Sin Offers Student-Org Gomorra A Path to Salvation

Phenomenologically, think of it as a confluence of 1960’s hippie feel-good collectivity and shoulder-padded 1980’s type-A personality: people of my age-group have this somewhat dissonant belief that 1) collectively we must act to save the world from itself, and 2) each member of that collective is or can be a leader, can affect that action.

My newest post for Flyover Geeks can be found here. I profiled friend and colleague Vivien Sin and her organization EnvisionDo. Below is the first paragraph.

Older, more jaded readers of Flyover Geeks might find themselves totally bamboozled by the recent groundswell in enthusiasm for “leadership”, “changing the world”, “social” things, and the totally empty word “impact” amongst America’s young people. Don’t worry, older jaded readers, I find myself mystified at my own peers’ fascination with these notions as well. I can’t really explain how we’ve all become interested in this stuff. Phenomenologically, think of it as a confluence of 1960’s hippie feel-good collectivity and shoulder-padded 1980’s type-A personality: people of my age-group have this somewhat dissonant belief that 1) collectively we must act to save the world from itself, and 2) each member of that collective is or can be a leader, can affect that action.

Fixing Social Entrepreneurship & Development, Part Deux

You know when you get a bunch of people in a room together, the natural result is for them to mill about more or less arbitrarily, chat and generate noise…

Two weeks ago I had a conference call with the UChicago branch of the United Nations Academic Impact – Aspire team. I’m trying to develop a series of programs for member universities to implement, and in attempting to articulate what is wrong with so much humanitarian NGO, NFP, development and “social enterprise” (← whatever that is) I used the following allegorical parable, which, I understand, is kind of trite and banal and endemic to the “leadership” field, but what can I do?

You know when you get a bunch of people in a room together, the natural result is for them to mill about more or less arbitrarily, chat and generate noise. Give them a purpose, some greater effort to work for, a narrative of which they are a part, and things start changing. Give everyone a part, some responsibility, show them the path and send them on their way with the rest of the group and meaning gets distilled from the chaos.

It’s this, I believe, that is wrong with so much of development work going on around the world today: You’ve got a bunch of individual, ostensibly rational actors just wandering about doing their own self-interested rational-actor thing. Which is okay, but you’re not going to get anything done that way. It’s all just noise. Give all those people in that room something bigger than themselves, a project on which all collaborate and must pull their own weight, then you’re getting somewhere. Now we start to discern melody and harmony: music from noise. It’s not enough to get a bunch of people talking in B-blat though. Together we concert and direct their efforts. It’s our job to make them sing.

I plan on expanding on this at some point. Protracting metaphor is fun. Check out the extremely sardonic Part One of Fixing Social Entrepreneurship.