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The Life of a Social Innovator

The anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

A social innovator wants to change the world. Even a small change is not easy. A major change is a Herculean effort. The innovating leaders' activities, methods, and goals are little known and often misunderstood. This is true whether the innovation aims to achieve the stringent requirements laid out in the Solutions or the much more easily understood (but only slightly more easily achieved) goals of the leaders of the many NGOs now operating. In this broader sense, involving easily tens of thousands of people, a generic description of what a social innovator does and how s/he does it is worthwhile.

Among a few who want to change the world in some particular way, the lead person(s) must be entrepreneurial. Someone who is (or is transformed into) an entrepreneur-innovator starts by dreaming up, thinking over, and becoming excited about putting together specific ideas for an innovative proposal. At this initial point it is usually a single initiator, but sometimes it may be a few. After a while a core group of initiators, working full or part time, paid or unpaid, join the entrepreneur innovator. The lead persons then continue on --gathering support by discussing the idea in person or through various media (phone, mail, email, etc.) with potential collaborators, funders, experts, and "ordinary" people, and reacting to these discussions by considering different aspects, alternatives, and modifications of a proposal that embodies the idea. Two things, (1) the proposal itself and (2) the case for it, both often evolve interactively in this process.

Attention and activities are aimed at getting the endorsement or funding for implementation of the evolved proposal from potentially supportive individuals and organizations. The case for supporting the proposal builds up, sometimes by projections of probable success using computer model findings or using the related work of others, sometimes by undertaking real world pilot projects that test and experiment with various aspects of the proposal. These projects for making the case are typically lengthy, time-consuming, expensive, and fail to resolve objections conclusively.

Information explaining the evolving nature and status of the proposal is pushed out through the most promising access to the most suitable audiences obtainable. Venues may begin humbly with church basements and may work up to fill large auditoriums, even stadiums. Still the audiences reached by such conventional means can be dwarfed by network TV and radio coverage. Audiences of all kinds are reached by one or more of a large variety of activities: informal and formal talks, presentations, panel participations, and conferences, some sponsored by the core group of lead persons, some by other sympathizers. The core group produces and distributes articles, brochures, videos, news-clippings, news-letters, websites, compact discs and/or books. Without heavy use of expensive advertising and public relations folks, outreach typically remains small.  In the last few years, technology has made it  inexpensive for innovators at an earlier point to begin to distribute handsome, colorful, well-laid out news letters, full-fledged periodicals, and books printed on-demand.

Sometimes, where possible, events are made more attractive and compelling by entertainment and sports activities or the presence of popular figures and celebrities. Small scale entertainment and sports are sometimes related closely to the innovative proposal. Large scale generally not. With such activities, if it is on its way to success, the evolved proposal becomes increasingly more acceptable, attractive, understandable, and robust. It continues to gather more supporters.

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