Bill Drayton: Generation Z Will Network Its Way to Social Change

In an increasingly resource-stretched world, it takes more than social activism to cut to the heart of social challenges. Today the world needs social entrepreneurs — who work like entrepreneurs to address social problems — according to Ashoka founder Bill Drayton, who last week contributed to Harvard University's Launching a Social Venture lecture series.

In addition to being activists, social entrepreneurs have mastered the key skills of empathy, teamwork, leadership, and changemaking. They are people like Mary Gordon, founder of Roots of Empathy, who are empowering others to stand up for themselves and change their communities for the better.

Drayton told a packed house at Wasserstein Hall that it is up to Generation Z to fundamentally change the way we approach problems by building an “Everyone a Changemaker” world. Sitting passively in a classroom will no longer equip students with the skills required of tomorrow's leaders; as the half-life of knowledge gets shorter, it’s becoming increasingly important to use networks to acquire knowledge that many never knew was needed.

And just as individual instruction must change, we need a different take on teamwork, Drayton said. He emphasized collaboration and empathy as the vital elements of new, more fluid organizational structures that will allow everyone to be both a player and contributor.

Google, a global leader in innovation, gets it. The company has placed an incredible emphasis on teamwork and innovation; it has built a “team of teams” that sees an idea as a powerful seed of opportunity, regardless of where it was first sourced.

In a flat hierarchy, leaders must adjust their approach to teamwork so that they are no longer the mere “dispensers of knowledge,” but rather the enablers, the ones who empower their teammates to propel ideas forward – because even the simplest ideas can be wildly disruptive.

“We are at a tipping point,” said professor Gordon Bloom, director and founder of the Social Entrepreneurship Collaboratory (SE Lab) at Harvard, after the workshop. The world needs people who can change archaic modes of thinking and start counting qualities like empathy among any organization’s key assets.

“This sort of thinking requires a big vision, and we absolutely got it tonight,” said Josh S. Krug, a student at the Harvard Divinity School following the workshop. “We need more people to think like [social innovators].”

Social entrepreneurship is a means for creating new answers to long-standing problems. The question is whether you will give yourself permission to be a changemaker.

Photo: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer