By Ami Dar
I started Idealist in 1995 because ever since I was a boy growing up in Mexico I’ve believed that things don’t have to be the way they are. Today I know with every cell of my body that we can do better than this. Don’t you? Don’t you often see or read something that makes you think, “It’s 2014, and this is happening? Why?!”
Probably for many reasons, all of which can seem beside the point. You know that this— whatever story or situation struck you—is wrong or sad or scary or a horrible waste, and that together we should be able to do something about it.
The trouble, of course, is that life is complicated. People have egos and interests and different opinions, and groups have histories and conflicts. These things are real and they will always be with us. But what if we could find a way around them? What if by cutting through the noise of the daily news we could find a shared challenge (or three) that would bring us together?
When we look at the news now, problems of every kind come at us and overwhelm us. But shift your perspective for a moment. Instead of facing this torrent of news, step aside and watch it flow beside you for a minute or two.
From this angle, I think there are three challenges that run across all issues and communities. These challenges are quiet—you'll seldom hear about them in the media—but they affect all of us. And if we can tackle them, all our other problems will be easier to deal with.
These three challenges are:
Let’s look at each of these and see if they resonate with you.
Every day many of us would like to respond in some way to what’s happening around us, but for a variety of reasons we don’t. We may feel, rightly or wrongly, that we have no time, no resources, no power, or no impact. We may not know where to start, what to do, or who to work with. We may be afraid of failure, ridicule, meetings and committees, wasting our time, getting depressed…
This list could go on, but the point is that this challenge—or opportunity—is huge. Think how many times you’ve felt this way. Now multiply that by every person who’d recognize this feeling, and we are talking about millions of missed opportunities for action and collaboration every day.
This gap between intention and action applies not only to individuals, but also to organizations of every kind. Many schools, businesses, museums, and hospitals, to name just a few, would be willing to participate in a local initiative or help a similar organization in another country, but for their own set of reasons—including the simplest one, that no one has asked them—they often do not.
There is a good chance that right now, on different floors of an apartment building somewhere in your country, two people are looking out their windows and wishing there were a garden or a playground below instead of an empty yard. But acting alone can be difficult. And in many neighborhoods, despite all the technology in our lives, there is no way for people to know that they are not alone—that down the street, or two floors above or below them, there are others who would be happy to work with them.
The same goes for villages, schools, workplaces, and other communities. If you are one of five people who would like to change something in the place, how do you find the other four? And if in theory you have a way to find them—by knocking on doors, emailing everyone, putting up a poster—would it be okay to do this? Is there a good context for people to bring up their ideas and reach out to others, or would this seem strange or inappropriate?
On top of all this, many of us are also divided by nationality, religion, politics, and other lines. These divisions can run so deep that it may be hard for us to see the full humanity of the people on the other side, and to explore how much we may have in common across our differences.
Pick a specific social or environmental problem and chances are that someone, somewhere, has already found a good way to tackle it. Unfortunately, the people and organizations behind these innovations often lack the means to share them more widely.
As a result, people and communities who could benefit from any number of programs and ideas may never hear about them, and even when they do, they may not have the knowledge or the resources to adopt them.
Which brings us full circle. Person A has implemented a wonderful project; person B would love to bring it to her community; and person or organization C would be happy to help if someone asked.
So how do we make this happen? How do we make it easier for all of us to act on our good intentions? How do we get more ideas to bubble up in cities, villages, schools, and workplaces, and then connect all those people and organizations who want to implement them? And how do we create a social context that will make all this possible?
On Tuesday, March 11th, at noon EST, Idealist will launch a new network—online and on the ground, in cities, villages, schools and workplaces—designed to start answering these questions and to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally, online and in person.
The heart of this movement will consist of people all over the world who want to work together on these three big challenges, using every available tool—from social media to a bulletin board on a village tree—to inspire and catalyze action and collaboration all around them. It’s this ecosystem of possibility that we are inviting you to help build.
We at Idealist can share this idea and help move it forward. But to build this network, and to do it in a way that will make sense in your corner of the world, we need your voice. And with enough voices—and enough hands—there is so much we can do.
The world can change. I’ve already seen this twice in my lifetime. First the Cold War ended and big parts of the world opened up. Then cell phones and the Web arrived, and today I can write these words at my desk and you can read them wherever you are. I believe that another change of this magnitude is possible now, and that together we can make it happen.
If you like new ideas, and if you enjoy connecting dots and people, I hope you can join us. And if you know other people who should be at this table, please invite them too. Thank you!Join us on March 11