THE BLOG
10/01/2013 12:50 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Are You a Prisoner of the Past or Will You Be a Pioneer of The Future?

"We're here to put a dent in the universe; otherwise why else be here?" The quote says much about Steve Jobs and the driving force behind Apple's business philosophy The likes of Steve Jobs are to be found in Silicon Valley where large technology companies and promising start-ups cross pollinate the hardware and software space demonstrating that bringing innovators together leads to even more innovation.

The speed with which the world is changing, growing and becoming more complex also places social innovations high in demand. Like Steve Jobs, social entrepreneurs, are here to leave their mark, finding innovative solutions to tackling the world's most pressing social problems. In their quest for improved and sustainable social impact, they have shifted and are re-inventing the way they interact and work -- from transactional to transformative thinking, to business-as-usual to business-as-unusual and from repetition to reformation. The impact of this shift is already emerging but will require a systematic approach that requires everyone to be engaged in creating positive social change.

Re-examining Your Theory of Change

A few years ago, Bill Drayton introduced the vision of an Everyone a Changemaker (EACH) World. The founder of Ashoka, the world's largest association of leading social entrepreneurs, now again challenges us to re-examine our own theory of change -- in view of the need to better adapt to our quickly changing environment. For those of us who are already disrupting and redefining society through our positive efforts, we are now facing the perfect opportunity to enter into a new paradigm that will re-energize our work and take it to the next level of impact. Drayton tells us that if we consistently regulate change from the top down, we are missing out on a large percentage of internal problem solvers and jeopardizing our ability and capacity to keep up with the pace of change.

The future of social innovation will require us all to change our mind-sets.

But changing mind-sets is a hard task, and there is an imminent danger that even as mind-sets gradually shift, habits and routines prevail, stifling any real changes in practice. Then what had become an attractive vision won't lead to actual empowerment. If much of our future social disruption will come from the bottom-up, we will need to work towards building a societal architecture that reflects the Everyone a Changemaker vision of change. Only within an eco-system of employees, partners and beneficiaries who give themselves permission to think and act transformatively can we hope to build a superhighway for change.

This shift, incorporates three building blocks, focusing on the areas of leadership, individual working patterns and collaboration between teams, giving us practical guidance to help re-frame our way of thinking and the way we work:

  • Self-Permission: Giving permission to oneself and to those around to de-power rigid hierarchical structures that constrict creativity. This new style of leadership should support an Everyone a Changemaker organizational vision that encourages innovation at all levels.
  • New Pathways: Re-structuring organizations so that mindless repetition is discouraged. A shift in working patterns away from mere provision of direct service should encourage employees to re-evaluate, re-think and if appropriate re-invent how, where and when they work best.
  • No walls: Tearing down the walls of preconceptions and reframing challenges across different disciplines. Such a shift in teams will bring new perspectives and new energy to tackling issues and driving impact, shining a light on previously unseen solutions.

Preparing an Innovation Generation

Socrates (of whom Steve Jobs was a big fan) spoke to the heart of the matter when he said: "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." But even with the above building blocks in place there remains the question of how to make the shift sustainable across generations to come. If we are truly working on putting a dent in the universe, we will be challenged to look at the education of our young people with a whole new lens. In a world of changemakers, their "success" (being of value to society, driving social change, or contributing to social problem-solving in a unique and relevant way) and the empowerment to problem-solve quickly and creatively will require a new set of skills. The world"s children must learn to collaborate as well as lead, to see beyond silos and adopt new perspectives in order to drive change.

Fostering the skills needed in an EACH environment is less complicated than it may at first sound. From years of experience, Ashoka and many of its social entrepreneurs from around the world have learned that empathy is a foundational capacity: only once a child has mastered empathy are they prepared to attain the critical skills of leadership and changemaking. Empathy is the ability to be one with the feelings of another, thus enabling us to understand the perspectives of others and to guide our actions in response. Existing programs that include lessons and sharing of experiences around empathy indicate that empathetic youth become more effective problem-solvers, who are better able to lead and to collaborate and work in teams, and hopefully will be far more equipped to build bridges of peace around the world. It is all of our responsibility to spread empathy globally, taking initiative to adapt to local needs and circumstances.

Merely making a dimple on history isn't going to be sufficient. We need to marshal our collective powers to help make the boldest dent we can. The building blocks are ready to be put into action -- and with a generation of young people equipped with changemaking skills, the mind-set shift towards an Everyone a Changemaker World will be a sustainable one. This won't happen in geographically confined spaces like Silicon Valley but requires each of us to contribute and take on responsibility wherever we live and work.

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