BOOK REVIEW: Pivots — Agents of social change
Few books tell a personal story of improvement as well as the influence it has had on the development of one’s professional life. The two perspectives of life, personal and professional, come together in a story that communicates an unwavering commitment to social advancement.
“Pivots: Agents of social change” by Mariely Rivera-Hernández (Deletrea, 2021, pp. 156) is an easy-to-read book that proposes reflections and lines of action that point to how the cultivation of people and entities that become social pivots can change or direct the current course of the non-profit industry in Puerto Rico.
It is divided into 11 chapters and its bibliography. Clearly marked, the first part of the book, from chapters one to four, is dedicated to the experiences that imprinted on the author the motivation to put pencil to paper to write her first book. It is a personal account, wherein lies its strength, the writing recounts the author’s experience of having led organizations, foundations, and special projects, such as the Chana and Samuel Levis Foundation and the United for Puerto Rico project, coordination of basic services in response to the hurricane María in 2017.
The author recounts the efforts and integrity of the organization and its members, including public accountability, criteria of transparency in distribution, and the great commitment of its staff to help communities and people affected by the hurricane.
In this process, the presence of certain personal and professional characteristics stands out, which the author identifies as those possessed by social “pivots.” She researches the concept of being and behaving as pivots, agents that incite social change based on creativity and intellectual honesty. The characteristics of a social pivot can be traced back to self-directed actions, often motivated by poignant personal/professional experiences, to improve the social environment — local, community, regional, other.
The second part of the book, chapters four to 11, is a detailed review of various studies, social research and case studies of local organizations which have generated results, with limited resources and time, aimed at the creation of social capital. This raises the need for a closer look at the scientific production generated by universities in the country. In such a way that academia gets closer in its investigative work to what happens in the communities, through non-profit organizations (NPOs), as it also implies that NPOs are aware of the academic dissemination of trends, in both theoretical and practical aspects, which may be useful to them.
The author urges the leaders of the NPO industry, with concrete examples of innovative practices, to look at the results of international studies that ultimately bring managers and leaders closer to innovation and thinking based on the fundamentals of design, whether infrastructure or graphic. Design-based thinking, developed at Stanford University known as “Design Thinking,” is a way of offering a solution to a problem by focusing on the end user.
It implies, not thinking like an administrator or manager, but rather like a designer who empathizes with the person or collective which will benefit from the services; one of generates ideas, tests, checks, and guides the design (in this case, of services to the community) to the end-user experience.
The author proposes this approach to thinking, analysis, and problem solving to creatively address multidisciplinary organizational challenges and not to repeat or copy, but to focus on the end: empathy with the beneficiaries and their search for a better quality of life.
The detailing of the philanthropic system of grants and donations presented in the book is useful for the reader to understand the methods of management of social investors-donors, the modalities, and cycles of grants, as well as the administrative schemes of operation that govern it.
It proposes an alternative look at the donor-grantee relationship from the foundation of the pivot, urging to rethink this relationship not from the usual comfort of traditional subsidies but from a greater audacity always focused on the beneficiaries. The author even proposes a “disruption to achieve pivotal donors” that contemplates the education of NPO managers in transparency practices, accountability, evaluation of programs and prosecutors, management of technology and social networks and, in addition, to their acquisition of a greater knowledge about the investment system used in philanthropic funds.
The managers and leaders of the organizations, who continue and persist in keeping the organizations functioning in providing services to excluded communities, are often presented with models of “leadership” that usually promise better results, more performance in less time, from a neoliberal organizational vision. That is, to equate an NPO that aims to create social capital with a profit-based company.
This is known to not work. The experience and training of these managers and leaders is equally valid and valuable, so it is a mistake to underestimate their methods and try to replace them or juxtapose neoliberal trends. The author recognizes this and provides a sensitive and real approach to the best prepare organizations in the exceptional moments, such as what has already been experienced with natural phenomena and the economy, as well as what is surely to come (economic vulnerability, environmental fragility, emigration, aging of the population, among others).
The book is far from the commonly found in other publications that claim to give “recipes” from a “formula for success” perspective. It offers a multitude of tools and techniques as well as a global vision which is useful for managers and leaders of NPOs.
The book stems from the unique experience of this social entrepreneur who demonstrates a sincere trajectory of thought and analysis of her own experiences and search in the literature on social change (which is already an academic category within the study of Anthropology and Sociology) possible paths-responses-pivots to the challenges and particularities faced by NPOs in Puerto Rico and many parts of the world. This allows, without going into simplistic formulas, to present a positive and viable vision of the future despite the circumstances that we currently experience as a society.