Trying to imagine a better world through the eyes of a social change technologist

JoeSolomon's picture

As some of you know, I'm spending some time unplugged in Burlington, Vermont this winter, near a great lake: reflecting on life, and renewing my spirit for the inspiring work so many are doing right now. Within this space, I discovered a post last night that really touches the nerve of where a lot of my thoughts have been lately. The post, "To all you Cynics" by Nicco Mele, dives deep into the nature of change ("change requires struggle"), the great power and traps of social networks, and the courage to not just think in incremental steps -- but to imagine and build towards a wholly different, better world. I sincerely suggest taking the time to read the short post in full.

Nicco's powerful words got me thinking...

What does it look like to imagine a wholly better world through the eyes of a social change technologist? (or in the language of Twitter: through the eyes of #nptech, #4change, #socent, etc.) How are our heroic organizations (like NetSquared, NTEN, Social Actions, SocialEdge, and so many more), taking bold steps to get closer to their visions during these truly challenging times? As consultants who work with nonprofits with big hairy vision statements, how are we making sure we're wearing our social dreams a lot more on our sleeves, too?

Below are a few thoughts I've been meditating on as I try and digest the last year & drill down on what it might mean for us all to think even bigger:

  • Throughout 2009, I joined many great conferences where the biggest take-a-away was seeking more opportunities for collaboration within and across for-impact sectors (see the community reflections from the last NetSquared conference -- think it's fair to say this was a trend). As we approach conference season once more, How are we re-designing our gatherings so that they themselves encourage new and deeper connections? This can be the year where we make voting for panelists passé, and draw more inspiration from events like ChangeCamps & RootCamps, OpportunityCollaboration, & the re-mixable Aspiration model, where everyone is invited to step up to be an active & collaborative contributor.
  • A number of top bloggers (see Beth Kanter, Hildy Gottlieb, Nathaniel Whitmore) recently criticized Chase Bank for how their charity contest on Facebook failed by creating scarcity & not encouraging collaboration. Not long before the Chase drama, IdeaBlob quietly shut off its contest platform for social entrepreneurs -- leading one to wonder what a contest model looks like that's not dependent on the whims of cause marketers. So in 2010 & beyond, how are we re-imagining a new kind of challenge that's at once, sustainable, sparks an abundance of winners, & encourages change-makers to work together? We can keep pushing this potential.
  • Whenever I crack open my Tweetdeck, the great majority of what I see are white faces, especially in my 'nptech' column. My hunch is I'm not alone -- and that that may explain why when HuffingtonPost announced their 11 Twitter activists we should be following this past November, there was just one 1 Black person, & 1 Asian. Not long before that, Causes cut off their presence on MySpace -- leading to calls of racism from the nonprofit tech community. These events are no doubt expressions of related, complex underlying issues. As self-described network builders, How are we taking active responsibility to bridge racial & cultural divides among ourselves and throughout our online communities? This won't be easy (at all), although the 5 Net Tuesdays in Cameroon give me hope.
  • This past year we saw a dramatic rise in blogging about 'social media for social change.' New players like Mashable, SocialBrite, ThinkSocial, and many more are jumping on the bus. It's wildly inspiring that so many people want to share knowledge in this ever-evolving field. The challenge, though, is that blogging lends itself to worshiping the newest post or article, which drives many bloggers to keep banging out new posts. How can we re-imagine blogging to find new ways to reinforce the creation of living, collaborative frameworks -- so that we, and our shared readers, can see how everything fits together? We're very fortunate that our community started a collective wiki:, which shows just how much bigger we can be than the sum of our parts.
  • A couple months ago, the crew did something simple yet extraordinarily bold. They sent out an invitation to their entire online community -- inviting them to organize in their real world community to co-create a more ideal world. did something we can all do with all our online communities, create the opportunities and support them to connect in the real world. We intuitively know that our world has real problems and that we need to connect real-world communities to rise to their occasions. As we develop new organizing strategies in the new year, Can we act boldly and make empowering real world community just as key as engaging on Twitter & Facebook? If you haven't yet, check out the team's vision; it's a vision for us all.

Thanks so much for reading this far & making sense of one or two of the above meditations!

I would love to learn more about where your thoughts are around these questions -- as well as more about your big questions & game-changing visions. I'm very excited to grow the conversation, keep building our visions, and collaborate with you in this fresh new year & beckoning decade.

It's sunny here, near the lake. Much love & gratitude.