What happens when you combine the tools of entrepreneurship with the lens of social change? Today, we speak with Alex Budak, co-founder of StartSomeGood, a crowdsourcing platform for social impact initiatives, which has raised over $10 Million USD to fund more than 1,000 different projects across 50 countries using a grassroots community-driven approach.
Currently teaching at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, his courses are aptly named “Becoming A Changemaker” and “The Berkeley Changemaker”.
In this episode, we delve into Alex’s passion behind empowering changemakers and reinventing leadership—emphasizing qualities such as humility, empathy, and how a changemaker mindset requires changemaker action.
On the idea for founding StartSomeGood:
“For so long I had thought that change comes from one or two big organizations like the Red Cross. I realized that actually Changemakers are everywhere in the world and that all of us can lead positive change from where we are just like this. . . . So often you couldn’t raise money until you can prove your impact, but usually couldn’t prove your impact until you had raised money as this terrible catch-22. So we saw an opportunity to democratize the way that we fund social ventures, believing inherently that no one knows better what a community needs than the community itself.”
On being a changemaker:
“So much of change-making is rooted in critical thinking. It’s the ability to identify problems, but I would argue it’s not just to jump right into solving problems. It’s one of the things that I really try to work with my students on—is to kind of sit in the problem, sit in the discomfort that comes with identifying something and not being sure exactly how to solve it. . . . [T]hat allows you to make sure that you’re not just solving a problem, but you’re solving the right problem.”
On network-based leadership:
“The best changemakers will think of themselves through networks, not just as individuals.”
On helping fellow changemakers:
“[We] rolled up our sleeves everywhere from helping them come up with the videos that they would shoot to helping them write their copy. . . . Now, we had a secret weapon, which is that all of the people we worked with were incredibly passionate. They’re change-makers. They wanted to make a difference and that story was latent in them. And so in many ways, our job was just to help pull that story, pull that narrative out of them. . . . Any changemaker who wants to lead that type of positive change—they’re driven. They have a powerful why.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Sean Li: Welcome to the OneHaas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today we’re joined by Alex Budak. He is a social entrepreneur and lecturer at UC Berkeley who has developed and teaches transformative courses like becoming a changemaker and the Berkeley changemaker. He has co-founded and now advises StartSomeGood.com, which has helped over a thousand changemakers in 50 countries raise over $10 million. Welcome to the podcast, Alex.
[00:00:28] Alex Budak: Thank you so much for having me. I’m a big fan. Delight to be here.
[00:00:30] Sean Li: So, Alex, let’s start off with hearing your origin story right before our conversation. You mentioned that your last name is from Turkey. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:00:41] Alex Budak: Yeah. So, this goes way, way back to Istanbul, back when it was actually constant to Novo. So, my family is, uh, German Austrian descent, but they were living in Turkey, and there was a decree which said, anyone that’s living in Turkey has to have a Turkish last name. My, this is great, great, maybe great grandfather refused to change the name, kept getting all these summons saying you have to change your name. And he refused to. Finally, he got called into the police commissioner’s office, and they got into this heated conversation about you have to change your name. I’m not going to change my name. You have to change your name. And finally, the police commissioner got so fed up.
[00:01:11] He said, fine. Slammed his fist on the table. I’m giving you the name Budak. What is it turned out that Budak means in Turkish. It’s basically slang for stubborn. So, I don’t know. Maybe that’s a way to start change makers, of course, have a streak of stubbornness in them. Entrepreneurs have a streak of stubbornness. So, perhaps it’s destined in my last name of it.
[00:01:28] Sean Li: I mean, it’s all matter of perspective, right? Some people call it stubbornness. Some people call it steadfastness either way. Persistence is a great quality.
[00:01:37] Alex Budak: Yeah. Persistence is key for leading change. Absolutely.
[00:01:39] Sean Li: All right. So, let’s start with hearing a little bit about where you’re from, what you did before coming to Haas to teach.
