3 Questions With: Christine Bader, Writer, Advisor, Speaker & Co-Founder, The Life I Want

Name: Christine Bader

Role/Function: Writer, Speaker, Advisor, Coach, Facilitator...

What She’s Currently Working On: I’ve just launched “The Life I Want” with my fellow sustainability writer, mom of twins, and American-in-Australasia Eva Dienel. We’re sharing stories of the people, organizations, and communities reimagining work so that it enables the lives we want rather than sticking us with the lives we’re stuck with.

Work is such a powerful arena, where individuals can express their best selves, and where organizations can channel people and resources to achieve amazing things. (Of course, the opposite can be true as well.) Work is where business, society, culture, and politics intersect—and by fixing work, we believe it’s possible to fix a whole lot more.

1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact?

In my senior year of college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something that had a tangible impact on peoples’ lives; the banking and consulting jobs that my classmates were lining up for just didn’t make any sense to me.

I had a few friends that had been involved in City Year, the AmeriCorps program that engages young adults in a year of service in public schools – which met my criteria for work that I understood! So I signed on for what turned out to be a challenging and inspirational year, which I now realize put me on this lifelong (and very twisty!) path of service.


2. How did you break into the social impact space?

After City Year I served as a teaching fellow in community service at Phillips Academy Andover, then as a New York City Urban Fellow working in the mayor’s office – experiencing social impact from multiple sectors.

My entry into corporate social responsibility, which became the biggest chunk of my social impact career (so far!), came after business school. I joined BP (then British Petroleum) as a commercial analyst – this was in the fall of 2000, when there weren’t really many “CSR” or “social impact” jobs. BP’s then-CEO John Browne had not long before become the first head of a major energy company to acknowledge that climate change was real and urge action, so I was intrigued by this leader who seemed to be thinking about the role of his company in the world differently from others.

I moved to Indonesia and was supporting BP’s takeover of ARCO crunching financial and production data. But I quickly got absorbed in the Tangguh project, a liquefied natural gas project that was technically and commercially straightforward but surrounded by human rights tripwires: a village that had to be resettled to make way for the project, a corrupt and violent military, a province neglected and exploited by its national government. So I put my hand up to spend more time on these issues – and the rest is (my) history.

Highly recommend    Christine’s book    for more of her fascinating story.

Highly recommend Christine’s book for more of her fascinating story.

3. What most excites you about social impact these days?

I love the provocation that Anand Giridharadas posed to many of us in the social impact space through his book Winners Take All, challenging our assumption that business has the answers to the world’s problems. I didn’t love everything about the book: I wish he’d disclosed before the epilogue that he was part of the world he was bashing, and spent more ink reflecting on his participation in those circles and the evolution of his thinking about his own impact and path – which might suggest how others in those circles could shift. Nonetheless, he is delivering a forceful kick in the pants to examine whether “MarketWorld” approaches are hurting more than helping.

The other book that has had a huge impact on me recently is The Essentials of Theory U, Otto Scharmer’s new edition of his seminal 2007 academic text. This quote leapt off the page at me:

“The success of an intervention depends on the internal condition of the intervener.” 

That quote nails why my focus has shifted from CSR to The Life I Want: because we can’t perform in even the most purposeful and impactful jobs if we ignore our “internal condition.”

This isn’t about the inherently precarious notion of “work-life balance,” or cutting down our screen time or getting more sleep or exercise: It’s about the conditions and context that sit beneath what tips and hacks can touch.

We cannot live our best lives if we don’t feel that we have agency; if we’re living in the wrong place; if we’re suffocating under burdens of healthcare, debt, or caregiving; or if we’re burnt out with no time to engage with our friends, families, communities, nature, or selves. 

What is that combination of individual choices and inner work, employer policies, community support, and systemic changes that will enable all of us to live the lives we want – and in doing so create the world we want? I hope that the Reconsidered community will join me at thelifeiwant.co to share your stories, frustrations, and aspirations.

Check out Christine’s new project at thelifeiwant.co, and her articles and talks (including her TED talk) at christinebader.com. Find her on Twitter @christinebader. Photo credit @artisanalphoto.

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