We have been on a fascinating journey at Community Wealth Partners to answer one key question: Why do some social change initiatives achieve transformational impact and others don’t? This is not a question that is answered overnight. It truly is a journey.
How do we define transformation? We’re talking about eradication of—or at least dramatic improvement on—a social problem. I recognize that “eradication” and “dramatic” are strong words. But, if history teaches us anything, it is that big visions achieve big outcomes. Just take a look at this video.
Now ignore for a moment that this is a commercial for Apple, and think about what has been accomplished by those who are highlighted. It’s hard to ignore those who are crazy enough to dream big, for they are the only ones who have changed the world. Thinking big completely changes the way you approach a problem and, ultimately, it changes the outcome.
In my many conversations about transformation, I tend to hear three main objections, which are worth addressing upfront:
1) You can’t eradicate a social problem.
The only examples of eradication are disease-related. We have eradicated guinea worm, polio and malaria in certain parts of the world. Skeptics point out that one can’t compare the eradication or containment of a parasite to the eradication of a complex social ill, such as homelessness or hunger. We recognize there are significant differences between these, but we also know that most breakthroughs come by looking outside of one’s own world. There is something valuable to be learned by looking at examples that are different—perhaps even more so than looking at those that are similar.
2) Transformational change happens incrementally.
We agree. Transformation is the result of a long, persistent pursuit of incremental wins that eventually add up to the bigger whole. By talking about transformation, we do not mean to suggest that it happens overnight.
3) It’s not simple.
It’s not, and we know it. Working toward transformational impact can be unglamorous work. We are pragmatic people and work closely with our clients on the mundane, yet critical work that takes place on a daily basis, whether it means facilitating action planning where we determine the tasks to be accomplished and by whom, or creating frameworks to assist with decisions about what not to do.
Over the next few months, we will share the top ten insights we’ve uncovered through our research on and experience with initiatives that have been transformative. While we don’t have all the answers — nor will we ever — we do want to share what we have learned. We also very much look forward to hearing what you have learned in your journey.