06/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Must The Blind Lead The Blind?

I watched a man with a white cane find his way along the street yesterday, and wondered whether I should offer to help. He seemed to be doing just fine -- so I opted to marvel and applaud silently. What must it be like to not be able to see? (The small disability that I've been struggling with for seven months has given me a tiny window into a world I had not known before... I now recognize that, for most of my life, and in most ways, I have been able bodied and privileged, and how seldom we see those who are not either of those things making their way among us....)

Which is why I was interested to read about the controversy generated when the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) hired a sighted man as their new president and CEO. As Daniel Dale writes, "When John Rafferty looks out the window of his modest third-floor corner office at CNIB's Bayview headquarters, he can see the trees of a wooded ravine. This is why an advocacy group calls his hiring a 'step backward.' This is why he speaks of his 'unique challenges', 'taking time to understand' and being 'extra careful'. This is why the leader of another charity says a genial man with a sterling resumé who left a lucrative private-sector job to occupy this corner office would, in a perfect world, be somewhere else. This is John Rafferty's burden. He can see. Rafferty's predecessor, Jim Sanders, was blind." And so was every other leader throughout the CNIB's 91-year history. Critics are wondering how the CNIB can lobby firms to hire the blind when it will not do so itself. Do read Toronto Star writer Dale's thoughtful story, and why John Rafferty decided to become a New Radical.

Controversy is something that many New Radical pioneers have experienced -- New Radicals are people who find ways to put the skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges, often transitioning between sectors (such as corporate to non-profit) as they do. In fact, one of the first of these people to come to my attention was Bruce S. Gordon, the first president and CEO of the NAACP who did not come up through the ranks (he had a successful corporate career, including 35 years at Verizon). Choosing Gordon, an "outsider" stirred up some debate in 2005, when becoming a New Radical was still unusual.

Because I am not a member of either of these communities, I cannot possibly understand these issues as their members do. And there are undoubtedly many who hold firm views about who should and should not lead these organizations, and I am trying to see things from their point of view. I find myself wondering, though, if we can really indulge this kind of thinking today.

First of all because, well, aren't we all supposed to be in this together?

Secondly, because the not-for-profit sector is already facing a talent shortage. And it's about to get worse.

Bridgespan, a management consulting firm in the non-profit arena, reports that there will be a need for more than half a million leaders in this sector in the next few years, as current leadership retires. See Bridgespan's site and their sister organization, Bridgestar, a placement firm, for details about the shortage, as well as great resources for people eager to make the transition.

Yet there are so many people eager to do work that matters, so many men and women eager to become New Radicals. More than enough to bridge the gap.

One more resource I'd like to share. On Friday, Phil Cubeta's must-read blog on philanthropy, Gift Hub, included an item on a new service for people wanting to become New Radicals:

From Ben Rattray, CEO of, via personal communication, comes word of a new website, Jobs for Change. The site, Ben, was created in partnership with more than a dozen nonprofits, including Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, AmeriCorps Alums, Echoing Green, Network for Good, and Encore Careers. Among other things they've hired a team of career advisors to help people find and advance a career in social change -- whether that's in the nonprofit, government, or social enterprise sectors -- and are hoping to serve as a gateway for people looking to enter and advance in the sector. Ben says,

One of our overarching goals is to help advance the growing movement toward careers in the common good, and we've written a vision statement about the importance of this movement and are asking top bloggers and nonprofit leaders to add their name in support.

Clearly, something big and important is going on. A major shift in the way people think about work. Might we consider welcoming the people who want to become New Radicals with open arms? Might we accept their desire to help, and the skills, knowledge, and resources they bring? Please share your thoughts by commenting below, or by emailing me directly at

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Julia Moulden is on tour talking about the New Radicals. She also writes speeches for visionary leaders from around the world.