Cre­at­ing an Amer­ica we’re proud of

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Dar­ius Gra­ham Dar­ius Gra­ham is di­rec­tor of the So­cial In­no­va­tion Lab at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. He can be reached at

In this elec­tion sea­son, as we con­sider how to cast our votes, we have heard daily about the chal­lenges fac­ing Baltimore and our coun­try. From ed­u­ca­tion to eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, we look to elected of­fi­cials to solve these is­sues al­most sin­gle-hand­edly over the next four or eight years. At the same time, we limit our role as cit­i­zens to vot­ing and pay­ing taxes, leav­ing the ar­du­ous work of re­form­ing ed­u­ca­tion or cre­at­ing jobs to those we elect.

How­ever, cre­at­ing the city and coun­try that we want to live in re­quires that we all play a greater role. One way to do that is through so­cial en­trepreneur­ship and in­no­va­tion. In my work lead­ing the So­cial In­no­va­tion Lab at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, I help pro­vide fund­ing, men­tor­ship and other crit­i­cal guid­ance and re­sources to peo­ple who are launch­ing and lead­ing ef­forts to make real change here in Baltimore and be­yond. These so­cial en­trepreneurs and in­no­va­tors aren’t wait­ing for some­one else to solve the prob­lems we face; in­stead, they see a prob­lem (of­ten one they ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand) and work to de­velop the so­lu­tion.

Some may think of in­no­va­tors and change­mak­ers as only a small seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. Some may think that mak­ing an im­pact comes only from health ex­perts, trained tech­nol­o­gists, may­ors or the pres­i­dent. Of course, those peo­ple can help bring change on a larger scale, but ev­ery day I see change com­ing from “or­di­nary” peo­ple who take it upon them­selves to solve prob­lems where they are.

This past week, the So­cial In­no­va­tion Lab an­nounced our new co­hort of 10 ven­tures led by such peo­ple. These in­clude a mother who ex­pe­ri­enced the loss of a young child and now works to pre­vent such tragedies; a woman who grew up in Baltimore, be­came an en­gi­neer at NASA, and now works to pro­vide train­ing and jobs in STEM fields to Baltimore res­i­dents with the low­est em­ploy­ment prospects; a teacher who ex­pe­ri­enced the burnout that be­falls many in her pro­fes­sion and now works to boost teacher sat­is­fac­tion and re­ten­tion; and a team of stu­dents who wit­nessed the ef­fect of un­treated men­tal ill­ness and cre­ated a tech­nol­ogy plat­form de­signed for anony­mous on­line group ther­apy in large or­ga­ni­za­tions like po­lice de­part­ments.

These peo­ple are not su­per­heroes, wealthy or well-known, but they share a pas­sion and de­sire to see our city and coun­try change for the bet­ter. And they demon­strate that we all have a role to play in fix­ing what’s bro­ken.

With all the chal­lenges our com­mu­ni­ties face, in­side and out­side the city, we need every­one to see them­selves as in­no­va­tors and change­mak­ers. From our new mayor and City Coun­cil mem­bers, who can make change through pub­lic pol­icy, to en­gaged cit­i­zens around the city, we need peo­ple at all lev­els work­ing to make a tan­gi­ble im­pact in our com­mu­ni­ties.

If you’ve wit­nessed or ex­pe­ri­enced a prob­lem and want to do some­thing about it, step for­ward and help make our city and coun­try bet­ter. Join the com­mu­nity at Im­pact Hub. Seek guid­ance from those who know the is­sues in­ti­mately. Ap­ply for sup­port from pro­grams like So­cial In­no­va­tion Lab, Open So­ci­ety In­sti­tute’s Com­mu­nity Fel­low­ship, the Baltimore So­cial In­no­va­tion Jour­nal, and West Baltimore On The Rise. We need you.

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