New Radicals Take A Leap Of Faith

02/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Over the holidays, I was tossing old magazines into the recycling bin when I spotted the June issue of TIME, and an article about former British prime minister Tony Blair that I'd meant to read (it's a great piece about Blair and his new foundation, which is dedicated to proving that collaboration between those of different religious faiths can help address some of the world's most pressing social problems:,8599,1810020,00.html]

I mention this because the reporter, Michael Elliott, wrote that a comment Blair made about the work of the foundation he now leads - "this is how I want to spend the rest of my life" - would be met "with a snort of derision" in his home country. Elliott noted that Britain is a nation "where cynicism is a way of life". And that's what stopped me cold.

A way of life?

Wow. The more I've worked with New Radicals (for more, see archived articles about people who are putting skills they've acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges [ ]), the more I've come to realize that while life can be hard, sometimes very hard, and while we can't control what comes our way, we can choose how we respond to it. What we do with the hand we're dealt. I simply cannot imagine choosing cynicism as a permanent response to the world. Not to mention a country's brand!

Sometimes, after I've given a speech about the New Radicals, and the audience and I are engaged in Q&A, a cynic will pipe up. For instance, someone will suggest that New Radicals are well-to-do boomers who have the luxury of choosing how to spend the rest of their lives. When this happens, I humbly offer one example of how one man who's suffered the greatest privations has become part of this powerful new movement.

Twenty percent of Brazilians are illiterate, and 60 percent are functionally illiterate (that is, cannot read a newspaper or write a letter). The Brazilian government is working with NGOs across the nation to increase literacy, and one New Radical pioneer is doing his bit.

Carlos Leite had been a handyman for more than three decades, when one day he came upon three abandoned encyclopedias. He was immediately seized by the idea of setting up a library. Fifty-one years old and functionally illiterate, he is now the librarian of Jardim Catarina, a shantytown of about 100,000 people, some 31 miles (50 kilometers) from Rio de Janeiro. The shack that was once his home now houses a collection 6,000 strong. He feels that he has found his life's work, "I was brought up here, I know what this place needs. Today, even if I wanted to close this library, I couldn't. It belongs to the people now."

My hat goes off to Carlos and all those who are choosing to move forward in their lives in the knowledge that we can each make a difference. That we can harness our talents and come together in aid of the common good. Happy New Radical Year!

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below, or emailing me directly at