When the front page of the New York Times is a bit too gloomy, I like to turn to the Fixes column, a corner of the Opinion Pages where David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg write about solutions to social problems. In their columns, Bornstein and Rosenberg profile the innovative ideas, people and organizations that are solving—in ways big and small—seemingly intractable problems, such as teen pregnancy, epidemics, and addiction. Bornstein and Rosenberg also run the Solutions Journalism Network, which trains journalists to write solutions-oriented pieces. With Fixes as their loudspeaker and the Solutions Journalism Network as their coaching platform, Bornstein and Rosenberg are infusing a profession that is known for its alarmism with a sense of balanced optimism.
Their intention is not simply to make readers feel good; rather, they are harnessing the investigatory power of journalism to encourage organizations and governments to rethink and redouble efforts to solve critical problems. And they are doing this by highlighting the people and organizations that are making the most headway. As Rosenberg said in a recent interview with On the Media, “if you can show that a problem isn't inevitable because someone [has a solution], then that problem is no longer inevitable. Then it becomes inexcusable.”
I am not a journalist, but Bornstein and Rosenberg’s approach feels similar to what my colleagues and I do at Wellspring in two respects. First, because we work with our clients to gain a clear-eyed sense of the obstacles to positive impact. Second, because we learn from the organizations and experts who are finding solutions.
As part of this second step, I interview academics, executive directors, and program experts at the forefront of innovation in our clients’ fields. These interviews spark the same optimism that fills me when I read Fixes: for every seemingly inevitable problem, there is a committed cadre (sometimes an army) of dedicated, thoughtful organizations and individuals who are solving it in unexpected ways and giving their time to share their insights with others. I am often struck by the generosity with which the people I interview give of their time and hard-earned insights.
If you’re inspired to read something from Fixes, here is one of my favorites: “Ideas Help No One on a Shelf. Take Them to the World.”