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Searching for Solutions in an Age of Anti Institutions

SOCAP August 3, 2011

As members of the social sector descend on San Francisco next month for the annual SOCAP conference, I’ve been struck by how the voices of our sector have largely been missing from the debate in Washington over the debt ceiling, over job creation and, frankly, over all the major issues that are affecting the lives and well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable people.
Every poll suggests that we’re in the era of anti-institutions, with large majorities of the public disenchanted with office holders, the media, corporations and others who set the national agenda. Certainly one reason for the discontent is that we don’t feel that the public’s interests are being served or that we have a genuine voice at the table.
The Arab Spring, the relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake and Japan’s tsunami all proved one thing:  Our world just got a whole lot smaller. Anybody on the street can make an investment in an enterprise in the developing world, students can mobilize demonstrations within hours. While truly extraordinary we must ask ourselves, Is such change sufficient, or do we need larger efforts to build sustainable, long-lasting solutions?
How do we solve some of society’s most intractable problems if we’ve decided that our institutions have no role in tackling them? We face that here at SF Goodwill, where we deal daily with the new flood of people looking for jobs, training, transition to community after prison, and personal transformation.
At my core, I believe we need to tackle issues like poverty, environmental degradation and other deep-rooted problems not just as individuals but by coming together in new forms partnership. We need to get  talented, informed, passionate individuals from the nonprofit world, social enterprises, businesses and government together, in the same room, to start an authentic conversation about power and leverage,  and to engage in specific, concrete actions.
Doing so will require real effort, courage, and a shaking off of institutional hubris, ego and inertia so that we can manifest change in ourselves and our communities.
Looking forward to a robust conversation about this at SOCAP and in the weeks to come. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, is among the speakers on tap at SOCAP 2011.
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