Ep 4: Akhtar Badshah: Moving From the Me Mindset to the We Mindset

On this episode of Marketing for Good, Akhtar Badshah joins Erica to talk about focusing on the purpose behind what you do to create a movement. Akhtar shares how the giving program at Microsoft helped those who participated move from an individual mindset to a focus on the collective. They also discuss the collective effort required for getting through this COVID-19 crisis, even though we are separated. Lastly, the discuss the reality of the digital divide and how that plays into communication in general, and in marketing.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart’s interview with Akhtar Badshah on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


people, marketing, purpose, mindset, technology, individual, philanthropy, focused, movement, connecting, world, business, microsoft

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:39

Welcome, listeners to the marketing for good podcast. I’m Eric Mills Barnhart your host and I’m here today with Dr. Akhtar Badshah, who is I’m going to read you as I do his bio, and so it says he is an innovation catalyst, educator, philanthropist, social entrepreneur, artist, author and public speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Catalytic Innovators Group, a consulting firm focused on accelerating social impact. His current work focuses on issues related to democratizing innovation, disruptive technology and catalytic philanthropy. He is the curator of accelerating social transformation. He is the author of Purpose Mindset: How Microsoft inspires its employees and alumni to change the world, forthcoming Fall 2020 through the Harper Collins leadership series, Dr. Badshah is a distinguished practitioner and senior lecturer at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance as well as with the University of Washington Bothell Business School. He teaches classes on social enterprise, new models for mission based business, funding the nonprofit sector and global business strategies and I am delighted that you were here with me today Akhtar. We have known each other, let’s just call it for a while, shall we just call it a while quite a long time. Since I think that I actually was trying to figure this out, I think that we met when you were at Microsoft, and I was it NPower about there, right? I think that that’s about right. So so that’s going a ways back. And one thing I know for sure about you is that you do not fit into any neat tidy boxes or categories, you defy them. So I want to talk eventually, about your forthcoming book, because that’s so exciting, and then your work in philanthropy and social enterprise and many other things. But first, I want to, will you give readers a bit of the color commentary version of how you went from I mean, your formal education is as an architect, although I mean, through the PhD level. How did you go from being an architect to being in philanthropy and social innovation in your current space?

Akhtar Badshah  03:05

I got, thank you very much for asking me to be part of this podcast. I’m very excited that you are doing this. I think it just absolutely needed at this time. I think I wanted to be an architect. I did become an architect. I practice as an architect. I taught architecture for a decade at MIT and I wanted to build tall buildings and wear round glasses and a polo neck shirt and talk and funny tones. But

Erica Mills Barnhart  03:43

I’ve never seen you in a polo. I just, what happened?

Akhtar Badshah  03:47

Yeah. And it didn’t fan out that way.I instead, when into teaching architecture for developing countries and things lead to other things and opportunities came my way from the UN to head start a nonprofit focused on cities and mega cities. I did that. My wife had joined Microsoft in New York at that time, when she moved here, I moved to Seattle, and started another nonprofit focused on bridging the digital divide with a mutual friend of yours, Craig Smith, at that time, and that then brought me into Microsoft to run their philanthropy program. So in some ways, I’m an accidental philanthropist, social innovator, nonprofit guy, something that is actually not qualified to do anything except architecture, but I don’t do that. So, so here I am, which is why I don’t fit into any box.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:59

No, you don’t. And I love that about you. Eventually, near the end of the podcast, I want to come back to your, your artistic streak, as well. But let’s talk about your book, the Purpose Mindset. I’m super fascinated. So we are colleagues at the oven School of Public Policy and Governance. So through that, I mean, I know you’ve been working really hard on this book. But I also realize I don’t know that much about it, but I’m super intrigued by this idea of the me to we mindset. So will you explain to me and the listeners what, what you mean by that and how you landed on that framework.

Akhtar Badshah  05:39

So I’ve been wanting to write this book, which on Microsoft’s philanthropy, especially its employee giving campaign, and the amount of good it has done in the world for many years, and it’s always great have an idea in your head because it’s a great cocktail conversation, then you want to write a book and you don’t really have to work to do anything. So you can keep talking about it. But I had a one pager and I kept floating it around and eventually landed with Harper Collins, and they said, go write it. And then I have to figure out okay, just talking about Microsoft’s philanthropy is not that interesting. It is interesting, but it is not that interesting, but it is how it has transformed the employees who have actually participated in the giving campaign. And how do we actually want to look at creating a society that moves from the focus on the individual, to the collective and to society as a whole. And purpose mindset kind of became the frame through which I started viewing how these hyper growth mindset individuals that were super competitive in their business world, because of participating in the Microsoft employee giving campaign, were able to move into the philanthropy space and bring some positive aspects of the growth mindset, but slowly understand that to succeed in helping societies move forward, growth is only one aspect, but purpose is actually a bigger driver. And how do you move to that? So the book captures that. And I think that in today’s the immediate circumstances that we are in we are actually seeing why that is so important.

