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Fearless Changemakers Surround Us

By Michael Smith, Senior Vice President — Social Innovation, The Case Foundation

Earlier this year, we at the Case Foundation declared our intention to Be Fearless in all that we do. As we reflected on the 15 years since Jean and Steve Case created the Foundation, we realized that we — and our partners — were best when we were willing to dream big, experiment with new approaches, and admit our failures so that we could learn from them. We were best when we were fearless.

In a time when social challenges seem to be getting bigger and more complex, those of us charged with finding and funding solutions cannot be satisfied with the status quo. In a world where athletes, entrepreneurs, and explorers are all supposed to be fearless, for some reason many leaders responsible for lifting up communities and changing the world for the better have often become safe, incremental, measured, and sometimes slow to act. It’s time to change the game. That’s why not only have we declared our intention to Be Fearless, but we are committed to inviting others to help us define a fearless approach to social change, to spread the concept far and wide, to learn and experiment together, and to uncover the fearless changemakers and change movements already happening in communities in the US and around the world.

Fearless changemakers like Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. can be found in the pages of history books. They can be found in the Who’s Who listings of modern social innovators like Wendy Kopp or Geoffrey Canada. But what we are excited to uncover is the uncelebrated fearless changemakers working hard and breaking down barriers every day — people like Maria Gomez, who came to the US from Columbia as a young girl, became a public health nurse, and then created a clinic called Mary’s Center to better serve the diverse communities of DC through health, education, and social services. Or, people like Barbara Van Dahlen, a Maryland clinical psychologist who saw a gap in veterans’ mental health care services and raced to provide a solution through her organization, Give an Hour, which has created a national network of volunteer clinicians to help fill that gap.

Since outlining the five key characteristics of a fearless changemaker in our paper To Be Fearless back in June, we’ve been thrilled with the enthusiastic response we have received from friends and colleaguescommitted to creating social change across sectors — many of whom have already joined our Be Fearless Alliance as thought leaders committed to lifting up a conversation about the importance of a fearless approach. And, since the Case Foundation has long believed in the power of the individual to make a difference — evidenced by our citizen-centered efforts like the Make It Your Own Awards and America’s Giving Challenge — we’ve also just launched “Finding Fearless,” a campaign to find the unsung and undiscovered social innovators who are not afraid to break the mold, try new things and dream big in order to change their communities and the world.

Recently we launched the “Finding Fearless” grant program in partnership with Microsoft, REI and the Goldhirsh Foundation in an effort to find this new class of leaders who were not afraid to break the mold, try new and dream big in order to change their communities and the world. Our Top 20 finalists from the nationwide submissions will have the opportunity to compete for $650,000 in grants and prizes. Our Fearless Academy of judges, representing diverse leaders and practitioners from across sectors will select the Top 20 grant winners. We invite you to visit the Case Foundation at from November 13, 2012 until November 21, 2012 to be a part of the final selection of our winners by casting your vote in support of the fearless changemaker you believe deserves to top the list. Fan Favorite voting gives you the opportunity to decide who gets even more grant money and prizes — like an REI adventure trip to Bryce Canyon. One of the fearless leaders who wins just might be an individual you know serving their community.

And I hope you’ll join the broader Be Fearless conversation about how philanthropy can step up and encourage more risk-taking, more experiments, more appreciation of what failure teaches, more unlikely alliances and more urgency across the social sector. The Greater Washington philanthropic community has ignited groundbreaking social movements for decades and continues to champion leaders and innovations that are reshaping the world. Let’s keep it up, let’s Be Fearless together. Check out to learn more about the concept, to join the conversation and to get involved today. Or, simply jump into the discussion on Twitter by following @CaseFoundation and tell us what #BeFearless means to you.

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