[00:01:46] Alex Budak: Yeah, well, this is a Berkeley Haas podcast. I should give a bit of my UC Berkeley credentials here. So, my grandmother went to, to UC Berkeley, graduated in 1940, lived in the international house. My mother went to UC Berkeley. my dad also went to UC Berkeley, and when he was here, he was actually Oski.
[00:02:02] He was the mascot at the football and basketball games. It’s supposedly a secret society, but I think this point we can unveil secret. So, I come from a long line of Cal golden bears, but perhaps being a changemaker from an early age at about age six, I decided I was going to go to UCLA. That was my dream school.
[00:02:19] Still within the UC family. So, I think that was okay with my family. And so I went there, and I studied political science, public policy, and, inspired by public policy, especially education policy, the importance of public education. As I had to go out to Washington DC and do a master’s degree in public policy.
[00:02:36] But from about, I don’t know, hour six, I realized I was probably a little bit too entrepreneurial to be in a public policy program. I met these amazing students. They were wonderful, some of my best friends. But they think about change through policy ones is a very different way than I did. That’s where I realized, okay, me growing up in the Bay area in Silicon Valley, in the heart of innovation, I thought about things a little bit differently.
[00:02:56] So, I still finish up my degree. Had a great experience. But I was very fortunate that between my first and second year of grad school, I had the chance to go study abroad and studied in India at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, wonderful university, but very much this kind of ivory tower experience, which is exactly the opposite of what I wanted.
[00:03:17] So, I did my classes, but also, as much as possible, tried to get out. I did some volunteer work. I volunteered with a group that worked with girls from the local slum. Use sport as a tool to teach them female empowerment and healthy habits, and leadership. And that’s where I had this sort of first changemaker realization that, for so long, I had thought that change comes from one or two big organizations like the Red Cross.
[00:03:41] I realized that, actually, Changemakers are everywhere in the world and that all of us can lead positive change from where we are just like this. Ahmedabad Frisbee club. And so that was really the spark where I started realizing, okay. Maybe there’s something here to this change-maker path that I about to follow.
[00:03:55] Sean Li: I’m so glad that you shared that with us because I was just going to ask you how you came to be, changemaker, to go on this journey. Why even care, right? So, from there on where’d you go?
[00:04:07] Alex Budak: I finished up my degree, but sort of one foot in policy school and one foot beginning to explore social entrepreneurship. So, growing up in Silicon Valley, I’d always been around entrepreneurs who had a very entrepreneurial mindset but never really felt compelled to do anything with it until I realized there in India, what can happen when you combine the tools of entrepreneurship with the lens of social change?
[00:04:28] So, I decided to do some work in the social entrepreneurship field, ended up meeting a guy who would become the co-founder of our organization, StartSomeGood. He and I shared this belief around how technology can drive social change, but also this fundamental belief that there are just too many barriers in the way of people starting good at that point too often, we would ask the question before you even thought about the impact you want to have.
[00:04:52] Are you a non-profit or are you a for-profit? We’ll ask you, how are you gonna raise money? And so often, you couldn’t raise money until you can prove your impact. But usually, couldn’t prove your impact until you had raised money as this terrible catch 22. So, we saw an opportunity to democratize the way that we fund social ventures, believing inherently that no one knows better what a community needs than the community itself.
[00:05:13] And so it took a real grassroots community-driven lens towards funding, social ventures, and that became StartSomeGood, which is the social enterprise that I co-founded and led for a few years.
[00:05:22] Sean Li: Can you explain a little bit more about how StartSomeGood works?
[00:05:27] Alex Budak: So, at its core, you can think of StartSomeGood as a crowdfunding platform. Think of it as a Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but for social impact initiatives. And we focus specifically on helping early-stage social ventures get that little bit of funding that they need to get started. So, an entrepreneur will come to us and say, Hey, I’ve got an idea for my community.
