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Bill Drayton at Stanford Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society (October 3, 2012)

October 3, 2012, Stanford Center of Philanthropy and Civil Society

In a World Where “Everyone’s a Change Maker”

  • Bill Drayton, CEO & Founder of Ashoka, Harvard College, Yale Law.  McKinsey in NY 1970’s.  EPA.  MacArthur Fellow.
  • Greg Dees, Professor of Practice of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke Business School, High Impact Philanthropy

Opening Remarks from Bill Drayton (an approximate transcript)

The rate of change is escalating exponentially, as is the number of people causing change, and the combinations of people getting together to make change.  The old system is collapsing, with the death of old habits and institutions.  The death rate of large corporations is increasing (as measured by the half life of the companies in the Fortune 500).  Today, we need a different set of skills and societal organization.  To be successful, we are able (and must) deal with larger groups of people.  In yesterday’s world, efficiency and repetition were the organizing principles (a few people organize everyone else, with walls).  This stasis was a steady state.

But change is also a steady state, the one we’re in now.  Education as mastery of body of knowledge is no longer sufficient.  But large numbers of children are being given just that.  We need a different set of skills.  The half life of skills is getting shorter.  We need a sophisticated set of human social skills.  Following rules is not sufficient.  Empathy is required instead to be a good person.  To understand the impact of your actions, you need to observe everyone else, out into the future, in all different contexts.  Main cause of marginalization is failure of empathy (old paradigm of “don’t be a victim, respond with aggression” doesn’t work).  Many parents don’t realize importance of teaching empathy or know how to do it.

Teens need leadership.  Not telling them what to do.  Everyone needs to help make that change.  Every organization needs to be a fluid, open “team of teams,” serving a fluid, interconnected process of changes.  Each moment determine right combination of people to affect the change processes.  Many organizations aren’t able to make that leap and are dying.  Business school needs to ensure graduates are prepared.

Ashoka has 3,000 of best world’s social entrepreneurs.  They change the framework of thinking.  Everyone is a changemaker.  That’s the only way to have a world that’s fair and equal, with everyone able to contribute.  Much more powerful, with anyone in the world able to connect with anyone else, and start something.  Network effect is infinitely powerful and better than the world we have.  What better contribution can you have than helping people make a huge change?

Questions from Prof. Greg Dees and the audience

What’s the role of Social Entrepreneurs in “Everyone’s a changemaker”?

We need people who can see how to change the system and make that change happen.  See the new pattern, how to make it practical (simple and empowering people to be an advocate)

What is a Social Entrepreneur? 

The heart of it is a value system.  Social Entrepreneurs have given themselves “Permission to care”.  80% of Ashoka Fellows started something in their early teens.  With that early experience, you know you have the power to change the world.  For profit business isn’t sufficient:  It’s hard to make a business out of women’s rights.  Some entrepreneurs choose not to be subject to constraints of business model (short term focus on profitability).

Ashoka’s 5-part test for evaluating a Social Entrepreneur and the idea:

  1. Is it a new idea that can change the field?
  2. Is this person a creative problem solver?
  3. Does this person have entrepreneurial qualities?  They need to be committed—there for life, an 8-10 year commitment. They are building a movement.  There is probably an 80% overlap with business entrepreneurs.  Social entrepreneurs are good Listeners.  Traditional concepts of scaling are irrelevant here.  You need a Vision for a better way of the world being organized.
  4. Social impact of the idea.  Once idea is demonstrated, will others try it?  How many will be impacted?
  5. Ethical fiber—people are not convinced by the words you say, but “Do I trust this person?”  If they don’t trust you, they’re not going to change something fundamental in their life.  “Are you married to this idea?”

Ashoka works primarily as a community.  Collaborative entrepreneurship of 100’s of fellows working together.  Different from solo entrepreneurship.

System-wide change requires both Social Entrepreneurs and Changemakers.

People are getting rid of repetition as fast as we can (e.g., self-driving cars).  People are excited by change.  How much time do we waste and how many people do we kill by driving?  Trust people to make choices to change.

What are the Limits of empathy?

We have a hard time being empathetic to people who are unlike us or those who are far in the future, those who are “not innocents”.  He is describing a world that can’t be run by rules anymore.  All of us to be successful in life have to be empathetic.  We don’t have that now.  We are going through a transition period.  Most top-down institutions are dying.  When we can trust others to have this empathetic skills and act on them, we will be in a much safer and happier place.   [Blogger’s Note:  See Jerry Michalski’s TEDxCopenhagen talk “What if we trusted you?”]

If parents see their children need empathy to succeed, they will be motivated to provide that.  And they’ll apply it in their professional life as well.  You can’t run a fluid, open team of teams unless you trust everyone.

Ashoka and companies can help you with your children.  They’ll have to live in this world of change.  So parents will help their kids master empathy.  But they can’t teach it without mastering it themselves.  Companies control the messages we see day-in and day-out.  Capture the marketing budget of these companies.  If a company can help its clients help their children, it’s empowering them.  Makes them feel big, not small.   It’s the opposite of Fear; it’s the approach of John Kennedy, not Richard Nixon.

What can Stanford do?

Ashoka U.  was founded by 2 Stanford undergrads immediately after graduation.  Want every student, faculty, alumni to move into world of fluid open team of teams, as much as possible.

Bring the change to the Stanford alumni.

The Ed school should break out of the old model, instead, teach changemaking.  There should be better measures of empathetic performance.  To what extent can 3rd graders tell when someone is angry?  Ed school, dept. of psych, d-school all have a role to play.  Where is the GSB in charging “Are you transforming your company?”  P&G and IBM recognize the need to be open and global to research.

The “Process of change” tends to follow a script:  2-3 groups start pushing for a change, then islands of people start living in a different way.  The first article is published, then the first book; islands connect, confidence builds, people become aware of tipping zone, and follow through of actually getting change to happen. At the mid-point of awareness of tipping curve, it gets a lot easier, very few people who don’t want to hear about the change.  Prophets had to develop a new ethical model for 1-2% that were living in new way.  Gandhi understood that as people moved in this direction, the whole discourse must change.  Ask people respectfully to compare their behavior to what is ethically required. The result is people will change.  As long as it’s our choice (non-violence is key) people will do it.  Think we’re describing here the ultimate stage of that.  Everyone is liberated.  Until they see it, they’ll be uncomfortable.  How dysfunctional is what is currently going on?  We are still stuck with 1930’s rules (for finance, e.g.).  How can we get people to see where we are going and what we can do to get there?

What would Bill Drayton put on the research agenda for Stanford?

The legal system has not been transformed, we need a different legal structure.  We need institutions that not just “allow you” to take into account community and larger world (B-Corp.), it should be the institutional norm.  Right now that’s really difficult.  Common law developed 800 years ago, pretends not to be changing while constantly adjusting (new circumstances) subject to careful review with non-political process.  That may have worked in the past, but can we adjust to the current rate of change much less that of 15 years from now?

This process that’s been going on for 50,000 years is coming to culmination.  We have far more neurons, and capacity for managing complexity.

We need research on how to create, sustain, and evaluate social impact.  How can people in organization can be confident that their actions are having intended impact?  There is a longer time frame to determine whether you are having the impact or something else is causing it.

What is the role of innovation, and how can small organizations foster it?  Some organizations will atrophy because their culture and norms won’t let them change fast enough.  Outside entrepreneurs will be more nimble and able to bring about change.

We need greater understanding of what is required to be a social entrepreneur and the toolkit required.  How do we equip people so they can make those choices intelligently?

Ultimately, it’s about identifying and empowering social change leaders.