There have been a few blog posts about Steve Jobs' and his limited role in charity work. I would like to challenge these claims, not because I knew him personally, or because we were involved in the same projects. Rather, I suggest, the very culture of Apple was one that was striving towards stronger communities, by virtue of how he approached innovation and social interaction with technology. Read more »
Guest Blogger: Michele Frugel-Gartner is the Executive Director Social Venture Partners Calgary. Prior to this role, Michele was employed with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and participated in Rotary Internationals Group Study Exchange to Saitama, Japan where she studied the role of philanthropy and Japanese civil society. She received her M.A. degree in International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is an alumna of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu, HI.
Note about this post: Michele and I are on the planning committee of the Innovation Exchange. This blog originally appread on the Social Finance site. It has been reposted with permission from the author.
A year ago, I started quietly along a path to understand the legal and regulatory structures and challenges of social enterprise. It was a quest for knowledge and was parlayed into a course on public policy for nonprofits. For six months, I diligently read everything published on the topic with the hopes that my knowledge in the topic would expand and I'd be able to influence the topic. Starting out slowly and independently, I never imagined how quickly the ball would start to roll. Read more »
I don’t watch a whole lot of Television. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of hours in a week that I am sitting on my couch watching TV. When I share this with people, the most common question is, what do you do with your time? Amongst a lot of activities, I read. I am a voracious reader. I used to be able to have 3 books on the go at a time scattered throughout the house depending on where I was when I picked up the book. I am down to one at time – for some reason the retention isn’t what it used to be.
So my most recent read (if I went by purchase we could be here for a while) was The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated our Understanding of War, Science and the Human Brain, by David Shenk. A very long title for a relatively short book. Here’s the premise; the evolution of the style of chess mirrors social evolution. The opening game is the Romantic Phase, where the style of play was offensive, short-sighted, attack driven. The mid-game is the Scientific Phase, where the style is calculated and strategic. The end-game is the Hyper-Modern Phase, where human interaction with artificial intelligence has become the norm and the game of chess, now played on computers, is not about strategy but about out-manoeuvring the opponent (in this case the computer).
Here are some givens:
When faced with a state of chaos, human nature strives for order. This sense of order can be perceived or real and it is based on the understanding of one’s world.
When designing artificial intelligence machines, scientists ask, “Should we design machines to think like human beings… or should they play to the more obvious strengths of the machines’ ability to conduct brute-force mathematical calculations?” (Shenk, pg. 211)
Okay, so chess mirrors life. Art mirroring life is common-place. This is what I find interesting, we have a game that withstood the test of time. This test includes cultural impressions through its travel from the Middle East to North Africa, Far East Asia and Europe; religious impressions of the Crusades and various other “In the Name of God Wars” (including the one currently being waged by the Taliban and Western Judeo-Christian societies); socio-economic impressions of the integration of chess in public schools in low-income communities as a tool for teaching conflict management and team work; and last (but probably not least) the introduction of a technology based society where interaction with other humans comes in the form of a keyboard, web-cams and other artificial intermediaries.
This game, having withstood bombardments from all of these different directions has another thing to share with us. The basic premise I have outlined is that the way the pieces and the players interact with each other is similar to how we interact with other people and systems. When we are looking at community building and development, one move might be beneficial in the short-term but could put us into “check-mate” in the long-term. What would the chess game of NGO’s and Developing Country governments look like? I also thought about it from the perspective of Global Warming. Taking “if-then” statements around global warming and putting a chess framework overlay, would we change our actions knowing that check-mate was in a matter of moves (as opposed to over a matter of decades)?
Kind of out there, I know. But here it is in a nutshell – the style of play in the game of chess has evolved as human interactions and learnings have evolved. We are now at a point in human evolution where we have a lot of information, we have machines that can process that information and spit out “a move.” We can see where check-mate lies. Check-mate can be the polar ice-caps melting. Check-mate can be the loss of an ancient culture through socialization (i.e. sending kids from rural tribal Africa to the cities to learn only to not have those children return back to the tribal villages). Check-mate can be seen by the inability to teach our children proper social skills because we ourselves are too busy talking on the phone, staring at our computer screens, absorbed in TV.
There is a Native American saying, “The earth isn’t ours for the taking. We have merely borrowed it from our children and grandchildren.” Since we can see check-mate, and we have the technology to lay out the directions to go, or not go, how will we play out this game of chess?
Social Change is inherently fraught with paradoxes and opposites. These opposing systems can be seen in simple cause and effect situations like children living longer because they are not dying from diseases like malaria, but they don't have access to education because the system in place was never meant to have so many children living beyond the age of three. These systems can also be seen in more complex situations like the removal of government funding for social services to be replaced by private foundations. This in turn means that private foundations that are typically established to fund innovative ideas, are now supporting baseline programming in order to ensure that the basic needs of an organization are met.
Supporting social change is done through a process, according to Westley, Zimmerman and Patton. The basic premise of this process is as follows:
- Support vision, people with a passion and emerging possibilities
- Support knowledge transfers, networking opportunities and connections between people and systems that can take things in a new direction
- Remove barriers to innovation
- Be passionate about things that matter to you
- Express your vision to others, this in turn will attract them to what you are trying to accomplish
- Be the change. As systems change around you, you will also adapt and change
- Support others in their attempts to change systems. Social innovation does not always conform to organizational management systems - be okay with this
- Watch and listen
- Accept the imperfections
This can be translated into Generating Social Capital in the following ways:
By investing your financial, human and intellectual resources into a person or an organization with passion, means that you agree with what they are trying to achieve. If you don't, or you can't align your values with their passion then this is not the type of social change you want to be engaged in.
Philanthropic investors can learn from each other. This knowledge transfer happens on many levels from attending conferences like the Global Forum for Philanthropy to more passive experiences like blogging (see my blog roll for some sites that I read regularly). The more you know about what others are the doing the stronger your network can be for leveraging your philanthropic investments to generate greater impact.
Don't always be hung up on outcomes. I write a lot about impacts. I think this is what is important. Working with a charitable organization to help them achieve their mission is just as important as providing them with the funding to achieve that mission. By providing unwieldy reporting requirements, or not providing the funding to generate those reports is, in essence, preventing you from achieving your objective of generating social capital and change.
If you believe in what you are doing, share that with others. Your passion will inspire others. Over the past few months, as I have been interviewing people on how and why the started their foundations, so many of them have said they were inspired by someone else who also wanted to change the world. It is that inspiration that fosters innovation. You might not end up working on the same project or with the same mandate, but your energy will encourage others to invest their energies into their own beliefs.
Social innovation, as stated before, is about conflict. The conflict can be around the issue that is being addressed, it can be around the process that is feeding into the current system or it can be the different approaches implemented to address the issue. As the system evolves and adapts, and as you influence that movement, you will be changed. Be okay with this. Innovation in and of itself is about altering the status quo, so you cannot be part of the status quo.
Did you know that LISTEN and SILENT are anagrams of each other? There might be a reason for this. As you see how others are generating social capital, learn from them and adopt their best practises into your own systems. As questions and hear the answer. You are impacting the world on so many levels, it is important to understand how one action can impact an entirely different system.
We live a in world, as you know that is imperfect. These imperfections are what drives us to change and be innovative. Enjoy this as you discover new ways of generating social capital as they align with your values and passions.