One of Stanford Social Innovation Review’s goals is to bring together people from across society to exchange ideas about how to solve pressing social problems. That’s why we said yes when Independent Sector asked us if we would like to partner with them to produce a series of articles exploring the challenges facing American civil society. Together, we launched the series, “Civil Society for the 21st Century,” on SSIR’s website in June and will wrap up the series in September.
Both organizations felt it was important to publish this series of articles because America is undergoing dramatic upheavals, and one of the ways to understand these changes and to come up with solutions is to examine them through the lens of civil society. Consider just a few of the changes that are roiling America today: increasing cultural and political polarization, growing income inequality, increasing numbers of immigrants, declining public support for traditional institutions, and growing demands by oppressed groups for equal rights.
These problems are not unique to the United States. Other countries—such as Mexico and England—are undergoing their own upheavals, brought on by a mix of globalization, immigration, technological change, urbanization, and other trends.
The solutions to these upheavals won’t be shaped by just one group of people or one set of views. They will require people with good intentions from across the political and cultural spectrums to talk and work together. As Independent Sector President and CEO Dan Cardinali wrote in his opening essay, “When community is limited to those with whom you share a worldview, then American civil society is deeply compromised in its ability to build a common good that extends beyond any limited, self-selected group.”
That is why we deliberately sought out authors with diverse points of view, including conservative ones, to write about the future of American civil society. One of the first essays we published was by New York Times columnist David Brooks, who believes that people engaged in the social sector are helping to create a new set of values for American civil society built around community, healing, and belonging. And National Affairs Editor Yuval Levin argues that civil society can play an important role in bridging the growing polarization of American society.
We also feature writers from the other side of the political spectrum. PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell believes that some of the disruption and polarization in the United States today is actually a good thing, because it is the result of women, racial minorities, and others demanding equity and justice. And UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía argues that American civil society has been flawed from the beginning because it excluded Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, and many other groups.
Our hope is that these essays become part of a broader conversation about the future of American civil society, and that they inspire people not only to think, but to go out and change the world for the better.
Read more stories by Eric Nee.