Getting to Maybe:
How the World Is Changed
By Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton
New York: Random House, 2006
272 pages; US$34.95 cloth
Reviewed by Anton Hart
Publisher and CEO, Longwoods Publishing Corporation
Getting to Maybe promises to make us
effective agents of change by telling us
how to improve the world by apply-
ing the science and process of social
The book begins with a brief
story about Bob Geldof ’s historic
response to the famine in Ethiopia.
Here is a little-known musician
who created a highly successful
global initiative – the Live Aid
Telethon – to raise awareness and
money. This venture was about
the power of one.
The authors then describe a movement of multiple interactions that took Brazil
from a very high infection rate for HIV/AIDS to a very low rate. No one leader
could be identified.
Getting to Maybe analyzes how such changes happen and tries to answer the ques-
tion, “How can the impossible become possible?” But the title of the book gives
the authors away: there isn’t an answer. The authors say that “there is no road map
for social innovation; it is not a route that can be mapped step by step.” Darned.
Yet, the book talks about vision, a sense of calling, developing possibilities and
the need for intense interactions, networking and information exchange. These
factors, mixed with talent and skill in identifying and removing barriers, the
authors say, will get you to “maybe.”
I am not so sure. For example, by reading about the post–World War II Dutch
emigration movement, I was shown a direct path of social innovation that was
repeated family after family and year after year. The book To All My Children, by
Albert Van der Mey (Paideia Press), demonstrates emigrants’ motivations, their
often uninhabitable beginnings, their resolve to build a better life, their commit-
ment to community and social fabric and their passion and resolve. These quali-
ties were the foundation of their economic and social success that evolved not
many years later. There was a clear path, one often repeated by subsequent waves
of immigrants. There was no maybe.
The authors get to “maybe” because that, it appears, is what they set out to do. If
they had developed these themes and taken some risks, they might have presented
a road map, a strategy and perhaps even a blueprint.
Yet, the many stories about social entrepreneurs are worth reading and serve to
inspire those who have the vision. If anything, the reader will understand the
importance of identifying roadblocks and reframing these as opportunities. This
approach, of course, is not unique to social innovation.
The book is worthwhile, if only to read and re-read a short section on the objec-
tive of introducing patient-centred care. It quotes Dr. Don Berwick – CEO of the
Institute of Healthcare Improvement and a Harvard professor – describing the
treatment of a patient who, he says, is no fool and has a lot to contribute to his
own care – if the system would let him. Find out how the patient is patronized,
kept in the dark, fed strange foods and pretty much ignored as his care providers
do everything to him and never with him. This situation is a problem that can be
restated as an opportunity, and so become the impetus to design much-improved
patient-centred care, with or without IT.
And if you do not know the story of Linda Lundström (and others like her), read
the book. Ms. Lundström designs and makes women’s clothing. She grew up in
a community that included many First Nation families. When as a youngster
Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed
Nursing Leadership Volume 21 Number 1 • 2008
she was faced by the reality of racism, she was moved to act. She returned to her
hometown and applied her knowledge, skill and drive to engage the women and
children, to offer hope and opportunity. This is the beginning of social transfor-
mation. As I write this, Ms. Lundström is facing her own challenges in dealing
with the globalization of the fashion industry. In some form, she will re-emerge;
just read the back of every price tag attached to her products: “I have a strong
belief in the power of positive energy that all women are capable of radiating
towards those we know, each other and the rest of the world.”
It is the stories in this book that work. The social entrepreneurs profiled provide
the learning and the motivation. They are inspiring.
A post-note: How to change the world
If you are interested in social entrepreneurs, find a copy of How to Change the
World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, by David Bornstein
(Oxford 2004). The author is a compelling writer who has travelled around the
globe to give readers a glimpse of individuals and movements that have changed
the world. The stories he has selected are captivating. For example, he describes
how Florence Nightingale was motivated by inexplicable obsession, action and
orientation for growth with an unwavering belief in the rightness of her ideas
– and so she was well suited to apply concentrated focus, practical creativity and
long-term energy to advance system change.
Bornstein also writes about child protection in India, assisted living in Hungary,
reforming healthcare in Brazil, care of AIDS patients in South Africa, micro credit
and the Grameen Bank and the Child Survival Revolution attributed to James
Grant, who headed UNICEF from 1980 to 1995.
At the end, Bornstein lists six qualities of successful social entrepreneurs, a blue-
print that does not explain why people become social entrepreneurs but does
make identifying them possible. And look, he says, at Changemakers.net, an initia-
tive of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, which focuses on the rapidly growing
world of social innovation. It provides solutions and resources needed to help
everyone become a “changemaker” and presents compelling stories that explore
the fundamental principles of successful social innovation around the world.