Starting Fires

I spent part of a weekend with 95 young “social entrepreneurs” at a conference in Austin Texas. They were all part of Echoing Green an organization funded by General Atlantic founder Charles Feeney. Through a two-year fellowship program Echoing Green identifies individuals with ideas for social change and provides them with seed money and strategic support to help them launch new organizations. Since 1987 ” Echoing Green has invested $33 million to help nearly 600 social entrepreneurs create positive change in more than 40 countries. Their graduates have raised more than $1 billion in additional funding. 

As I sat in on conversations – they favor peers over outside experts – I thought back to another meeting in the 1970s where a similar group of “fellows” had been convened to talk about “passing the torch” to the next generation. At the same meeting” ” people were beginning to talk about the great intergenerational transfer of wealth predicted to take place in the next several decades. A common theme seemed to be a sense of waiting – patient waiting for the older generation of ministry leaders to retire and for the great transfer to begin.

Nothing could have been further from the minds of these young people in Austin. While there was no trace of either entitlement or resentment of those few of us elders who were in the room” there was an intensity ” creativity and almost intoxicating enthusiasm about their ventures. They were transforming ideas into action. They were not waiting for the torch to be passed or the wealth to be transferred.

While there will always be a place for those who take up the torch of those who were the creators” I came away encouraged about the future of those who were saying in so many words “I’ll pass on waiting for the torch. I’ve got a fire to start.”

1 Comment

  1. Fred: I love the description of the meeting and your related reflections. Reminds me of John Wesley’s quote: “Light yourself on fire and people will come from miles around to watch you burn.” It’s great to hear that these “auto-immolators” are not waiting on anyone to provide the fuel or the ignition!


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