A book review of Pivots: Agents of Change Taking Action (Spanish Edition)
Review by Dr. Wanda Cosme-Montalvo
I have acquired only a little new knowledge about non-profit organizations and what they represent for the development of a country. The notions I have about the significant work that these organizations carry out are basic, perhaps because the information provided about their operations is scarce, especially for those of us who navigate professionally through other fields and disciplines. In my case, I am immersed in the humanities, specifically in the field of literature, teaching classes to college students. That is responsible for my state of ignorance around the all-encompassing and fascinating world of non-profit organizations: a world that Mariely Rivera Hernández has allowed me to enter and learn about through her book entitled Pivotes: agentes de cambio para emprender (Pivots: Agents of Change Taking Action).
This groundbreaking, creative and innovative book consists of a prologue written by Dr. Javier J. Hernández Acosta, eight chapters and two final sections entitled Final Notes and The Pivot’s Manifesto. I believe it exemplifies the urgent need for the educational system of our country to include in school curriculums the subject of non-profit organizations, as well as topics related to philanthropy, entrepreneurship, third sector, business, the concept of private from the perspective of capital, and leadership, among other categories that we will face, either directly or indirectly, in the social, work, and professional environment of this 21st century. This inclusion in the school curriculum must be carried out in a global, holistic, and transversal way so that, regardless of the interests of each one in specific areas of study and training of preference, there is awareness, commitment, and experience of what constitutes the entire scaffolding of what represents and entails the important and necessary work of non-profit organizations for the development of a country.
Unquestionably, in our formal educational process we have come across many of the aforementioned concepts, but this encounter is not carried out in an organic way. It is carried out subordinated to other subjects; surreptitiously and, I would even go as far as saying, almost randomly. That is where the challenge lies. It is imperative to include in curriculums of all school levels and in an organic and exclusive manner, courses with themes related to entrepreneurship and leadership also from the perspective of financial education to train and prepare students in their performance within the professional and working world of for-profit or non-profit organizations of the 21st century.
Mariely Rivera Hernández's book models and synthesizes what has been exposed in terms of the educational, didactic, theoretical, empirical, and pragmatic character that the author develops in an intelligent fashion from the framework of the genuine and shocking experiences that she had within the world of non- profit organizations. Those experiences gained and continue to gain great relevance because of Hurricane María in 2017; the earthquakes in January 2020 and the terrible Covid-19 pandemic, which still impact the entire world. The author's personal and professional agenda within the world of non-profit organizations was radically transformed. Part of that transformation and personal, individual, social, and collective experience is the one that Mariely Rivera Hernández offers us in her book, particularly in the narration of the testimonial nuances in the first chapters of the text. Rivera Hernández invites us to witness how she realizes very early in her life that she has been an agent of social change, or a social pivot. Journalist Isamari Castrodad expresses it in an excellent way at the beginning of the book: “As a result of an emotional personal testimony in which she reflects on her genuine commitment to social causes, Mariely Rivera Hernández shows us the evolution of her life by means of her self-discovery as a social pivot” (page 3). Being a social pivot or an agent of social change is what Mariely Rivera Hernández applies and models genuinely, honestly, and authentically by serving at non-profit organizations, and it is this that she seeks to describe in the book.
The eight chapters that make up the text are entitled: Life plans pivot inadvertently, Leadership in the eye of the hurricane, Natural disasters transform life in a second, Pivots: key players in the philanthropic ecosystem, Pivots: hothouse of agents of change, Boosting creativity: how we do it, Disruption to achieve pivot donors, Positioning pivot organizations; as well as the last two parts of the book entitled Final Notes and The Pivot’s Manifesto, show from an empirical and authentic experience, genuine and practical ideas of how non-profit organizations should function and operate, contextualized within the social, working, political and economic realities of the 21st century. In a sense, the author proposes a new paradigm of what should set the rhythm of the operation of non-profit organizations, which represents a break with the traditional and conservative views that have characterized the modus operandi of non-profit organizations, as well as for-profit organizations.
Based on the author's experiences in different non-profit organizations, such as the Chana and Samuel Levis Foundation in which she served as Executive Director; at another foundation where she held executive positions related to higher education; in Juntos y Unidos por Puerto Rico (a private non-profit organization that was involved in a very unfair scandal when the transparency and integrity of the work was questioned and to which Rivera Hernández dedicates chapters two and three of the book to explain and clarify what really happened, and thus vindicate the extraordinary work that this organization carried out); and from her own foundation created in 2018 with the name ChangeMaker, its experience and innovative vision is validated and shared with the readers of this guidebook.
