As I have written frequently, I live in (more than) a couple of different worlds. I read, and present synopses of business books. But I also speak monthly at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare. I present synopses of books dealing with social justice, racism, poverty – issues of human need.
Sometimes, I feel a little whiplash…
This month, after lunch today, I will have presented two books for two different Urban Engagement Book Club sessions. On the first Thursday of the month, I presented my synopsis of the book Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time by Alex Perry. It had a very real parallel to a section in Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by David Diamandis (which I presented at the July First Friday Book Synopsis). Abundance profiles some technophilanthropists. And Lifeblood focused a great deal on the work of Ray Chambers. Maybe not a “technophilanthropist,” but certainly a wealthy philanthropist who made/is making a whopping difference. He served as the first ever UN Special Envoy for Malaria. His goal was to get rid of malaria in the poorest countries of Africa. Here’s a quote from the book:
“Perfection is the enemy of good,” he said. “Will we cover every single person with a bed net? Honestly, I doubt it. Will we have a bigger impact than any other campaign ever? Yes, I think we will. You set lofty goals, and if you get 90 percent, that’s a great achievement, and you focus on getting the remaining 10 percent done as quickly as you can.”
Today, I am presenting my synopsis of the book Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out the Best in America by Alan Khazei. Mr. Khanzei is the founder of City Year, which ultimately played the pivotal role in the establishment of AmeriCorps. The book is filled with great stories, but it boils down to this:
What is the problem, and how do we tackle solving it?
I will say this today:
In fact: all solutions boil down to Individual, Face-to-face, Compassionate, Competent, Attention.
Here are a couple of key quotes from this book:
Big Citizens are not household names. They are not the elected officials or prominent leaders. They are regular, good hearted people blessed with a loving heart and an open mind. Anyone can be a Big Citizen and join with others in common purpose. You just need to listen to that voice inside that says: “I, too, want to be part of making my neighborhood, my school, my community, my country, my world, a better place for all of us.”
At times of great crisis, we often want to find that one great leader to bring us to a better day, but what we need to recognize is that throughout our history, it has been the willingness of regular people looking in the mirror and committing to causes larger than themselves that has been the key to making progress. At the end of the day, it is up to all of us.
And he includes this famous quote from Robert Kennedy:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
In Dallas, Larry James, Gerald Britt, and the full team at CitySquare work with dogged determination to meet human need, to help people establish a more solid foundation; they actually find homes for homeless people… the list of ways they tackle human need is long, and impressive. And Gerald Britt works tirelessly on public policy issues (payday lending is one of his recent targets – payday lending is an absolute drain on people in poverty).
I encourage you to add a social justice/poverty book to your reading stack. There are many good ones. If you ask me where to start, my current “best suggestion” is The Working Poor by David Shipler. But, it almost does not matter – read any book that helps you see, and remember, the very real human needs of others. And then, do something about it! (CtySquare is a pretty good place to start).
And in you are in the DFW area, I invite you to come join us at the Urban Engagement Book Club. We meet twice a month. Check it out.
For practically every family, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present. Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause.
If problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be. A job alone is not enough. Medical insurance alone is not enough. Good housing alone is not enough. Reliable transportation, careful family budgeting, effective parenting, effective schooling are not enough when each is achieved in isolation from the rest. There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty. Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise.
The first step is to see the problems, and the first problem is the failure to see the people.
David Shipler: The Working Poor (Invisible in America)
How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled?
Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed – On (Not) Getting By in America
News item: Non college graudates are seeing their job opportunites completely disappear. From Do You Have a Job? by Daniel E. Slotnik:
For many young people in America, steady work is far from guaranteed. A new study shows that only one of six high school graduates is now employed full time, and although 73 percent think they will need more education, only half say they will enroll. Are you now employed? What jobs have you had in the past? Do you think you could find work after high school, if you choose not to attend college?
In her article “More Young Americans Out of High School Are Also Out of Work,” Catherine Rampell writes:
Whatever the sob stories about recent college graduates spinning their wheels as baristas or clerks, the situation for their less-educated peers is far worse, according to a report from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University scheduled to be released on Wednesday.
Today is Urban Engagement Book Club day. Twice a month, I present a synopsis of a book that deals with social justice or poverty at this event hosted by CitySquare. This is one part of a multi-part life I am living. On one day, I present a synopsis of a best selling and challenging business book. On the next day, I present a synopsis of a book that deals with some aspect of human struggle, even human misery – books on social justice and poverty. (I also do some presentation skills training; some keynote speaking, and a few other kinds of corporate-training-like activities). I like everything that I do, and believe it is all useful to the folks that I interact with regularly. I really do want to help people get “better” at what they do.
But it is the social justice part of my schedule that probably wins the “what matters most to you?” top spot. I care about these issues deeply. I’ve read too many books; I’ve read Isaiah and Amos from the Bible. Caring about the neediest among us really is a big human deal. To fail to do so makes us a little less human.
Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
These words come from Amos 5, and here are a few of the other words that precede that famous “climax” in the chapter:
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts…
Seek good, not evil.
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
Caring for the poor; helping the cause of the poor; seeking and providing justice. These may not be needed all that much by those with great means. But as for the neediest… these matter a great deal. And the neediest among us seems to be a growing group at the moment.
Today’s book at the Urban Engagement Book Club is Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter. This is a book about a specific injustice, the “exploitation” of black people in Chicago. But that story has been replicated in city after city. This may be the key quote in the book:
When a seller in the black market demands exorbitant prices and onerous sales terms relative to the terms and prices available to white citizens for comparable housing, it cannot be stated that a dollar in the hands of a black man will purchase the same thing as a dollar in the hands of a white man.
The book is really about how people with means find ways to make a lot of money – a lot of money — off of black people without the same level of means. It is a story overflowing with racism. But there is a warning in here for all folks.
I fear that we are in for much more of this kind of exploitation. People with inadequate means is a growing demographic. High school graduates (and those who did not graduate from high school – some 23-27% of all high school students) are simply unable to find work (see the news item above). The situation is going to be increasingly dire. And this book chronicles just how adept some folks are at making a lot of money off of the exploitation of the poor. The poor black people were the victims in Chicago. And such racially charged abuse is still present in far too many places. But the plight of all types of people without adequate means is a story that I think we need to know, and give some serious thought to.
May I make a suggestion? As we read business books, and as we think about improving our own business, and getting ahead financially – let’s not forget the needy among us. And not just with an occasional charitable gift. Let’s give this issue some real attention. Consider reading an occasional book that deals with such social justice issues. (Start with the Shipler book, The Working Poor. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and this book is honest, thorough, well-written).
Could anything help our country more than for all of us to set our minds to some solutions – to help create a better set of work possibilities for those now in such need, those without that college education to rely on?
It may be that the most patriotic thing any of us can do right now is to help the under-skilled and undereducated find work.
“A few years ago, students came to business school thinking they would get rich right away,” Dartmouth’s Mr. Fairbrothers says. “But now, I think students are trying to focus on doing reasonably well while doing some good.”
This is the concluding paragraph in a Wall Street Journal article entitled: M.B.A.s Seek Social Change: Enterprises With a Cause Gain Ground on Campus.
There are two reasons given for this trend:
Some administrators say it’s a generational progression of business-school students who have grown up more socially aware. Others say a lack of traditional jobs has spurred an interest in entrepreneurial ventures—and the focus on societal impact is partly a matter of trying to escape the stigma of the “greedy M.B.A.”
What’s more, a for-profit enterprise with a socially responsible backbone is more attractive to nervous investors during economic turbulence than traditional business plans, argues Gregg Fairbrothers, director of Dartmouth College’s Entrepreneurial Network at the Tuck School of Business.
I find myself in the middle of this discussion, in a very personal way. I present (at least) two new book synopses every month: one is a business kook for the First Friday Book Synopsis, and the other is a book related to nonprofits/social justice/poverty at the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries. (If you live in the Dallas area, I invite you to attend. It is the first Thursday of each month. Read the details here). So I am constantly reading books that deal with business, and then others that deals with the concerns of the social sector. And the more I read, the more I sense that these worlds are coming closer together year by year.
Let me recommend a couple of titles that describe the great human problems, and the attempts made by increasingly innovative nonprofits and foundations to alleviate such human need, even while seeking to build business capacity.
The first title we might label as one of many good books that help us understand “the problem” (this one dealing with the working poor in our own country).
The Working Poor: (Invisible in America)
New York: Alfred A. Knopf. David K. Shipler (2004)
Here’s a key quote:
Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage. They are caught in exhausting struggles. Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn hold them back. The term by which they are usually described, “working poor,” should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.
And this book might be one that you can put in the category of “solution:”
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
Oxford University Press. David Bornstein (2004)
Here are a couple of key quotes:
Social entrepreneurs have a profound effect on society, yet their corrective function remains poorly understood and underappreciated. Although they have always existed, for a variety of reasons their presence is on the rise today.
This book sees social entrepreneurs as transformative forces: people with new ideas to address major problems who are relentless in the pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take “no” for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they possibly can.
If I learned one thing from writing this book, it is that people who solve problems must somehow first arrive at the belief that they can solve problems. This belief does not emerge suddenly. The capacity to cause change grows in an individual over time as small-scale efforts lead gradually to larger ones. But the process needs a beginning – a story, an example, an early taste of success – something along the way that helps a person form the belief that it is possible to make the world a better place. Those who act on that belief spread it to others. They are highly contagious. Their stories must be told.
I hope you will check out these books. And I add my voice to say: I think that it is an encouraging sign that MBA students are considering the social sector as they consider how to invest the years of their lives.