[00:05:46] They’ll develop a goal in terms of the amount of funds they want to raise. But where we shift things is that in a traditional model, if you need $5,000, you write a bunch of grants and hope that one person will say, yes, I’ll give you that grant. Instead, we think it’s much more powerful to look at a collection of five, ten, $25 donations that come from the community that actually say not only is this idea worth pursuing.
[00:06:09] It’s an idea that I believe in. And so tried to shift the way that people get started. And we even fundraised ourselves as a crowdfunding platform. We did crowdfunding to get started to sort of prove how that model might work.
[00:06:20] Sean Li: One of the challenges that at least I’m aware with Kickstarter. Indiegogo is the marketing portion, right? Creating a compelling and attractive campaign. How do you guys help people or project leaders overcome that?
[00:06:33] Alex Budak: Now that was sort of the differentiator of StartSomeGood is that we took such a vested. Interest in the entrepreneurs that are using our platform. And so we got really like rolled up our sleeves everywhere from helping them come up with the videos that they would shoot to helping them write their copy.
[00:06:46] That’s because we fundamentally believed that the world needs more change-makers that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity might not be. And so, we did any little thing we could to help get them going. Now we had a secret weapon, which is that all of the people we worked with were incredibly passionate.
[00:07:01] They’re change-makers. They wanted to make a difference, and that story was latent in them. And so, in many ways, our job was just to help pull that story, pull that narrative out of them. It was always there, and he changed me. People who wants to lead that type of positive change. They’re driven. They have a powerful why. And so, our job was to help, get that out of them and help them communicate in the best possible way.
[00:07:21] Sean Li: Thanks for sharing that. Cause that was just a question that really stuck in line, like, you know, and started really tough with digital marketing, but it’s great to have the support from your organization. That’s amazing. So, your courses are named becoming a changemaker and the Berkeley change maker. Does that mean anyone can become change maker?
[00:07:39] Alex Budak: Yeah. That’s one of the fundamental beliefs that drives everything that I do. A fundamental belief that everyone can be a changemaker. It doesn’t matter your background, your experience, your personality, your race, your gender, your identity; anyone and everyone can be a changemaker. Doesn’t matter. Your major doesn’t matter your field of interest. It’s a radically inclusive term. And that’s what I like so much about it.
[00:08:01] Sean Li: It sounds like that everyone has the capacity to be a change maker. I’m just wondering. How do you bring out that latent superpower? How do you make people aware of their superpower?
[00:08:11] Alex Budak: I love it. You say it’s a superpower. It totally is. And there’s so many people that walk around not realizing it. And that’s really my life’s mission is to help people realize that they can be change-makers and equip them to go do so. So, I’m not prescriptive in terms of saying how you’ll become a change maker.
[00:08:28] Maybe you’ll be a change maker through a social venture. Like I was maybe I’ll do it through artistic work, a scientific discovery, a for-profit venture. There are so many ways to manifest your changemaker aspirations. But yeah, my job, my mission is to say, I believe you can be a change maker and to give them some of the tools that help them on the way.
[00:08:46] Sean Li: All right. So, what is a framework of discovering your superpower and then going back to practice that superpower and use it for good?
[00:08:53] Alex Budak: Yeah, such a terrific question. And it maps nicely to the way that I designed my becoming a changemaker course. So, we start by teaching the changemaker mindset. These are traits and attributes that successful makers share. So, things like resilience, or if you’re like me, maybe it’s stubbornness. But I like to think it’s resilience, things like empathy, adaptability, flexibility.
[00:09:15] These are ways of showing up in the world and seeing your role in it. From there, we moved to changemaker leadership, where we look at not what are the old models of leadership but what does leadership look like today? Have a radically inclusive view of leadership. This idea that it’s not about titles, it’s about acts that while a leader might be scarce, leadership is abundant.
[00:09:37] And so we learn how to come up with a vision for change, how to rally others towards that vision, and crucially, how to influence without authority. From there. I present what I call the change-maker impact equation. So, I’m not a mathematician as any of my grad school professors will say. So, it’s a very simple equation, but think of it on the left side, we have the sum of your changemaker mindset and your changemaker leadership.