Erica Mills Barnhart  07:52

Yeah, so for listeners, we’re recording this while sheltered in place during COVID-19.

Akhtar Badshah  07:59

And because of this sheltering in place, and because of this virus, none of us individually can actually get out of it. It is only through collective social action are we going to survive, if you want to be dramatic about it.

Erica Mills Barnhart  08:20

Yeah, I don’t think that that’s overstating it. I mean, I feel like we’re going to, history would say we’re going to, but what’s interesting, I would love your thoughts on this is I totally see that point about, we’re only going to get out of it as a collective. I mean, that’s the only path forward is through community, and we’re seeing that but that’s such a weird thing to think about when we’re all sitting at home alone very individual, very isolated. So I think I’m definitely seeing this, you know, I still like communicate with people like we’re communicating. But, you know, just folks feeling so alone, and I think having a hard time getting into the mindset that there is going to be this collective movement and community as the path forward. As I see that as a volition, or I’m hearing it as a volition from people, but I’m also hearing this like, I don’t know if that’s really gonna work out or happen on the other side.

Akhtar Badshah  09:14

But let’s look at just just one example. Right? There is the shortage of masks. And there is this million masks challenge, and there are thousands of people around the country, not just around the country around the world that are in their own places, sewing masks-

Erica Mills Barnhart  09:33

 My mom among them, sewing her little heart out.

Akhtar Badshah  09:38

And that is contributing to the collective well being. And individual actions are then becoming collective impact, and that is happening not just masks, It’s people stepping up and cooking food and having it delivered to hospitals, it is restaurants who were shut down saying we will actually cook food and deliver it to frontline workers actually going in and supporting food shelters, it is people picking up the phone and saying, I will go deliver groceries to somebody because they cannot come out of the house. So there is this, even in this isolation, we have found ways to do things in a collective fashion, and I think that’s the point I’m trying to make is that how do we move from the me mindset into the we mindset? And when we move into the we mindset, we’ll actually discover purpose. And the reason why somebody is sewing these masks is not because they want to be individually safe. Which of course they want to, it’s because it gives them purpose, where by doing it, it is actually helping society as a whole, and it is contributing to our well being. And I think that’s the important piece that we are discovering, and it kind of validates some of the points that I was trying to make my book to these individual profiles, where it does not actually become a collective action.

Erica Mills Barnhart  11:24

Mm hmm. And that people, and I think what I’m hearing, if I’m tracking, is that people feel the greatest sense of purpose when they are in community, when they are in the we mindset.

Akhtar Badshah  11:33

Absolutely, because, but it’s all the way investing, right? So when I was at Microsoft, people would come to me all the time and say, I have passion to make change, you’ve got to hire me. And I was gonna shake my head them and I said, you know, why do you need me to hire you to go make change? Make change, and don’t talk to me about your passion, tell me about your purpose. Why do you wake up? What is the purpose for you to wake up? What change do you want to see in the world?

Erica Mills Barnhart  12:10

Do you, do you see people conflating those or thinking that passion is the same as purpose? How do you distinguish them?

Akhtar Badshah  12:16

Absolutely, absolutely. People see passion as the same as purpose and, and part of what I am trying to distinguish is passion is still very much personal growth, and your personal desire. Purpose actually takes that and applies it to community wellbeing.

Erica Mills Barnhart  12:41

Oh, okay, so so passion to you is a very individual thing?

Akhtar Badshah  12:45

Correct, and purpose actually makes, takes it outside, which doesn’t mean you should not have passion. I’m not saying that at all. Absolutely you’ve got to have passion, but if you want to make societal change that passion, that needs to move from individual satisfaction to community good. So it is really what Robert Rice talks about in his book, a former Secretary of Labor. How do you extend the common good?

