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America’s 50 Heroes Get Clicked: Everyday Heroes

   /   Jan 30th, 2013National, Photos & Videos

Author Katrina Fried and the book’s photographer, Paul Mobley, have been busy promoting Everyday Heroes, their new book which catalogs the work of 50 social entrepreneurs in the United States.

Katrina Fried has previously written American Farmer, and as Senior Editor and Associate Publisher of Welcome Books has edited or produced numerous award-winning and bestselling titles.  Creating visual narratives that push the boundaries of illustrated books is her greatest passion. She lives and works in New York City and Northern California.

We speak with Katrina about this latest project:

You say that there has never been a book like this one.  ”Not remotely,” to quote you.  How do you feel that this book distinguished itself on the bookshelf?

There is no other book on this subject that treats the photographic element with the same respect as the written.

A powerful image provides very different information, which is also received viscerally.

As a reader, the photograph is personal and specific, which makes it an excellent introduction to the text. I have always been interested in using this combination of the visual and the written to amplify the power of a story—particularly when that story might otherwise be more easily overlooked. In this regard, Everyday Heroes really stands alone both on the bookshelf and in the marketplace.

What was your process for selecting these 50 stories?

When I began exploring potential subjects, I knew relatively little about the modern landscape of domestic philanthropy. After a year of research and hundreds of hours spent interviewing accomplished social entrepreneurs, the learning curve was steep.

Narrowing down the subjects to just fifty was the next challenge. The criteria I used helped somewhat. Offspring of the marriage of entrepreneurship and community service, they nearly all self-identify as social entrepreneurs. They vary widely in ages and backgrounds. They are all Americans. They are also what I would categorize as “out of the box” visionaries, whose often unorthodox techniques set them apart from the traditional nonprofit model.

My hope is that everyone who picks up this book will discover a story and a cause that speaks to him or her, no matter their background, their politics, or their personal values.

What do you want to achieve with this book?

I wanted donors to meet the founders of incredible nonprofits, I wanted to expose young leaders to new forms of social entrepreneurship, and I wanted corporations to think more deeply about the way to serve.

The reality is that we are not all cut out to be social entrepreneurs.

But the variety of causes, ideas, and narratives chronicled in Everyday Heroes does go to prove that there are as many different ways to give as there are human beings.

With each hero’s story, there is yet another entry point to the undercurrent of munificence that flows around us. And here, I believe, is the real take-away: There is no contribution too small or insignificant. Whether you choose to show kindness to a loved one or a neighbor, to volunteer, to donate, or to build your own movement—you are helping to grow a culture of giving.

While you refer to it as a book on social entrepreneurship some of these organizations would be classified as non-profits.  Do you find that it’s imperative to have a for-profit revenue stream or does social entrepreneurship simply refer to any social activity done in an entrepreneurial or innovative manner?  What’s your definition?

By my definition, social entrepreneurs are pioneers and founders of businesses—either nonprofit or for-profit—with a social mission.

Like all entrepreneurs, they are endowed with an innate ambition to build enterprises around new and untested ideas, to risk, to mobilize others, and to fight tirelessly to succeed. But unlike traditional entrepreneurship, the goal of social entrepreneurship is not success solely for the sake of success, but rather for achieving social good.

Which of these stories moved you the most?

On a purely emotional level, I was floored by Taryn Davis’ story of losing her young husband Michael in Iraq, which eventually led her to found the American Widow Project, a nonprofit that provides a network of support for military widows all over the country. Taryn’s expression of her love for Michael, the pain of losing him, and the process of healing was so unvarnished and authentic, I found it impossible not be deeply affected. Embarrassingly, I recall having to mute my handset more than once during our phone interview to keep my emotions in check—it was a heartbreaking story with a beautiful and redemptive ending.

On the other end of the age spectrum is 77-year-old Roy Prosterman, whose organization, Landesa, has positively impacted 400 million people through its efforts to secure land rights for the rural poor. It’s a staggering number. Ironically, Roy has never owned a home or even a car himself! In the nearly fifty years he’s been fighting to elevate the lives of others around the globe, Roy has participated in and witnessed countless moments of great progress and change. He is guardian to a trove of inspiring and riveting stories and experiences, many of which he shared generously with me. Twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Roy shows no signs of slowing down. When I asked him if he was growing at all tired, he answered me with his favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw, who continued to write well into his eighties, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.” There is no greater living proof that one person truly can make a difference than Roy.

How does this experience compare to your last work, American Farmer?

Both books seek to cast a spotlight on an important but rarely recognized group of Americans.

Listening to peoples’ stories and learning the nomenclature and intricacies of a culture directly from the mouths of its members is an especially exciting form of edification. My publisher thinks of it as Studs Terkel-esque “truth-telling.”

Of course the entrepreneurs in Everyday Heroes were more practiced than the farmers at telling their stories and the stories of their organizations, which created a different challenge for me as the interviewer.

Ultimately, with both projects, I was reminded again and again of how unexpected and complex we each are; how hollow and dangerous stereotypes can be. There’s a line in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that has became something of a North star for me when I embark on a new documentary project: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Why did you choose the coffee table book format to do this book rather than a narrative?

The idea of putting a face on each of these organizations was always a fundamental part of my vision for the book—which was to make it as accessible to the greatest number of people possible. To do that, and to do justice to the spectacular portraits taken by Paul Mobley, it seemed both natural and necessary to make a larger-format hardcover with the high production values Welcome Books is renowned for.

What role does Arianna Huffington play in this project and why did you bring her on board to do the foreword?

Arianna has a distinctly global perspective and a personal passion for social entrepreneurship. Though she doesn’t work in the nonprofit sector, she has all of the attributes of the leaders celebrated in Everyday Heroes: confidence, fearlessness, intelligence, commitment, tenacity, and her own original outlook on the world. Like Everyday Heroes, Huffington Post seeks to give a voice and a platform to the leaders of many different sectors. Arianna’s mind is broad and nuanced, again mirroring the book. 

(Photo Courtesy of Welcome Books)

One Response

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