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Generation Peace: Alex Simon, “Empathy and a Loud Voice”

7 June 2012 No Comment

Corinne Mitchell

-By Corinne Mitchell
Administration and Outreach Manager

It’s June, the month of Fathers Day, and once again we’re featuring peacebuilding men we love.

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Involved in entrepreneurship since he was 11, Alex Simon now connects students around the world with opportunities to engage in social activism and philanthropy. In addition to his full-time job managing The Compass Fellowship, Alex works closely with many world-changing groups, including the Young Presidents’ Organization, Ashoka, MFI Connect, and Minga. Alex is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. His efforts demonstrate the new ways in which young people are approaching social activism and campaigning for peace.

What got you interested in social entrepreneurship and philanthropy?

My parents always encouraged us to be entrepreneurial. I was named after Alexander Graham Bell, who apparently was allowed to dissect a pig on his family’s dining room table. My parents said that my siblings and I were free to try any new things just short of that extreme!

I also think I learned a bit about the world when my parents pulled my siblings and I out of school when we were 6, 8, and 10 years old to travel in (mostly) developing countries. Having the opportunity to meet and befriend other kids in Guatemala, Nepal, Laos, Botswana, and many other countries helped me realize that, though there is a massive world out there, it’s all connected together in some fashion. My entrepreneurial interests coupled with this early travel experience caused me to think a lot about what was going on in the world and the small but significant role each of us could play in events.

How has your experience traveling affected your goals and vision of social entrepreneurship?

I wouldn’t have become involved in social entrepreneurship in the capacity that I am had I not had the incredible opportunity to travel, meet people, and learn about the problems they were facing and the solutions they were building. Traveling has driven home the need for and promise of more, better social enterprise activity, and it has broadened my perspective in thinking about the role social entrepreneurship can play.

How can young people who are interested in getting involved in activism get started?

I spend most of my time, in my roles with Compass Partners and the YPO Youth Social Enterprise Network, talking to and working with young people who have awesome ideas and passions about different areas of change-making. My single biggest suggestion to them is that they get started. Anytime I’ve held myself back from doing something, it has been due to excessive planning and preoccupation about what we could be doing, what the best way forward might be. Instead, young people should figure out a way to take local action and just do it. Whether or not the first effort is successful, tons of learning will be achieved and new avenues for engagement will emerge from there. If you are interested in more large-scale activism efforts, there are different platforms emerging to gather a global audience around issues you’re passionate about. Change.org is one great example that comes to mind.

What do you think are the most effective ways for young people to get involved in social activism?

Grab hold of something you can wrap your head around. Many of the problems we read about are very complex or reduced to abstraction. By focusing on something specific and perhaps local, you can fully and more comfortably represent the idea.

Alex Simon

What differentiates effective social activists from ineffective ones?

I think ineffective social activists yell a lot and alienate the very people they should be trying to communicate with. Effective social activists have empathy as well as a loud voice, and they’re able to consider the issues at hand from a more balanced, reasonable perspective. They’re willing to talk to people who disagree with them, and they don’t immediately discount an opinion just because it’s different from theirs. For young people specifically, I think professionalism and organization separate the very serious young social activists from those who are just looking to complain about something.

What advantages do you think young people have in addressing issues of peace and social advocacy?

We have a refreshing perspective that’s less bogged down by histories and other baggage than our parents or people who have lived longer. From my personal experience, we think in terms of possibility and are generally optimistic. All of that great energy, coupled with technological tools with which we can talk and share ideas with one another, makes for a really powerful force. We’ve started to see this in different parts of the world, and I think we’re only at the very beginning.

Is there something about this generation of social activists that distinguishes them from previous generations?  If so, what?

Being a member of this generation, I wasn’t around to witness the work of prior generations of social activists. I do think that we’re primed to be vocal citizens and activists, and the tools we have to widely and deeply reach different audiences are unprecedented. That combination might just be unique to this generation.

How do you see the future of social entrepreneurship? Where will it go from here?

Hah! These aren’t easy questions. Whereas the earlier social enterprise space was very close-knit and small, we’re starting to see the ideas and values of social entrepreneurship permeate more mainstream happenings in business, education, policy, etc… What’s most exciting to me is the challenge of finding really strong business models and truly great practical social innovations. We’ve done a lot of talking about the power and potential of social entrepreneurship, and many people have started to move past that and look at what is actually working.

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Also in the June PeaceTimes:

Sami Awad: To Create a Common Narrative

John Hunter: Teaching Peace, Reaching through Time

Ambassador John W. McDonald

or read the pdf version of PeaceTimes.

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About the Author

Caroline Anderson is the Blog and Social Media Manager at Peace X Peace. To reach Caroline, email caroline@peacexpeace.org.
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