What a difference a decade makes. In 2001, when I worked with the Creative Visions Foundation to produce PBS GlobalTribe, the first T.V. series of its kind that showcased people we now refer to as "changemakers" and "social entrepreneurs," we avoided using those terms, afraid they were too esoteric for the general public.
Today, social entrepreneurship is recognized by all sectors of society even if its definition remains vague. Changemaking has gained popularity too. Many organizations and even schools now urge everyone to be changemakers, or agents of change.
Helping people become changemakers became my sole mission as well.
I stopped producing documentaries and launched a new foundation, Global Youth Fund, to engage as many young people as possible in creating social and environmental change.
Why did I feel the need to leave the media when it has unrivaled potential to raise awareness and inspire?
I suppose it has to do with what I recognized as the limits of social issues media. In my experience, media leaves most people in the same place, with the same question: "I'm inspired. Now what?"
My work in the last 10 years -- at the Creative Visions Foundation, Ashoka's Youth Venture and my own organization -- is basically a series of attempts to answer that simple question.
What have I learned?
The first thing I would say is that it remains a difficult question to answer and we shouldn't trivialize it by saying, "Just do something, anything!"
It remains difficult because most would-be changemakers are smart enough to foresee some potential problems. (And if they don't anticipate them, they run into these problems sooner rather than later.)
These are not trivial concerns.
Having mentored hundreds of youth in starting their own social change projects, I encounter and wrestle with these issues all the time.
That's why I've come to believe we need to change how we engage new practitioners of social innovation so that they don't fall prey (so easily) to the most common mistakes. We need to shape a new path for "amateur" activists so that mass engagement can truly mean massive change.
In partnership with the Creative Visions Foundation, I've put together a new road map to help individuals and teams launch new social change initiatives.
This new "Creative Activist Toolkit" brings together several key best practices that I consider to be essential to social innovation.
In short, they help changemakers avoid three of the most common mistakes in early stages of changemaking, namely:
I don't pretend this Creative Activist Toolkit can provide even a fraction of the guidance you'll need as changemakers but I hope it makes the journey a bit less intimidating.
And if you're still inspired, now what?
Follow Charles Tsai on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CharlesGYF