Driving Social Change

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Driving Social Change

“How do societies create the breakthroughs needed for a more just, tolerant, healthy, educated, and equitable world? How do they challenge the prevailing wisdom without losing hope? How do they enact lasting change and protect it from the inevitable backlash?” This age-old question is subject of Paul Light’s new book, Driving Social Change, from John Wiley & Sons publishers. The Nonprofit Quarterly features a summary of the book in their most recent issue.

Light notes that social change doesn’t require the iconic, heroic leader. Rather, he argues, it requires a group of people committed to a few core values (integrity, honesty, trust and faith) who can leverage a few core capacities and assets in order to “disturb the prevailing wisdom.” He offers a framework of questions that catalyze breakthroughs. As a model-lover, I’m inclined to embrace this kind of framework. The questions are good questions, deceptive in their simplicity. Yet it would be simplistic to imagine that a sojourn through the questions would yield a transformed society. I come away from the piece of mix minds. On the one hand, social change can be catalyzed by the purposeful actions of committed people. On the other, I think there’s always something in a historical moment that can’t be anticipated or planned for—only recognized.

Light’s piece is timely. What’s happening in Egypt gives us a dramatic example of social change being wrought by people who have decided to stand up and advocate for change. So far, there is no iconic leader personifying the demands of the people. Time will tell if the people are able to leverage this moment into a sustained breakthrough that changes their society. I, among many others, wish them well!

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  • Gibran says:

    Your thoughts make me think of “The Black Swan Event” – the idea that all moments of great significance come along with something that was wholly unpredictable, even unthinkable – and yet, we know (or at least we hope) that we can do some things to be “ready”

  • Cynthia Parker says:


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