2020 continues to uncover the many social problems we need to solve, and broken systems we need to reinvent. This is crystal clear most recently with the horrific wildfires that have demonstrated how desperate we are for a solution to climate change. 2020 has been crisis after crisis, but these crises are also incredible opportunities.
Opportunities for us to wonder:
“Is this how we want to continue to operate? Or is there a better way?”
But in order to get there, we must first recognize that the very system in which social change operates — the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors — is itself broken. We need to reinvent our social change sector as part of the Great Reset as well.
Yes, how we we structure, regulate, fund, and connect social change efforts is broken in some fundamental ways:
The Social Change Sector is Rooted on Sexism
If we are going to truly pull back the curtain on how we hold social change back, we need to understand its sexist history. Today’s social change sector emerged from the benevolent movements of the early years of this country. These movements were largely led by women, but funded and regulated by men. Women helped feed the hungry, house the poor, cure the sick, while begging corporate and government leaders (mostly men) for the money and right to do so. These women received money, praise, and some influence, as long as they didn’t try to fundamentally change the underlying systems that caused the hunger, poverty and illness in the first place. This is why, to this day, there are legal limits on how political nonprofit organizations can be, and nonprofit leaders typically receive only limited, restricted, short-term funding.
We Overvalue Business and Gross Undervalue Social Change
This sexist past also explains why our society still places greater value on the male-dominated world of business than on the female-dominated world of social change. Corporations enjoy much greater freedom and financial investment than their nonprofit counterparts do. They also benefit from much fewer restrictions on lobbying and political maneuvering. At the same time, business leaders are often held up as disruptors, innovators, and game-changers while their social change counterparts are often described as inefficient, risk-averse, and not worthy of significant investment.
We Have Disempowered Our Social Change Leaders
Because of all of this, our social change leaders have for too long lacked the power, influence, and money required to create lasting change to broken systems. We must recognize that how we have regulated, limited and undervalued social change organizations and their leaders has served only to disempower these leaders and organizations, and ultimately hold true social change back.
So today, in the wake of a global pandemic, a crumbling economy, racial unrest, and a screaming planet, the signs are right in front of us. It is time to do things very differently.
The good news is that we have all of you — a cadre of visionary, passionate social change leaders just waiting in the wings to lead us out of this huge mess. You have the big ideas, you just need to break free from the limits that have held you back for so long.
I believe that it is time for social change leaders to begin to step into your own power. To start demanding the money, freedom, attention, access and influence your social change visions truly require.
There is much more about how to do exactly that in my upcoming book, Reinventing Social Change, out February 2021. To get book release updates and early access to the book, make sure to sign up for the Social Velocity e-list here.
Photo Credit: Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez