03/15/2012 02:14 pm ET Updated May 15, 2012

Superman's Not Coming

We do a lot of waiting for supermen. We pray for saviors to swoop in and solve our nation's problems. Meanwhile, the difficult slog is done by unsung parents and teachers, tireless entrepreneurs and fired-up occupiers, community activists and hundreds of thousands of non-profiteers on the front lines.

The drawn out recession and government pullback threatens to undo all this hard work. We are told by technocrats and their corporate paymasters that we are in an age of austerity. Disinvestment in community initiatives is the order of the day. This is the new normal.

We are missing out on a bold, creative approach to civic action due to this lack of vision and political will. On the education front, practitioners are beginning to understand the critical importance of true collaboration. The future is not in stale test-taking and punitive teacher evaluations. It's in the construction of a cradle-to-career pipeline that embraces the input of all stakeholders. Non-profit groups are at the heart of the Community School and Promise Neighborhood movements.

On the economic front, despite it accounting for over 10 percent of the nation's workforce, the non-profit sector is rarely recognized by our country's leadership. Based on the number of jobs provided, the sector is larger than the construction industry and larger than the finance, insurance and real-estate sectors combined. Moreover, the non-profit community is vital for private sector employment growth through the efforts of workforce intermediaries that train and place workers. Additionally, non-profits are at the leading edge of entrepreneurial expansion through the operation of incubators, peer-to-peer networks, youth development programs, micro-financing, and other tools.

On the government reform side, non-profits are pivotal for the resurgence of more transparent and engaging forms of democracy. On the one hand, non-profits are leading the charge to remove corporate influence from our elections. On the other, they're pioneering participatory mechanisms that bring regular citizens into budget-making and legislative processes.

This innovation is played out in countless other fields. For seniors, non-profits are developing "village" models of care to help residents age-in-place. For affordable living, non-profits are at the forefront of building a continuum of housing. For health care, non-profits are opening community centers that meet the needs of patients where they live. For public safety, non-profits are providing life-saving early intervention services that steer young people away from the pull of the streets. For the environment, non-profits are providing communities with co-operatively owned energy alternatives and local farming and food systems. Simply put, as businesses and governments contract, the non-profit sector has established itself as the main and sometimes only partner for many communities and vulnerable populations.

But, it's time to shake off the dead weight of austerity. It's time to believe and invest in our communities again. We're going to build a new partnership between a government motivated by the public good and a non-profit sector driven by compassion and innovation. It's going to transform our country. Every day, regular people of good heart and good conscience are punching the clock and getting to work on this effort. It's time for courage. Superheroes need not apply.