per cent of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that mirrors their values and 90 per cent want to use their skills for good. While our studio is not only made up of millenials, we’re all motivated by the desire to make the world a better place.

This makes absolute sense to us, and it’s almost a given. Why wouldn’t you want your work — the machine you spend the majority of your time building — to make a social impact?

The solution isn’t necessarily selling your belongings and moving to the closest forest or even quitting your job and starting a charity. It can be as simple as finding a creative way to make what you do about more than you.

For us, our contribution looks like filming videos, producing shows, and pitching digital strategies through a creatively meaningful outlook, working with clients who care about social issues like eradicating the stigma around mental illness, and collaborating with like minded people as much as possible.

That’s another important factor:  Community makes all the difference.

In his book Community and Growth, author and philosopher Jean Vanier (also author of Becoming Human) writes, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”

As Vanier describes, community allows us to expand our impact in a greater sense. Our studio has seen that first-hand, and it starts with our team.

We choose to work with people, both internally and externally, who think about the greater impact, who have empathy and compassion for one another, who in fact don’t separate business from real life because their ambition to do something great doesn’t start at 9 and stop at 5.

We’re eager to work with clients who have a vision for change like our client Westover Treatment Centre, whose mission is to provide affordable and accessible addiction treatment. Or Wear Your Label, who are working tirelessly to eradicate the stigmas around mental health and create a noticeable impact in this space. And even banks like RBC, with whom we’ve had the privilege of working alongside a handful of people who genuinely care about the outcomes of their corporate social responsibility programs.

The reality of meaningful work looks different for everyone, but it’s a reality that is certainly attainable. With the rise of social enterprises and an increasing number of businesses investing in corporate responsibility, there are plenty of opportunities to make a positive impact once we’ve decided what it is we want to be when we grow up.

Liane Coulahan and Lina Beaudin are the co-founders of Nordest Studio, a full-service (bilingual) creative agency based in Toronto, Canada. The team focuses on brand development, communications, digital media, experiential marketing and production.


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