Progress During a Time of Rapid Change and Uncertainty

March 1, 2017

We tapped our unconventional network of thinkers and doers, and asked them to reflect on what real transformative “progress” means during a time of rapid change and uncertainty. What follows are their reflections and a challenge to all of us to think more expansively about the role we can play to drive meaningful social change.

Rachel Pritzker

Rachel Pritzker is president and founder of the Pritzker Innovation Fund (@PritzkerFund), which supports the development and advancement of paradigm-shifting ideas to address the world’s most wicked problems. She chairs the Breakthrough Institute Advisory Board and is a board member of Third Way and the Center for Global Development.

Our best hope at creating solutions that can outpace social problems is to slow down our thinking long enough to be able to really understand the problems. Part of our challenge is that we’re so wrapped up in the problems of the moment – often the symptoms of the deeper, more complex, underlying problems – that we can’t see the forest for the trees. At least some of us in government and the social sector need to be thinking about long-term problem solving. Doing so will require developing a new set of skills, such as being able to challenge our own assumptions about the nature of the problems and the range of possible solutions. We can’t bring a 20th century solution set to today’s problems and expect them to last another hundred years; we’ll need to be constantly working on new solutions that match the changing times.

Lasting progress will be hard to judge in the moment. I think we’ll only be able to see it by taking a longer, wider view of problems. Rather than being seduced by the metrics we can see in the short-term, we’ll do better to choose big, meaningful metrics and apply them widely enough to determine whether we’re really making progress. For instance, when it comes to climate change the falling cost of renewable energy is often touted as evidence that we’re making progress. However, more meaningful metrics might include the percentage of global energy that comes from clean sources, or the intensity of carbon in the atmosphere.

Henry De Sio, Jr.

Hon. Henry F. De Sio, Jr. is Global Vice President and Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka. He is the author of Campaign Inc.: How Leadership and Organization Propelled Barack Obama to the White House, and previously served as deputy assistant to President Barack Obama.

The changemaker effect is raising the stakes for a new social framework. We are at a historic moment. Our world, once defined by concentrated authority and the perfection of repetition (think assembly line), is now characterized by democratized leadership and explosive change. With hierarchies flattening, siloes collapsing, and advances in technology lowering barriers to individual participation, more of us can access information and contribute fully in every aspect of society. This level of individual empowerment has given rise to the Changemaker Effect on society.

In this reality, there is both peril and promise, driving the imperative for a new operating system for our changemaker world. Empathy-based ethics must be the foundation for this framework, since rule-making cannot possibly keep pace with dynamic, disruptive change. Tearing down walls and forming a team around any complex problem or opportunity is the social value premium. New leadership requires that every player on the team be an initiator — no one can be small or passive. Finally, everyone must be a skilled and practiced changemaker committed to the good of all.