There is a special class of geniuses who has a unique capacity to turn adversity into creativity when they love. Their reaction to a seemingly impossible challenge or obstacle is inevitably, “We’ll figure something out.” This has led, for example, to a Centre for Forgiveness at the scene of a tragic and senseless murder, pop-up safe injection sites months before the health care system responds and sharing gardens to inject life into neighbourhoods burdened with too many challenges and too few resources.
These geniuses create for two reasons.
One, they are in love and who or what they love is in trouble, pain or vulnerable to abuse and desecration. This could be a family member, neighbour, friend or group of people such as those who are at risk of overdosing with fentanyl. Or it could be a local stream, honeybees, or trains carrying dirty coal through their community.
Two, they know if they don’t think of something, it’s possible no one else will. Or that it will be too late if they do. Therefore this class of innovators has no choice but to figure it out.
They have developed confidence in their ability to experiment and innovate amidst turbulence and adversity. They have also learned that they won’t emerge unscathed from the experience. They become impassioned and committed willing to work beyond the boundaries of any job description. And impatient with rules and regulations that block their creative solutions. Which is characteristic of all geniuses.
Why is this important to understand?
These geniuses (individuals, families, small groups of people) are working with little or no resources and even less respect. In fact, they are often seen as disruptors who don’t play by the rules. They don’t work for formal institutions or organizations. They are citizens in the purest sense.
Sadly our funding and policy institutions are not set up to respond to these innovators. Which is too bad because they have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening and their solutions would make any social innovation lab proud.
If you are a foundation, government agency or non-profit you can help these geniuses by:
- Acknowledging their worth. You’ll recognize them because they don’t “fit” into traditional funding streams and are always challenging the rules.
- Asking them what they need. Then help them get it. Usually, that involves removing policy and regulatory barriers. Removing them will stretch your own innovative powers.
- Giving them a position of privilege when discussions are taking place. Most times they aren’t even invited to the table.
- Developing funding streams to support the myriad of ingenious and unconventional ways they are solving problems. The Neighbourhood Small Grants program is a good example but we need more diverse and flexible options.
- Establishing “no strings attached” long term “genius grants” for community innovators who have devoted their life to solving tough problems. I’m partial to this one as too many community geniuses are struggling to survive. They will impress you with how far they can stretch a stipend.
Imagine the challenges they could address if the light was shone on their ingenuity?
The people with the best sense of what is essential to a community, of what gives and maintains its spirit, are often doing very humble, manual tasks. It is often the poorest person – the one who has a handicap or who is ill or old – who is the most prophetic. People who carry responsibility must be close to them and know what they think, because it is often they who are free enough to see with the greatest clarity the needs, beauty and pain of the community. (Jean Vanier)