Can You Imagine a Better World?
Welcome again! On this page we invite you to imagine a better community and a better world, and to see how we can build it together, starting right now. Click on the photos to see what people are saying about this project, and then take a moment to see why this is needed, how it will work, and how you can get involved. And on the week of April 23-29, join us, wherever you are, to help launch this initiative with a series of start-up meetings around the world. Thank you!1. What do we mean by a better world?
2. The challenge: so many missed connections
3. The opportunity: we have so much in common
4. How? Like stores and libraries
5. Some solutions
6. Getting started
7. What you can do right now
We want to live in a world where all people can live free and dignified lives, where any person who wants to help another can do so, and where no opportunities for action and collaboration are missed or wasted.
That's the vision, the ultimate goal. To get closer to it, we believe that:
- All over the world there are many people who share similar values, dreams, and challenges.
- With all the tools we have now, we can communicate like never before.
- If all of us had more opportunities to connect and work together, online and face-to-face, in neighborhoods, villages, schools, and workplaces, the world would be a different place.
How different? We don't know, but together we can find out.
This problem is part of a bigger challenge: to get involved in our community, most of us need a few things in place. We need some hope and some trust, a minimum of freedom, and access to others who may want to work with us. In addition, we may need more information about the problems we want to solve, stories and ideas from people who have dealt with similar issues, and options for action that make sense to each of us.
Some people have access to all this, but many others do not. As a result, millions of opportunities for action and collaboration are missed every day. Think only of one neighborhood, one school, or one village you know, and of how much more could be done there with the available resources. If you then add up these unfulfilled possibilities all over the world, the picture that emerges can be both exhilarating and heartbreaking. Here are some more examples:
- With over six million NGOs and nonprofit organizations working on every possible issue, most social and environmental problems have been tackled somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, many organizations with great programs lack the means to reach everyone who needs them.
- In any school, children of all ages may have good ideas about how to improve their school or their community, but these ideas are seldom heard, and these students may have no way of connecting with one another.
- In every large company there are people who care about human rights or the environment, for example, or who would like to help their business get more involved in their community, but in many cases there is no way for these people to find one another throughout the company.
- Across the Internet, thousands of online newspapers bring us news that can sadden or anger us, but very few have a link that says: "Click here to do something about any of these issues."
- Every day thousands of international flights take off with empty seats. Why not carry some volunteers who want to spend a year working in a different country?
This sense of unrealized potential is one engine driving this project. The other is a conviction that working together across our differences we can do something about it.
Photo by Bossa67When athletes from all over the world get together for an international competition, the differences among them are clear. They speak different languages, and they come from a variety of ethnic, political, and religious backgrounds. Yet despite these differences, they all have much in common. They all want to win, they all want good weather and a good field to play on, and, most importantly, they all agree on the rules under which their respective sports should be played.
Similarly, there are now many people all over the world who, regardless of language, religion, or politics, agree on the basic rules within which the human game, in all its variety and diversity, should be played. These rules, which reflect how most of us want to be treated, have been beautifully expressed in countless essays, declarations, and laws. But in order to define a common ground on which to work together, we can distill them into just a few sentences:
- Working with others, in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect, we want to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives.
- In pursuing this goal, we do not engage in violent or illegal action, or in any action against a person or group on the basis of race, origin, nationality, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental ability.
- Most social and environmental problems have many possible solutions, and what works in one place might not work in another.
- Patience, empathy, and laughter often help.
There have always been people who have taken this approach to life. The difference now is that we can reach out to one another, cut across the borders that separate us, and quickly build a network of people and organizations that want to act locally, think globally, and share what they can with others.
Photo by KatrinskayaActing, thinking, and sharing are good words, but how can we all work together when each of us might approach things differently? How do we make the most of the skills, resources, and ideas that all of us have to offer, while accepting that we may not always agree on everything? To find this balance, and make as many connections as possible, we can borrow four principles from the worlds of stores and public libraries. These are:
- A broad goal: Libraries help people read more books; stores connect us with products we need (or not).
- As much choice as possible: Hundreds of novels; different kinds of products.
- A few rules: You return your books so that others can read them; you pay before you leave.
- Impartial service: Most librarians and shopkeepers don't force you to read the books they love or to buy the products they like, but they do support everyone's right to read and to choose
When we first built Idealist in 1995, we used these principles as follows:
- A broad goal: To help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives.
- As much choice as possible: Tens of thousands of organizations with a wide range of approaches and points of view.
- A few rules: No one can use Idealist to promote violent or illegal action, or any action against a person or group on the basis of who they are.
- Impartial service: While Idealist offers a platform for people and organizations to connect with one another, it doesn't favor any issue, opinion, or organization over any other. The only exception is that we strongly support the right of people everywhere to work together, legally and nonviolently, for the improvement of their lives and their societies.
Over the last ten years, these principles have been tested widely. 65,000 organizations in 190 countries have registered on Idealist, and millions of people have connected with them. These numbers are encouraging, but they represent only a fraction of what we could achieve together. To do more, we can apply these principles to a much wider set of solutions.
