by Daniel Obst, President & CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs
This year’s Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley proved to be so much more than a buzzword gathering featuring tons of cool ideas, but little insight on how to use them. Instead, thinkers and doers from leading edge organizations like Twitter, WeWork, Airbnb, Google, Gates Foundation and DoSomething.org came prepared to share, connect and move social change forward in a more strategic manner.
Spending three days with dynamic social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and leaders at the nexus of business, technology and education was just what I needed. I came away both inspired and prepared to tackle the global commitment my team and colleagues at AFS Intercultural Programs have focused on over the past 18 months: Ensuring that all people from all backgrounds have access to international and intercultural learning opportunities.
Here are five takeaways from the Summit I’d like to share:
1. Being intentional when it comes to diversity and inclusion (D&I) makes the difference, said eBay Chief Diversity Officer, Damien Hooper Campbell. His talk clarified that diversity is being invited to the dance, but inclusion is being asked to dance once you get there. We all have different opinions about the intentions and best outcomes of diversity and inclusion work, but keep these two things in mind when working on D&I: It’s really about who and how we invite people to the dance—and making everyone feel valued and welcomed throughout the party. This is true in schools, at work, where we volunteer and how we live together.
2. Collaborate until it hurts, advised executive consultant Blair Taylor, the former President of the Starbucks Foundation. Taylor emphasized that nonprofits must learn how to engage across sectors, maneuver around the politics and solve problems together. I agree. At AFS, we know that partnering and building coalitions allows us to set goals we can only achieve with others. And we thank our corporate partners like BP and our thought leadership partners like UNESCO, OECD and Teach For All for helping us advance the idea that global competence is an essential 21st century skill that must be part of every school curriculum.
3. Scaling up initiatives and solutions that work requires system change was a common theme among several speakers. What struck me was the warning that scaling is not just about getting bigger. To better understand this concept, I did a little research and wound up at the World Economic Forum website, where I found the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship report Beyond Organizational Scale: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Systems Change. The report explained that the current models for scaling social innovation tend to be too narrow and take too long: “Conventional scaling models borrowed from the private sector [such as building more branch offices] seem woefully inadequate when aiming to create meaningful social change for entire populations.” Systemic scaling requires shifting the rules, norms and values that make up social systems. Sounds wonky? Maybe. But the report offers easy-to-understand, concrete lessons, questions and practical case studies that will make you think differently about scaling.
4. Empathy has a major role in social entrepreneurship, explained Lorena Garcia Duran, Director of the Ashoka Support Network. I was intrigued by this concept since empathy is a core value of intercultural learning and critical for the world to learn to live together. Without empathy, effective collaboration is difficult—an important lesson that AFS emphasizes as we help teens and young adults take their first steps to becoming active global citizens. And new start-ups, like Empatico.org, are doing amazing work to advance empathy in classrooms around the world.
5. Innovation in tech is essential, but the future is the “human operating system,” said Caroline Barlerin, Global Head of Social Innovation at Eventbrite. Barlerin’s Twitter profile emphasizes her passion for harnessing the power of people and technology for positive impact. Her talk made me think of the importance of our work with Generation Z, who want to make a difference, but are requesting guidance on how to get started, according to several research studies. Gen Z may be our youngest global citizens, but as Mario Federlin from Big Citizen Hub reminds us, Gen Z is on fire – and they need more seats at the table. So let’s equip them with best tools in social innovation, as well as the intercultural knowledge, skills and understanding required to change the world.
Join me at the AFS Global Conference this September in Budapest to be part of the conversation on innovative approaches to global competence.