To Make a Difference, We Must Be Fearless!


This post is courtesy of our friends at The Case Foundation. The Case Foundation, created by Steve Case and Jean Case in 1997, invests in people and ideas that can change the world. They create and support initiatives that leverage new technologies and entrepreneurial approaches to drive innovation in the social sector and encourage individuals to get involved with the communities and causes they care about.

Education. Poverty. Environment. Human rights. Veterans. These are just a few of the causes (none of them new) that millions of people around the world care about and are working on to make the world a better place. For all the strides we’ve made in solving some of the big social challenges, there are others that remain persistent and new challenges arising every day.

In our 15th year, the Case Foundation has been asking some critical questions: What has led to transformative advances that change the social sector? In a world plagued with old problems, what was behind the bright spots — new thinking, new approaches and effective outcomes?

We discovered that breakthroughs happen most frequently when organizations are willing to be bold, act with urgency and embrace risks with the potential to produce exponential social returns.  In other words, innovation happens when we were willing to be fearless. We’ve witnessed these breakthroughs from people like Ray Chambers, the UN’s Special Envoy for Malaria, and Barbara Van Dahlen, CEO and Founder of Give an Hour; and from initiatives like Code for America, the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.

After surveying our work, that of our partners and of innovators in the social space, we recently published five key values at the root of every fearless approach to creating change. We’ve put them forward here with the hope of sparking a dialogue on how foundations, nonprofits, social investors, political leaders, government institutions and any individual working to create change can develop new approaches using a fearless mindset. Whether you are working to reduce homelessness, beat cancer or stop domestic violence, these principles can lead you on a journey to Be Fearless, today, and beyond:

1. Make Big Bets — and Make History
Set audacious, not incremental, goals. History suggests that the most significant cultural transformations occur when one or more people simply decide to try and make big change. Thomas Edison didn’t simply try to make a better candle; rather, he proudly proclaimed his audacious goal to “make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” While there is a time and place for incremental, safe moves, there is also a clear need for social investors to make big bets on big change.

2. Experiment Early and Often
Don’t be afraid to go first. The world moves more quickly today than ever, and our responses have to keep up. Just when we think a certain intervention is working, that’s when we have to look down the road to see what new tools or new dynamics will challenge our assumptions or provide an even better solution. Experimentation in social change can be difficult for any organization. But experience shows us that we need to keep looking around the corner to find the next good idea – because today’s iPhone is tomorrow’s Walkman.

3. Make Failure Matter
Failure teaches. Learn from it. With innovation comes the risk of failure. Every great innovator has experienced moments of failure, but the truly great among them wear those failures as badges of honor. Thomas J. Watson, longtime leader of IBM, famously said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” It’s natural to be afraid to fail. No one seeks it. But if everyone commits to sharing lessons from failure, the society as a whole will be stronger and more prepared to attack the next challenge.

4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble
It’s comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections. Collaboration provides new ideas and innovations, as well as “air cover” when sharing risk. A fearless approach embraces unlikely partnerships that cross sectors and geographies. Reaching beyond your bubble is not collaboration for its own sake; it is a fundamental part of being fearless. It spreads risk, but more importantly, it spreads knowledge and deepens impact.

5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear
Don’t overthink and overanalyze. Do. It’s natural to want to study a problem and look at it from all angles before taking action. What if we are wrong about our intended solution? What if there is a better way that we have not considered? Have we done our due diligence? A sense of urgency — what Dr. King called the “fierce urgency of now” — is the final ingredient that can push all the other principles forward in the face of resistance.

It’s no fun to be fearless by yourself, and thankfully, our research shows that many of our peers and partners have already blazed some trails. What’s next? We’re ready to spark a conversation in philanthropic and social change circles about how and why we accelerate this approach. And we’re looking for leaders and practitioners alike to stand up and pledge to be fearless. The stakes are too high and the challenges too great for anything less. Are you ready to be fearless? To learn more, visit the Case Foundation’s Be Fearless page. You can also sign the Care2 Be Fearless pledge!


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Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Carole Cherne
Carole Cherne5 years ago

Thanks for this.

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


Jane Warren
Jane Warren5 years ago

thnx for this

Toby Seiler
Past Member 5 years ago

Having done these things as an entrepreneur for many years, they sound romantic, but few are ready for the REAL consequences.

1. Most 95% of entrepreneurs fail in five years.
2. When you fail, you ruin your credit and possibly anyone who has shared in the risk.
3. You become a target for theft and find that the legal community can take sides with local thieves against you. My business sustained over 20 thefts that authorities knew who was responsible, but would not stop them. One was a loss of a $70k, taking earned equity from about 15 years, because I would not pay graft to local officials.
4. No safety net of unemployment at all.
5. Your risks are not appreciated in society and you will have debt or bankrupcy to prove it.
6. Chasing money exhausts your resourses with little chance of "funding".
7. Funding by a company like Bain Capital may take 95% of the ownership away and the new debt load will be a huge burden (if the business survives the new requirements of the new owners).

And there are many, many other reasons that are caprice to this romantic view of risk.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the article!

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

I'm already leery of any suggestion, article or otherwise that has use of the word "Fail" forward. And simply ready the headers of each of the supposed steps in doing so, do not show me anything with a discipline involved!

Pepe Pops
Calliope Muse5 years ago

I saw this on my mails some days ago,but somehow I dont get it :(

Charles R.
Charles Rykken5 years ago

I am in emphatic agreement on all five points. I am 64 years old and with a similarly aged partner we are in the process of creating the social networking site of the future. I won't bore you with the technical problems which are legion but what do you think could happen if there were a web site where anyone could show up and gather together people with technical expertise to get a targeted cause off the ground and running. Also, say someone wants to know what skill sets are necessary and be able to get specific help in acquiring those skills. I am referring to these ideas as intelligent social networking. It doesn't exist at the moment. Facebook is stupid and linkedin is just a straight forward generalization of existing coworker networks. Be looking for this. I am not the only person doingthis. tried and failed. Someone will succeed and I am damned determined to put myself in the group that makes it past the finish line early.