09/09/2013 10:02 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

Normative Change at an Historic Scale

The World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting of the New Champions or "Summer Davos" starts next week in Dalian, China. I look forward to it every year. Discussions are always insightful and productive, but it's the theme of new leadership that I really enjoy.

We hear about global growth companies, emerging economies, and technology pioneers and social entrepreneurs. We talk a lot about institutional innovations and strategies, but the tenor of those conversations is changing.

Importantly, the term "New Champions" is increasingly taking on new meaning. In addition to the leadership of emerging high-growth economies like the BRICs, discussions more and more center on the leadership of a re-emerging Civil Society--natural leadership I'd suggest is borne of the times.

People fed up with the status quo are finding each other through shared interests and demanding change. They've become a force of their own, and a leg of society that can no longer be considered a safety-net player, but rather a partner in driving human success and economic growth.

The World Economic Forum recognizes it. Multi-national companies recognize it. And, governments at all levels around the world recognize it. It's normative change at an historic scale.

We're seeing it play out in communities across the globe and through a range of matters, from troubling issues like government corruption, combating terrorism and human trafficking to the environment and smoking in public places. Movements of people through shared goals and collective action aren't waiting for traditional institutions to solve their problems.

Basic human kindness coupled with a belief in something bigger than ourselves can be a very powerful agent for change.

For United Way it's meant working to bring these folks together. We invite people and institutions to make a difference by giving, advocating and volunteering. It's seen local United Ways and concerned citizens around the world taking on issues at the root cause of larger social and economic challenges. It may mean providing critical job skills for people in parts of Latin America, improving high school graduation rates in the U.S., or fighting disease and ensuring access to clean water in communities across Africa.

We've all come across issues in our lives that seem either impossible to take on alone or too complex to wrap our arms around. That doesn't have to be the case. People with very small voices are accomplishing very big things.

If you're Generation Y or Z, engaging in change like this is in your DNA. For Boomers like me and others it requires removing limits and rethinking what's possible. The questions then become: What have you seen that needs to change? And, what are you going to do about it?