Erica Mills Barnhart  13:20

Yeah. So part of so the show obviously, is about marketing for good. And one of the ways in which I define marketing for good is that everybody involved is also made whole or it’s good for them, including, you know, employees, you know, people serving on your board, your volunteers, your clients, your customers, because so often marketing is just thought of as an external force, right? But there’s a there’s a forcing function behind it, which is oftentimes the employees for the most part, so internal alignment is as important as external engagement is sort of the core premise. I’m curious, in what way can having a purpose mindset possibly create internal alignment on teams?

Akhtar Badshah  14:08

I think that’s what, that’s where marketing becomes so important, right? So you can either market a product and that’s good or you can actually market a purpose and purpose is in some ways really collectively thinking about are you marketing something bigger than a product or a self which others coalesce around? Right, so why did the million mask challenge work? Or in that same way, the Ice Bucket Challenge worked? Because playing it’s purpose attached to what was a marketing campaign.

Erica Mills Barnhart  15:01

Do you think that that’s always about purpose? I mean, it strikes me that sometimes that’s about identity and wanting to be associated with a certain identity.

Akhtar Badshah  15:10

Absolutely. So there are a number of different factors that actually drive into purpose, right? So eventually it is about being part of a movement, it is about wanting to see positive change, it is about looking at it from a abundance lens, saying small people can collectively do much more than one big effort. It is about applying moving beyond just feeling morally good to actually having a sense of empathy and compassion.

Erica Mills Barnhart  15:57

Oh yeah. So was it was last year or the year before at your so one of the programs that you run is called Accelerating Social Transformation associated with the Evans School at the University of Washington, and I think in one of those sessions you were like, very worked up, and you said something like, I don’t, I don’t care. I’m gonna paraphrase because I think you said it even more strongly. I don’t care about your passion. I care about compassion.

Akhtar Badshah  16:20

You know what, if you look at this notion of, you know, you feel charity towards an individual, which is just your altruistic sense that comes out because we are humans, we see somebody suffering we say we need to help them. Sometimes you feel that sometimes you don’t. Empathy, you move where you are shifting the way you view the world, and you start becoming an empathetic person, and generally empathy is around people that you know. Compassion actually takes that same sense of empathy and applies it to everybody around the world.

Erica Mills Barnhart  17:07

You don’t think we can have collective empathy?

Akhtar Badshah  17:09

No, we can have collective empathy. But compassion from an individual perspective is a very hard thing to achieve, which is why you only see few people achieve total compassion, which is the Dalai Lama and others who

Erica Mills Barnhart  17:22

It’s a high bar. It’s a real high bar.

Akhtar Badshah  17:24

high bar, so we might never reach it. But we can get to empathy. And by applying purpose, you’re actually then in a simple way. How do you extend what you think is your personal benefit to become a collective benefit? I’m not saying that you should become a martyr, and you should become a Dalai Lama or you should become a saint, but what I’m saying is in everything that you do, let’s make sure that whatever we are doing is also extending the good for somebody else. And as long as we’re doing that, then we are actually instigating focus, and we are moving from the me mindset, which has me first to a we mindset.

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:12

In the book to talk about, I mean, I’m thinking of Beth Cantor’s book The Happy, Healthy Non-Profit, and what I really appreciate about her work in general, but that book in particular, is her ability to stay focused on the need for individual health and self care with in service to this, you know, bigger mission and other things. So how do you I mean, what I see is a lot of mission minded people, listeners of the show, who are almost so much in service to others, that they neglect the they neglect the me, you know, for the benefit of the we. So do you address that in the book at all?

Akhtar Badshah  18:54

I didn’t. And I think that’s part of the shortcoming of the book.

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:58

Well there is next book!

Akhtar Badshah  19:01

At some point, you’re going to run out of time. There is a deadline and the editor basically says accept you handing me whatever it is. Right. Right. And but that is a very important point. And I think it’s actually a very critical point that we should not, yes, there are certain people who will give themselves selflessly, but for most of us, if you want to be, if you want to add value, self care, and what Beth is talking about, or even what Alex Count is talking about in his book is about self care. You, you have to do that, but, but I kind of look at it and say, the only way you can actually achieve good is first you’ve actually looked after yourself. I saw a friend of mine that actually talked about this, in this crisis, he’s come up with this bow concentric rings of circle for his business-

Erica Mills Barnhart  20:11

Say that, again?

