Social causes do not just need packaged interventions–they also need people, both leaders and followers, to put in time and resources for the sake of others. Effective social activists often start out with professional goals for themselves and have enough heart, mind, and will to secure personal well-being and success. As they work toward their own goals, they push their intrinsic growth further until they reach a tipping point; they have achieved the lives they wanted for themselves and now want to give back to others. Patrick Awuah, for example, grew up in Ghana where he aspired to study in America and become an engineer. After achieving his dream and gaining wealth as a Microsoft engineer, Awuah returned to Ghana to open Ashesi University, a private, non-profit, liberal arts school. Ashesi University’s success is arguably a result of the skills, maturation, and personal betterment Awuah gained when pursuing his career at Microsoft.
When people like Awuah make a voluntary life change, it is typically because of a change in aspiration. Aspirations tend to be potent forces of human behavior because they:
*Challenge people to aim for something better.
*Come from within.
*Are slow growing and sustain for the long haul.
*Facilitate critical intrinsic growth by forcing people to exert intentional effort.
To understand how people become intrinsically motivated for the larger social good, it is necessary to look to developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which includes the motivational categories of survival, love, esteem, self-actualization (the need to express one’s talents), and self-transcendence (the need to contribute to the good of others).
According to Maslow, people are multimotivated. Once their basic needs are met, self-actualization and self-transcendence become stronger motivators. Toyama argues that in fact Maslow’s hierarchy is two hierarchies–one explains the influence of external conditions on people’s behavior, while the other, known as the hierarchy of aspirations, explains how people can suppress their more urgent physical needs in the service of their internal aspirations. Ultimately, the hierarchy of aspirations demonstrates how people become better versions of themselves through intrinsic growth. Therefore, in order to create lasting social change, the dominant voices in public policy must stop trying to change behavior with external circumstances and incentives, and instead find a framework to facilitate people’s internal betterment and evolution of desires.