Foreword Arianna Huffington
Introduction Katrina Fried
Foreword Arianna Huffington
In March 2012, I spent a fascinating couple of days at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, England. It was exhilarating—and deeply moving—to hear example after example of social entrepreneurs making measurable improvements in lives all around the world. As Stephan Chambers, chairman of the Skoll Centre, put it: “I have cried every day this week. Remember as I tell you this, that I’m male. And British. And from Oxford.” I actually cried every hour. But, remember, I’m female. And Greek. And from Cambridge.
It was a reminder that the innovation, passion, and empathy on display at Skoll transcend gender, politics, geography, and education. Service is in the zeitgeist. Now, “zeitgeist” is a German word almost untranslatable in English, but it does exist. And the evidence is all around us.
On the political level, we’re polarized and paralyzed, as the media refuses to acknowledge that the crises we are facing go beyond the obsolete dichotomy of left versus right. Pushing back against the failures of our leaders and institutions—and the resulting lack of trust—is a growing movement of people and organizations taking the initiative to engage, connect, solve problems, share, and change their communities and the world. While we wait for our public leaders to act, thousands are looking at the leader in the mirror instead and taking action. By daring to take risks and to fail as many times as it’s necessary before they succeed, they are re-making the world.
We see this in the people whose stories are featured in these pages. Some of them I’ve known and admired for a long time—like Geoffrey Canada, whose tireless work at the Harlem Children’s Zone has transformed thousands of lives and an entire neighborhood. And DonorsChoose.org founder Charles Best, who has used technology to connect donors to classrooms and teachers around the country.
Revisiting their stories was newly inspiring; in a world facing multiple crises, they are still hard at work offering solutions.
Others were new to me, and I was amazed at the boundless creativity, innovation, and empathy that drive their efforts to change the world. There’s Dr. David Vanderpool, who started Mobile Medical Disaster
Relief, administering medical care in developing countries. And Abigail Falik, founder of Global Citizen Year, which recruits high school graduates for a year of service and leadership training in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. As she says, “Initiative plus optimism is the recipe.”
I was particularly fascinated to see that so many of these organizations are rooted in their founders’ personal experiences—and especially their past failures. Susan Burton drew on her own turbulent past, including prison time for drug-related crimes, to found A New Way of Life Reentry Project, offering housing and support to women being released from prison. And Anne Mahlum, a veteran marathoner,
channeled her passion for running into Back on My Feet, helping homeless people build a sense of accomplishment and control.
There are many moments of wisdom and humor along the way, like Enid Borden’s description of the path that led her to the presidency of Meals On Wheels Association of America: “I was a child of the sixties and back then we all wanted to change the world, but then we grew into the seventies and eighties and we thought, ‘Eh, we’re not gonna change the world too much after all.’ When this opportunity presented itself out of the blue, I decided: I don’t know if I can change the world, but I think I can make a difference in a small piece of that world.”
“We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” wrote Jeremy Rifkin in his 2010 book The Empathic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy.” He makes the case that as technology is increasingly connecting us to one another, we need to understand that the most important goal of all this connectivity is to allow us to see ourselves as an extended family living in an interconnected world with responsibilities to one another. The heroes of this book are the embodiment of this age of empathy.
So, if you’ve forgotten Physics 101, here’s a quick refresher. To a physicist a critical mass is the amount of radioactive material that must be present for a nuclear reaction to become self-sustaining. For the service movement, a critical mass is when the service habit hits enough people so that it can begin to spread spontaneously around the county. Think of it as an outbreak of a positive infection. And everyone is a carrier. What we need to do is go out and carry this positive infection, so that together we can reach that critical mass. And we can start by reading, and sharing, the stories of the heroes celebrated here, who are changing the world, one small piece at a time.
Introduction Katrina Fried
The idea for this book began percolating about five years ago,just before Obama’s election, as America was bearing down to weather the worst economic crisis we had seen in generations.