Photo by MickipediaIf we go back to the building with those two neighbors looking out their windows, how can we make it easier for them to connect, first with each other, and then with any organizations that want to work with them? One way to do this would be to have a Community Point in every neighborhood and village that wants one, where, at the very least, people can put up a note on a bulletin board and see who responds. Depending on local conditions, community points could take different forms. For example:
In any case, once a community point is set up, it could remain simple—a bulletin board on the wall or online, and nothing more—or it could gradually provide all of the following services:
- A meeting place, open all day or two hours a week, where you can come to exchange ideas, suggest and plan a project, give or take a class, find the resources you need to help yourself and others, or simply find someone to water your plants while you are on vacation.
- A new way for organizations of every kind to reach your community and work with you according to local needs and priorities. Just as your local grocery store lets suppliers of toothpaste, milk, and coffee reach many more people than they could ever reach by themselves—while allowing you to try a variety of products without having to call or visit every supplier—so community points can make it much easier for "suppliers" of human rights, preventive health, and economic development, for example, to reach and be reached by the people who want to work with them.
- The opportunity to share ideas, information, and resources with people facing similar challenges in other communities, whether in the same city or on another continent.
- The intangible but crucial feeling that we are not alone—that in our neighborhood, and all over the world, there are others who understand and support what we are doing.
The details, then, will vary from place to place, but imagine if in a year or two, no matter where you are, you could visit a local community point and immediately feel at home. Regardless of language or culture, you'd find people and organizations offering their community the widest possible range of projects, services, and opportunities, while sharing ideas and resources with people all over the world.
At the heart of these community points is the idea that if two or more people share a common goal and have a way to meet, good things will often follow. If this is true for neighborhoods, towns, and villages, it can also apply to schools, universities, companies, and other institutions. Here are a few possibilities:
Photo by RJL20Most nonprofit organizations want to reach more people, but very few have the financial means to promote their work to a wide audience. So why not do this together? Just as some countries attract more tourists by promoting their country as a whole (instead of one hotel or one resort), imagine a series of advertisements—funny, creative, not preachy—in a variety of media, promoting action and collaboration around the world, and referring people to a web site or a telephone number that can help them find a good opportunity. To get started, in the next few weeks we'll use Idealist to invite people everywhere to produce short videos with their own ideas (guidelines coming soon) and post them online for everyone to share.
All of these ideas complement and reinforce one another, and all of them are based on the same four principles: a broad goal, some rules we can all agree on, impartial service, and as many opportunities as possible.
So how do we do all this? How do we encourage more ideas to bubble up in neighborhoods, villages, and schools, and then connect all those people who might want to implement them? How do we make sure that if a retired doctor wants to volunteer for a year wherever she is needed most, a good place can be found for her? How do we make it easier for any company, large or small, to find and support a local organization? And how do we enable any organization launching a new project—for women or children, better crops or fewer landmines—to work directly with hundreds of community points in the countries it wants to serve?
To start, imagine that you woke up one morning and every telephone and computer on earth was unplugged from the wall. To make all these machines work again, and bring the whole network back to life, three or four billion people would have to plug their phones and computers back into the wall. But before this happens, think about that moment when everyone would be holding a plug in their hand, right before connecting again. At that point there would be no network at all, no one could communicate with anyone else, and yet the whole thing would be so close to coming together.
The situation we are in right now is very similar to that moment. We have in our hands everything we need to create a global network of people who want to build a better world, but to get there, we need to reach out, connect, and plug in. More specifically, here are some of the steps we can take to make this happen:
- Invite people and organizations all over the world to start building this network by signing up, reaching out to others, and shaping and following this story as it evolves.
- Meet face-to-face, wherever we are, to think and talk about how we can create more connections between people, ideas, and resources in our neighborhood, village, school, or workplace. (More details about these meetings below.)
- Create local outreach teams of people who want to help make these connections wherever they live, work, or study.
- Go beyond the web by using different methods (flyers, posters, radio programs) to reach people who may not have access to the Internet.
- Try a variety of ideas—from community points to school clubs to community summits—and learn as we go.
- Do all this in as many languages as we can.
As we take these steps, more ideas will come up, and many more things will become possible. But the goal won't change: working together, we can help a build a better world—a world where more people can live free and dignified lives—by connecting people, organizations, and resources in every possible way.
Wherever you are, you can help make this happen, and together we can gradually change how all of us think about what's possible in our lives and in our communities. In a world with competing visions, finite resources, and unintended consequences, there will always be limits to what we can do about our social and environmental problems. But these limits aren't fixed. We can do more with a telephone and a computer than without them, and more in a country where people are free to speak and write, than in one where they are not. Today, with the resources and the accumulated experience at our disposal, we can push these limits farther than ever before. How far? Let's find out.
There are many ways you can get involved, but to start, these are the most important:
- Attend or host a start-up meeting in your neighborhood, school, or workplace during the week of April 23-29, and let us know how it goes.
- Post a comment by logging in below. Once you log in, you can create a personal profile on Idealist, and sign up for email alerts with new opportunities that match your interests and location, or to hear about new start-up meetings as soon as they are posted here.
- Invite other people to take part in this initiative. Think of everyone you know who might be interested, email friends and colleagues, and post a message on any online forum or mailing list where this would be appropriate.
- Plan to make a difference in your community. Be sure to check out our Community Action Center for resources to help bring your ideas to the world.
And most importantly, keep in touch. We are not a big organization, but we will read every email you send us, and we will be updating the Idealist homepage every few hours with news, questions, ideas, and comments. We can't predict where all this will go, but we can promise you that we will be as transparent as we can every step of the way. Thanks for reading this, and for taking this leap of faith with us. We look forward to working with you.