06/30/2010 05:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bold Changes, Great Leaders, Big Movements

Our country is facing a glut of complex problems -- such as poverty, climate change, and immigration -- that no single politician, political party, or other organization can solve in a lasting way, without help. For shifts of this magnitude, we need social movements, and social movements require compelling leaders.

That's why Hunt Alternatives Fund created Prime Movers: Cultivating Social Capital, a multi-year fellowship program for established and emerging social movement leaders in the United States. These Prime Movers have a record of accomplishment in engaging masses of people around a particular issue. Each amplifies the voices of others who share his or her experiences, hopes, and dreams.

Martin Luther King Jr., Gloria Steinem, and Cesar Chavez led movements that transformed an entire population. Lesser-known, but equally important, is Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, or Ella Baker and Dorothy Height, champions in the African-American civil rights movement. These men and women motivated millions to shape their society by speaking out against injustice, catalyzing collective protests, and refusing to stand down when the opposition stood up. As participants in these endeavors, ordinary people accomplished extraordinary feats, changing laws and behavior, and driving the United States ever closer to ideals of social justice.

Today's movements need leaders who, like their forebears, are innovative, tenacious, and willing to build on the wisdom of the iconic men and women who preceded them. They must take risks and call on others to do the same. It is an honor to induct six new Prime Movers into our fellowship program:

David FlinkDavid Flink is an important advocate for the learning disabled, a group comprising some 45 million Americans. With Project Eye-to-Eye, David recruits teachers, parents, and students to remove limitations and stigmas facing individuals--barriers invisible to most of us.

Mark HanisMark Hanis, grandson of four Holocaust survivors, takes to heart the words "never again" to make them a reality. His Genocide Intervention Network's advocacy and education stirs citizens on campuses and in communities to combat this most egregious crime against humanity.

Rachel LloydLeading by example, Rachel Lloyd challenges young women who have been trafficked or sexually exploited to become agents of change. In 1998, she founded Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), the nation's largest organization offering programs to empower, rather than rescue, victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Ai-jen PooAs director of the National Domestic Worker Alliance, Ai-jen Poo is changing how nannies, housekeepers, cooks, and eldercare workers view their work. She is organizing these 2.5 million workers to learn about and take political action to protect their legal rights.

Anim SteelWorking with U.S. students, Anim Steel spearheads the Real Food Challenge, a campaign to shift college food purchases toward sustainable sources and just treatment of workers. Anim is pulling together allies from the farm workers' rights, fair trade, climate change, and health care reform movements to correct inequities in the U.S. food system.

Josh ViertelJosh Viertel believes that good, clean, fairly produced food is a human right, not a privilege. He is president of Slow Food USA, mobilizing everyday people to create a world in which everyone can eat what's good for them, good for the farmers who grow it, and good for the planet.

These six fellows join their peers in a program emphasizing their professional development as women and men who engage masses of people. Our goal is to bolster Prime Movers' ability to think beyond their organizations and take on broader, more strategically positioned roles within their movements. Following a comprehensive nomination and selection process, the finalists receive $60,000 over two years to strengthen their abilities to get average Americans off their couches and into their communities. Through retreats and seminars, the fellows work together and with Fund staff to develop insights and practices about what is required today to be a successful social movement leader.

Among this select group of 40 Prime Movers shaping this country are Kevin Bales, Majora Carter, Cheryl Dorsey, Alan Khazei, Maria Teresa Kumar, Eboo Patel, Zainab Salbi, Rinku Sen, and Jim Wallis. These leaders recognize that we, as Americans, can act in concert to strengthen and protect this messy yet dynamic democracy. As we step forward to craft a more perfect union, we transform possibilities into realities, making our common goals work for the common good. One of these modern cultural icons may have already inspired you to be a co-author, writing the history of our democracy.

If it hasn't happened yet, make it happen soon.