It should be noted that, as Rivera Hernández points out, this book “is the fiber of a project already started as a podcast, known as Pivot-ES, winner of the Non-Profit category of the Latin Podcast Award 2020 [in which there is an ongoing conversation] with experienced leaders from non-profit organizations and social enterprises on innovation and solutions for sustainable development” (page 9). It is therefore observed that this dialogue —the sharing of knowledge and strategies and, consequently, the learning acquired by the exchange of ideas—, plus her personal experience, cultivate the text and transform it into a guidebook. That is why I confidently state that this text also functions as a guide because its backbone is found precisely in the recommendations and strategies that the author offers with sufficient theoretical basis, on her idea and conceptualization of how today's non-profit organizations should operate. Without a doubt, the dialogue established with experienced leaders of non-profit organizations contributes significantly to that organization’s mission and also models that collective work, in community, with diverse and focused on people, is one of the most important keys to developing and achieving functional and successful organizations. It cannot be overlooked that the book evaluates, —as a result of the tragedies that occurred in the country: Hurricane María, earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic—, how the rescue responses orchestrated by non-profit organizations make it possible to create strategies that promote, as Isamari Castrodad very well states, "responsible and transparent administration and execution processes" (page 3). That is one of the most important objectives that Mariely Rivera Hernández proposes in this book: to show and demonstrate how processes within a non-profit organization must be performed with total transparency, responsibility, and commitment. The trust and credibility of every non-profit organization are based on these ideals.
On the other hand, the author weaves her ideas based on the Design Thinking methodology, a methodology that is centered, among other aspects, on innovation and the specific needs of the people who require a service. Design Thinking is a method to generate innovative ideas that focus their effectiveness on understanding and solving the real needs of people. In the business world, for example, we work with this criterion that the customer, the consumer, the people are the most important. Mariely Rivera Hernández builds her ChangeMaker foundation on that philosophy and explains and models her methodology in this book. The text offers recommendations and strategies that serve as a guide to, among other things, identify leaders who are defined and developed as agents of change within non-profit organizations to achieve transformation and social well-being.
Other recommendations and strategies presented in the book which represent one of the most important contributions of the text, are those developed in chapter seven entitled Disruption to achieve pivot donors. This chapter extensively explores the act of giving from two points of view: the donors and the organization that will receive the contribution. The concept of donating is redefined by explaining how a well-directed and well-developed donation is transformed into a social investment.
The book also introduces the idea of forming the work team of an organization with professionals from different disciplines such as teachers, engineers, social workers, biologists, psychologists, musicians, lawyers, programmers, among many others. This strategy, as indicated in the text, is highly innovative since teamwork is enriched and strengthened by the multiple views and variants that can be obtained from the project on the agenda. Rebuilding workspaces in a creative way, breaking with conventional structures that are implemented in work environments facilitates the human resource characterized by its diversity to collaborate, cooperate, and exchange ideas with each other in a more innovative, avant-garde, and creative way. Additionally, it is recommended to talk, evaluate, and analyze the reasons for the failure of a particular project. There is a tendency to erase, ignore and not attend to what apparently failed or did not work. The author proposes that when errors or failures of a project are identified, one learns from them and avoids repeating what did not allow the idea and / or project to develop.
Finally, the connotative character acquired by the lexical flow that runs through the entire text is very interesting, especially for people like me, who, as I pointed out at the beginning of this writing, are not so familiar with the world of non-profit organizations nor with the meaning that certain words acquire within this context. It is a known language, but not with the semantic nuances used in the environment of this book. The metaphorical character that the word pivot acquires —something really very ingenious—, as well as the words ecosystem, philanthropy, disruption, entrepreneurship, innovation, creation, donation, charity, and the concept of social investment, demonstrate this. There is no doubt that, from a linguistic perspective, the text offers another interesting contribution.
I conclude by emphasizing that one of the values of this book is based on the fact that although its main focus is directed to non-profit organizations, it can awaken great interest from the educational and business sectors, and where there is a desire to implement public policies that break with established traditional and conservative structures. Through the eight chapters that make up the text and in the final sections Final Notes and The Pivot’s Manifesto, Rivera Hernández shares with the reader strategies, recommendations, guides, and models that are based on her experience; an experience that has made her understand that the fundamental approach must be directed towards the person, towards the individual in order to —and perhaps it seems paradoxical— achieve collective and social well-being. Therefore, although experiences within non-profit organizations radically changed the author’s life, it is those experiences that she makes visible and develops throughout the text and can be precisely transformed into strategies and recommendations that all could apply outside the scope of non-profit organizations. That is why the book transcends the proposed objective and constitutes itself as a transforming agent, as a pivot in itself, thanks to the high potential of possibilities that it holds.