The American composer John Cage once said, "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." This feeling underlies the work of the Institute for Social Inventions, and its continual search for new ways of solving problems in the world today. And for those who are similarly "frightened," frustrated or disillusioned by the way things are today, Setting the World Alight offers new hope, new inspiration and new practical solutions for change.
The recent military conflict in Iraq provoked millions into becoming politically active, some for the first time, others with renewed vigour. What this demonstrating demonstrated was the sheer energy and desire for change that is there to be harnessed. Imagine if every person on the anti-war marches channelled that passion and feeling into trying to solve a smaller-scale problem in their community or area; if each turned their disillusionment and anger into a search for positive answers and solutions. For that is what the individuals and groups in this book have done: responded to a problem they have perceived in their lives, and come up with an idea to solve it. It is these social innovations which incrementally improve our world and the world of those around us.
As well as promoting and spreading the word about these ideas, and thus sharing people's knowledge and experience, the Institute's work performs another important function: it legitimises creativity. It says not only that the wild idea is worth listening to, but that it might be the basis for a better way of doing something. It says that devising new ideas is not a waste of time, but could be the most important contribution you ever make. It says you can make a difference, no matter what anyone else tells you. Browsing through the Global Ideas Bank or looking at a compendium like this one is akin to reading a manifesto for social creativity, for the inventive impulse to make things better. And therein lies its inherent importance in today's world.
And I do mean the world, because the internet has allowed the Institute to have a greater global reach than ever before. Ideas included in Setting the World Alight have been submitted variously, amongst many others, by students at a North Carolina university, a London civil servant, a Nobel Prize nominee, a retired Australian salesman, a Yorkshire priest, a Canadian pharmacist and an electrical engineer from the US. All from wildly differing backgrounds, but all contributing their idea, their individual piece of creativity, for people to share, take up, improve and use. The dream of the global village, the positive flipside to the dreaded behemoth of globalization, can be seen to be emerging here: an ever-increasing community of people contributing their ideas for social change, making them available for the whole world to learn from. The potential of such a global network of social inventors and entrepreneurs is simply huge: and you are a part of it.
That is what this book is about: playing your part and getting involved. Be inspired by what you read here and think about how you can solve problems in your life, in our world. It is easy and understandable to sit and dwell on the negative side of life, on poverty and hunger, on injustice and inequality, on the conflagrations of war which seem to be erupting ever more regularly. It is easy for governments and armies to set the world alight with bombs and missiles. It is time we set the world alight ourselves, with our passion, ideas and energy, with our creative fire.
-- Dame Anita Roddick
This piece appears as the foreword to Setting the World Alight: Ideas to Change the World.