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What Makes a Leader

Question: What is an essential quality of leadership for social change?

Juan Battle: An essential quality that a leader needs to have for social change. I think a vision.  They have to know what they want to change to.  It’s not sufficient for somebody to say that what is isn’t sufficient. 

Question: What leader stands out to you as having a vision?

Juan Battle:
I have several actually, but as it applies to children Marion Wright Edelmen, who heads The Children’s Defense Fund.  She clearly saw that there was a need for more efforts and more policy and more research and more resources geared towards the betterment of all children and she dedicated her life to making that happen and started a fabulous organization that does just that.

When did social justice become your vision?

Juan Battle: When did I realize that social justice was a vision? I think I always felt that way.  I probably began to work to create it…  A couple of years as a professor I began doing some work with the Ford Foundation and that exposed me to a broader vision of the world and sort of possibilities and moving out of what is into what can be, out of what I call descriptive ethics into prescriptive ethics and that was sort of that was the beginning of it and as you can imagine once you get on that train it’s hard to get off.

The largest project I did I ran this project called The Social Justice Philanthropy Project and we had teams on the ground in Kenya, India, Indonesia, Peru and here in the United States and each project did something different around social justice and studying how philanthropy could be used specifically to bring about more equality in the world.

Question: How does philanthropy need to change?

Juan Battle: I think what does work is the shifting of resources and shifting of power. There are multiple forms of capital.  There is economic capital, which philanthropy obviously is very much invested in and a part of, but then there is also social capital and cultural capital and human capital and in a capitalist society you know all that is tied to money and I think that something that philanthropy does is it does a very good job of sort of shifting that or broadening that.  What I think philanthropy doesn’t always do as good of a job of is imposing its own agenda onto people and quite often it feels like it’s actually making a difference when if you were to show up to a bunch of poor people and say, “Hey, here is a check for $50,000 if you do X, Y or Z.” “Don’t you think it’s a great idea?”  Of course they’re going to say it’s a great idea, but it may not be something that they want.  It may not be something that is actually going to benefit them, but it makes the philanthropist feel good.

Question: What do you do to sustain your energy over the course of many years of working towards change?

Juan Battle: I purpose myself to partner with those and be in the presence of those who are doing the same thing and when you see the product of it the process is a little bit easier.

The right person has to know exactly what they want to change.

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