08/28/2012 12:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Changing the World? Mix One Woman With Valor, Add Grit

In the easy lexicon of social entrepreneurship, words like courage, grit, character, valor and moral fiber are missing-in-action. I read plenty of job descriptions from nonprofits and for-profit social ventures alike, which require Quicken books or a second language, but overlook quick thinking or the language of empathy.

As David Brooks notes in The Social Animal:

"We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions. We are good at teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like character, we have almost nothing to say."

At economic development and social entrepreneurship conferences, we talk endlessly about the need for good management, and rarely talk about the need for the learned attributes of good personhood. In the matter of economic justice, the stakes are so high that perhaps faith in market systems, government industrial policy, or the latest tech gadgetry feel more promising than reliance on individual acts of valor or the selfless acts of communal love which ground us as global citizens.

What does it mean to be a change-maker without courage or character? Is it even possible? Is it old-fashion and antiquated, maybe even a bit sappy, to openly applaud personal valor?

In her life choices, Raquel Donoso, CEO of the California Latino Community Foundation, has unpacked the propellant which powers careers with meaning.

Raquel's social entrepreneurship horizon encompasses 14 million Californians, the 38 percent of the state that is Latino. Her mission is system-wide and far-reaching or, as she says, "Tweaks don't make change. We can't just keep tweaking the system."

But, social change comes in many forms, in many single acts of commitment. Raquel's first social entrepreneurship project had a constituency of one.

After a traditional Catholic parochial school education, "I got pregnant my first year in college when I was 18. It was tough because none of peers were in that situation. My peers were traveling summers to find themselves. I had to find myself damn fast," she told the iOnPoverty cameras.

Like many social entrepreneurs filled with passion and purpose, she learned about her clients and her community -- not in abstract policy papers or from after-the-fact evaluation reports -- but from living first-hand and face-to-face with poverty.

"I was a welfare mom for awhile. My son needed government subsidized health care. Just to feed my family, I felt a lot of humiliation." Grit.

"Being a young mom was definitely the first time remembering feeling the glare of people's eyes." Determination.

"When you have to care for someone else, something rises up in you and leads you." Character.

Economic justice work is not for the weak. It is for people with high moral fiber like Raquel. In the words of James Marshall Reilly,"defeat is not part of the vocabulary of success."