Lessons from Our Community

April at SICI was focused on engaging and learning virtually alongside a wide variety of social impact organizations outside of Harvard University. Online platforms have come a long way in just one year’s time and I was hearted by the deep sense of humanity present in the communities I encountered.

Starting in early April, we ran Leadership for System Change, a custom executive education course for social innovators within the Schwab Foundation network. One of the participants wrote a note to our team concluding: “Despite the virtual format, you have achieved providing a safe space. A space, in which we could surface some of our inner-selves. This experience may carry all of us to differentiate signal from noise in a crowded space of good intentions.”

Similarly, the panels of the 2021 Skoll World Forum in mid-April seemed strikingly vulnerable and authentic this year. “Closing the Divide” was the theme and that could not have more aptly named my experience of the conversations that happened there. Many of the panels are still available online in another nod to values like inclusivity and openness that I feel are beginning to further permeate the circles we are part of at SICI.

For me, the benefit of creating spaces like these is not only that they facilitate more genuine interactions between people, they also make space for more genuine internal reflection too. I sat with the powerful statements that came from peers around the world and reflected on what SICI is doing to meet their call.

Here are just a few:

Stories bring people in.

“You can’t legislate empathy. You can’t legislate compassion.” – Magid Magid, Founder & Director, Union of Justice.

Magid encouraged us to build stories and narratives through popular culture to complement our political change efforts. His simple statement is critical for those of us, especially within a policy school context, to embrace.

  • This year we asked HGSE faculty colleague Dr. Irvin Scott to incorporate a longstanding favorite session “Know Your Story, Share Your Story” into our social impact accelerator.

Vision is what unifies.

“The end goal cannot be watered down.” – Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, Vice President, Evangelical Environmental Network

Kyle emphasized that while there will rarely be a single, one size fits all narrative that satisfies all perspectives, we must spend time aligning on the future we are all aiming for, or we risk diluting the power of our collective work.

  • This year, we will be adding “Vision State” to the rubric we use in our accelerator to select and evaluate social changemakers. Stay tuned for the 2021 release coming soon!

Proximity plus power makes the change.

“The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, MA 7th District.

The trend around lifting people who are proximate to problems continues to grow. What I love about this quotation is the connection made between the people we need in leadership and the power they need to mobilize for change.

  • We believe power analysis is an essential tool for social change-making. This year we incorporated new sessions on power into all our educational programs for social changemakers.
  • On that note, sign up here to be notified when Julie’s forthcoming book, Power, For All: How It Really Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business, drops in stores.

Together with you,

Brittany Butler

Brittany Butler signature

Executive Director, SICI

Adjunct Lecturer, HKS