With a mist of depression slowly blanketing and then blinding the country, amidst the salvo of doom and gloom headlines, it seemed imperative somehow to find focal points of light. Who were the heroes, the torchbearers of hope and humanity in this new era of darkness?
Many of us consider heroism a quality reserved for an exceptional few—Gandhi, King Jr., Mother Teresa. Such heroes are to be idealized and looked to for guidance, like the North Star—a moral compass, not a literal road map. But the more I read, learned, and listened, the more obvious it became. Like the canopy of stars that appear in a clear night sky, the heroes of today are anything but rare, they’re everywhere.
They’re standing beside you in the elevator and sitting across from you on the subway; they’re your next-door neighbor and your college roommate; they’re teachers, doctors, ex-cons, priests, lawyers, inventors, and orphans. There are quiet heroes among us who embody the power and promise of the American spirit—ordinary men and women who have devoted themselves to uplifting the lives of others. And it is precisely their ordinariness that makes them extraordinary. Unlike our idols of the past, these new revolutionaries are not wrangling to become the dominant voice of reform. Their power stems from the aggregate. Together they are raising a chorus for change. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a growing battle cry: If we don’t take care of each other, who will?
The process of selection for this book was equal parts pleasure and torture. There were thousands of worthy candidates who deserve to be recognized and celebrated—how to choose just fifty? Our criteria narrowed the field somewhat. The heroes we honor in these pages are not those, for instance, that personify physical bravery—such as veterans or fire fighters, though they are by no means less praise-worthy—rather, these are crusaders for social justice and equality. Their work is humanitarian in nature. They are founders or leaders of successful nonprofits, representing a diverse range of causes and demographics. Offspring of the marriage of entrepreneurship and community service, nearly all self-identify as social entrepreneurs. They are all Americans.
Individually, each of these men and women has something exquisitely unique to teach us. Their personal paths to magnanimity are scattered with guideposts and universal lessons for achieving fulfillment. In their stories are actualizations of many of our own deep aspirations to live a just and generous life. By example, they demonstrate that the potential for heroism is innate to us all, if only we choose to activate it.
Collectively, these fifty heroes paint an electrifying portrait of contemporary philanthropy in America. The themes and qualities that emerge repeatedly in their profiles add up to a new and provocative re-imagining of charity, one that eschews tradition and embraces innovation, daring, and a global mindset. Today’s tribe of changemakers is anything but cookie cutter, yet they share a number of governing principles. Here are the new rules of everyday heroism: Out with charity, in with partnership.
The most universally defining quality of philanthropy today is unquestionably the shift in the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Gone are the days of the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship. The handout has been replaced by the handshake. Today’s nonprofit reformers are interested in creating meaningful equal partnerships to empower communities and individuals to raise themselves out of poverty. When Robert Egger founded D.C. Central Kitchen, he reinvented the model of feeding the hungry by training the homeless to prepare the food they were feeding to themselves and others like them. “So much of charity is still wrapped up in the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver,” explains Egger. “You can’t measure success by giving everybody free food. If you don’t liberate them, you’re just holding them down.” You’re never too young.
Rebecca Onie was a sophomore at Harvard when she founded Health Leads, which connects low-income patients with the basic resources they need to be healthy. Lindsay Avner launched Bright Pink to educate young women about breast cancer prevention and early detection when she was barely twenty-three. The growing squad of Gen Next social entrepreneurs lays waste to the notion that experience is a prerequisite for leadership. As Onie says, “Being younger or just being newer to the sector often leads you to ask questions that aren’t being asked.” You’re never too old.
