By Courtney Montague
2009 Reynolds Fellow
What do Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, General Colin Powell, General James Jones- US National Security Advisor, Anthony Romero (President of the ACLU), and Jacqueline Novogratz (CEO of Acumen Fund) all have in common? They are master storytellers and they understand how the power of narrative can be used to accomplish their visions of change.
That much became clear during the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation 2010 Social Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington DC. Seventy of us had the privilege of hearing from over 30 of the country's leaders in the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency, national health and education organizations, and various members of the press.
Anthony Romero and Jacqueline Novogratz are masters of the narrative and use their narratives to highlight power structures that each are battling.
Romero pointed out that, as Executive Director of the ACLU, he is involved in a case defending a man who was prevented from protesting against gay rights. Romero pointed out how important it is that he, as a homosexual Executive Director of the ACLU, focuses on protecting the rights of an individual - even as this individual wants nothing more than to protest his rights as a gay man.
Romero envisions an American Society where the rights of all citizens are protected regardless of personal beliefs - including the rights of those to protest whatever and wherever they choose. After experiencing the lack of basic human rights in developing countries, and how the lack of a rule of law breeds the corruption, poverty and misery around the world, I sleep safer now knowing that Anthony Romero is out there leading an organization designed to protect my rights as a citizen.
Jacqueline Novogratz told of leaving Wall Street to start the first microfinance bank in Rwanda. After she left that country, the women of her bank played almost every role imaginable in the genocide. Some watched their families be killed, some died, and others were perpetrators. After telling this story, Novogratz acknowledged that her initial development work was largely in an 'information silo' and that only through the combined efforts of many disciplines could she change lives. To deny the larger issues of structural violence and political power and privilege within a country is to deny the poor any meaningful chance to escape destitute poverty.
These remarkable speakers brought into focus issues of structural violence, politics and power, human rights and the power of the story for social change. Each gave me a new respect for public service in the government and how a 'small rudder can change the course of a big ship.' The huge ship of government may move slowly, but changemakers within the system can make a tremendous difference for millions of people.