Social Movements & Startups

Designing and Sustaining Social Movements

Designing Social Movements: 

2020, for all its nightmares, generated social movements that captured headlines and captured the public conscience.  Many American are now looking with a bittersweet mixture of hope and anxiety to see which movements will take root and which will run out of steam.  Many women (and men) are expressing frustration that many in the cultural, business, and political worlds have moved on from #MeToo.  Will #BLM face the same obstacles?

More broadly, what are the ingredients to building a social movement?  And how can the movement be sustained?  After the early fires have already ignited, how do organizers keep adding fuel?

This is a problem for any movement.  Part of the challenge is that the media cycle (or what some academics called the “issue attention cycle”) has shortened dramatically, as old media has given way to social media.  

Part of the problem is in the nature of movement themselves.  Many movements are driven by grassroots organizing.  An anti-hierarchical ethos is not just style, it is part of many movements’ DNA.  

Here lies the dilemma.  Sustained progress requires institutions  But the corruption of old institutions -- driven by self-interest and the logic of institutions to preserve themselves -- is exactly why movements erupt.  How do movement leaders transform early zeal into lasting programmatic success without betraying the original values that propelled people into the streets?

What do social movements and startups have in common?

This problem is not unique to social movements.  It is mirrored in the problem that many startups face in two respects.  

First, startups face the problem of evolving even as they grow.  How do startups retain their initial creative dynamism even as they add employees and their operations expand from the proverbial garage to the world?  This is a problem not just for the company but for its founders and leaders too.  DIsrupting is a different skill set than building for the long haul.  And if the company needs to retain its initial hunger and crazy zeal while scaling up, this is doubly true for the founders.  

Second, startups face the problem of staying true to values even as the need for continued growth \means compromises loom.  “Don’t be evil” runs up against the need to monetize to stay alive.

This master course pairs together too very odd bedfellows: social movement organizers and startup leaders to see what lessons they can learn from one another.  Seeing where these two sources of disruption diverge is easy.  Seeing where they converge is harder.  But that is where true insights catch fire.

The first conversation of the series is with the founder of @santiagoadicto (and my brother), Rodrigo Guendelman. His community of over 1mm in Twitter, IG, radio, and TV has a very clear mission: make people fall in love with the city.

Register for the Masterclass