What drives us to do what we do?

As a leader of a non-profit organization (AIESEC) driven mostly by volunteers, you get to see and learn a lot of interesting things about motivation. Since there is no direct monetary profit of being a part of the organization (unlike business etc. where I’ve also worked), The reason for investing your time and energy into it and making it grow, needs to come from other places.


Our international president, Aman, recently posted a question to all the other presidents from AIESEC in different countries about what this motivation really is, and he posted two videos on TED (Science of Motivation and Why We Do What We Do) as input to the discussion. In the discussion some early comments came up that there is a major difference between people who are leaders and have stayed a while in AIESEC, and people who are new to AIESEC. Many shared that they felt that as you spent more time in the organization your motivation changed – from initially being focused on what you can get – you tend to move to a focus on what you give. I think this shift in focus comes from the fact that you become aware of and connected to a community.

I find that, in my country Sweden, many students I meet initially talk to me a lot about their motivations for themselves, their degrees they want to take, their aspirations for jobs, career, money they want to get. However, they rarely speak about their aspirations for their communities, what they want to achieve for others. Once they have been involved in a community like AIESEC for a while, new desires and drivers are uncovered and motivation starts coming from a new source. We become connected to moving a community forward – rather than just ourselves. By moving the community we’re in forward and ensuring that all people involved grow, learn, develop the community thrives. By extension – if the community thrives, so will we, it’s members.

However, this is not an automatic process. It is something that we as leaders and members of communities can stimulate or retard. One of the basic tools to use is to engage in dialogue with people around how their drivers and desires connect with what the drivers and desires are for the community.

At a recent training we held we discussed Steven Reiss’ 16 basic desires. This theory, based on over 6000 interviews, shows us that motivation essentially is personal. But, by understanding the drivers of our members, and connecting these personal drivers to their work in the organization we can help them see the link between a thriving community and themselves as thriving individuals. Thus, the motivation is no longer only individual – it becomes a motivation for making the community grow.

Picture by Tom@HK.

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