Last week's column posed the question, "Is making a difference only for the rich?" A friend sent me a link to an article from the Guardian newspaper about a super-private meeting of the world's richest people that took place recently - so that they could talk about the world's problems. The group - who call themselves the Good Club - includes Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, and David Rockefeller.
For six hours, the assembled billionaires discussed the crises facing the world. Each was allowed to speak for 15 minutes. The topics focused on education, emergency relief, government reform, the expected depth of the economic crisis and global health issues such as overpopulation and disease.
(Given this week's question, I wonder if Oprah is the only African-American in the Good Club?)
And readers wrote with all kinds of responses to last week's question. One commented that she hadn't heard about many examples of diversity in the ranks of those changing the world. I immediately shared two examples with her. One well known, and one less so.
New Radical pioneer Muhammad Yunus is certainly in this camp. As a professor of economics in Bangladesh, he was distressed to learn that women from a nearby village were being charged extortionate rates of interest, thereby ensuring a lifetime of penury. He lent them money, and this gesture grew into the now widespread practice of micro-lending, his world-famous Grameen Bank, and ultimately, to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
The Grameen Bank lends to poor people with little or no credit history. Low-cost loans mean that the poorest of the por can begin to build futures for themselves. This practice has been so successful in Bangladesh that Muhammad predicts that the country will have eliminated extreme poverty within 10 years.
Aditya Jha is a good cross-cultural example. Born in India, he emigrated to Canada and created several successful companies. By chance, he attended a dinner where the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Stan Beardy, was speaking. "My people are suffering," Beardy told the black tie crowd. Aditya reports being shocked by this statement and the reality it conveyed. "As an immigrant to Canada, I wondered how is it that these people aren't sharing in the prosperity that I've enjoyed since coming to this country?"
Aditya responded by establishing a foundation that underwrites a series of programs designed to help these communities learn the business skills he believes will help lift them out of poverty, including one that pairs aboriginal youth with corporate executives - a kind of job shadowing. Even better, his New Radical role is part of a growing trend in the First Nations community. Native leaders are embracing entrepreneurship and microlending as a way to help their communities. "If they develop their own revenue," he told me, "They can address complex social problems without relying on government help."
Afterward, I wished I'd added a third example: President Barack Obama. As he put it in his speech in Cairo earlier this week, "Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President." He's a fine example of a New Radical, someone who is putting skills acquired in his career to work on the world's greatest challenges, and doing so in a way that is positive, constructive, and hopeful. His speech is a work of art.
There are important initiatives around the world designed to help increase diversity within organizations. Here's a particularly interesting one: DiverseCity:
Toronto has long welcomed people from all over the world with a promise of opportunity. Today we stand proud to have the world reflected in our city. Now is the time to reach out and tap into the potential this offers. Ours is the most ethnically and racially diverse region in Canada yet there is a striking lack of diversity at the top of our public, private and nonprofit organizations...
Maybe it's time that we thought about whether we're doing the same in this changing-the-world space?
Again, our conversation on this topic is mirrored by what they're talking about over on socialedge.org. Rod Schwartz, CEO of ClearlySo (and clearly a rabble-rouser!) asks the provocative question, "Are the only Innovations in social entrepreneurship Anglo Saxon?" Check out the Social Edge site and join the conversation.
Finally, a conversation this week got me thinking about an aspect of making a difference that hadn't really crossed my radar - even though I've been struggling to recuperate from an injury in the last year.
On Monday, I interviewed Allyson Hewitt, the director of social entrepreneurship at MaRS (a non-profit innovation centre) for another project I'm working on. During our call, she said, "If we're talking about valuing diversity in this new world we're creating, we need to value all diversity." She was referring to the disabled, and told me about Al Etmanski. He's the founder of an organization whose mission is to "reduce the isolation and loneliness of people who are marginalized and ensure that the gifts and contributions of all members of a community are welcomed. The PLAN Institute improves the lives of people living on the margins of society and enrich their communities by creating opportunities for mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships to form. We promote the leadership and participation of people with disabilities and their families in helping us to revitalize our communities. We do this by creating opportunities for dialogue, collaboration and partnership."
Seems to me that this idea deserves an entire column (and I would love to hear your stories on how the disabled are making a difference - a really neat twist, in that New Radicals often work for the organizations designed to help the disabled... and now those with disabilities are working alongside us, sharing what they have to offer). Plus, Al also created a retirement savings plan for the disabled. Watch this space for more details soon. Here's where to read about it now.
As regular readers of my writings about the New Radicals know, I believe that this is a movement for all. Maybe we need to be thinking about ways to include not just people from - as I say regularly - "each field, every sector, and around the world", but also people of all ethnicities. And all levels of ability. (New Radicals are people who put skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges - for more, please see archived articles.)
What do you think? And what stories can you share with us? Please comment below, or feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today (June 5) is World Environment Day. Everywun is planting one tree for each person who signs up on their site, designed to help people benefit causes they care about by taking fun, easy, and cost-free actions at http://www.everywun.com.
Julia Moulden is on tour, talking [http://www.speakers.ca/moulden_julia.aspx] about the New Radicals [http://www.wearethenewradicals.com]. She also writes speeches [http://www.juliamoulden.com] for the world's most visionary leaders. And, when she's healed, will go kayaking on Georgian Bay.
Follow Julia Moulden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juliamoulden