I devoted much of last week to spending time with students at four colleges across the country: Trinity (in Hartford, Connecticut), Harvard, U of Virginia, and University of Denver. It was a refreshing respite from life inside the Beltway, and especially from the daily dose of presidential politics. In some ways it felt like an antidote to the political paralysis and the failure of government to effectively address many of our economic and social challenges.
At each of the four schools I was speaking on some combination of social entrepreneurship, hunger, poverty and philanthropy. The students, ranging from undergrads to Masters in Public Policy, were filled with ideas and questions, eager to discuss issues ranging from food waste and hunger, to nonprofit salaries and finding the talent and skills needed to succeed.
I spent the most time at the University of Denver which is establishing a new Institute of Philanthropy and Social Enterprise under the leadership of David Miller a veteran of both government and philanthropy. Students there lined up for a half hour after my lecture to talk about everything from the needs of the low income high schools from which many of them had come, to how technology might be better leveraged to fight poverty.
Unlike the politicians battling it out across the country, there was no trace of rancor or grudge held against anyone else. No one played the blame game. No one demonized those with different views. They were ready to take responsibility for their own future. All they need from the rest of us is to get out of the way.
At the end of the week I had dinner with my old boss, former Senator Gary Hart, and his wife Lee. They are still keenly interested in American politics, and what Gary emphasizes as the obligation in a republic to put the common good ahead of special interest. “I think I really understood American politics in the 1980’s” Hart said, “and although today’s politics are very different, I do think there continues to be a latent American idealism that our politicians overlook.”
He’s put his finger on exactly what I’d experienced all week – a new generation of social entrepreneurs that fills me with hope.