Many people now are struggling to make change; to drive social or environmental impact whether they are social entrepreneurs or people working from within organizations to make a difference. In this piece, we wanted to focus on thinking about how communities of change makers can thrive. It’s not enough for change making to be the sole remit of a handful of do-gooders or NGOs. By highlighting some of the barriers and core principles that are vital to the success of a world in which everyone is a change maker, we hope to begin to mainstream the art of change making and destroy the social entrepreneur’s monopoly on social change.
Barrier 1: Experts As Idols
Too often change making is outsourced to experts or social entrepreneurs rather than community members. While we may depend on experts for guidance, we often overly rely on them, believing “they” will fix problems. But it is rare for experts to move beyond diagnosing a problem to actually creating pathways for change. Social entrepreneurs, too, are illustrated as extraordinary superhuman individuals with talents that are beyond what you or I possess. This faith in social entrepreneurs as heroes and in experts as problem solvers provides a false story about how change in society occurs. Change does not happen by a few “chosen” individuals, but more often comes from ordinary citizens working to make a difference.
Barrier 2: Conditions Of Problem Solving Are Overlooked
Much of the time, we are quick to jump to tactical problem solving without fully reflecting on whether the conditions for it are put in place. Tackling the groundwork of problem solving can ensure that you go about diagnosing and resourcing the problem effectively. So, for example, ensuring that problem-solving communities are aligned in terms of a shared set of values or that the right diversity of thought, culture, and demographics are brought into the conversation from the beginning is critical to ensuring solutions that develop are properly embedded in a value system and process a community can get behind.
Barrier 3: Problems Aren’t Packaged For Change
One of the greatest difficulties in making change is feeling overwhelmed by the problem you are trying to solve. Problems may seem too big to take on. As a result, many people can feel paralyzed with little possibility for making a difference. This kind of thinking makes change making seem burdensome rather than something that can be fun or exciting. In contrast, successful change makers are able to break problems into manageable chunks. Once you identify something about an issue that is moveable or changeable then you can actually begin to make progress.
Barrier 4: Learning Is One to One
How do we learn to be change makers? Much of the art of change making involves soft skills that we absorb from others that model or demonstrate change making behaviors. This means that learning opportunities are limited by one-to-one interactions and by exposure to other change makers. Compared to traditional fields like entrepreneurship, where there are plentiful resources for training, the practice of change making is still far from being widespread.
Principle 1: Link Personal Stories With The Big Picture
The first step in making change is moving from seeing a problem as a personal symptom (something that only impacts you) to seeing that problem as shared by a community or as part of a bigger picture of an entire system. Once a change maker comes to see their individual experience as symptomatic of a systemic injustice or challenge they become better able to develop a vision for social change.
Principle 2: Recognize Hidden Assets
Change making starts at home. Too often people look externally for resources or talent when there is great abundance in a local community. The move away from “deficit thinking” towards the recognition that communities have the assets to transform themselves is an important principle for change making.
Principle 3: Design For Divergence And Convergence
Making change requires escaping day-to-day reality and being able to experiment and think differently. Many change makers stress the importance of fostering “beginner’s mind” or a state of receptivity and openness. Sustaining change making also requires the creation of space for diverse collaboration between individuals and communities that don’t often get to converge. In this way, it’s important to break down walls, both mentally and physically, to allow for unlikely collaboration and insight.
Principle 4: Create Self-Regulating Networks
Often leaders or institutions promote dependency with a community. But successful change making communities depend on reducing dependence on one anointed leader. Flat networks and peer-based accountability structures are necessary if a community is to sustain change beyond one individual. The need for change communities and networks to be self-regulating is vital for their sustainability.