Social Capital

Can Existing Institutions Produce the Leaders That the World Needs?

July 12, 2016  • Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

Sasha Dichter is Chief Innovation Officer at Acumen, a nonprofit aimed at addressing poverty. Asked what subject Americans ought to be debating more, he wondered if existing institutions can produce leaders capable of solving this century’s most complicated, intractable problems.

He writes:

The challenges will we need to overcome in the coming century – global warming, ethnic strife, corruption, terrorism, to name a few – are both familiar and daunting. These challenges are not necessarily bigger than those of the last century, but they have a different character. Tackling them requires leadership that is adept at bringing together seemingly opposable concepts and a diverse set of actors: public and private; profit and purpose; shareholders and stakeholders; markets and philanthropy; scalable technology and individual voices; values and…

Who are the role models for this type of leadership? And where is the training ground for people to lead in this new way? Will this leadership emerge naturally from our existing institutions – global multinationals, politics, the media, higher education, the social sector?

And, if not, what should we do to change this?

Dichter was a speaker this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. To take his question a step farther, can any readers imagine a new sort of institution, one that doesn’t yet exist, that would produce the sorts of leaders that the world needs? How about changes to existing institutions.

Here’s an example: Lots of elite institutions of higher education encourage study abroad. The theory is that living in a foreign country will broaden the perspective of students and better prepare them to be leaders in a globalist era. Very few of these institutions place comparable value on learning about poor and working class communities inside the United States by actually spending time and making social connections there.

I am not talking about charity work or secular missionary work. The object of the programs I am suggesting would be to better understand how different people live and think, not to convert them to the world view of America’s college-educated elites.

On a related note, I would like to see an elite MBA program that required some sort of experience working at the bottom of an industry, as an employee at the lowest rung of the economic ladder, so that tomorrow’s business leaders have a better understanding of the employees working for them and how their decisions filter down.

And I would like to see police academies that required aspiring cops to spend some number of hours talking to people who’ve been victims of police brutality in the past.

Email with your suggestions.

This article originally appeared at the Atlantic.