Nuggets From Bill Drayton's Call
Posted by Preeta Bansal on Aug 9, 2020
A leading pioneer in service of humanity on a global scale, Bill Drayton is the lever behind social entrepreneurship, having coined the term in 1972. He is the founder and CEO of Ashoka, a network he created to support, connect, and build up social entrepreneurs and their ideas. Many of the most innovative social entrepreneurs of our time have received support through Ashoka, which is now active in more than 90 countries supporting the work of over 3,600 Fellows. Drayton’s vision of social entrepreneurship received global recognition when Ashoka fellow Mohammed Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for launching microfinance to support the world's poor. The seed of the pragmatic idealism that drives Drayton was planted on his trip to India in 1963 when he met Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual successor to Gandhi who led one of the most successful voluntary transfers of land in the world's history.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me.
Bill’s Upbringing – Realizing Personal Power to be a Changemaker
- Grew up “in a generation defined in many ways by the civil rights movement. And in my case, I was fascinated by and very engaged with India, from early elementary school onward. And of course the civil rights movement here was a Gandhian movement. And I had some personal bridges through Bayard Rustin to Vinoba Bhave, Jayaprakash Narayan and others in India.”
- About John Lewis: “a major part of his career was a function that he was a bridge builder. And he wasn't captured by small emotions.”
- Bill began getting in “good trouble” during high school – was picketing at a local Woolworths because the lunch counters there in the South were segregated. Led to some tension with the school administration. Bill wrote to some 20 senators (back in the era of the typewriter – with individually typed letters), and Sen. Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota (though Bill is not from Minnesota) intervened: “he actually called the principal.”
- That wasn’t the first time a “leader” responded to the young Bill: “I had the great advantage of growing up in Manhattan and everything is there. Whatever your interests are.” Sometime in middle elementary school, he had to do a report on Uruguay. “Well, I got really into this” and since he was in New York, he went to see Edward Larocque Tinker, the person who later created the Tinker Foundation and who loved the Pampas, “and he was willing to see me.”
- David shared with Bill how he, too, in high school was able to have voice and impact with the school administration – leading to an invitation to publicize his efforts as a 15-year-old on a local radio station, where he ran into and spoke with US Presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, who offered to stay in the SF area for a day or so more and talk to his school: “And for me, that was the light bulb moment. That's gosh, if you just ask people will look at you a chance.” [Are such opportunities for voice and influence universal? Clearly both Bill and David had remarkable upbringings in some respects.]
Working for a World Where All Children (and Adults) Realize Their Potential to Be Changemakers
- Key is not “Skills” with limited half-lives, but dream, team, and changed world: “When society recognizes that the key for growing up now is not a skill -- the half life of any skill, no matter how sophisticated is one, is getting shorter every minute -- it's the ability to have a dream, to build a team and to change your world. And any young person who has that experience has what society needs and that young person has their power, their PhD equivalent. From that moment on, once society understands that, then every adult knows they've got to do that too. And they've got to help their friends and they've got to help whatever organizations they care about. … That's what you have to have to be able to play, to contribute, to be a part of society today. It's always been a huge advantage to have that gift. Any person who had their own dream, their own team, their own changed world -- the earlier in the teens, the better -- they have gigantic life advantage.”
- The New Inequality: “If you don't have this, you are going to be marginalized. That's the new inequality in the world. So, yes, it's about young people because any young person that doesn't have this experience is going to have a very bad life because they are not going to be able to play in a game. That's the opposite of what was there before.” “Many people, most people, have enough of the skills to be able to play in this game, but many people don't. And that is the new dividing line in society on top of all the old ones.”
- Starting Something in Teens is Key: “So, when you look at the people who are great entrepreneurs today and just ask them, ‘when was the first time you started something?’ and watch their eyes, their eyes will come alive. ‘Cause they will start talking as you just did about that experience. And it's a life changing experience. When you have your power, you can do that. And so when you look at the Ashoka fellows where we have the information, it's they started something in their teens, over half. When you look LinkedIn -- this is about two years ago, we did this -- those who report that they had started something in their teens. Now, most of them that is probably not their idea. It was the Scoutmaster’s idea or whatever. So this is a major understatement, but okay, four times as likely as other people on LinkedIn to be a C level officer and five times as likely to be a founder -- and that's against the pretty educated population of LinkedIn.
- Changemaker v. Entrepreneur: We don’t all have to be entrepreneurs, but we all have to be changemakers. “That's a very important distinction. Nobody has any choice. We are living in a world where the rate of change and the degree and extent of interconnection have been going up exponentially since around 1700. Some people would argue it dates back to the invention of DNA, which was the first computer, but wherever you start, it's an exponential curve. … And just for convenience sake, say 1700 in the West. There was no growth in average per capita income from shortly after Augustus to 1700 and then it just takes off. So we're at a point in that exponential curve where it is still exponential. And there's no going back. The whole human species, I think, is becoming one brain like organism – we’re wiring together.”