Akhtar Badshah  20:12

four concentric ring circles. And basically what he’s talking about is the first and foremost, for the company to survive, we all need to make sure that you and your family are safe and healthy. It’s like when the mass when the airline says, you know, if the mask drops, put that on first for yourself, and then your child otherwise you will not be able to put it on to the child. So that’s the first thing, right? We have to look after ourselves first, otherwise, we’re just not going to be able to extend the goal. Yeah, the common goal. So that’s what he’s gonna say, look after yourself, then look after your family, then look after your customers, then look after the business and business will happen. So in some ways, I thought that was a interesting way of kind of extending out what I’m talking about, is that the only way you can actually look at what am I doing for society? Society, you’re not outside of society, you’re within it, you have to be within that center. So unless you’re not looking at your well being, you’re not really looking at the wellbeing of others.

Erica Mills Barnhart  21:33

Yeah. And I think that that’s a really important message, and I think it’s a message that mission, you know, people who come naturally to mission, struggle with a lot. So I just, you know, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a drum, I’m going to keep beating because you know, when I think about internal alignment, and when I work with organizations, or even when I see our students but you know, mainly in an organizational context where you’re in teams, it’s something that I see managers and leaders really struggle with is, you know, how do I balance this kind of personal professional line and I, you know, I want to talk about self care, and I want folks to to really prioritize that, and I also wanted to get stuff done. So it’s just a, an ongoing thing that rattles around in my brain.

Akhtar Badshah  22:19

Well, and I think it’s a very important thing to have it rattle around everybody’s brain. When do we actually go for a walk? Go to the spa?

Erica Mills Barnhart  22:30

And that that’s not a luxury. I mean, the other thing is that self care and before I say this, I want to say that this plays out differently due to positionality and privilege. So I want to acknowledge all I acknowledge that. Self care sounds so bougie you know, like, Oh, I’m gonna do some self care. And by the way, self care is different than self compassion. Right? So you can self care yourself all you want, and actually if you don’t have that self compassion, it’s you know, you just your your toes and your fingernails or whatever your thing is that that constitute self care, you know, it’s just a wrapper for that deeper work. So anyway, we could, I could hop really far down this bunny trail clearly.

Akhtar Badshah  23:16

I think that there’s one point that you raise, which I actually just want to kind of just push a little bit on, which I think is very, very important is that a lot of the stuff that we are talking about comes because we sit in some sense of privilege.

Erica Mills Barnhart  23:33

Yes, we do.

Akhtar Badshah  23:35

And what I think people need to understand is when you feel vulnerable, or you feel beaten up, pick up the phone and call somebody else who may be able to actually provide you with some level of self comfort.

Erica Mills Barnhart  24:02

Yeah, I you know if we didn’t see it before connection as the path to compassion is, you know we’re all living it. Yeah, we’re all living it.

Akhtar Badshah  24:12

Yeah, and I’ll just give you an example, and this has got nothing to do with I know I’m good or I’m not good. You know one of our ASD colleagues sent me a note saying hey Akhtar I need some computers because everything has to go online my students don’t have computers can you help me get computers? It just so I’m glad he called me because it just so happened I was talking to somebody else, and this colleague of ours from Avalon and she was saying you know, I’m collecting computers from Avalon to donate to nonprofit organizations because I know that they need this. All I had to do was connect the two and he got his machines.

Erica Mills Barnhart  24:53

You You are one of the world’s best connectors. It’s amazing.

Akhtar Badshah  24:58

But we can all be because we are all are actually talking to somebody or the other always? So it’s so I may be good at connecting you to technology because that’s my world, but somebody else might be for something else. And I think that’s the message that we need to talk to each other much more than we do.

Erica Mills Barnhart  25:19

Yeah. Again, we think about connections so much in terms of connecting with donors, connecting with volunteer, you know, connecting very transactionally not only transactionally, but externally when it comes to marketing. And I’m really hoping I mean, I am an optimist at heart deep down. And I’m also so as such, I am always looking for the silver lining because otherwise I just get you know, I go to a dark place. And I feel like and I hope that one of the things that comes out of this is that we will be better at reaching out and connecting and see the see the value of it internally, not just externally, as like, you know, not just externally but internally and in a really interpersonal way. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about technology. So you gave a TED talk in 2011, and in that you said “technology has fundamentally changed the way we experience each other”, and you were talking about disruptive technology. I would love to hear what you were seeing in that regard leading up to COVID-19, and then what you’re seeing now as we’re in the thick of it.