[00:10:00] And then that’s multiplied by your changemaker action. Even bad mathematicians like me know that if you multiply a huge number by zero, the result is still zero. So that teaches it’s not enough to just have the mindset. Not enough to just have the leadership skills. You have to do something with it.
[00:10:14] And that’s where we help students realize their opportunities for taking action. Perhaps my favorite assignment in the class is we do a changemaker of the week where I encourage every student to talk about a change maker who inspires them. They need to make the case to the class for why this person is a changemaker, how they embody some of the traits or leadership skills we’ve talked about.
[00:10:35] And also talk about how their example inspires to them as a change maker. What I love about this is that when the class ends, students walk away, having met 40, 50, 60 different change makers, they’ve seen change making in diverse fields coming from all different types of people, everywhere from the rock stars, literally rock stars and athletes and people that everyone knows all the way down to someone’s mom or sister, which is equally inspiring.
[00:11:00] Sean Li: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. It’s the idea of learning from example, right? And it’s funny because actually one of the feedbacks that I got from your class, from a student that’s currently taking her class, was just the amazing guests that you bring to the classroom.
[00:11:14] Alex Budak: Yeah. One of my goals is that I want students to be immersed and see themselves in different Changemakers. I bring in Changemakers who might be cringing in the public sector, the private sector, maybe fusing together, different sectors. But the goal is that maybe not every single change maker will inspire every single student, but that every student will be able to see themselves in someone else. And to me, I think that could be a catalyzing moment for seeing yourself as a changemaker.
[00:11:39] Sean Li: This is one of the things I’ve heard you say before, and I want to make sure I quote you right. you’ve said that the value of a startup is the sum of the problems that you’ve solved. Can you talk a little bit about that?
[00:11:50] Alex Budak: Yeah. So that comes from Daniel Ek. The founder of Spotify. And I love that quote because so much of change-making is rooted in critical thinking. It’s the ability to identify problems. But I would argue it’s not just to jump right into solving problems. It’s one of the things that I really try to work with my students on is to kind of sit in the problem, sit in the discomfort that comes with identifying something, and not being sure exactly how to solve it.
[00:12:14] One important lens to change-making that I teach is the importance of thinking about systems change. So, in other words, not just putting a band-aid on a cut, making sure that people don’t get cut in the first place. And so, if you deeply understand a problem that allows you to take action on the sort of acute needs of the problem, but also to be thinking deeper to how can you change systems, frameworks, mindsets policies, to fundamentally change the way that a system operates. I would just such a deeper level to affect problem-solving.
[00:12:46] Sean Li: So, of the challenges that I’ve observed with systemic change is that I liken it to weed, you know, has many roots. And what I’ve observed with solving systemic problems is that because as so many routes, you need people focused on different things and solving different parts of the problem concurrently because it’s such a big problem.
[00:13:10] How do you advise Changemakers to stay focused on their area of change, but also be mindful that other people need to focus on other things versus what I sometimes see is that people get combative, right? Like, Oh, like my problem is the most in problem to solve right now, versus, we need to really be mindful that, Hey, we’re all working on this together. Does that question make sense?
[00:13:36] Alex Budak: It absolutely does. And it aligns really well with what I teach because, fundamentally, change-making is a team sport. No one will lead change completely by themselves. And so, there’s a couple of things that I teach in the class really directly related to what you’re saying. So, the first is this idea of network-based leadership.
[00:13:51] Focusing on humility, not on brand. So, focusing on your leading with humility rather than saying, this is what I uniquely contributed to this. In addition to that, as we encourage students to actually take action on, we do changemaker projects in the class. Part of what I asked them for is to identify two things.
