Identify the Problem

This is the first step in your journey to achieving social impact. At this early stage, you should have an idea about a social or environmental problem that you want to solve, but you don’t yet need to know much about the problem.


What’s the problem here? This may sound like an easy question, but it’s not. Every person brings their unique perspective to a problem. Also, people’s initial description of a problem often stops short of getting at what really concerns them.

Before you can begin to address a social problem, you need to understand your own point of view. In this step, you’ll uncover why you want to address this particular problem and write a short description of the problem to help focus your work.

Watch this video to explore different perspectives on a problem, as well as learn what goes into a good problem description—and what doesn’t.

Jordan's Journey

As you follow the steps in this resource, you’ll walk through the process and activities with Jordan. Let’s see how she gets started describing her problem.

Defining a Problem

Let’s explore how you can define a problem in a way that will get you on the path toward a good solution.





Lessons in Change

You may be wondering how a one or two sentence problem statement will move you closer to achieving social impact. Simply put, it helps you envision the kind of change you want to happen.

The goal of writing a good problem statement is to have enough focus that you can soon begin learning about the problem’s context and causes, but to avoid assigning causes or prescribing solutions at this stage. This is especially important if you are already working to address the problem.

It is tempting just to validate what you already think or what you’re already doing. Keep an open mind and expect to discover opportunities for new interventions you hadn’t thought about. The problem description should let you consider a number of effective solutions as you move forward.

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Over time you will continue to gain insights about both your problem and your perspective on it.

As you begin your journey as a social entrepreneur or policymaker, take time to develop a problem description that: 

Don’t worry if your problem statement isn’t perfect the first time. It’s common to go through multiple versions as you refine it—and thereby improve your ability to achieve social impact.