Akhtar Badshah  26:31

So when I was talking about my TED talk, it was coming from the perspective, and I actually think it’s playing out now. I obviously did not ever imagine this situation at all.

Erica Mills Barnhart  26:49

Yeah, Akhtar I’ll just say, I re-watched it, but I was there that day that you gave that Ted Talk, and it was so it was as if you were prescient, it was eerie. How much of what you were talking about, I don’t know, just sitting there sheltered in place like it was really interesting listeners should definitely go listen that Ted Talk. It’s spot on.

Akhtar Badshah  27:10

Thank you. What I was basically looking at it from my perspective of having worked or unwittingly thrown into this field of bridging the digital divide. When I came into this field, I was a Luddite. My kids were laughing at me because I said, how the heck can you go around the world telling people how to bridge the digital divide when you are the divide. You don’t have no idea how to turn on a computer, you have no idea how to use a mouse, all you do is shout mom all the time. And, but what I saw was that we could still take a phone and a computer and teach people how to use it in the most fundamental basic ways. But as we were seeing technology evolve technology become more and more complex, and you start seeing artificial intelligence and machine learning. The ability for a poor person to actually understand and utilize that is next to impossible. Unless you have the bridge makers, the people that are actually going to connect, and that’s what I was talking about in the talk, is that we need to do that because that’s how even telemedicine today. I had to go talk to my doctor and it was telemedicine on a video and talking to you on video. I am connecting to friends on a video, I’m doing my class on a video and having all social interactions, having to use Zoom or Teams or Google whatever, you know, we use, and suddenly social has become the most important thing that is driving us. And this technology has become the fabric in which we are actually being able to connect. And just think about this person that is actually locked up on their own without any access to anything. They are now completely disconnected because their only connection was I can go to the village well and have a conversation. That does not exist anymore today, if you’re following the guidelines of not going out of the house. So I think that’s the challenge for us. Right? So technology has completely shifted, and again, it’s put people in positions of even more privilege.

Erica Mills Barnhart  29:55

Yes, yes.

Akhtar Badshah  29:57

Right? And I’m seeing that and I’m quite sure you’re saying seeing that play out in your classroom?

Erica Mills Barnhart  30:02


Akhtar Badshah  30:04

I have a particular class that is refusing to turn on the videos at all because half of my students have lost their jobs, half of them don’t have proper internet connection, the other half are looking after siblings or kids or something and the parents disturb. So the keep that sound off, and they keep the videos off. And then there is another class that I teach, every single student keeps the videos and sound on. They have their own bedrooms or enclosed areas which they can communicate, it’s in the same institution.

Erica Mills Barnhart  30:50

Yeah, isn’t that interesting?

Akhtar Badshah  30:51

And, you know, and I’m here, trying to decide how do I get across to kids who have basically decided that they will not show me their face?

Erica Mills Barnhart  31:06

Oh my god, that that breaks my heart.

Akhtar Badshah  31:09

Right? So I have to actually now figure out how am I communicating to this individual without having a way to even look at them. And and that’s, that’s our reality right but I need to that’s the person I’m focused on and therefore it is only my voice and my silly face that they’re looking at that’s all they’re dependent on to get their learning, so yeah I mean I can’t I can’t change that.

Erica Mills Barnhart  31:48

No we can’t and at the same time we can be profoundly aware of it and what it and what it means I had a chat with my students after reading an article that again, Beth Canter turned me to. That was about our brains and the reason that we’re also exhausted on Zoom calls and I found it fascinating. I didn’t realize this, that like our brains are so elegant in some ways, and then kind of dumb and others. So the brain like as I’m looking at you, it is as if we are in the same room together, right? And so if somebody is really close to the screen, our brains are like, you’re in my, you are in my personal bubble. And I just didn’t understand that. Right? I was getting to the end of every day and be like, oh my god I’m so tired, but I’m not in more meetings. But then it really made sense that, you know, we have, especially as North Americans, we have a wide personal bubble right? Now and everybody’s popping your bubble. It’s very tiring. I thought that was really interesting. So I talked to my students about and said I just read this article, I learned this, and so especially for introverts, and again, this is an internal team dynamic thing, you know, for listeners who have teams you’re managing, you know your introverts or whether I mean this is just slaying them, that their personal bubbles being constantly poked, and meanwhile extroverts are like, I need more, I need more. Like, it’s quite a lot to manage from that perspective.

