August 10, 2015

New Releases: Can't Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 9:00 AM – Filed under: Innovation & Creativity, Leadership & Strategy, Personal Development & Human Behavior

Can'tnotdoWhat can I do to change the world? The common reaction to that question is to feel that it’s futile, that the world is just too big and complex to affect change. But what about the people who are making a difference every day? We regularly hear about everyday heroes who are making significant impact on daunting social issues. How do they do it?

Paul Shoemaker, Founding President of Social Venture Partners International—a network of thousands of leaders supporting social change in nearly 40 cities and 8 countries around the world—has spent the last 17 years connecting people and organizations that are on the same journeys to change the world.

In Can't Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World (August 10, 2015, Wiley), Shoemaker shares the lessons he’s learned during his career bringing together the people who found their own “can’t not do” and are contributing to a better world. Can't Not Do provides the tools and answers to convert positive intention into positive action, not only with compelling narratives of people who have done it, but by distilling the core lessons learned by successful social change leaders to become more effective. Through foundational questions, personal evaluations, and concrete instruction, Shoemaker shares the necessary wisdom to achieve real progress.

Shoemaker argues that we don’t have to be famous or wealthy to make a deep difference. We have the solutions, technology, and resources necessary to fight many of the world’s largest social problems. The most vital missing link needed is more people – committed people—who can marshal resources with passion to make change happen. “Because of the world we live in, full of social multipliers, one person can have such positive impact,” he says.

Shoemaker tells dozens of inspiring stories of change makers who were determined to follow a passion, their “can’t not do,” and lead for change. Some do this full time, others, just a few hours a week:

After an eye-opening trip to Ecuador, David Risher found a padlocked building in an orphanage. “That’s our library,” explained the orphanage leader. David’s children carried e-readers during their trip, and he was struck by the orphans who had the same drive to learn as his own kids, but without the basic tools needed to read. He found his “can’t not do” and founded Worldreader, an organization that uses technology to bring reading materials to areas where they’re most needed. Worldreader is helping fight illiteracy by helping half a million schoolchildren in 50 developing countries start reading.

After attending a conference on eradicating fistula, a painful condition developed during childbirth that affects 2 million mothers around the developing world, Heidi Breeze thought this was a terrible injustice that needed to “go away.” Ironically, Heidi, who was one month pregnant when she attended that conference, went through a harrowing childbirth experience herself. Without emergency intervention, she would have likely suffered the same fate as the women she was now determined to help.  Heidi became inspired to found One by One. She helped raise over $3.5 million for fistula treatment, prevention, reintegration and education.  Those funds educated 300,000 rural people, screened over 4,500 women for fistula, and have helped repair over 2,000 women.

Kerry McClenahan is a working mother who founded and owns a communications consulting business in Portland, Oregon. She doesn’t have a lot of extra time.  At a meeting in 2010 she learned for the first time that over one third of the five year olds in the Portland area enter kindergarten academically behind their peers by two years. She felt his was a huge injustice, when the odds are stacked against these children so early. She found her can’t not do at that meeting. She had never felt that kind of passion for any topic or outside interest in her life. She reprioritized a few things to make room for something she found more important and rewarding. Since then, she has consistently spent a few hours a week helping Portland’s Ready for Kindergarten Initiative, leveraging her marketing and communications skills to help improve their community outreach and messaging.

These are just three of the many agents of change who Shoemaker profiles in Can't Not Do. In telling their stories, Shoemaker wants readers to push past their wall of doubt and act on their own inner urges to make a difference.

To get started, Shoemaker proposes that we answer seven questions that get to the heart of why certain people reach their greatest potential for social change. These questions are explored in detail throughout the book:

  1. Are you a determined optimist?  Determined optimists are people who believe a solution to a given social problem is possible. They are realistic, focused, flexible and adaptive, and have a resilient attitude. Tip: you only need one can’t not do at a time. Focus and go deep.
  2. Who are you at your core? Look in your roots.  Look through your life at the experiences that had the most effect on who you are today. What sends that “chill up your spine?” Talk to others and ask them what defines you. Take notes, ask for feedback and find the patterns that will lead to what you feel optimistic about.
  3. Are you willing to go to hard places? Shoemaker feels this is the most important of the seven questions. People have fears and insecurities about this type of work, and that’s OK. Social change is hard and takes you out of your comfort zone.
  4. Are you ready to be humble and humbled? Authentically humble people have a sort of ego-less quality, a willingness to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to say “I don’t know.” This work is not for the faint-hearted nor for the big egos that can’t accept more than one dose of humility. If you don’t get humbled more than once, you’re probably still on the sidelines, not yet in the real game of hard, good social change.
  5. Can you actively listen? Being a great listener is one of the most powerful assets a person can possess.  It is a skill that can be learned. Every time you listen deeply, you do more to create another leader for the cause. You help others see their personal power and engender trust.
  6. Do you believe 1+1=3? Globalization, connectedness and technology have accelerated the impact one person can have more than ever before. The biggest challenge is not know-how, not even money. It’s connecting the right people with the right ideas in the right way. During 17 years at SVP, Shoemaker and his team engaged over 4,000 partners and worked with over 300 nonprofits. Connecting creates more potential, more possibilities, more relationships.
  7. What is your can’t not do? This is the fundamental question. Some of the people profiled in the book shifted their whole careers, others found a few hours a week for an extended period of time, and everything in between. Helping create change is not for “extraordinary” people. We can all make a significant impact if we’re optimistic and committed. What lessons can be taken away from each of the people in Can't Not Do that can be adapted and applied to our own lives?

Paul Shoemaker wrote Can't Not Do to get our attention, to provide inspiration and motivation and provide pathways for action. To do, not just think; to act, not just plan.


Paul Shoemaker is the Founding President of Social Venture Partners International. With insights from 17 years of this unique vantage point, he is the Northwest’s leading expert on activating social change agents and a global thought leader on how individuals can be the most effective social change leaders. In 2011 and 2012, Shoemaker was named one of the “Top 50 Most Influential People in the Nonprofit Sector” by The NonProfit Times, and in 2013, was named “Philanthropist of the Year” by Future in Review. Shoemaker has spoken at TEDx and United Nations events and has written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fortune, and The Huffington Post.  More information may be found at


About Dylan Schleicher

Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books, and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.