Dr. Muhammad Yunus is an inspiring individual. He has dedicated his life to not only helping others, but to creating systems that allow others to be able to help themselves. Recently, I was able to travel to Berlin, Germany to attend the 7th Global Social Business Summit, of which Dr. Yunus was a host. Those in attendance were able to hear him speak of an ideal world with zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions. Imagine living in a world where those three zeros are a reality. Is it possible? As a Global Studies student, I am critical. As a Social Entrepreneurship student, I am hopeful.
At the Global Social Business Summit, there were workshops and strategy sessions held during the day that were open to all participants. I chose to attend a workshop entitled Innovative 21st Century Education Models that was organized and facilitated by The DO School, an organization based out of Germany that is dedicated to innovation, education, and good business. The workshop was structured as a social change lab, just on a very small scale. It was two hours long, and the diverse group of participants were asked to collaborate on what skills a young person would need to thrive in the 21st century, and how they could go about acquiring those skills. Each participant was from different countries around the world, with different job and life experiences. It was an interesting dynamic and allowed for a broad range of perspectives.
A noteworthy point is the format in which we were asked to brainstorm ideas. We were asked to come up with ideas based on the following levels: normal, moonshot, superhero, and innovative. It is not very often that we are asked to think about superhero kinds of ideas. Oftentimes in the monotony of everyday life those superhero ideas are so unrealistic that we don’t even bother to consider them. But who is to say that those superhero and moonshot ideas don’t have value in our work and life today?
It’s those blue-sky, (arguably) far-off ideas that flex our creative thinking skills; its those ideas that the world needs now more than ever. Clearly what we have been doing for centuries isn’t working anymore; poverty levels are increasing, more and more people lose access to clean drinking water everyday, millions of people don’t know where they will sleep tonight. These, among many others, are the reasons why our society needs to change for the better. We will not have much of a world to live in if humanity continues at the rate it has been. Some may say that creating positive change at this scale is too unrealistic. This should not disregard anyone’s perspective, but should encourage the realists to collaborate among optimists to come to the most innovative solutions for the most complex problems.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is easier to execute in theory than in practice. Social change labs are a space where a diverse set of stakeholders are able to brainstorm and ideate solutions to a particular problem. There are many people who would love to participate in a lab because they are interested and passionate about the topic. However, how can we ensure that we include individuals who are more on the fence or who are not necessarily experts on a specific topic? Those perspectives are critical in coming up with solutions to problems because they may see the issue differently than someone who lives it everyday. I think that this is a challenge that many social change labs around the world face.
Social change labs are an avenue to allow for the superhero and moonshot ideas to come together with the concrete and realistic plans of putting change forward. This is how innovation happens. Putting those things together, social change labs are more than just a workshop. They are a way to revolutionize how we approach complex social challenges. It is a framework that is necessary for sustainable progress.
Of course these ideas can be uncomfortable, we’re trying to dismantle the prevailing wisdom and disrupt the status quo here! But the more we are able to recognize that this type of change is necessary, the less we will be continuing to do business as usual.
At Laurier, the sense of community and the amount of passion among students on our campuses gives us a unique advantage in coming to tackle the worlds most complex challenges. Through social change labs at Laurier, students will be able to use their passions for a particular topic in a way that will be useful to creating sustainable change in the world today. After all, Laurier’s mission is to inspire lives of leadership and purpose. Social change labs are a way to do just that.