Generating ideas, connections, and action

Guest Blog Post: Breaking New Ground to Scale Social Innovation and Impact: What Will It Take?

By Odin Zackman, DIG IN


In early May, 130 passionate practitioners committed to transformative leadership development for social change will gather in Baltimore for Creating Space X.


These gatherings are unlike any that I have attended, serving as a crucible for connection and learning to enhance leadership development practice. I am always buoyed by the combination of experience and dedication to making a difference that participants share.


The hope—particularly with this year’s theme of “Breaking New Ground”—is to provide inspiration and new perspectives to fuel innovative work that ultimately deepens social transformation.


While I can’t wait to meet up with and learn from colleagues both familiar and new, I’m already asking questions of impact. I’m wondering “What will it take?” to succeed in supporting leadership that can affect lasting change in our communities, navigate and bridge differences, and promote a collective, networked approach to creating change.


It’s an ambitious question, but if we’re ultimately seeking to make such shifts, it needs to be explored. Here are some initial thoughts I’d like to investigate further:


  • We need to experiment with new approaches to leadership development. Numerous existing leadership development programs are doing meaningful work, yet still focused on cultivating individual leadership via a program or fellowship approach, rather than incentivizing and honoring collective, networked leadership through a project or impact orientation.
  • We need bolder, more focused investment in leadership. Several philanthropies have made pioneering commitments to long-term investments in leadership in particular places or sectors. Additional conversations among foundations and between philanthropy and practitioners can further shape investment—and innovative approaches—to transformative leadership.
  • We need to commit to authentic, sustained conversation and action around racial and social justice. Many of us have dedicated our lives to this work, which occupies the core of creating lasting social change, yet an understanding and integration of equity has still not occurred—and is not sustained—in many organizations, coalitions, and communities.
  • We need to further diversify organizational forms. While there has been a growth in social sector entrepreneurship, new legal structures for socially responsible business, and a continued interest in collaboration and partnership, the unit of change in our culture remains the organization. Organizations serve a vital role in providing services and fulfilling on a particular mission, yet only the most visionary are able to transcend structural boundaries to collaborate successfully and scale impact.
  • We need to more powerfully connect leadership development and movement building. Leadership development programs and efforts oriented toward social change can be more intentional about the broader connections and cross-program opportunities to educate and mobilize, build power, and affect policy.


The author and activist Frances Moore Lappe writes: It is not possible to know what's possible. 

And because this is true, we are free. We are free to act assuming that our actions—no matter how small— could trigger the tipping point and set off tectonic shifts of consciousness and creativity. 


If we are committed to transformative leadership, embracing this possibility is the spark which may ignite broader change. I look forward to coming together with others—at Creating Space and in other ways during the months ahead—to explore the challenges and solutions to the question of what it will take to break new ground to scale social innovation and impact. 



Inline image 4