There are two quotes that resonate with us during these challenging times. They come from two men who couldn't be more different. The first is from renowned physicist Albert Einstein, who stated, "In the middle of difficulty there is always opportunity."
The second is from Alan's dad, a WWII veteran and lifelong fighter for the underdog who became an "unconventional" businessman. It was he who advised Alan that "the window of opportunity is only open a short time, so you need to push as much change through it as fast as you can. And don't blow it."
These messages are particularly relevant today. Our generation is in the midst of a rare opportunity. The world economic downturn has fundamentally changed all of our landscapes — political, social and economic — and presented us with an exciting challenge: How do we go forward?
Few leaders can rise above times of turmoil in order to recognize opportunity. In the past, it has typically been one sector — business, government or nonprofit — that has emerged to lead us during times of social or economic transformation. Today, none of these institutions can dominate. Each is too slow to handle the challenges we face and too resistant to change.
We believe it will be social entrepreneurs who will guide us. They'll be the ones to provide the jobs, the vision and the blueprint to make Massachusetts better.
Who are social entrepreneurs? They are mavericks, leaders from all sectors. They take more risks and make more mistakes than most. They combine sensible business practices with out-of-the-box thinking to solve significant social problems. They differ from philanthropists in that they commit their leadership and expertise — not just money — to causes.
Massachusetts can claim social entrepreneurs from all sectors. We honor progressive CEOs through our Lewis Family CEO Social Leadership Award, including this year's recipient, Joel Lamstein, co-founder and president of John Snow Inc. And we respect other strong social entrepreneurs such as Len Schlesinger of Babson College, Robert Lewis of Street Safe, Susan Rodgerson of Artists for Humanity, and this newspaper's publisher, whose annual CEO Corporate Philanthropy Summit has inspired scores of CEOs to get involved.
Many business leaders we've met with recently believe it's just a matter of time before things go back to the way they were. Most nonprofit leaders today, however well intended, operate with outdated models that are inefficient and ineffective. And government trudges along, often wasteful and without the ability or opportunity to think collaboratively.
In this new era, it will be social entrepreneurs who will lead the way, if we help them. Let's partner with them to find solutions to critical social problems. This is our moment in history. Let's not blow it.