New book aims to help people translate their passion into action that makes the world better.
There are myriad social causes to be championed, and one of them may be your passion. If you haven’t found your cause, or if you have but you’re not sure how to make a difference or even whether you can, then Paul Shoemaker has some advice for you.
Shoemaker is the founding president of Social Venture Partners International, which connects people who have considerable resources with causes that need their expertise as much as their cash. But Shoemaker wants more people, not just the wealthy and well-placed, to see they can help shape the world.
He’s written a book, “Can’t Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World.” In it he offers examples of people whose work has impressed him, plus tips for finding your passion and being an effective change agent.
The idea that a person committed to a cause can improve the world isn’t new, but a nudge is always useful because people tend to cling to the sidelines without being reminded of greater possibilities.
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Shoemaker says his own can’t-not-do is helping people “realize their greatest potential to create positive change in the world.” He took a while to discover that.
Shoemaker grew up in Iowa, where his father was a Methodist minister. He earned an MBA, worked as a product manager for Nestle, launched a startup, then in the 1990s worked as a manager at Microsoft.
He took the Social Venture Partners job in 1998 and found his calling, which felt something like the work his father did, bringing people together to do things they couldn’t do separately.
Now he’s moving into another phase. He’s still on the international board, but last month he stepped down from leading highly praised SVP Seattle and is exploring a couple options he’s not ready to talk about yet. The book is based on what he learned with SVP.
Early in the book, he writes about Anne Reece, who became principal of an elementary school that had some of the lowest test scores in the area. The majority of students come from low-income families, and for many English is a second language.
The Australia native came to the school, White Center Heights, in 2012 and was “astounded” by what she found — educational disparities many Americans take for granted.
With the same teachers and only a small increase in the budget, test results the next year rose in every grade, sometimes by double digits. At the heart of the change was a belief that the students could achieve, and adjustments to usual practices to make sure that happened.
A Seattle Times story in 2013 about the transformation quoted Reece saying “ … our teachers had lost so much hope that they weren’t even focusing on academics anymore. These were smart, capable people, but they’d lost faith in their ability to teach.”
She helped restore the teachers’ faith in themselves and in their students.
In the book, Shoemaker lists several criteria for being an agent of change, and one of them is that you have to believe the problem can be solved.
And as the title suggests, solving it has to be so important to you that you don’t just feel like you should do something, you can’t not do something.
For one person that might be an environmental issue, for another something having to do with reducing violence or poverty or racism.
Many of Shoemaker’s examples are from Seattle or nearby, and most are people he met while working with Social Venture Partners. But he also wants the message to reach people who may not have a lot of money, but do have time and the desire to solve difficult problems.
The solutions to many of the problems that communities face are known already, he told me. What’s lacking is putting them into practice, the way Reece did at her school.
He’d like readers of the book not just to be inspired, but to act. And he believes the connected world of today makes it easier than ever for people to leverage the talent or resources they have.
Shoemaker said a friend asked him, “Is this just another change-the-world book?’’ He said yes, it is.
He told me he didn’t try to replicate detailed how-to books, but to help people tie what’s in their hearts to their heads.
He hopes readers will “walk away with a sense of what’s possible, and that they can be an agent of change.”
And maybe a few more people who just can’t not act will have a better idea of how to direct that urge.