[00:14:10] Who is the community that you’re serving, and how do you know that the community actually wants this idea? Think we have a bad habit sometimes and problem-solving to say, okay, I’m going to go figure out how to build a school in Rwanda, even though I’ve never been to Rwanda. And I don’t know anything about education, but like to fundamentally know, connect with your community and involve the community and actually solve the problems with you.
[00:14:28] But then also to say, who’s your coalition, who else cares about this and who else is driving towards change and how will you fit into it? Is there an aspect of a larger systemic change where you can play a small role? Are there other changes going on in similar related disciplines, and you can apply models to your own? The best change makers will think of themselves through networks, not just as individuals.
[00:14:48] Sean Li: I really liked something that you said earlier, which is that you encourage Changemakers to sit in the problem. And I feel like sometimes, especially in Silicon Valley, Entrepreneurs have this knack for creating solutions for problems they think exists only to realize that maybe this is just the founder’s problem and no one else’s problem.
[00:15:09] But I think that ability that patients just sit through the problem and be uncomfortable and then being encouraged to talk to people like you say, I think that’s such a difficult skill to practice. Any wisdom around how to practice that patience?
[00:15:24] Alex Budak: Yeah. One of my favorite stories from Silicon Valley is the story of this juicer, which costs about $500. It’s supposed to revolutionize the way that we got our juice, and you buy these patches. These patches costs like $7. You put it into the juicer, that juice machine. Squeeze it into juice for you only to find that you don’t actually need the machine, that you can just buy these packs of juice.
[00:15:41] You could massage it with your own hands and create the juice that you need to talk about solving a problem that wasn’t even a problem in the first place. And I do think that there is often this rush to jump right into a problem. And so, one of the core fundamental aspects of being a change maker, I think, is this humility, this humility to say that I may not know everything myself, that even if I think I know everything, I should still talk with other people.
[00:16:04] That there’s always things I can learn from someone else. And the more you can sit with some of that discomfort, which again, isn’t easy, but if you can take more of a long-term view on things, you’ll find that it’s worth it. That allows you to make sure that you’re not just solving a problem, but you’re solving the right problem.
[00:16:18] And I think one of the most important constraints we have in our lives and our work as change makers is our time. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of problems in the world that are worth solving. How can you make sure that you are solving the problem you are uniquely suited to address and also that you’re doing it in the best way. And if you rush into it, you probably won’t make the best decision.
[00:16:39] Sean Li: You talked about this before, how people learn through failure, how does failure fit into this picture?
[00:16:45] Alex Budak: Yes. It’s one thing to intellectually say, yeah, failure is important. Or to know, Hey, if I’m going to lead change, I’ll probably fail. It’s one thing to know that, but as Denzel Washington said in his graduation speech to university, Pennsylvania, do you have the guts to fail? And so, one of the challenges that have for students, which has become an exercise that students actually look forward to, is called the failure exercise rejection exercise.
[00:17:09] So we spend couple of hours talking about learning how to question the status quo versus one of our defining leadership principles. We talk about things like smart risk-taking failing forward, and then once we’ve completed the lecture at flash up on the screen, two words go fail. I tell students that they have 15 minutes and they have to go out into the Haas courtyard, and they have to go get rejected.
[00:17:30] You have to ask for something and have someone say no. And, you should see the somatic responses that I see among my students. So, faces turned flesh red. They start sweating heart, start beating this idea of going out, and having to actually fail on purpose terrifies people. Especially so, a lot of high achieving, very successful Haas students.
[00:17:51] So, students cause part of the class, they go out, some trepidation usually. But they come back, and they’re all smiles. They come back, and they’ve learned a couple of important lessons. So, across the board, about 40% of the time, students will ask for something they think is ridiculous, and the person will actually say, yeah, I’ll do that.
[00:18:10] For instance, it was a rainy day. One student said, Hey, I forgot my umbrella. Will you walk me all the way to this building? It’s about 15 minutes across campus. And this random stranger said, yeah, no problem. I’ll do that. One student walked into the gym and said, Hey, it’s not my birthday, but will you have everyone sing happy birthday to me?
