I recently watched two friends have a public debate. It started when Marshall Ganz of Harvard University co-authored a polemic in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called “Social Enterprise is not Social Change”, in which he argued for more support for politics instead of social enterprise. One of the organizations they criticized was Ashoka. In response, Ashoka staffer Michael Zakaras wrote a strong rebuttal in Medium. Both articles were widely shared in my professional circles.
I watched the debate with interest because I know both parties well. Ganz is a former teacher and mentor, and is currently on the Global Advisory Council for my organization, Amani Institute. His influence played a pivotal role in our curriculum design. On the other hand, my co-founder and I worked at Ashoka for a combined seventeen years, and its approach to social change also fundamentally underpins both our curriculum and team culture.
Ganz believes passionately in the role of government to solve social problems. This is his ‘Church’, so to speak. By contrast, Ashoka comes from the church (or, more appropriately, Buddhist monastery) where individuals must act because the government is incapable of solving our problems. Ashoka believes this to such an extent that when one of their Fellows goes into government, that person is stripped of his prestigious “Fellow” title until they leave the government and re-enter civil society.
This is not Catholics versus Protestants. This is Christians versus Buddhists – a fundamentally different notion about the path to enlightenment, about how social change happens. More accurately, it’s monotheists (there is one God called Government) versus atheists (there is no God; everyone can be a changemaker).
Ok, I will stop flogging this metaphor now.
But before that, I must credit my favorite writer, Aaron Sorkin, for this framing as a religious debate. In The Newsroom, he writes a scene in which the President of the company and one of his employees disagree about who really creates jobs. It’s a great scene.