Please take 17 minutes and listen to this Ted Talk by Daniela Papi Thornton titled “Reclaiming Social Entrepreneurship”.
This talk changed how we see our role as social innovators and how we approach social challenges in our community.
We recommend watching her talk before reading the rest of this blog post.
Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
Did you find it as insightful and inspirational as we did?
As young aspiring social innovators, we were immediately drawn to the pioneering spirit and heroism of the archetypal entrepreneur. But Thornton’s talk helped us realize that social innovation involves more than just building a social business. The goal is to fix our broken systems and create real, lasting change in our communities.
In this blog post, we’ll share more of what we learned from this Ted Talk.
Who Is Daniela Papi Thornton?
She is a well-known social innovator, educator, and advocate for systems change leadership. She has been a lecturer at Yale University, and a senior fellow at the University of Oxford and has worked with numerous organizations to promote social entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. Her work inspired us, and many others, to approach social challenges with a focus on systems change and thoughtful, research-first leadership.
Thornton’s description of a systems change leader perfectly aligns with the frustrated passion of many young people today and their energy and willingness to do whatever it takes to make a positive difference in the world.
When we first started conceiving Service Academy, we were convinced we could rely on our entrepreneurial ambition and good intentions to solve complex social problems. We fell into the trap of thinking we might naturally already have potential solutions to complex problems we largely hadn’t fully experienced or deeply researched ourselves.
In our original concept, we gave social entrepreneurs the added weight of “social impact” and “purpose,” which involved a problem solving dimension that was much larger and more impactful than a business problem alone.
We know now that there is power in our raw excitement to create better systems for developing young changemakers. And while a social business may be a good idea one day, we don’t need that to reimagine youth service for millions of young people.
“The goal of social innovation is to fix our broken systems, not build a social business.”
Our new role as emerging systems change leaders who prioritize thoughtful research gives us the freedom to apply our existing skills and resources, powered by our passion for positive change, to the places where we make the largest possible impact by improving the existing systems in our community.
We can intentionally try not to be unique by using learnings from other social innovators in the education reform or job upskilling fields as models for how to help the existing youth service systems in our community work better for young people.
What is a Systems Change Leader?
A systems change leader:
- Looks at a system and sees what’s missing.
- Then they look internally to ask, “what can I do to effect change?”
- Then they galvanize other people and skills to fill those gaps so the system can shift.
As part of our commitment to systems change, we’re completing our nonprofit application for Service Academy. A goal is to create a scholarship program similar to the Oxford “apprenticing with a problem” program, which will give ambitious young systems change leaders the opportunity to pitch their understanding of social problems and existing solutions and identify any gaps that need to be filled with new work.
But before we start trying to solve anything, we’re committed to learning as much as possible.
That’s why we’re proud members of Mrs. Thornton’s new Social Impact Educators Corps (we just made that up!), committed to building better systems and incentives for young people to become the systems change leaders that they want to be and that our communities need!
We believe we’ve found our U-shaped hole in the world, where we can use our unique skills to contribute to real, meaningful change.
We’re part of a generation of young people who want high-impact careers, and we’re committed to making systems change the core of our work.
We hope our journey will inspire you to become a systems change leader in your own right — and if you haven’t watched Thornton’s Ted Talk, we urge you to do so and join us in this incredible movement.
Together, we can create a brighter future for all!
– Ryan & Thomas Growney SG’24