Akhtar Badshah  33:06

Yeah, I mean, you know, my only, my only self care for survival with this as you know, I’m just for me this is like insane, I can’t move around, I can’t connect, I cannot help somebody, I cannot touch. And the only thing the only thing that keeps me sane is that every single day I make sure I go out for a walk for an hour on my own.

Erica Mills Barnhart  33:32

Me too, at the end of the day, I do at the end of every single day.

Akhtar Badshah  33:35

And, and that’s the only thing that you know. And I’ve adjusted to it but again I mean, I can look at it and say the only reason you adjusted to it is because you are in a position of privilege.

Erica Mills Barnhart  33:47

Yes that is what I was just gonna say, yeah, yeah, because, you know, we can walk around with masks. I really the masks totally freaked me out. I don’t know. Anyway, They freak me out. I also I was going to note, well, a couple of things. One I’ve taken to making Zoom a verb because somehow it makes me feel so much better to say, shall we Zoom? Rather than shall we meet by Zoom? I don’t know why, it helps me as a verb. But the other thing is how striking I mean, I think, so we’re in the third week of the quarter for us at the University of Washington, and like three weeks ago, Zooming was really disruptive and just how quickly we may not be accepting it, we may not like it, but we have adjusted to it. I mean, I I can think a few other more dramatic examples of like the rate at which disruptive has become the norm in terms of technology, not just I mean, we keep saying Zoom, we happen to be on Zoom. There are obviously other platforms, but video conversations and conferencing, I mean, it’s striking.

Akhtar Badshah  34:56

Let me just actually, but to look about this whole issue of disruptive technologies I think it’s actually extending it to so many other things, right?Again, you’re, the acceptance and the ability to use disruptive technology today is only because you are in a position of privilege I still like to go shopping for my groceries. My kids think I’m completely insane doing that. They’re only ordering everything online. But to be able to do that, you have to be in a power of privilege where you are actually willing to pay. First you have the technology, you have the capacity you have the ability to go to the shops and you’re willing to pay 40 or 50 bucks more for your groceries.  I so that’s one piece.I can have a video conference with my doctor, but so many other people can’t even go see a doctor because they do so to the notion of disruption, and then how do we actually make it equal is really where our challenge lies. And I

Erica Mills Barnhart  36:19

I had Hanson. Sorry, I interrupted you.

Akhtar Badshah  36:23

Well, and what I’m saying is that my technology friends, what I’m actually trying to tell them is don’t tell me how to do more with something. Just go out and help somebody utilize this technology in a way that they can understand.

Erica Mills Barnhart  36:41

Yeah, yeah. I yeah. I had Hanson Hussein on the show recently, and he well, you know, he was saying that that COVID-19 and Coronavirus is being the great equalizer. And I said I kind of get that, you know, in some ways, but I actually on balance feel like it has been the great amplifier of inequity and all the all the forms that it takes. So we had a little chit chat little back and forth chit chat about that as one does with Hanson.Yeah, so if you, I want to talk a little bit about disruptive technology, specifically in the context of marketing. So if you were somebody in, you know, who had purpose, both passion and purpose and was compassionate, and you were at the helm of an organization, and you had to think about marketing, which what technology trends would you be looking at?

Akhtar Badshah  37:41

So, I think that one of the things that I kind of talk about is from a marketing and I kind of look at it from the perspective as how do you build movements? Because movement is the greatest form of getting Your message across. Right? It’s the most it’s it’s egalitarian to an extent but it is also disruptive and it’s also dispersed. So if you think about that, just take Uber as an example. For for a lot of people Uber is seen as a technology platform that is making ride sharing easy. How or what Uber has done from a marketing perspective, is that it’s actually created a movement, it is created a movement of committed individuals who will rationally know that every time they’re actually taking a ride, they are gipping the person off who’s actually driving the car, are willing to do that because they are so convinced that it is actually benefiting the gig economy. And that’s a marketing movement that has been created, which is messaging that has completely walked ahead. And that’s it’s done it because of the me mindset, hey, I am benefiting, I can get everything on demand. I don’t have to worry about anything extreme, whatever it is, right. So how do you take that and think about it from a social impact space? And how do you flip what we are doing in terms of creating movements? So I give you an example. I was giving this talk to African women entrepreneurs, and one of them said that look at created a business in Nigeria, in Lagos, delivering healthy food to go working class parents. You can see yourself as two ways, because she described how she gets on a motorbike and delivers the food. She’s a startup, she’s doing this. She’s all the everything. And then, you know, she’s just scrambling the whole time. And I said that you can look at yourself and say, I am a glorified motorcyclist who’s just delivering food, or you can actually see yourself as I’m creating a healthy eating movement. Where do you think you will get more stickiness?

