It's a simple idea. Rather than rely on one leader, as essayist David Gergen warns against, fill a room with smart, committed, entrepreneurial leaders bent on social change and see what happens.
"The whole is greater than the parts," says Vanessa Kirsch, president and founder of New Profit Inc., a hub for social entrepreneurs. "We can accomplish so much more if we leverage each other's knowledge and experience and the power of our networks, together, to really create the kind of change we want to see in this world."
That's the notion behind Knight Foundation's commitment to playing host, whether it's for the crowd of social entrepreneurs huddling in recent winters in New Paltz, N.Y., at the Gathering of Leaders, or February's We Media Miami conference, a digital media mashup of people with big ideas and the organizations that can bankroll them.
And even by hosting luncheon conversations with visionaries like Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid or The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell in Miami, we provide a way for citizens to actively participate in the intellectual life of the city.
The chain of logic: Collective action moves ideas to action, brings good ideas to scale, helps them reach a critical mass. Potential transformation.
"We Media is a term we coined a couple years ago to describe the transformation taking place worldwide. ... The shift is from media as an institution to media being everyone," says Andrew Nachison, co-organizer of the conference. "And the conference we do surrounding We Media is meant to spur thinking and innovation to enable a better-informed society where everyone is media."
Despite Miami's tropical setting, We Media is where the Suits meet the Überhip. "It would do us no good to have an executive from MTV sitting next to an executive from CBS sitting next to an executive from YouTube, all speaking their executive talk," says Nachison. "It's much more interesting, productive and valuable to bring people who aren't used to sitting next to each other together."
"For us the outcome is literally outcomes, actions that necessitate a pretty provocative, challenging experience for the participants. They actually look each other in the eye, exchange ideas, confront differences and seek opportunities to take action," Nachison says.
The Mohonk gathering began several years ago because individual social entrepreneurs were frustrated by the pace of change.
"The kind of leaders we work with at New Profit are passionate, tenacious, visionary people who also balance their vision with the ability to get results and accomplish real goals and have a sense about the balance between vision and doing," says Kirsch.
Important things happen at the Gathering of Leaders, says Paula Ellis, Knight's vice president/National and New Initiatives. "The individuals who go there are folks who are looking first for community, other people like them who are trying to change the world, focusing on solving social problems in a new way."
"This is a chance for us to come together and remind ourselves that we are stronger together, and stronger when we work together on big ideas," says Mohonk veteran Eric Schwarz, president and co-founder of Citizen Schools.
"Knight at its heart is about communities ... but there are communities of interests," says Ellis. "In this case, this is a movement we really want to support and build. We think that defining intractable issues in a different way and bringing resources to them is really important. And these folks look like people who can do it."
"I think it is really important that Knight Foundation is ... engaged and gets this kind of work," said John Rice, a Gathering attendee. "It really speaks to their leadership and what they stand for."
"Social change is so difficult, it takes so much time, and we're in this for the long haul," says Knight President Alberto Ibargüen. "This is not a fad. This is not the current trend. At the very core, these are the people who are going to transform community."
For further information
- New Profit Inc. http://www.newprofit.com/
- Citizens Schools http://www.citizenschools.org/
- Management Leadership for Tomorrow http://www.ml4t.org/
- Ifocos http://www.ifocos.org/
- We Media Miami http://ifocos.org/2006/09/01/we-media-miami-overview/
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.