[00:18:25] She got a happy birthday. It’s amazing. The way that we set ourselves up to fail just by not asking for something when we may actually get it in the first place. And then, of course, the other 60% realized that failure is never fatal, that we got rejected, that we learned to tell the tale we can move forward from it.
[00:18:42] So, it’s one thing to intellectually understand that failure is important. Brought my students to actually experience it, to actually see what it’s like to fail, to overcome it, to do it in a safe, supportive. Environment when them kind of pushes them outside of their comfort zone a little bit.
[00:18:55] Sean Li: I’m starting to piece it together now because just a moment ago in my mind, I was thinking, okay, we’re asking people to be patient, to sit. The problem and think about it. But then I realized that’s not really what you mean because, you know, I was thinking, well, how are we going to encourage people to go fail?
[00:19:09] But I’m realizing, it sounds like, what the humility portion really means is that you have to be willing to put yourself out there, ask people, Interview people, get out of the room as Steve Blank says, and sit in the problem. By recognizing that assumptions may not be right.
[00:19:28] Just like sit on the problem, but actually be active about it and making sure that you’re actually trying to solve a problem and that the problem is the right problem to solve. Is that correct?
[00:19:38] Alex Budak: That’s absolutely right. And that hints at one of the core tenants of being a change maker, which is being able to hold these dualities at the same time. That’s why, for instance, I love teaching art confidence without attitude. Lecture, because Changemakers need the confidence, but not have the attitude.
[00:19:53] It’s not enough to just be completely humble because if you’re so humble that you never put yourself out there, you’ll never lead change. You need to have a bit of that confidence. But then, on the other side, how can we bring down some of those brash egotistical qualities we often think of when we look at leaders and sometimes change makers.
[00:20:09] So, the question here isn’t can you be somewhere in between. A little bit competent and a little bit humble, but rather, can you be both add, can be both confident and humble. And that’s a type of leadership that I try to do.
[00:20:20] Sean Li: I think this is a perfect segue into your empathy exercise. Can you share with us a little bit about that?
[00:20:27] Alex Budak: So, much of leading change comes from empathy. Patti Sanchez wrote an HBR about how 50% of people that lead change in corporations. Don’t actually think about how that change will be perceived by people below them. So one out of two people trying to lead change haven’t thought, well, Hey, how will the people on the front lines actually think about this change?
[00:20:46] I think empathy is absolutely crucial to any type of change that you lead, whether that’s the ability to sit with a problem and deeply understand it from other people’s pain points to understanding how to engage others, being part of the change with you. Empathy truly matters. There’s different parts of empathy everywhere, from being able to, for instance, read micro-expressions.
[00:21:04] But there’s also this sort of cognitive perspective-taking. And that’s where I spent a lot of my time. And so, I challenged students to really flex their empathy muscles. It’s one thing to be empathetic to your sister or your dog or someone, one or something that you love. It’s a lot harder to practice empathy when it’s your arch-nemesis.
[00:21:22] So, have students do a thought experiment where I get them to imagine someone who’s really made them mad in the last week, the last month. Maybe it’s someone at work who is listening to their ideas, someone in a student group who talks over them, and maybe it’s someone driving a fancy car who cut them off on the road. It could be anything.
[00:21:38] And I really let them talk about sitting with a problem and let them really marinate in that problem. Like really get mad at that person and tell me all the reasons that they did it. And like, tell me about the personality traits. You know, if they cut you off in a fancy car, Oh, there’s an entitled jerk.
[00:21:50] Like, really go for it. Like really tell all these things that I explain why you think this person did what they did. Then we started turning on our empathy key just a little bit. And we start saying, okay, do you know that that’s true? And since, Oh, maybe, maybe not pick up, do you, what have present?
[00:22:06] Absolutely know that it’s true. If you do, then fine. But if you don’t want a hundred percent, without a doubt, know that that’s true. Those judgments you’re making about them. Okay, well, let’s explore what might be happening from their perspective. And then we have them really sit in. The experience with the other person’s perspective.
