Social entrepreneurs or social movements?

All the buzz about social entrepreneurship has lead to the belief that some individual or technological wizardry will somehow end poverty and other social injustices.

Bullet holes from 223 ammo fired at strking workers

On this Labor Day, I’d like to honor our parents, grandparents and great grandparents  – the ordinary people who organized for the right to have some control over their working conditions, to be paid a livable wage and to carry a union card.

I just left a Labor Day commemoration that once again reminded me that thousands of ordinary people do courageous things each day to make the world a better place  — putting their jobs, and even their lives, on the line. Whether they work to advance civil rights, labor rights, human rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities, they understand that it takes many actions by many people in solidarity over many years to stand up to the forces of greed and terror that are too successful in keeping others in misery.

There are no magic bullets or killer apps in our movement to social justice. Just every day, everyone who cares making intentional decisions to share, and to act in brother and sisterhood with the least fortunate among us. And to join together in nonviolence, as it is only through those actions that we can find the power and courage to win against the greatest forces of tyranny.

Scott Molly, Professor of Labor History, University of Rhode Island

5 responses to Social entrepreneurs or social movements?

  1. Hildy Gottlieb

    Thank you for this, Gayle. I’ve spent much of the past week contemplating social entrepreneurship, reading and asking and blogging and listening, and then reading, asking and listening some more. And in all that, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. It is the sum of the parts that creates change. Thanks for saying that with such heartfelt eloquence.

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Thank you Hildy.
      I’m thinking that the pop focus on social entrepreneurs is an interesting confluence between that very strong US cultural strain honoring the Individual and the real importance of leadership in any social movement. I’m happy for the bright energy the new “social entrepreneurs” bring to their endeavors but worried that they will keep moving foward and stay committed when they encounter the inevitable setbacks and truly hard work of creating and defending social justice.
      I’m also worried that too many have forgotten that the really dangerous work to advance peace and justice is difficult to do as a party of one. And that the cumulative acts of many tend to get overlooked. Or historical actions are not considered comparable or relevant for today’s action. It reminds me of my old history textbooks that were all about “great men” and not so much about social movements. How many people know that Rosa Parks was active in the NAACP and was trained at Highlander Folk Center? While she acted alone that day, she was not detached from organized movements.
      I’m not arguing that leadership and innovation aren’t important, but both leadership and innovation need to be distributed throughout any movement to keep it alive and moving forward.

  2. Bonnie Koenig

    Yes, the importance of sustained, collaborative work (without worrying about how we label it), is an important mantra. You may be interested in a comment by Kumi Naidoo, former CIVICUS executive director and anti-apartheid activist (someone who understands social justice)at its recent conference. It seems to be appropriate here. Commenting on the traditional African proverb: “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together “, he noted that with the urgency of the problems we are currently facing, but the continued need for collaboration “We must now learn to go fast & far.”

  3. Lori L. Jacobwith

    It’s a movement. And a movement requires participation, from many, to move forward. I’m a partner with Social Venture Partners Minnesota – a group who are committed to participation, collectively, to create change in our community. Thanks for a great post, Gayle.

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