Who is changing the world with Big Ideas?
November 1, 2010 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Help me find examples of people who are trying to change the world by pursuing Big IdeasTM.

My university's common reader this year is Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, and I am asking the students in my freshman composition class to write a "big idea" proposal, using Mortensen's big idea (peace in Pakistan and Afghanistan can be achieved by building schools to educate children—especially girls) as inspiration. The students will articulate their own Big Ideas, then develop hypothetical proposals that describe how they would put their ideas into action.

I'm looking for other examples of people who have relentlessly pursued Big Ideas. For instance, Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone grew out of the idea that the black/white achievement gap could be closed if you provide intensive education for children starting at birth and continuing through college.

What other examples could I share with my students to help them start thinking about their own Big Ideas? (Both examples I've included here are related to education, but I'm open to ideas in all fields.)
posted by lewistate to Education (15 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Patri Friedman's Seasteading is a big one. (He is no relation to me.)
posted by dfriedman at 8:44 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm personally really impressed/inspired by Toms Shoes. I think that it has transformed the way people look at consumerism because of its real, measurable impact on the global community. It's a neat business model.
posted by patronuscharms at 8:54 PM on November 1, 2010

I'd suggest looking through the MacArthur "genius" grant recipients, and the TED Talk archives.
posted by amtho at 8:58 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

- Stewart Brand and the Long Now "long term sustainable ideas will foster better current creative thinking"
- Alex Steffen and WorldChanging "humans can effect positive environmental change and be good global stewards"
- Ethan Zuckerman and Global Voices "citizen media and free speech will help bridge the gulfs that divide people."
- Vandana Shiva "the right to agriculture is a human rights issue" [that, and seed activism against monsanto]
posted by jessamyn at 9:05 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

An organization I've spent time with has similar 'big ideas', but they don't publish them. I got the chance to read their 50-year plan, and wow. It's crazy.

I suspect many other organizations with strong impacts have similar objectives - I don't know how I suggest you go about this, but I think talking to some sort of visionary, involved person would garner someone with big goals most of the time.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:05 PM on November 1, 2010

Thanks for the great ideas, everyone. Keep 'em coming!

amtho: I was planning on having my students search the TED archives for topics that interest them, and now I can add the lists of MacArthur winners to that mini-assignment. Thanks!

In fact, I'll probably just point them to this thread. It's never too soon to introduce students to the wonder that is AskMeFi.
posted by lewistate at 9:11 PM on November 1, 2010

Try the NYT's recently ended Idea of the Day blog. Notice the tags in the sidebar — for instance, there are 138 education ideas.
posted by John Cohen at 9:36 PM on November 1, 2010

I came in here to say Patri Friedman but David beat me to it.

Elon Musk is another one.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:45 PM on November 1, 2010

One is the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, founded by Nicholas Negroponte. The name is self explanatory, but their aim is to provide every child with a low-cost, rugged laptop for educational purposes, in order to eliminate poverty.
posted by ultrabuff at 10:54 PM on November 1, 2010

You could peruse the Ashoka website. This is exactly the kind of thing they support with their Ashoka Fellows program.
posted by solotoro at 2:40 AM on November 2, 2010

Check out Mozilla's DrumBeat. All sorts of great ideas on there.
posted by purephase at 4:41 AM on November 2, 2010

Sounds like a job for Paul Farmer (MacArthur genius grant recipient, by the way) and Partners in Health!
posted by naoko at 6:56 AM on November 2, 2010

Well, this was a big idea that worked.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2010

cjorgensen, this would be the proper link.
posted by John Cohen at 11:56 AM on November 2, 2010

And here's some explanation of that million-dollar homepage so you're not just taking the word of a 5-year-old self-promotional FAQ.
posted by John Cohen at 12:09 PM on November 2, 2010

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