Erica Mills Barnhart  40:39

What did she say, Akhtar?

Akhtar Badshah  40:41

No. So she I think that completely understood that. I said that what you’re doing in my mind is not food delivery. You’re actually creating a healthy movement, healthy eating movement, and you’re actually focusing on working parents who can actually understand this, middle class working parents and saying, I am going to provide you with healthy eating food, which is good for you and your kids and it actually saves you the time coming back from work to cook. You get that messaging out now you get thousands of women actually coalescing around you as a movement because they’re committed to healthy eating versus you as a delivery service. At the end of the day it’s the exact same thing.

Erica Mills Barnhart  41:27

Right, right. Right, right. Yeah, the mechanics of it are the same.

Akhtar Badshah  41:32

But how do you actually think about yourself as to who you are? Are you creating a movement or employing yourself?

Erica Mills Barnhart  41:40

Which I think is a very provocative question for you know, whether or not you’re a nonprofit foundation, social enterprise, you know, whatever the tax status and and i would say from a marketing perspective, it is one of the big missteps is that folks because they get so close to it, so there’s like a very rational, logical reason for this. You’re so close to it. They, like, you know, having your gaze go up to this idea of we’re not just about, you know, the mechanics of whatever it is we’re not just about beds or meals or whatever, that’s super important. But this is part of laddering up to a bigger movement and staying, you know, I refer to staying focused on the why, and being, you know, grounded in your why because that’s what’s compelling. Right. This is, this is, you know, classic marketing jargon, this is the features versus benefits conversation, by the way. We buy benefits, right? And then we back it up with features.

Akhtar Badshah  42:35

And in this case the benefit is a larger purpose.

Erica Mills Barnhart  42:38

Yeah. Right. Similar, such a great example.

Akhtar Badshah  42:42

No, I had a similar conversation I had with another, you know, woman entrepreneur from South Africa. I mean, you know, she’s created these products like soap and other you know, beauty products using beeswax. And so she’s going into this whole natural product. So again, I said that you know, are you selling soap?Or are you selling you know, a shifting lifestyle?

Erica Mills Barnhart  43:16

Right? Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is how lifestyle brands make it right?

Akhtar Badshah  43:20

So those are the kinds of conversations, you know, where I think about how you think about marketing, that then attaches purpose to it, which then moves you out from the mechanics of what you are serving as a product, actually, what is the end goal of what you want to see happen?

Erica Mills Barnhart  43:41

Right? Yeah, I think talking to also talking about features for people, you know, with mission and purpose, I think feels much safer. Also, it’s like I’m going to tell you about the way in which we’re doing I’m going to tell you that I’m getting on a motorbike right to go back to your other example, because it feels big and a little bit scary and vulnerable to say we’re actually on a mission to do this much bigger thing. So I think part of it is like this emotional tug.

Akhtar Badshah  44:07

And for entrepreneurs it’s very hard to step back. Yeah. She’s gonna look around say, okay, you’re telling me all this nonsense, you know, I’ve got to figure out how to pay my bills the next day. I have to get on to the damn motorcycle.

Erica Mills Barnhart  44:20

Yeah, yeah. Can I can I tell you one funny COVID anecdotes since, you know, we’re sheltering in place so I’ve run out of a lot of things in my kitchen. But the thing that I just ran out of before this call because I made a cup of tea, Earl Grey tea with honey and milk, which is my go to and I am out of honey. I realized I knew you would appreciate that, that’s the thing that’s gonna get me to go to the market. It’s not any of the other things on the list. I’m like, Oh, I can get by without that, but my honey, I’m out of honey and it’s like my big crisis of the day.

Akhtar Badshah  44:58

That’s that’s what the you struggle with, right? So So I think what your podcast and what some of the other folks are doing is how do we help, even in our space of social impact, recognize the bigger effort of what somebody is doing, and shine that light on them, and in doing so, it actually increases the self worth and well being. That, hey, I am not just delivering food, I’m actually completely shifting the way in which people eat.

