Like many others, my reaction to the Occupy Movement has been mixed.  While I am impressed by the creative ways it has publicized gross inequalities in our society, I am frustrated by the movement’s lack of an agenda for change. Complaining about problems without identifying solutions – that doesn’t sound very inspiring, or even novel!

Just when I was becoming resigned to seeing the Occupy protesters as just the latest evidence of hopeless idealism, last night I encountered an antidote for my disillusionment – not amidst the outdoor encampment that remains standing in Boston’s Dewey Square but away from the cold across the river in Cambridge.  I attended a reception held by Root Cause to celebrate two groups of local nonprofits.  The first group of five had just completed a year-long process in which Root Cause’s Social Innovation Forum helped them to better define their goals, strengthen their leadership, and improve their messaging.  They were now equipped to build strong relationships with funders and access wider sources of grant support.  The second group of six was just starting this exciting process.  Both groups had been selected from among over 100 applicants.

These 11 nonprofits are not only addressing some of the most challenging problems facing our society but they have the evidence to prove they are succeeding in their efforts.  For example:

  • Future Chefs (discussed in detail elsewhere on this blog) provides youth with mentoring and support as they embark on careers in the culinary arts.
  • MathPower is closing a critical piece of the educational achievement gap – inequality in quantitative reasoning.
  • Innercity Weightlifting encourages urban youth to spend time developing bodybuilding skills for a career in personal training as an alternative to engaging in gang activity.
  • Tempo Young Adult Resource Center provides crucial services to young adults who are aging out of the state foster care system.

As I ate the scrumptious food prepared by Future Chefs and met many of the others in attendance, what resonated with me most is that the “social innovation marketplace” all around me didn’t rest on idealism but pragmatism.  The predominant mood in the room wasn’t anger directed at myriad forms of injustice but determination to support ways of making lasting change.  Here were people coming together to promote feasible, high-impact solutions to complex social problems.  How could one possibly leave this event without a renewed sense of optimism that these problems can indeed be successfully mitigated!