This post originally appeared on Jspot.org.
“I am not an optimist. I am a prisoner of hope.” I heard these words uttered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, retired Anglican bishop and one of the most ardent opponents of South African apartheid, at the Social Good Summit this week. The Summit is a gathering of global leaders who come together to discuss how the power of innovative thinking and technology can solve our greatest challenges. Archbishop Tutu shared the stage with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
After I got over the shock of being in the presence of such inspiring individuals who have done so much for the good of humanity, I was able to focus on their message. Archbishop Tutu and President Robinson share the belief that we all have the tools individually, and communally as a society, to solve the challenges that confront us. I believe that this is true; just looking around in the auditorium I could see over two hundred other social justice activists tweeting and typing on laptops, iPads, and smart phones. With the advent of social media and the continuing evolution of technology, we learn more easily of the injustices occurring around the globe. However we also have the tools to mobilize and do something about it—sharing news stories on our blogs, texting to donate to a natural disaster, and tweeting about a new innovation, like the ingenious “slavery footprint” website that raises awareness about forced labor.
The causes that compel us to act are many. In addition to Archbishop Tutu and President Robinson, we heard from Richard Gere speaking about nonviolent movements for peace, Muhammad Yunus explaining the benefits of microfinance, Tony Bates demonstrating the ability of Skype to facilitate interfaith and interethnic connection, and Ami Dar showing how we can do more with the strengths that we have by working together through a new platform on idealist.org. The speakers, though varied in age, experience, and ambition, shared a common vision—that we can meaningfully impact our communities and our world. This optimism was palpable in the room at the 92Y and I left with the affirmation that we can achieve incredible results with a smart goal, determination, and the necessary resources.
Though it is easy to lose this positive outlook when confronted with headlines of political gridlock and a faltering economy, it is important to remember that there are incredible challenges that confront us as a society and we have the power to make a difference. Change-makers working as part of existing non-profits, volunteering their time, or creating new initiatives are all part of this process. As long as we keep an optimistic outlook and stay connected to our missions and each other, we have amazing potential for success.
Avi Smolen is currently the Communications Manager for Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice, a domestic social justice organization, in New York. He graduated from Rutgers University in 2009 with a BA in Political Science and minor concentrations in Jewish Studies and Psychology. Previously, Avi worked as a Faiths Act Fellow in Washington DC at the Malaria Policy Center, where he focused on engaging college students in multi-faith global health activism, and as Development and Communications Associate in the New York office of Keren Or, a Center in Jerusalem for blind and multi-disabled children and young adults.