Redefining Innovation for a Multiracial Democracy

This nation holds a mythology that is both enduring and continually contested. From ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘liberty and justice for all’, to rugged individualism and relentless innovation, many of us were instilled with these dominant national values from an early age. As we grapple with our country’s cascading crises, all of us must reimagine the shared ideals we need to build a thriving multiracial democracy. 

Two new pieces from PolicyLink leaders in the Stanford Social Innovation Review reflect on how we must embody the ideal of innovation towards this future. In their reflections, President and CEO Michael McAfee and Founder in Residence Angela Glover Blackwell both speak to this generational challenge and opportunity. 

Innovation is generally celebrated in the realms of business and technology for the benefit of accumulating capital –– and less often invoked as a virtue that can strengthen our democracy and social fabric. Because of this narrow definition, many in our sector are wary of the term, because, as Michael writes, it carries the connotation of “the quick-fix, short-term approach often associated with Silicon Valley.” But, as Angela puts forward, we can redefine innovation more broadly: “If activists and organizations are successful, building and sustaining a vibrant multiracial democracy will be the next great US innovation.”


At PolicyLink, we are energized by the challenge of innovation towards an equitable nation, building on the work of generations before us. In the United States, the practice of democracy has been made real by the innovation of peoples’ movements, from the abolition of slavery to the Civil Rights Act, from the establishment of public education to the weekend. We need to continue this innovation to create a multiracial democracy that is worthy of our people. 

As we reimagine this future, we also need to be clear that while generations before us have innovated toward liberation, others have innovated to entrench inequity. As Angela writes, “too many white people remember the prosperity and opportunity of the mid-20th century without recognizing the outsized, discriminatory role played by the government.” In parallel, Michael argues that “...the crumbling systems we have now are actually the result of meticulous and purposeful innovation over decades, with the goal of advancing the quality of life for some, at the expense of others. Today’s widespread inequality is not a design flaw; it’s a feature of American innovation.” 

Now, we must redesign our nation with equity at the center. We need to reclaim innovation rooted in the lived experience and brilliance of Americans who are serving their communities and building our democracy every day. We are innovators — and we have the power to create a vibrant, just, multiracial democracy that has yet to exist. 

It’s up to us to rise to the opportunity.

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