Published in Partnership with Forbes.com.
In a brief interview with Katrina Fried, author of Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time, Rahim Kanani of the Skoll World Forum asked Fried about her motivation for writing the book, stories that stood out the most, the changing nature of philanthropy, and more.
Rahim Kanani: What was your motivation for writing Everyday Heroes?
Katrina Fried: The idea for this book began percolating about five years ago, just before Obama’s election, as America was bearing down to weather the worst economic crisis we had seen in generations. With a mist of depression slowly blanketing and then blinding the country, amidst the salvo of doom and gloom headlines, it seemed imperative somehow to find focal points of light. Who would be our heroes? Everyday heroes are stand beside you in the elevator and sit across from you on the subway; they’re your next-door neighbor and your college roommate; they’re teachers, doctors, ex-cons, priests, lawyers, inventors, and orphans. There are quiet heroes among us who embody the power and promise of the American spirit—ordinary men and women who have devoted themselves to uplifting the lives of others. And it is precisely their ordinariness that makes them extraordinary. Unlike our idols of the past, these new revolutionaries are not wrangling to become the dominant voice of reform. Their power stems from the aggregate.
Rahim Kanani: With so many incredible examples to choose from, how did you narrow your selection to these particular 50?
Katrina Fried: The process of selection for this book was equal parts pleasure and torture. There were thousands of worthy candidates who deserve to be recognized and celebrated—how to choose just fifty? Our criteria narrowed the field somewhat. In the context of this book, “everyday heroes” are not those, for example, that personify physical bravery. Though heroes such as veterans or fire fighters are by no means less praise-worthy, I chose in this book to feature crusaders for social justice and equality. Their work is humanitarian in nature. They are founders or leaders of successful nonprofits, representing a diverse range of causes and demographics. Offspring of the marriage of entrepreneurship and community service, nearly all self-identify as social entrepreneurs. All of the heroes in this book are Americans.
Rahim Kanani: Looking at your list of heroes, what are some stories that particularly stand out to you?
Katrina Fried: Hearing all of these stories helped me realize that there are no limitations for who can get involved in philanthropy. You are never too young, never too old—and crazy is a good thing. For example, When Earl Shorris first told people he wanted to teach Plato to the poor, he couldn’t raise a dime in funding. “Impossible,” they said. Seventeen years later, his Clemente Course in the Humanities has had 10,000 graduates and operates sixty sites around the world. Linda Rottenberg was literally nicknamed la chica loca when she decided to start Endeavor, an organization dedicated to providing resources and support to high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging international economies. Today, she’s considered a prescient pioneer. No one understood how Anne Mahlum, a petite blond from the Mid- west, was going to rehabilitate the homeless by teaching them how to run, but that’s exactly what she did.
Rahim Kanani: As you pulled together these individuals and their experiences, what were some of the common threads that underpinned each success story?
Katrina Fried: The most universally defining quality of philanthropy today is unquestionably the shift in the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Gone are the days of the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship. The handout has been replaced by the handshake. Today’s nonprofit reformers are interested in creating meaningful equal partnerships to empower communities and individuals to raise themselves out of poverty.
Rahim Kanani: For those of us reading this book, inspired to do more and to be better, what would be your advice?
Katrina Fried: Having spent hundreds of hours interviewing today’s most accomplished social entrepreneurs, and hundreds more researching their histories and causes, these are the earmarks of modern philanthropy. With each hero’s story there is yet another entry point to this bounty of munificence that flows all around us. And here’s the real take-away: There is no contribution too small or insignificant. Whether you choose to show kindness to a loved one or a neighbor, to volunteer, to donate, or to build your own movement—you are helping to grow a culture of giving.