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Visible Hands: Undercurrents of Practical Activism 🌊
Featuring a Q&A with Steve Davis, author and expert on social innovation.
We are excited to interview Steve Davis. He is the former president & CEO of PATH, a leading global health organization and a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on scaling social innovation. His book, Undercurrents: Channeling Outrage to Spark Practical Activism, will be released on October 6, 2020. We’ve condensed and edited the interview for concision and clarity.
VH: What inspired Undercurrents?
SD: Increasingly, I was hearing from a wide range of people how paralyzed and confused they are by the world around us, but not really knowing what to do with it. And often because of the impressions that things everywhere were always getting worse. Yet the reality – as demonstrated in clear data and experience – is that many things are getting better. There are a number of trends that provide optimism that we can keep improving the world around us.
I thought it worth some time to reflect on those trendlines, which I call Undercurrents, and provide some insights on why these trends might help today’s and tomorrow’s activists to roll up their sleeves. I wanted to share insights, data, stories and ideas about how nuts-and-bolts practical activism works.
VH: Through your work at PATH, you’ve focused on global health and health equity. Outside of COVID-19, what are the biggest challenges in healthcare right now?
SD: The world is appropriately focused on containing and ending this horrible pandemic, but sadly it is masking or exacerbating many other challenges we are facing in global health. We still have appallingly high levels of maternal / child mortality in many global communities (including here in the US), despite the huge improvements we have made in the last 40 years (cutting those deaths in half). Many are completely unnecessary deaths given we have the solutions in richer settings.
We still have raging infectious disease morbidity and mortality due to TB, Malaria, and HIV, even though we generally know how to manage or cure it in the rich world. Additionally, the whole world is facing a crisis with “non-communicable diseases” such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases. These are actually the biggest killers in the world, in both poor and rich communities.
And of course, how we continue to be better prepared to prevent and respond to the inevitable next pandemic.
VH: Amid today’s many other pressing problems, many believe the current economic system no longer serves them. How do you respond to this frustration?
SD: I think the answer lies not in throwing out capitalism, but in dramatically reshaping its rules and governance, including accountability for ESG and other social impact as an integrated part of corporate reporting and incentives, and rebalancing the roles, voice and influence of public, private and social sector interests.
Our political and economic system has not been static for 200 years, and the good news is the world’s socio-economic demographics are changing in a manner that will help mobilize this change. What better time to be engaged as a practical activist?
Thanks to Steve for providing these suggestions.
As a citizen:
Although it’s hard to balance the many demands of everyday life with activism, Steve emphasizes two things. First: “if you don’t start now, the habits of not finding time to do important things in your community gets harder and harder to break.” Second: “most activism is done in small doses, by busy people working in their communities, taking a bit of their time and talent to make changes here and there.”
Look for ways governments, businesses, and nonprofits can work together to solve problems. “The evidence is clear that most of the biggest global development challenges we face today – climate change, pandemics and health inequity, education inequity, financial inclusion and others – are only going to be addressed by smart multi-sectoral collaborations, that is between private sectors, public sector and social sector partners. We need to evaluate the many different capabilities each sector can bring to the table, and find good alignments to help them work together.”
As an employee:
Try to find ways to include activism in your everyday work, even if it isn’t your full-time gig. According to Steve, “We have spent a lot of time celebrating and romanticizing the big philanthropists, celebrity social entrepreneurs, and full-time activists, and thankfully many of them are doing great work in support of social change. But we need to encourage activism throughout life, and not just as something one does when they are privileged or near retirement.”
An example of this would be to use your skills to apply to a social problem, join a non-profit board, meet with your friends and neighbors about how to take one step to improve something in your communities.
As a consumer:
Support organizations that have been working across the private, public, and social sectors to bring about social change. An example Steve raises is the Khan Academy: “its success in meeting the educational needs of so many has been its ability to work closely with private industry on its platform, content, strategy and opportunities, and its work with local and national governments who can provide support, access and scale.”
As an investor:
Consider how you are making your money and where your investment dollars are going. “We need to avoid the trap created by the concept of “giving back,” that we have the right to “take” until we are wealthy and successful, then we “give back” to our community.”
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JPMorgan Paying $920 Million to Resolve Market Manipulation Probes: “The unlawful trading in gold, silver and other precious metals involved a total of 10 traders.”
New York City Bankruptcies 2020: Pivotal Point for Business as Covid Cases Rise: “The city’s Department of Small Business Services received about 35,000 calls for help since June and gave out about 4,000 grants and loans from an $80 million program approved early in the pandemic.”
Revised House Stimulus Bill Includes $600 Extra Weekly Unemployment: “So far, Republican opposition to extending those enhanced benefits — at least at the $600 level — has persisted since that federal aid expired at the end of July. It originally was authorized by legislation enacted in March.”
Wealth Gaps Remained Even at the Height of the Boom in 2019: “Last year, the median wealth for Black families was less than 15 percent that of White families.”
Coinbase Rejects Corporate Social Activism: “He cited “strife” at other tech companies over issues like racism and politics, and asserted that employees want “refuge from the division that is increasingly present in the world.” Practically, that means employees are discouraged from debating causes or politics internally and from taking up activist causes at work.”
Stay connected via our Instagram, Twitter, Medium, and, of course, email (email@example.com)! Please invite any friends, roommates, coworkers, armchair activists, and social entrepreneurs to join the movement. See ya next Thursday!