10 Summer Reads to Inspire Social Change

As 91 percent of people say it’s important to be individually involved in social change and #BeTheChange becomes a movement on social media, it’s a great time for communicators to get inspired—and ask, ‘What does social change really mean?’

At the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Activate! Summit last week, Nonprofit with Balls author Vu Le asked a similar incisive question: “What the bleep is social good?”

In our work with social changemakers, we see one answer to this question arise more than others: Social change starts with personal action. Vu Le came to a comparable conclusion: “We are the unicorns we seek.” In other words, social change means we each have the potential to change the world around us.

To help you discover your own potential for social change, and because you loved our post last summer sharing 5 social change reads, we put together a list of 10 books that inspire us all to be changemakers.

1. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, by David Bornstein

With profiles of social entrepreneurs who have created change in their community and around the world, David Bornstein explores how we can all be the change by developing innovative solutions to entrenched problems. This book shows how one person’s small idea can create big impact. Bornstein is a changemaker in his own right, co-founding the innovative Solutions Journalism Network to advance journalism that uncovers challenges and discovers solution.

2. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett has interviewed hundreds of high-profile changemakers, from Maya Angelou to the Dalai Lama, for her podcast conversations On Being since its launch in 2001. Tippett shares what she’s learned about life well lived over the years in her new book Becoming Wise, which looks at the power of hope to reimagine the world.

3. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie blew audiences away with a TEDx talk on feminism in 2013, which has since garnered almost 3 million hits on YouTube and been sampled by Beyonce, and she adapts that popular talk in this book-length essay. A changemaker herself, Adichie draws on her own experiences to forward a compelling vision of contemporary feminism that matters to everyone.

4. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire

This inspiring book captures a conversation by two great 20th-century changemakers that have influenced the way many people think about the role education plays in creating social change. Both Horton and Freire focus on how education serves to empower people to become their best selves and change the world. Freire is perhaps best known for his game-changing book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed—another read on my nightstand, that serves as an approach and call-to-action to educate and empower illiterate people living in poverty around the world.

5. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehesi Coates

This New York Times best-selling memoir and National Book Award winner by Ta-Nehesi Coates, written as letters to his son, describes how race has shaped America and his experience. Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, explores historical and personal events to beautifully break down the urgency of anti-racist action for social change.

6. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, by Warren Berger

Questions are the more important tools we have for social change, argues Warren Berger in this book. Through profiles of well-known problem solvers—and through posing a whole lot of questions to readers, Berger explores our ability to question deeply, imaginatively and incisively as a force for generating the solutions we need to create a better life and a better world.

7. Beyond Getting Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, by Roger L. Martin and Sally Osberg

Social innovation consultant Roger L. Martin and Skoll Foundation President and CEO Sally R. Osberg team up to describe how social entrepreneurship solves problems and creates sustainable, scaleable and fairer new systems that make the world a better place. The book insightfully details the history of social entrepreneurship before diving into a framework we can all use to produce transformative change, weaving in examples of social changemakers leading the way.

8. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin

This landmark book by bestselling author, entrepreneur and marketer extraordinaire Seth Godin employs the idea of a tribe to illustrate how people form groups around shared passions and a desire to make an impact, arguing that these groups seek leaders to show them the way. He emphasizes that the Internet has removed myriad barriers to forming a group and becoming a leader, presenting an opportunity for changemakers to step up and create a movement for good online and in person.

9. Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy, Rinku Sen

Rinku Sen draws on years of experience in community organizing and movement building to forward actionable lessons for all changemakers in Stir It Up. Sen, who is the executive director of Race Forward and publisher of Colorlines, takes readers through steps and strategies to create concrete social change, drawing on examples from the field and tools that help organizations make a difference. This book shares invaluable lessons around how to reach the people you want to reach and motivate them to action.

10. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

IDEO founder and creator of Stanford d.school David Kelley wrote this New York Times best-selling book with his brother and IDEO partner Tom Kelley, and they believe that we are all ‘creative types’ who have the imaginative potential to come up with the next great idea. Drawing on their examples from design and other creative fields, they show readers how to tap into this creative potential to approach problems with fresh eyes and create innovative solutions.

What are your favorite books that capture and inspire social change? Share in the comments below.

Addie Shrodes

Former Account Manager Addie Shrodes has a passion for engagement, education and storytelling for social change. In a previous life, she taught literature classes at UCLA, where she happily propagated her obsession with slam poetry. She idolizes Andrea Gibson as a social changemaker extraordinaire whose poetry can capture attention and change people’s minds.
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