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IYLA Speech

I was invited to speak at the 2017 IYLA Conference at the United Nations on the topic of “Moral and Innovative Leadership for Sustainable Development: Vision · Service · Entrepreneurship”. The conference organizers recorded the video here. It was a fun experience to speak in the General Assembly room and to meet a lot of the other conference attendees.

Below is the speech that I gave: 

Hello everyone – it’s truly a delight to be here today with all of you. To introduce myself, my name is Joyce Meng and I am the CEO / Co-Founder of Givology (, an online giving marketplace for education that connects donors to grassroots education projects and student scholarships around the world. Since our founding nine years ago, we’ve grown our network to over 50 grassroots partnerships in 30 different countries, with 18 chapters globally, 70k registered donors, over 3k students helped, and hundreds of volunteers involved.

When we launched Givology, we had three major objectives. First, we wanted to democratize philanthropy in which small donors could achieve the same level of transparency and personal engagement as large donors. While it may be easier to manage one one-million dollar donation, we believe a movement starts with one million one dollar donations. Second, we wanted to create a community of innovative grassroots organizations, judged on their outcomes and impact. And third, we wanted to push the limits of how far a volunteer-driven model can scale.

Givology itself is 100% volunteer run. With all our work coordinated online, we don’t pay for office space or salaries. On our team, we have artists, entrepreneurs, and translators all the way to software engineers, consultants, and bankers. And of course, lots of passionate students!

I want to share with all of you today three observations from running Givology. Many of you are leaders or will become leaders of various organizations – whether government, nonprofit, for-profit – as you think about the organization you create, hopefully these will help you.

(1) Extrinsic incentives aren’t sufficient

A meta-analysis by Tim Judge, et al including 92 quantitative studies with data on over 15k individuals found that the association between salary and job satisfaction is very weak, roughly about 2%. Similarly Gallup’s research found that there was negligible difference between employee engagement and pay level. Rather, what improves engagement is a clearly defined and meaningful purpose within an organization , a pathway for individuals to make their own choices towards this goal, feedback and support so that progress can be achieved, and social recognition of their contribution. Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation is a much stronger predictor of job performance than extrinsic motivation – in fact 3x as much. If organizations spent less time designing financial rewards and more time on creating opportunities for their people to develop new skills and experiences, the productivity impact can be massive. At Givology we don’t pay people anything but ask for them to give us their time, skills, and passion. In seeing the difference that they make to our students and schools as well as the legacy they leave on our organization, our volunteers are motivated to work really hard.

(2) In building a team, finding aptitude to learn and grit is much more valuable than ticking all the skills boxes

In a world of automation in which resumes are filtered based on ‘keywords’ – organizations increasingly hire for employees that they don’t have to train. ManpowerGroup reports that 52% of U.S. employers surveyed have difficulty filling positions because of talent shortages, of which 35% cite lack of experience. In our opinion, this ‘skills shortage’ is illusory. At Givology, we are very comfortable giving team members the chance to learn and grow into very large roles — much bigger than they initially thought possible — with mentorship, training, and support. Limited experience today doesn’t matter to us. In working with hundreds of volunteers, we have data that shows capability to learn and a personality of persistence is significantly more important.

(3) Leadership is not about the leader

Society loves stories about heroes and founders. Culturally, in the United States, we have a very individual-focused society. But leadership isn’t about the individual conquering everything and succeeding on his or her own determination, but rather, service, empowering others, and creating an institution much greater than yourself. Even though I started Givology now nearly a decade ago, I define my success in my conviction that if I leave the organization tomorrow, our work will continue to grow and develop in the hands of my team. It’s not about you or me – it’s about what we create.

To conclude, I want to encourage all of you to think about your impact and how small actions of giving taken daily and cultivated into a habit can create a movement of change. Our philosophy is that if we have hundreds of people contribute 1 hour per week or $1 per week, well that’s how a movement gets started.

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