Cheryl Heller

If You Can Only Read One Book On Social Innovation … : Ken Banks has made us that book

I am asked, not infrequently, what the best book is for someone who wants to learn about social innovation.

Those who ask are generally looking for that one defining volume summing up the entire global movement with everything you need to know – the “Elements of Style” for people who want to change the world. Or better yet, to use Clay Shirkey’s definition of a recipe, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for social enterprise.

In truth, there has been no one BOOK. If you’re serious, you have to read a lot of books on wildly diverse subjects to begin to understand the systems at work in the big issues of our time. And in greater truth, you have to stop reading altogether and get out more.

But Ken Banks has written and edited a book. And everyone should read it.

In “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” the ten stories Ken has compiled create a profile of a new kind of leader who, unlike most in the news today have not competed for the place and title. Instead, what these innovators have in common is the recognition of other’s pain and injustice that they weren’t willing to live with – and despite practical considerations, couldn’t ignore.

It goes on from there. We learn about the twists, turns, challenges and rewards of life at the front line of social change. It’s been called an antidote to pessimism; I would add that it’s a celebration of patience, prudence and thoughtfulness as well. And as Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls it in his forward, it’s a “book of hope, inspiration and a beacon of what is possible.”

For those less familiar with Ken’s work, he’s the founder of and FrontlineSMS, two organizations that reflect his passion for technology to impact social and environmental gains in developing countries. He’s also a Pop!Tech Fellow and an Ashoka Fellow.

The readings we assign and recommend to our graduate students at MFA Design for Social Innovation here at the School Of Visual Arts in New York cover centuries of time, cross silos of expertise and geographical boundaries and seem only sketchily related to each other until you’ve read quite a few of them. Ken’s book may not be the only book you have to read to understand social innovation at a deep level. But it might be the best place to begin.

Ken also is the newest member of our advisory board at DSI, I, but I would have loved and written about his book anyway. It can be found on Amazon and all the usual places, and you can find out more here.

Cheryl Heller designs change and growth for business leaders and social entrepreneurs. She is Founding Chair of MFA Design for Social Innovation at SVA NYC.

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