[00:22:21] And we try to get them to go to a values level, to not just explain sort of why they’re doing something, but get to a deeper values level. So, if someone keeps cutting you off in a meeting, well, maybe they really value efficiency. If someone is leaving their dishes out around the house, maybe it’s that they care more about creative expression, and they’re not focused on the small things, right?
[00:22:42] By being able to at least see the things from the other person’s perspective and go to a values level. It doesn’t make it easier to solve things and make it clear to say that empathy is not the same as sympathy. So, you don’t do a great, the other person’s perspective, but to at least be able to sit in, to see things from the other’s perspective.
[00:22:58] So, often, when we see something happen and we’re telling stories to ourselves, we tend to tell stories that make us both the hero and the victim of our own story. And this empathy exercise helps see that story is actually much more nuanced than that. And again, whether or not you actually believe that the person was taking a values-driven approach, it at least allows us to have a better sense of how we could overcome that problem, rather than just sitting in it and sitting in and sitting in it. We have a new perspective, thanks to empathy for how we can proceed in a positive way.
[00:23:27] Sean Li: So, there’s something that went over my head a little bit because I’m a layman, but can you explain a little bit more about what cognitive perspective-taking is?
[00:23:38] Alex Budak: Sure. And the answer is really simple as sometimes academics just use these big words. What a simple word would suffice cognitive perspective-taking basically just means being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. So, there’s different forms of empathy, and this is the fundamental ability to sort of see things. Problem solve from someone else’s perspective.
[00:23:55] Sean Li: So, I like to be practical and actionable, and I do have to ask what is one small act that people can take today?
[00:24:04] Alex Budak: I think I would suggest two things; if that’s all right with you, Sean, cause they go hand in hand. So, the first is to pay attention to something that really bothers you in the world. Something that annoys you, something that when you see that occur, that you feel not just sort of like frustration, like a deep value, misalignment, maybe it’s because you really care about equity and you feel like something wasn’t right.
[00:24:25] Equitable, maybe you care about justice, and you think something wasn’t fair, that can often be a great insight that maybe there’s something there that’s worth you pursuing. So that’s my first challenge to you is to like really go with eyes open, leading with curiosity, and just see where those areas might be.
[00:24:41] But then the second is. I’m going to challenge you, just like my students, to go out and fail. As soon as you figure out something related to a change you might like to create, have the courage, have the guts to go ask for something. Maybe it’s reaching out to an expert in the field and say, Hey, can we talk about this?
[00:24:56] Maybe it’s talking in with someone in the community about this challenge that you see. My challenge to you is to not feel fear of failure but instead embrace it. And so go out and try to get rejected and see if there’s something you can do, and service as that change, you might lead.
[00:25:11] Sean Li: A question is pop-fresh into my mind. I love these moments. How are Changemakers adapting in the COVID world today?
[00:25:18] Alex Budak: Love that question. So, let’s say up front that this is an incredibly challenging time on so many levels. And very real pain that so many people are feeling and recognizing that. This also brings along huge opportunities, Muhammad Yunus, cave, and spoke to the becoming changemaker class.
[00:25:37] He’s the founder of Grameen bank. And what he said is that we need not take the old road that we’ve traveled before. So, in other words, this is an opportunity to not just go back to where we were but to rebuild it and recreate a new future. So, a concept that I love that I think is applicable here is this idea of switching costs.
[00:25:57] So, in an economic sense, we often think of switching costs as the reason that let’s say I use an iPhone. I don’t want to switch to an Android because that means I have to buy all these apps again. I’m sort of locked in. But I think there’s also the perceived switching costs. So right now, as we think about when there’s so much change going on all around us, the perceived risk of taking anyone small chance is so much lower than if we’re in kind of a status quo.
