I recently watched Apollo 13 (probably for the fifth time), but it was the first time my two young boys had seen it. The movie chronicles the incredibly innovative and effective team of NASA scientists who overcame tremendous odds to get the ailing Apollo 13 spacecraft and its three crew members safely back to earth in April 1970.
But as I watched the movie this time, through the eyes of my two boys who are members of Generation Z, I was reminded that back then it was cool to work for the government. The youngest and brightest minds were recruited to give their all, and government returned the favor by offering them unlimited potential to envision and execute on exciting new ideas. These young recruits were social entrepreneurs in the largest sense of the term: they used innovative approaches to solve problems for the greater good.
The entire movie is about innovation in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, as problem after problem plagues the crew of Apollo 13. During the Cold War, government needed the best and the brightest in order to keep up with the Russians. And that need created a culture of innovation within government.
But for my generation, Generation X, who grew up in the wake of a failed Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation and an increasingly bloated and ineffective bureaucracy, government was something to be increasingly cynical about. Indeed “government” and “innovation” seemed like two completely incongruous words.
But it seems perhaps that tide is changing. Certainly the very successful recent Mars Curiosity Rover expedition builds hope that government can actually innovate again.
And then a recent article by Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post describes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s drive to recruit the best and the brightest technology minds to overhaul Wall Streets’ deceptive financial practices that caused our current financial meltdown. As the article describes,
“CFPB has become a mecca for the young, creative do-gooders who still believe that new technology and the right open-source ethos can fulfill [President Obama’s] promise of a changed Washington.”
Twenty and thirty-something tech experts staff this two year old federal agency that “likens itself to a tech startup, with the goal of creating an efficient, participatory, transparent government that replaces ideology and partisanship with data and results.”
This is government in a whole new (or really old) way. It’s government desperate to lure young, bright minds away from the private sector and employ them toward the greater good. As Khimm puts it,
“This isn’t your father’s government agency: It’s a place that hosts its own lunchtime version of TED talks, serves Pabst Blue Ribbon at holiday parties and adopts a Silicon Valley method to managing its digital projects.”
And it reminds me of the golden age of government, before our idealism that government could actually create positive change turned to cold, hard cynicism. The CFPB may be an experiment, and it remains to be seen whether government can hold the imagination of these talented young social innovators. But maybe my sons’ generation can someday view government again as a place to go to change the world. I hope so.
Photo Credit: Ron Frisard, NASA team discusses potential solutions to one of the many problems facing the Apollo 13 spacecraft
In our ongoing blog series, 10 Great Social Innovation Reads, below are my top 10 picks (ok, if you really count it’s 11, but consider it added value) for what really stood out in the world of social innovation in April. But I’d love to hear what you think the best reads last month were. Please add your favorites from the past month in the comments.
- Are Better Days Ahead for Fundraising? It could be, according to a new fundraising survey and this infographic.
- But maybe not, since according to new IRS data (that disputes the annual GivingUSA survey) Americans gave about 20% less during the recession than before it.
- What Can Junk Food Teach Philanthropy?: Sean Stannard-Stockton from Tactical Philanthropy takes a look at how junk food is marketed and wonders if we could apply the same principles to get more people to become philanthropists.
- An interesting controversy has been brewing around the social enterprise darling, TOMS Shoes, which gives a pair of shoes away for every pair purchased. But some have begun to argue that this type of cause-related marketing is actually quite harmful. The Triple Pundit blog summarizes the debate: B1G1 Virus and the Cause Marketing Paradox.
- There are two new generations of donors on the horizon, Millennials and Generation Z. Do you know what you need to about Millennials?: What do – and don’t – we know about Millennial donors?
- And Is Your Nonprofit Connecting with Generation Z?
- The Nonprofit Finance Fund has been building a treasure trove of information, discussion, tools etc on social impact bonds, a revolutionary way to fund nonprofit impact through government, all in an effort to make them a reality in America.
- The Path to Sustainability: Bob Ottenhoff from GuideStar gives a great argument about the lifecycles of nonprofits and how revenue must move from foundation support to some sort of market support over time.
- From the Philanthropy411 blog comes a great list of resources for nonprofits entering, or looking to enhance their presence in, the world of social media: 20 Social Media Resources for Nonprofits
- Impact Market Failure: Kevin Starr from the Mulago Foundation challenges funders to start funding organizations that can achieve impact and address the failure of the impact funding market.
Photo Credit: susivinh