Archive for the ‘Chris Cusano’ Category

There’s a housing boom in my neighborhood in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and throughout Asia. Every morning a blue truck rolls down the street, bounces to a halt in a lot outside my window, and delivers a dozen construction workers, rain or shine. It seems that no matter where you are, some nearby house is going up, coming down, or changing its look.

Housing is a major piece of Asia’s socio-economic puzzle. It’s an industry that employs vast numbers of people. It’s a huge challenge in city planning. To Asia’s growing population of low-income home buyers, housing represents many things: opportunities, an asset, and an achievement. Housing is also one nexus of the citizen sector, where social entrepreneurs are changing the very rules of the puzzle itself.

Here are 3 examples:

WorkersRajiv Khandelwal is an inspiring social entrepreneur in India, a vast land with 100 million rural, seasonal migrant workers.  He founded Aajeevika Bureau to help workers from rural Rajasthan and Gujarat to construction sites in distant towns.  His clients are not only seeking opportunities in the city, but adapting to some major change in their previous way of life, especially the steady agricultural decline. Rajiv’s take is straightforward: rather than try to prevent seasonal migration—which doesn’t work—  India should help its migrants thrive.

Cities – As houses go up and cities expand, urban annoyances can mushroom into major problems in city life. Noise pollution is one example.  Sumaira Abdulali is a courageous citizen of Mumbai who is putting together India’s first citizen-led effort to curb noise pollution. Her Awaaz Foundation is bringing to the forefront the issue of noise control in city planning—controlling the noise emitted by the booming cranes and shovels.

New Rules – The housing boom offers an avenue for Asia’s poor to own decent housing, but the barriers to ownership must be removed. This is the goal of Ashoka’s own Housing for All program, which lines up commercial deals to provide goods and services, capital and financing, and marketing for a very low income housing market, typically people working in the informal sector such as market vendors and rickshaw drivers.  Ashoka’s program is demonstrating that such deals can work, by bringing together the right lenders, builders, and social entrepreneurs.


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Once, when Ashoka Fellow Karen Tse, founder of International Bridges to Justice, was speaking in Singapore, she was asked, “Which quality have you had to develop the most during your journey as a social entrepreneur?” Karen paused, then replied, “radical self-affirmation.”
           Radical self-affirmation—Karen’s striking words express an idea we should all consider. For one who wants to make a better world, to be a changemaker, the right attitude is central to success.
            What is this attitude? I would say they are:
–          Give permission
–          Define yourself
–          Believe
            The first part is granting yourself permission to do big things—to confront a pressing human need, see a solution, and say I will allow conscience and intuition to inspire me.
            There is no ritual to giving oneself permission; no single solemn declaration. Instead it’s a habitual resolve to focus attention on what is right, constructive, effective, rewarding.
          During start up, reasons for not taking action will attack from every angle: you’ll starve; you’ll put your career at risk; you’re not an expert; the problem cannot be solved; you are led astray by idealism. Other objections are downright demoralizing, especially if such doubts come from within: Why do you think you can solve this when no one else has? What makes you so special that you can fix this? Can you handle the disapproval and conflict that will inevitably arise?
            Self permission means resolving to answer, ignore, or overcome these doubts, knowing they sprout from a fear of failure.
            Inaction is to be feared far more than failure, which is a patient teacher. So every changemaker should meditate on the question: have you given yourself permission to take on and accomplish something great?
            The second attitude is defining yourself.
            Following conscience can lead to great opportunities. The citizen sector is a wonderfully open space. The sector is growing, so there is today an exciting admixture of skill, background, and experience. Having the right attitude means defining who you are in this environment.
     Will you enter the field as an equal contributor to its great efforts and conversations? Even as a novice, could you imagine your part—perhaps sharing some existing skill or knowledge or insight?  At a summit of the world’s top practitioners, would you delight in discourse and dealmaking, or escape to a backbench seat?
            The third attitude is to believe in yourself and your dream.
            Belief that change is possible is the nucleus of social impact. Belief allows us to pose ambitious goals and expect to meet them. Consider two hypothetical vision statements in urban housing:
–          “To improve housing conditions in urban slums”
–          “To transform all slums into thriving, secure communities”
      The first vision hopes for mere improvement, not transformation. A path is assumed, along which only modest steps may be taken. By contrast, the second statement is full of optimism and offers an image of the future. Belief is the agent that enables the latter kind of vision.
            All changemakers want to have a pattern-changing impact on the real world. Just as real is the attitude you need to cultivate to do that. Habitually affirm to yourself that change is possible and that you have an important role to play. And grant yourself permission to seek great impact. Only you can do that – nobody else.

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Over the last 30 years, social entrepreneurship has evolved from an arcane concept recognized by a few thought leaders to a widespread phenomenon embraced by people worldwide.

            What distinguishes social entrepreneurs from other social leaders is their pursuit of pattern change. They seek to change the rules, systems, relationships, economics, incentives, and behaviors in order to uplift the lives of their specific clientele in society.

                Inspired and instructed by these social entrepreneurs, people from all walks of life are becoming changemakers themselves. Such a vibrant citizen sector will ensure that society distills its highest empathetic ethics into the real hard stuff of social change.

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