Recently, I wrote a column suggesting that, in the field of social change, we’re getting smarter. I went so far as to say that we may even be going through a new Enlightenment. I mentioned three ways we’re improving — employing new understandings about human behavior to get better results, using evidence more regularly to assess and guide problem-solving, and constructing integrated solutions to social problems. I also promised to highlight some other advances.
Today, I’m focusing on a key innovation that underlies much of these gains: the recognition of the role played by entrepreneurs in advancing positive social changes. I don’t mean businesspeople solving social ills, but people spreading new approaches — through nonprofits and businesses, or within government — to address problems more successfully than in the past.
At times, it can be hard to believe that progress is happening. Most of our news focuses on problems, not creative responses to them. Moreover, in the wake of the government shutdown, we are acutely aware of the bitter divisions that hamstring efforts to work together.
But the rhetoric of a political campaign is misleading. It makes us think we have to choose between government and business — as if those are the only tools in the box. We don’t. One of the most interesting stories in social change today is how much creative problem-solving is emerging from citizens scattered far and wide who are taking it upon themselves to fix things and who, in many cases, are outperforming traditional organizations or making systems work better. At Fixes, we’ve reported on dozens of creative efforts in education, health care, vocational training, prison reform,foster care — many of which have been initiated by citizens.
Is this something new? And, if so, why is it happening?