This is the second in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change. The previous post in this series introduced how we think about transformation and response to three common objections we’ve encountered.
I recently spoke with a friend who heads a DC charter school. As a former social justice activist, she lamented that as a country we have lost our hope and will to fight for systemic change. She is not the first leader to express this sentiment.
With relentless economic pressures resulting in greater challenges in raising funds, in addition to increasing demands for transparency and accountability, it’s increasingly difficult for social change agents to step back from the day-to-day to dream big and reimagine what’s possible. Yet, now is the time we need it most, as high school dropout rates climb, poverty worsens, and more kids go to bed hungry.
Now is the time to be bold and set a goal that articulates how the world will look dramatically different. We need to capture the hearts and souls and imaginations of the human race. We need to wake up from complacency, and inspire others to make the changes that so many of us want to see—a world where all people have the opportunity to thrive. As I often say, if you think small, you achieve small. But if you think big, you achieve big.
Bold is critical, but we also have to be believable if we expect others to join us in making transformational change. As emotional beings, we like to dream big, but as rational beings we need to see that progress is possible. Creating a set of believable, short-term milestones toward a bold goal is necessary to demonstrate that real change can happen.
What are the implications of being bold and believable?
It implies focus. If you’re a leader of an organization or a coalition, pick one thing and allocate your resources toward it. In the words of author Jonathan Kozol, what is the battle that is big enough to matter but small enough to win? Any problem that is big enough to matter will require significant resources—millions if not billions of dollars—thus don’t spread yourself too thin. There is significant momentum to be gained by focusing on and demonstrating undeniable progress.
It implies a long-term pursuit. Any goal that is truly bold, won’t be solved easily. It will be complex and require the stamina to stick with it for the long term, even though your strategy to solve it might change as you learn and adapt. Take the issue of equal rights for women, which have been of focus for decades. As recently as this week, a pay equity bill went before the U.S. Senate that would pave the way for women to more easily litigate their way to pay equality in the workplace.
It requires embracing failure and the unknown. We advocate for being bold, but that doesn’t suggest you know exactly how to solve the problem. It will require experimentation, failure, learning and adaptation.
It requires authenticity. In pursuing a bold goal, you have to be authentic and transparent. Don’t proclaim to know everything. Let’s be honest, there is no Betty Crocker recipe, as a colleague said to me the other day. No one really knows exactly how to solve our most difficult social problems, otherwise, they likely would have been solved. Set expectations with stakeholders and funders that failure and learning are part of the process.
It requires the courage to face resistance. When you’re bold, people will say you’re crazy. It’s okay to be crazy. I’d rather people say I was crazy than say I never really tried, wouldn’t you? Have you ever found yourself saying, “I know this is going to sound crazy, but …” right before you share a bold idea. It’s almost as if we apologize for being bold. We must stop!
It requires smarts. Picking that bold and believable goal requires more than imagination. It also requires a thoughtful analysis of what you, your organization, or your coalition are best positioned to tackle. It takes a similar analysis of the external world to understand who else is doing what, what have they tried and learned, what they are great at, how you might work with them, and what unique value you can add.
I conclude by sharing with you a campaign recently launched by The Case Foundation. It’s the Be Fearless campaign. It, too, advocates for many of these same principles. They have invited individuals to sign a pledge to be fearless. Will you take the pledge?