Last week I was in Portland, Oregon where I joined Greg Dees, David Sawyer, Kim Alter and others to contribute to the Social Innovator Leadership Program led by Mercy Corps. We worked with a 20-person delegation made up of representatives of China’s public, private, and NGO sectors from the All-China Youth Federation.
Besides the fact that it was my first time teaching using simultaneous translation − which was itself interesting − I was amazed at how engaged the participants were. As I reflected on the time I spent with these participants, it occurred to me that China, because of its recent adoption of capitalism, has a particularly interesting opportunity to advance social innovation. It was only 30 years ago that China began to explore free markets, and yet the country is already seeing market failures along with the vast opportunities to advance social innovation that come with those failures.
The leadership of the All-China Youth Federation got it, recognizing that it would take all three sectors to tackle issues of poverty, the environment and other society-wide challenges that will become even more pronounced as their economy continues to grow. The delegation was led by Dong Xia, the deputy secretary general of the All-China Youth Federation, who spoke with grace about exploring a program in China similar to the Peace Corps. In addition, I was able to spend some time with Jeffrey Q.G. Woo, the deputy director general of the Beijing Municipal Social Development Office, which, although it just launched, sounded a lot like our own White House Office of Social Innovation.