- Conscious Empathy: “My parents asked me frequently, I'm embarrassed to tell you, ‘how do you think so and so felt when you did that?’ Well, that was getting me to practice conscious empathy. That's the first change making skill. You have to have the mirror neurons, cerebral cortex working together. So you consciously can understand this kaleidoscope of changing contexts, all changing one another faster and faster and more and more broadly interconnected. That is everybody's reality. This is the first generation where you don't have the option of being a good person by diligently following the rules. They aren't there. There are too many conflicting systems, people. So it is essential that every child, every young person has this. Any parent can help their six year old practice cognitive or conscious empathy every day.”
- Transitioning to Being a “Giver”: ”Everyone has to be able to be a giver, to have that power to be able to express love and respect in action at the most significant level possible.” “Our job right now is to help every single human being see that this is the new reality, they don't have a choice. You have to be a giver. You have to give yourself the ability to be a giver, to be part of the society. That is the only society that's going to be there in five minutes. … Everyone has to be a change maker in an everything changing connected world. … And the only possible answer is to make sure that every single human being has the ability to be a giver. Once they have the ability and they understand the playing field, they're going to do it.”
- Tools for every kid and parent: “You don't have to be very sophisticated to ask your six year old, ‘You must've been pretty upset when you did that?’ One, you're inviting her to reflect conscious empathy. ‘How do you think your brother felt?’ Practice again. ‘Why do you think he responded the way he did?’ Third practice. ‘What do you think we should do now?’ Fourth practice. She does something wonderful. You can go through the same four things like any parent can do. When your 12-year-old comes home and says something is wrong, kids are having trouble with math: ‘I am proud of you for seeing that problem. That's 80% of the solution. What's your answer?’ And encourage it, right? She's not going to have any answer right away, but the fourth or fifth time when she comes back with one and she's liking this. ‘Cause you're saying ‘you're powerful. I trust you. I respect you.’ She will come back. Then the hardest part is don't take over and don't let anyone else take over. It's gotta be her dream, her team, her changed world. And when she does that, she's bringing a whole bunch of other kids with her on her team as her clients. If we can get five kids out of 500, you can tip the culture, that school …”
The New Reality: Everybody Has to be a Changemaker & More on the New Inequality
“The new inequality. ... There is no shortage of demand for people who have the ability to contribute, to change, to adapt, to change. In fact, there's a bidding war for us -- salaries go up, up, up. The other part of society, however, who do not have the abilities, … how are they supposed to get a very complicated set of new skills? You don't get it at home. The schools are clueless. …
“I am so tired of people dumping on people in Southern Ohio or Appalachia. And that's the intolerance of the people who have the gifts of being able to give. And it is very destructive.
“Here are two statistics, the counties that are not populated by change makers in one generation have in the U S have lost four years of longevity. Second statistic, and this is comparing 2000 and 2016, so 16 years. At the beginning of that period, economic output per capita was roughly the same, slightly more in the more urban educated, blue areas. 16 years later, two to one, those exponential curves are accelerating and the people who are caught in the wrong side of the new inequality, you just go to southern Ohio and see what that's like.
“The new inequality is worse than the old ones. Because it gets worse every year. The new society is accelerating faster and faster up the exponential curve and the people in it. We are helping one another be better and better at this. … Well, guess what? If you don't have his abilities and you live in a community where no one has these abilities in your, you are failing, you are falling further behind now. …”
Moving Beyond Children to Helping Adults Become Changemakers
“Now, anyone can do this, we can do this. But the whole thing that we've got to do first is get across the larger framework change. And that is where this jujitsu that we have learned and is. “
“We can help every parent. We can help anyone who is running an organization, figure out your organization is going to fail big time if you don't help all your people become change makers. How can you be in “everyone a change maker” organization if your people aren't change makers? That doesn't make any sense. And for them to be change makers, you've got to organize as a fluid, open, integrated team of teams. You don't have a choice. You got to do this well. If you care about any organization, your religious community, your metro area, whatever you can help make that happen. And the power of working at the level of framework changes, especially now that it's right, you can do this.”
“We all interact with strategic institutions and we can start to challenge them and see to the extent that they are enabling everyone to be a change maker, that's where it can begin -- if we can start to move from this understanding of the problem to really demanding institutions to live to these values.”
“So many people think we're going to solve the youth unemployment problem by giving people skills. Like this is the dumbest thing I can imagine. What is the half life of any of these skills? Like have we learned nothing? But that's what they're doing. Well, of course, if you're a young person of any background, you hear this all the time. We've got to have this alternative understanding become part of everyone's thinking process that liberates people -- once you understand the game you're in, I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be powerful.”
