Creating Social Value Blog / Food

Two Core Ingredients for Social Innovation

Earlier this year, in breakfast conversation with Social Innovator Award recipient Bill Bolling of the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Mike Brady of Greyston Bakery, a small group of us shared theories of change-making. The stories that Bill and Mike shared threaded through the notion of connectivity and collaboration. One of Bill’s superpowers is his capacity to work with and through others. “No one does this alone,” he emphasized.

Or, as former Lewis Institute undergraduate scholar Jennifer Kuhanga once put it: “Social innovation should be social.”

But to build with and through others requires the core ingredient of radical humility—the ability to detach the self (ego) from the outcome, to be willing to give away ideas, credit, sometimes even power. For many people, this is not easy or natural. In a culture of business, perhaps tougher still.

Greyston Bakery founder Bernie Glassman was another Social Innovator Award recipient. (Unfortunately he was ill at the time of the ceremony, and so Mike Brady and Dion Drew accepted the award on his behalf.) Bernie’s book Instructions to the Cook explores Zen practice in the literal and figurative kitchen. It’s an extraordinary read, replete with cooking metaphors for life.

If radical humility is one core ingredient, I am starting to believe that the second is positivity. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Farm Sanctuary, an organization that raises awareness about the unspeakable horrors of the farm-animal industry and advocates for compassionate living. As a longtime supporter and champion of Farm Sanctuary and its founder Gene Baur (who visited Babson last fall), I receive a lot of their literature. Recently, I saw this statement from Gene in my Facebook feed:

“I consciously choose to focus on and dwell in positive things that are happening, instead of dwelling in the immense pain and sadness of our world. The sanctuary has been and continues to be a place of hope and healing, for animals and people.” —Co-Founder and President Gene Baur, reflecting on 30 years of Farm Sanctuary.

Knowing Gene and having spent time with him, I would certainly have characterized him as a positive person. But having it put before me so plainly, in his own words and in the context of the cruelty he has witnessed and stood up to for three decades—it stopped me in my tracks.

To work for change because you cannot accept a condition as it is — to stand on the front lines of injustice, and do so with a warm and open heart – to me this is beyond incredible.

As I approach my modest 5-year mark with The Lewis Institute, I remain moved and deeply inspired by the honest and gentle approach that our “Changemakers of All Kinds” bring to their work and the world.