Never Forget: The Power of a Small Group

September 2014, Erin Worsham

Though I now call North Carolina my home, I am a New Yorker.  Born and bred and proud to be a NYer.

So, September 11th always brings back a rush of memories of that horrible morning where hatred and helplessness prevailed.  This morning was especially poignant – reading the #NeverForget, #Honor911 and #911anniversary posts on social media and reflecting on the speech that President Obama delivered last night amidst the threats from ISIS and continued instability around the world.  In particular, the line that stuck with me from his speech was the following:

“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.”

“Small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.” Such a bleak and hopeless statement but there was nothing more true that morning 13 years ago.  But as I reflected on those words, I was reminded of a very different, more hopeful quote by Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

Small groups doing great harm.  Small groups changing the world.

The dichotomy between the two quotes highlights the incredible power we have as individuals to choose a path forward.  What I, and our team at CASE, love about the social entrepreneurship community is that we choose the second quote.  We choose to embrace the power of our individual action and collective impact to make the world a better place.

So, today on the anniversary of September 11th, I’m trying to focus on that optimism of small groups changing the world.  And I am not alone: MBA students are building their skills to become “leaders of consequence;”  social entrepreneurs and impact investors are paving new paths towards impact; policy makers are innovating within government to facilitate change.  In the past few weeks alone, we at CASE have had the chance to hear from so many of those leaders.

Kevin Trapani, the CEO of the Redwoods Group, recently spoke to our first year MBA students and told them, “Leadership is not about you. It’s about serving others and lifting up other people.” The students walked away knowing that in order to be a good leader, they must lead with their skills and with their hearts to change the world for the better.

Just yesterday, Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools and author of The Opportunity Equation, talked to our students about how easy it is to play the blame game with our education system – blaming poverty or our public schools for growing achievement gaps. But he – and other social entrepreneurs like him – are focusing on solutions that achieve better outcomes and scale and “help to change the odds.” He closed his talk with a call to action: “Whenever citizens have led, we move forward with a movement. We cannot wait for others to solve problems for us.”

And last week at SOCAP, the voices of many social entrepreneurs and impact investors came together to celebrate the progress of the field and discuss how to continue to move forward.  Those inspiring leaders included the adorable Vivienne Harr who “saw a photo and decided to take a stand” again child slavery … at 8 years old.

She started with a lemonade stand and that stand has now become a company, Make a Stand, a certified B Corporation dedicating five-percent of all gross revenues to organizations working to eradicate child slavery worldwide.  And Make a Stand is only one of many certified B Corporations – 1104 as of today – that are using the power of business for positive change

That small group changing the world?  From our view at CASE, it is getting bigger and stronger and more innovative every day.  Continuing to celebrate and propel that group forward … that is how I choose to remember and honor the memory of those we lost on September 11th.