Erica Mills Barnhart  45:38

Yeah. And I would really invite people who are listening to, you know, just begin by wondering about that. One of the things on the show that I talk about a lot is you have to change how you think about marketing before you change how you’re doing marketing. If you just start with the doing, you’re gonna keep perpetuating the status quo, which for most mission motivated organizations and people isn’t going that well actually. So I think that I mean, this is such a specific, tangible, concrete, mental shift, that, you know, somebody could do immediately upon, you know, hearing it for me was like, what’s the movement that you’re a part of? Not what are the brass tacks of of what you’re doing? So I love that. Okay. I don’t know if you have heard me say this before, probably not because we haven’t seen each other since I looked up the the history of the words motivation and inspiration. So, you know, I look up the history words, it’s a little personality glitch I have. So motivation, the histories kind of how it is today, it’s about action. But inspiration I learned is actually originally meant to breathe in. Right? So when you put these two things together make sense you need both inspiration and motivation because you need breath in order to take action. Okay. So I said at the beginning, in addition to your many other things, you’re an artist, and you don’t have to answer this question from that perspective, but I but I will say I’m particularly interested to see how you answer it, which is I would love to hear what inspires you? And also what keeps you motivated to do this work?

Akhtar Badshah  47:09

So the painting behind me is the one that I’ve done.

Erica Mills Barnhart  47:12

I always wondered that.

Akhtar Badshah  47:15

So, yeah, I’ve always, I’ve always painted. Art has always been part of my psyche makeup. As an architect, you learn to draw, you learn to build things, you learn to create and it has always stayed with me. And I actually have no vision when I start a canvas. I put something down and then it kind of recreates itself into something. Sometimes it’s just these demons in my head that come out. And, you know, I’ve actually cleaned up this table which actually behind me which has the, is is actually my art table. And my canvas and my artwork, and my paints all sit there because I have unfinished pieces of work that sit there, and there is something that I’ve not touched now for a year and a half because I’ve been so engrossed in this book. So at some point now I’m going to go back and start painting but because of the Zoom classes, my wife said, clean up your clutter from the back so the students don’t see all the mess behind. So in some ways I actually live with it, and it comes to me when it comes to me, there are times when I’m very prolific and I will do five, six canvases in a short period of time. And then something will sit in front of me for a year, year and a half either hate it, hate it , hate it, I keep looking at it and one day I’ll walk in and I know exactly what I need to do.  And, so it’s it my weird makeup. I mean, I have no idea where these things come from, but they come. But it is very critical for my self being to, to do this, and writing is also a very creative process. So, in this, I think teaching is also a creative process, so creativity, even an entrepreneur is very creative because they have to come up with, so creativity is always there. It’s always coming out. Because I have this eclectic makeup, I need creativity coming out in multiple forms rather than one single form.

Erica Mills Barnhart  49:59

Which would be really important to know about yourself.

Akhtar Badshah  50:02

Which is why I’ve never stuck to doing one thing in my life.

Erica Mills Barnhart  50:06

Well, Akhtar, it’s working for you. You do many, many, many amazing things in the world. If people want to learn more about the amazing things you’re doing, where would you suggest that they go?

Akhtar Badshah  50:20

They can go to my website, AkhtarBadshah.com, they can go to Catalytic Innovators Group, just put in my name, I’ll pop up in many different places, you’ll find all sorts of random stuff I’ve done.

Erica Mills Barnhart  50:35

What’s your favorite social channel to interact with people on?

Akhtar Badshah  50:38

Um, I

Erica Mills Barnhart  50:43

You don’t have one do you? You like all of them?

Akhtar Badshah  50:45

I use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. So you can actually communicate with me through Twitter, @AkhtarBad, LinkedIn, Facebook, email me AkhtarB@outlook.com, find my number from random places or somebody who called me up and said, Hey, I need to talk to you because I was told you’re the only one that can help me. And

Erica Mills Barnhart  51:19

They found you.

Akhtar Badshah  51:20

Yeah they just found me.

Erica Mills Barnhart  51:21

We will also put-

Akhtar Badshah  51:23

Jeep Seattle because they wanted help in setting up a social enterprise for them.

Erica Mills Barnhart  51:30

It’s great. Well, I love your eclectic-ness and all that it produces. And thank you for being on the show.

Akhtar Badshah  51:38

Thank you very much and stay healthy. Stay safe.

Erica Mills Barnhart  51:42

 I’m working on it.

Akhtar Badshah  51:43

Get the honey.

Erica Mills Barnhart  51:46

I’m gonna go out and get my honey now. All right. Thanks, Akhtar.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?