Useful Quotes

"The Classics" are the ones you so often see and that people use to inspire in social impact work. The "Favorites" are less about inspiration. These are my favorite quotes that I tend to inject in conversation, during talks and during workshops. The point is to use a third party to drive home a point, spark a new way of thinking and hopefully to help create a mindset shift, if only a little, at the right moment. These are good ones to keep in your back pocket.  I've included notes about the "Favorites". 

The Classics

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.


Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.


Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.


The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.




Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad. 


I often like to start with this and point out that, in my opinion, the bridge between knowledge (i.e. what you learn in books or at school) and wisdom (being able to make the best judgements possible) is experience. And in this work in particular, experience is everything. There are no "right answers".


It's not what you do, it's what you set in motion. 


I heard this at a gathering in India years ago and it stuck with me. I'm not sure who exactly said it. This speaks to the need for humility and the fact that it’s not about you. It’s about working to help empower others. In addition, and somewhat conversely, it also speaks to the fact that if you can do something well, something powerful can be “set in motion” that will live long beyond your work. 


Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They view villagers as the solution, not as the passive beneficiary. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they are serving.


This is a great one to use to emphasize the importance of not falling into a "deficit thinking" approach to this work. 

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.


People can get hung up on what they should have or could have done in the past. This is counterproductive. I use this at times to help emphasize that, of course we need to learn from the past, but the point is, “What are we going to do now?”. It keeps us future focused and helps people “forgive” themselves.  

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.


I use this to emphasize the difference between “problems” (things we can work to solve) and “design constraints” (things that we can’t change). Understanding the difference between the two is critical. 

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.


We can tend to think that we need to have everything figured out up front. That’s never the case and it can be paralyzing. I use this to emphasize the fact that you really only figure out where the opportunities are when you get out there and start doing the work. 

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.


I use this to emphasize the fact that we need to focus on a mindset shift. This is particularly true when discussing the need for culture change. 

When the best leader's work is done the people say, "We did it ourselves."


This is really about leadership and the point that it’s not about you as the leader. Your job is to make yourself less and less necessary over time for what you are working on. And if you aren’t leading in a way where people feel a true sense of ownership, you can’t create sustainable change. 

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.


Only simple will be adopted and scales. I use this to emphasize the fact that you need to be able to understand and convey the essence of what it is that you do in the simplest terms possible. This is the hardest thing because we tend to think that complex problems require complex solutions.


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