Wow! What a great response to my last post where I laid out my vision for the social change sector. From the many Likes and Shares and Tweets and emails I received from people voicing their support, it is quite obvious that I am not alone in my view that it is time to reinvent how we do social change.
And I’ll be honest with you, hitting “Publish” on that post last week was pretty scary for me. Because for the past couple of years I’ve been in such a state of disbelief about where we have ended up as a country, as a society, as a world — the division, the vitriol, the despair — that I have just wanted to hide under the blankets.
Obviously I couldn’t do that — I have kids to feed. But I was emotionally hiding under the blankets. It is really rough out there, folks. (I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.)
The thing that got me to poke my head out and start writing my book was seeing other people start to rise up and essentially say: “Nope, we’re not doing this anymore.” People — who in the past might have stayed silent, content to just live their peaceful, normal lives — now suddenly running for public office, or starting new game-changing organizations, or writing paradigm-shifting books or articles. As things have gotten so completely out of hand, more and more people have felt compelled to step up and lead.
Like the social change leaders who are fundamentally transforming global financial systems to be equitable instead of extractive.
Like the social change leaders who are creating truly inclusive local economies.
But while these are all exciting solutions — and they, among others, got me to step up and lead too — the bad news is that they, and so many others like them, are not spreading as far and as quickly as they should be. One too many times I have watched an amazing social change leader shake her head discouragingly, worn down by the hurdles standing before her. There are so many exciting, game-changing solutions out there to the challenges we face. But they aren’t getting the oxygen — of money, people, attention, power, influence — they need to truly flourish.
But let me be very clear. I don’t think any one person, or group, or type of organization is to blame for the dysfunctions in the social change sector. The sector is a victim of its own history, the (internal and external) assumptions made about it, and the unequal dynamics at play in our larger society. So instead of pointing fingers — at foundations, at government funders, at individual donors, at policymakers and regulators — I think the path forward is rather to simply uncover the outdated and dysfunctional rules by which we are all currently playing the game of social change.
And there are a lot of outdated and dysfunctional rules in the sector. But so often we just roll our eyes, or nod knowingly, or shrug our shoulders, as if to say “Yeah, it sucks, but what are you going to do?” We fear ruffling feathers, or starting conflict in a sector that is all about collegiality.
But we simply don’t have that luxury anymore.
We have to get clear, as a sector, about what is holding true social change back. We need to start moving to a place where great solutions to the challenges we face as a society, as a planet receive what they require to truly take hold. Change is possible, but we have to start by agreeing that the status quo just doesn’t work anymore. Let’s start having some really honest conversations about what is fundamentally not working anymore in the social change sector.
So what do you think? What norms in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are holding social change back?