Despite this infusion of young blood into the nonprofit sector, there are plenty of late bloomers and lifers doing deeply meaningful work. Mark Goldsmith didn’t found Getting Out and Staying Out—a reentry program for convicts—until he’d retired as a corporate CEO. It took Wynona Ward, founder of Have Justice–Will Travel, almost fifty years to become a lawyer so that she could defend the rights of battered women in rural Vermont. Others, like Roy Prosterman of Landesa, have spent a lifetime fighting for the rights and dignity of the poor, and show no signs of slowing down. At seventy-seven, Prosterman remains as energized by his cause today as he was forty-five years ago. “I’m not tired at all,” he told me matter-of-factly. Crazy is good.
In fact, if the world doesn’t think your idea is nuts, you might want to rethink it. When Earl Shorris first told people he wanted to teach Plato to the poor, he couldn’t raise a dime in funding. “Impossible,” they said. Seventeen years later, his Clemente Course in the Humanities has had 10,000 graduates and operates sixty sites around the world. Linda Rottenberg was literally nicknamed la chica loca when she decided to start Endeavor, an organization dedicated to providing resources and support to high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging international economies. Today, she’s considered a prescient pioneer. No one understood how Anne Mahlum, a petite blond from the Midwest, was going to rehabilitate the homeless by teaching them how to run, but that’s exactly what she did. Entrepreneurs are born, not made.
I’d wager that every entrepreneur I interviewed would agree this is a truism. Most have walked to the beat of their own drum since they took their first uncertain steps as toddlers and have never been satisfied in a conventional professional setting. All cite the willingness to risk failure as fundamental. The stakes are even higher for entrepreneurs in the nonprofit sector. “If you don’t succeed as a for-profit, someone doesn’t get rich,” says Jill Vialet of Playworks, an organization that provides safe and healthy playtime to low-income students. “If you fail as a nonprofit, someone gets sick; someone starves; some child gets an inferior education.” It takes a healthy dose of confidence, courage, and tenacity to shoulder the fate of others day in and day out. You can’t rely on the kindness of strangers.
With an everincreasing population of nonprofits, the growing competition for funding has forced today’s social entrepreneurs to realize that the surest way to survival is self-sustainability. Many of these organizations have developed alternate sources of income through social enterprise. Wine to Water, the clean water charity founded by former bartender Doc Hendley, raises funds through selling their own wine label and holding ticketed wine events; Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation started a chain of pharmacies and thrift stores over a decade ago, which almost fully support the organization’s 500-million-dollar annual budget. Go big or go home.
Scalability has become an oft-heard catchword among the nonprofit set. Scaling, simply put, is taking a small idea and making it huge. The potential for exponential growth is practically a requisite for the new wave of social entrepreneurs. Maximizing impact often entails reaching beyond the limitations of their own organizations to stimulate others to follow their lead. As Darell Hammond—whose organization KaBOOM! builds playgrounds in low-income communities— explains, “For us, it’s not about scaling up the organization. It’s about scaling up the cause.” True heroes never consider themselves heroes
. If I had a dollar for every time one of these charitable leaders said to me, “You know, the true heroes are the [blank], not me,” I’d be fifty bucks richer. They all possess a sense of humility and authenticity that I’ve come to realize is essential to the realization of their visions. The basic fact remains: none of these nonprofits would have soared without the profound sacrifices of their dedicated founders and CEOs. Geoffrey Canada of the world-famous Harlem Children’s Zone sums it up this way: “Leaders do what needs to be done, whatever it is, and they do it for as long as necessary.”
Having spent hundreds of hours interviewing today’s most accomplished social entrepreneurs, and hundreds more researching their histories and causes, these are the earmarks of modern philanthropy. With each hero’s story there is yet another entry point to this bounty of munificence that flows all around us. And here’s the real take-away: There is no contribution too small or insignificant. Whether you choose to show kindness to a loved one or a neighbor, to volunteer, to donate, or to build your own movement—you are helping to grow a culture of giving, from which—to use a favored phrase among these entrepreneurs—a thousand flowers will bloom.
Excerpted from Everyday Heroes by Katrina Fried and Paul Mobley. Copyright © 2012 by Katrina Fried and Paul Mobley. Excerpted by permission of Welcome Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.