This morning, OnlyUp launched. It is an action-oriented, bimonthly journal about young adults in the nonprofit sector. The online journal seeks to engage the nonprofit sector in conversations related to social change leadership. The first issue features articles from bloggers and thought-leaders such as Allison Jones (one of four creators), Robert Egger, and Akhila Kolisetty and covers pressing topics in the sector. This post presents my first contribution to OnlyUp. You can view the article here.
If you’re a nonprofit professional, then you probably come across the word “social” at least five times today. Nonprofit blogs and literature are running wild with terms like “social change” and “social justice.” We’re giving the word the leading position in mash-ups with other buzzwords like “media,” “entrepreneurship,” and “capital.” Not to mention, we’re well aware of its match with “security” and “worker.” It even has connections to topics we cover in school like social studies and social psychology. But are all of these terms linked because they include the word “social”? Does social media, for instance, have anything to do with with social workers? I think it does.
It seems as though the words that we use with “social” are increasingly giving us not-so-subtle clues about key ways to bring about large-scale change in the upcoming decade. It’s as though we are providing our own cheat-sheet to bring about public good and possible solutions are coded within our own daily language.
The State of Now: an Era of Social. Our first clue that change-makers should pay attention to this word is apparent in the definition of the word “social” itself. “Social” means related to society or human relationships. It makes sense, then, that the word would come up frequently during this era of collaborative learning in which we are seeing an increase organic, horizontal workplace structures. Moreover, members of Generation Y (born roughly between 1975 and 2000) are thought to be one of the most social and collaborative generations of all time. These individuals are now making their way up the ladder and securing positions as nonprofit leaders. The generation is said to be team-oriented, and with the rise of instant communication technologies, they are easily and constantly connected to one another.
Barack Obama made a call to service in 2009 and, though often called the “Obama Generation,” Millennials weren’t the only ones who listened. Despite economic hardship, overall corporate giving increased in 2009. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in corporate social responsibility and PricewaterCoopers claimed, after completing a recent report, that a social conscious is a core business value in today’s market. With things like the Pepsi Refresh Project, it’s clear that giving and supporting people is an increasingly important societal value. Science Daily even recently reported that we are evolving into a species built upon the notion of “survival of the kindest.”
What’s in a word? We are in an era in which people, collaboration, and caring for others really counts- and counts even more from one day to the next. Because “social” means related to people and society, it makes sense to look at the things we call “social” with an eye toward how they can help pursue social change. For instance, four seemingly unrelated “social” terms can inform nonprofit leaders of key ingredients for making a difference:
- Social entrepreneurship: Change will take leaders. A social entrepreneur is a person who recognizes a social problem and summons their ambition and business acumen to create, organize, and sustain a social venture to solve that problem. It’s no question that large-scale change will require several hundred social entrepreneurs (if not thousands). It takes a critical, forward thinking leader to be a social entrepreneur. This is a type of mindset that the sector will likely need to cultivate and empower in order to bring about change.
- Social media: Change will take collaboration. Social media is providing a basis for information-share and crowd sourcing that can help bring people together to solve complicated issues. This new way of communicating makes it easier to get in touch with people who share similar interests in promoting a cause.
- Social capital: Change will take people, connections, and compassion. Social capital is the network, spirit, attitude, and personal connections created through social interaction. We “build” social capital by interacting with and relating to people. There’s a connection here to empathy because we are more moved by a cause when it affects someone that we care about. In order for change to happen, we all have to care. And in order for us all to care, we need to be connected.
- Social psychology: Change will take an understanding of the people we serve, and the people we’re trying to motivate to contribute. Social Psychology aids us in understanding one another. If the goal of large-scale change is to help people, then we must understand these people’s needs and emotions in order to be effective. Moreover, we must understand those who similarly give and choose not to give to our cause. In the private sector, companies are always aware of their external economic climate. Nonprofit leaders must keep a finger on the pulse of the social climate as well.
Leaders navigating the nonprofit landscape looking for the buried treasure of social change need not feel discouraged. Our own language is providing us with possible keys to this treasure as society opens up to embrace a turn toward the social. As best practices grow even more powerful and efficient, nonprofit leaders will be armed with the connections, compassion, community, and communication tools to spread the word and support one another in achieving social change.