[00:26:21] There’s so much change happening that it’s actually much safer to make some small bets. It’s whether you think about, let’s say, a restaurant that’s fine dining. And they decided, well, Hey, I’ve always had this idea for doing a $7 chicken sandwich and decided to launch that. And they’re not ruining their brand because it’s a great chance for experimentation.
[00:26:37] Now again, I don’t want to make light of the fact that it is a really challenging time. And for so many people is just about making sure they stay healthy, that they keep their jobs, take care of their loved ones. And so that is very real. But if you do have the space to think about opportunities in the change, it’s actually a great time to be leading some positive changes, and certainly, our country and the world need it.
[00:26:56] Sean Li: That’s very interesting because as you’re talking, I was thinking this would be a very good and healthy way to get out of your own head because so many of us are having cooped up inside there. We’re starting to get into our own heads. That brings up a question. You know, what are some ways or positive ways that Changemakers could impact their home environment?
[00:27:18] Alex Budak: I love the way that you framed up that question. I love the quote from senior songwriter Joan Baez. She says that action is the antidote to despair. And I think as we’re sort of stuck inside, feeling that despair, it’s very easy to just continue on with the status quo. But I think there’s opportunity to recognize we feel that despair but take action in service of it.
[00:27:36] Now, in terms of how to help people within your own home. One of the concepts I teach is something called micro leadership. So, it breaks leadership down into its smallest and most meaningful unit, which are key leadership moments. The idea being that sure, you might need permission to be CEO, but anyone can seize these leadership moments that are in front of us.
[00:27:55] And so maybe that means if you’re a sibling, it’s tutoring and helping make sure that your other siblings is doing okay with their math assignment. Maybe it’s just responding with a little bit more kindness, even if you’ve had a bad day at work, being there for our partner. I think that we see these micro leadership moments that are all around us all the time. And so the question is, will you see them? Will you seize them? And will you find these small little chances where you can serve someone else in a meaningful way?
[00:28:19] Sean Li: I love that. So, what are some books you’ve either read lately or are your top favorites?
[00:28:25] Alex Budak: So many books that I love around change-making, but I’ll give to that. Especially stick with me. The first is Act Like a Leader. Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra from London business school. And she flipped this idea on its head. But so often, we think that we have to sit in a room by ourselves, decide the type of leader we want to be, and then go become it.
[00:28:44] She says, no, actually you need to start acting like the leader. You want to be, get feedback, see if it works or not, but shift the perspective. She calls it the outside principle rather than insight principle. And I think it’s a powerful framework, especially for emerging leaders, to say, Hey, I’m going to give myself permission to lead and then go from there and learn from it as opposed to waiting for permission.
[00:29:03] A second book that I’ve loved recently is called different by young meat moon, from Harvard business school, she’s a marketer, and it’s basically all about how you could differentiate your brand in a world. That’s becoming more and more the same. What’s so cool about it is that she, of course, writes from a marketing perspective, and she’s a brilliant professor, but the lessons are applicable to all of us, as we think about change that we want to lead and the ability for us to not just follow the status quo, but to in her words be different.
[00:29:31] Sean Li: Alrighty. Well, thank you so much, Alex, for coming on the podcast, it’s been a real pleasure would love to talk to you again soon and see where your teaching experience and the people and stories that you hear evolve as well as how to become better Changemakers.
[00:29:45] Alex Budak: Thanks so much for having me, Sean. One of the traits of a great changemaker is asking really powerful, insightful questions. Then I think you led with some really terrific questions, which led to a wonderful conversation. I really enjoyed it. And to anyone listening, one of my greatest joys is connecting with fellow change-makers helping change-makers pursue their changemaker path. So, if I can ever be helpful to you, please, feel very free to reach out. Always happy to have conversations.
[00:30:08] Sean Li: What’s your preferred method of communication for people to reach out to you?
[00:30:12] Alex Budak: Email is probably best. Or LinkedIn.
[00:30:14] Sean Li: Well, we’ll be sure to include some links in the description so that people can reach out to you. Thanks, Alex.
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