“And if we can find those five people [in major institutions], which it turns out we can, well, then we have to go in. Understanding that this is the new reality for your publishing house, for your university, for your union, this is the right strategy for you. And here's how it would work. We bring that, we find the five people. They're ready to step up. They are the next generation leaders. They have the values. They have the ability to understand this is the new reality. And everything changing, everything interconnected world requires this change.”
Social Entrepreneurs Change Patterns for Society Rather than Just Helping A Small Group
“It's an everyday process of evolving the idea, evolving the environment. All the pieces are constantly changing. That's just the reality. Well that helps the entrepreneur and this is what makes entrepreneurs different. They cannot come to rest in their life until their gifts, their big idea, is the new pattern for society. Therefore, you don't even think about success as “has this worked in this one community?” You can always put some sort of special combinations of people or whatever together to make it work in a direct service context. You're driving to change the whole society. And, you know, that's years of this wonderful creative listening, creating, testing, “Oh, let's try this. Oh, this is an app that might work.” And that's what makes it so much fun. I mean, every day you're seeing new synapses, new possibilities. And, I think it's actually pretty important for people not to do the easy thing.
“It's very easy to have tremendous fun working with a small group of people. And then the bigger problem is unsolved. Well, we need people doing direct service. You need the teacher in the classroom, people who devote their lives to that. It's an incredible gift. So I'm not saying that is not important, but to entrepreneur, you have to change the whole system and the world needs the entrepreneurs committed to changing the whole system for the good of all. That's what a social entrepreneur is.
“And changing the mindset is even more powerful than changing the system. We introduced the construct of social entrepreneurship, but we have no idea what systems or framework changes are gonna come, but we know there'll be a lot more once there is that construct.”
“The model for social entrepreneurs is different from business. We are not trying to capture market and dig them out. Our goal is to have our idea be the new pattern. And for that to happen, you have to get people to stand up, take the idea and run with it for their organization …. You make your idea understandable and safe, and you try to create systems that make it easy for people to get started, to find one another. You are a mass creator of local change makers. And facilitator because you need them and it's fun. These are the people you want to deal with.
On the Origins of “Social Entrepreneurship” as a Phrase and a Framework
“In the late 1970s the citizen sector was finally going to break free from government. It was an accident historically that the ‘everyone a change maker’ revolution started with business: ‘You got a better idea. You make it work. We're gonna make you rich and powerful and respected. And by the way, we're going to copy you.’ That's what set this engine in motion.
“Well, government could take new wealth away. People didn't even notice it. So government grew and it paid for the citizen sector. Government -- historical accident -- was structured as a monopoly. The monopolies can't stand competition. They always lose. And so the government said to us ‘no competition, we give you money.’ Well, that's why the citizen sector fell so far behind -- the squalor of the citizen sector is pathetic.
“Late seventies, we could see we were finally gonna break it. The post-independence generation didn't have colonial trauma. Some of them were coming up as social entrepreneurs and they were our friends. Of course, they're your friends – people choose people who are like you not infrequently. And that was the historical moment when the citizen sector, half of the world's operation, escaped a trap and became entrepreneurial and competitive. And that's why we have been, in a very short period of time, we've caught up. And so we saw that and saw that the timing was ripe for launching social entrepreneurship field and the construct of social entrepreneurship.
“We invented the word changemaker exactly the same time spring of 1981 sitting at Nariman Point in Bombay. And in fact, we were more sure about the word changemaker than social entrepreneur, to begin with. And the timing was ripe. And the timing now is ripe for all of us, everybody here, to step up and end the new inequality by making sure that everyone sees what this reality is and therefore what their opportunities are.”
About the unique abilities of Vinoba and the India land grant movement: “You have the medium of a saint and connecting at a level of the world view of people. … Giving is the greatest gift. And, when there's justice associated with it, that probably doesn't hurt. And the fact that this was the Gandhian movement, that had built up and had produced deepest change in India. Gandh said India will be independent at the moment it is in its own understanding.”
On the role of inner transformation/inner work for changemakers: “You have to listen, you have to be able to listen. You've got to care and you've got to have the discipline. In your own life at all levels that the entrepreneur has to in pursuit of the entrepreneurial goal. Yes. To always be listening and always for the good of all.”
“You know, Bayard Rustin was a Quaker. That's not an accident. It was the Quakers who started the anti-slave trade movement and recruited Wilberforce and the Grimke sisters -- whom I am distantly related, who are two white women from South Carolina who decided they were going to give testimony against slavery. They came to Philadelphia and they discovered the Quakers, and they became Quakers. Do you see a pattern wandering through here? If you believe that every human being is face to face with God every day, every second, every thought -- and your community or family helps you with this and you help them. So it's very individual, very community oriented, very trust based.”
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!