When I was a little girl, my grandparents took me to Cape Canaveral for a tour. I remember seeing the model for the space shuttle. I remember learning that teams of scientists and engineers had been working on it since the late 1960s and that it wouldn’t be ready to enter into space until 1981. Two things occurred to me in this moment: that I was going to be really old by the time they were done; and that I was amazed by their foresight, courage and persistence to take on the trajectory of this challenge. It forever altered the way I thought of our world.
It takes an entrepreneurial mindset to tackle big ideas and problems that need to be solved.
It takes an entrepreneurial mindset to tackle big ideas and problems that need to be solved. Entrepreneurs not only creatively address problems, they make the ideas happen and then spread them across society. We already understand and accept this in the arenas of science, business, technology and health. But we also need to accept the power of “social entrepreneurship” or “conscious capitalism.” By accepting – and embracing – these concepts, we can apply the entrepreneurial force to solve some of our most complex challenges, such as intergenerational poverty, job creation, acceleration of economic mobility and equitable economic development. These challenges will take brilliant minds and collective dedication of resources to solve. Social entrepreneurship captures the essence of what it will take to find solutions for the pervasive, multifaceted challenges we face.
Acceptance of the power of social entrepreneurship to solve problems moves beyond the “we can’t” syndrome, which has led many people to say “no” to some of the most entrepreneurial innovations in our time. For instance, with the Space Shuttle, Senator William Proxmire said, “As chairman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for NASA appropriation, I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy.” And what if people had just said “we can’t” to the Apollo 13 rescue, instead of strategizing a way to bring that crew back to Earth. Of course we can do it.
Our challenge lies, in part, in the fact that no single organization or leader is responsible for any major social problems…
And, behind all successes lie persistence and the mindset to see problems as opportunities to change stagnant or problematic patterns. Our challenge lies, in part, in the fact that no single organization or leader is responsible for any major social problems, nor can any single organization or leader cure them.
In Albuquerque, we recognize this and face it square on. We are making large-scale change happen through Albuquerque’s Living Cities Integration Initiative. We utilize a social entrepreneurial frame, often referred to as “collective impact,” that addresses the social and economic realities our city is facing. What’s the key we’re using to unlock solutions? We’re embracing models of “open, fluid, teams of teams.” We configure, perform, then disband. And we do this over and over again, in order to migrate away from inefficient bureaucracies with impenetrable walls to become a global team of teams that come together in whatever combination necessary to add the greatest value to the changes underway.
To accomplish this, we undertake the same set of questions that faced the Space Shuttle engineers:
- How do I get from here to there?
- How do the pieces fit together?
- What does success look like?
- Who needs to be in the room?
- What happens if we do nothing?
To answer these questions, we must be embrace change, be courageous and remain fully committed. To be successful, we have to acknowledge certain things we must do. These are:
1) Become comfortable with change that is accelerating in pace. The world has always been in flux, but the increase in the rate of change has become truly staggering. We do not want to become “insane,” using Einstein’s definition, by “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
2) Recognize challenges as opportunities. True social entrepreneurs see closed doors as opportunity. In fact, the very first places to look for new ideas are areas where systems are breaking down, including sites of market failure. Where there are gaps, there are also openings to bring unlikely and unique partners together in new ways.
3) Aim high in order to commit to a fundamental shift or framework change. This is the very definition of collective impact. This means the disruption of entire systems; not just the reconfiguring of existing patterns, but restructuring old models with new ways of working together.
4) Embrace empathy, since its lack underlies intolerance and marginalization of all kinds. Without empathy there is insufficient traction for resolution and altruism is not possible. We must recognize our shared and collective values if we hope to succeed.
For each of us striving to solve important problems, the demands of our own city are too great to avoid not making these shifts. Nobody said it would be easy. In Albuquerque, we have a developed a strong, fluid model through our Integration Initiative and we are dedicated to it long term. We know that change will take time. After all, the space shuttle had 130 missions, 600 crew members, and experienced major sets of failures and tragedies, including loss of life.
To apply the level of brilliance, persistence, and courage required to advance the prosperity of our city and people, we must embrace the “fail forward, fear forward” mentality. John Young, after being asked if he was nervous about making the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.” But he did it anyway.