Extreme do-gooders, you’ve heard of them in the news, seen them in movies, and maybe even know one in your social circle. They are the ones that are out there combating poverty and disease, improving children’s education or protecting the environment. They work relentlessly for change that may take generations to see. These extreme do-gooders are rare, “only 1 social entrepreneur for every 10 million of the rest of us, according to calculations of Ashoka, an organization that funds social entrepreneurs around the world.” So what makes these folks tick? Do they share any common traits? Yes.
Four common traits they all possess:
1. Sense of obligation built up over time that’s too strong to ignore.
2. Restless until their dream becomes reality across all of society (aka to change the system).
3. Never think in terms of sacrifice.
Traditionally, we think of spending a lifetime struggling against “the system” as a noble sacrifice: Think Crystal Lee Jordan, who lost her mill job for trying to unionize her colleagues and whose story won Sally Field her first Oscar, as Norma Rae. Think Erin Brockovich, the legal secretary, immortalized by Julia Roberts, who threw her all into a case against a utility company for contamination of a community’s water supply.
But in the real world, social entrepreneurs seem to think in terms of everything except sacrifice. “I’ve interviewed several hundred social entrepreneurs over the last 15 years,” says David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, “and the thing that struck me is how little they think about sacrifice, and how little their lives are about sacrifice, and how much their lives are about really doing something that gives them extraordinary joy and satisfaction when they’re successful.”
4. See world as changeable and they can change it.
The vision of self and the vision of world are related. This self-definition have roots in school, home and social circle but it is also embedded in our American culture. “Our tradition is extremely generous,” says Amitai Etzioni, director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The US outdonates each of the other 11 developed countries listed in the Charities Aid Foundation’s annual comparative giving survey; American donations total the equivalent of 2 percent of gross domestic product, more than twice that of Britain, the second-highest giver.
Thankfully, for every extreme do-gooders, there are countless others who also want to see change and share their talents, resources, and time, albeit, at normal, every man pace. Millions make contributions despite holding other responsibilities by “going and bringing orphans into our home, doing community service, teaching people to read, being a pal. There are hundreds of ways we do that.”