It's been almost exactly two months since Ignition Philly, where 50 of Philadelphia's millennial leaders walked into a weekend as strangers looking to develop their storytelling skills and left the weekend a community inspired to change Philadelphia. Since then, I have been taking every meeting I can with more people working to make this city a better place, learning about their work and their mission, looking for ways that the Ignition Philly community can support their mission, and ways that they can support us.
Every day I am amazed at the amount of smart, talented young people doing incredible things in Philadelphia. And the amount of times I hear "I really need to introduce you to so-and-so because they're already doing something like that" when I talk about the community organizing that I'm doing, or my work with food security, or an idea that somebody else had, continues to astound me.
Which gives me pause.
One of the things wrong with the way the way that the social impact sector has traditionally worked is that it is ill-equipped to deal with competition. There are other factors at play, but ultimately it comes down to competition for limited funding (which is a whole different issue in itself) and the presumption that one program exists that has the "right" approach to solving the social issue in question (which is ridiculous). Unlike the private sector, which allows for pivoting to adapt to market forces, the social good world tends to dig in its heels. For example, the organizations trying to feed hungry people pay more attention to how many pounds of food they give to hungry people each month (which is important, to be sure) than they do to the reduction in people that need food.
Our challenge, as millennial leaders that have answered the call to serve, is to avoid falling into this trap. In the same way that we have a responsibility to change the way businesses are run, cities are governed, and wealth is distributed, we have a responsibility to change the way we go about affecting social impact - if all of these things are ignored, the world will continue to look very much the same as it does today. It seems, now, that there are more people than ever working to make the world a better place. We need to be sure to work with each other to do so, so that we're not competing over who can distribute more pounds of food each month. People are still hungry in Philadelphia and around the world, correct?
Philadelphia, as the inaugural Ignition City of Ignite Good, has an opportunity to be a model for cooperation amongst millennial leaders working in the social impact sector, creating an ecosystem that changes the way we deal with entrenched social problems. My growing network of friends and colleagues in this city are creating innovative ways to make Philadelphia into a better place, and each of them has a growing network of support behind their work.
We need to make sure that we avoid working against each other. Our idealism and our preference for horizontal leadership structures might do this organically, but we need to avoid the trap that limits our good intentions, that says "I am doing this well, so you aren't." If we're both trying to solve the same problem, why not put our heads together? If we can organize our energy and our ideas, then we can erase the limitations we face in lack of professional experience or funding that always come up when young people try to change the world. There are so many of us trying to solve the same problems, problems that need solving, we need to do it together. If we don't the next generation will be having this same conversation.