Reflecting on being a ‘changemaker’

July 5, 2011

At the end of June I had the good fortune to be among a team of facilitators from different countries helping with the Ashoka Changemakers Week in France.  I facilitated sessions on scaling up, attended the plenaries and a workshop on social impact, and had numerous conversations with people doing exciting work from around the world.  Here are some of my reflections:

  1. Oh those pesky labels:  I wrote on this prior to the conference  (Impact without Boundaries) and I continue to find differing  views on what makes a NGO leader, a social entrepreneur or otherwise being a ‘social changemaker’,  a source of confusion and sometimes a barrier to effective collaboration and partnerships.   Person to person these barriers melt away, but I’m still reflecting on the structural change that may be needed going forward as more and more organizations and enterprises no longer fit the traditional categories they have been put into. There was also talk of some hybrid structures that may emerge.
  2. Leadership traits:  Ashoka would like everyone to be a “changemaker”.  I had some fascinating conversations with attendees about whether to be a changemaker you also need to be a leader in some way?  And does everyone have the potential to be a leader?  That discussion still goes on  but it has become clear to me that for those who do consider themselves ‘leaders’ there are different types of leadership traits needed for different situations – (i) Those who are visionaries (who drive or ignite change) may have different skills than (ii) Those who can see how the vision can be implemented, which may also be a different set of skills from (iii) Those who are needed to oversee and ‘drive’ the implementation. We don’t often see leadership skills as being this nuanced, but in some cases they may well be and may not all reside in the same individuals.  It is important for us to all understand our own skills sets as changemakers and what roles we are best suited for.
  3. Importance of building new networks and communities and expanding existing ones:  Our challenges are cross-sector and multi-dimensional.  Thus future change and needed system change is going to have to come from collaborations and cross-sector outreach and alliances.  Shared was  the African expression ‘ubuntu’:  “I am, because you exist.”
  4. Scaling up: This is another term that has a lot of different definitions, but few case studies or documentation of how it has worked in practice.  For the purposes of the sessions I facilitated we used a working definition of ‘expanding or growing your approach in order to increase impact.’ Others can be found at this Global Scale wiki .  At these sessions we looked at a spectrum of:  (1) Considering when to scale-up an approach; (2) Taking an approach from one stage of growth to another, such as to another country or region; and (3) When as an entrepreneur or founder the conditions might be right to move on or change the status of your entity (such as with a merger).  We talked about various considerations to be aware of and the importance of reassessing periodically why you are doing what you are doing.
  5. Measuring social impact:  This is an area where there is increasing discussion on the need for better ways of measuring social impact, but many are still feeling they don’t have good resources or how-to’s.  This session shared some short ‘case studies’ of experiences and useful new resources.  The importance of clarifying your goals and target audience before beginning an assessment as it can be very labor intensive to measure seeming intangibles like behavioral change was also noted.  Some of the resources shared included:  Outcomes Star, and Social e-valuator.
  6. Assessing successes and failures:  Part of being a changemaker is being transparent about admitting what isn’t working so we can learn from our failures.  The taking of risk (and learning from failure) may be a particularly entrepreneurial trait that others can learn from.  I shared the new website for sharing failure: Admitting Failure

We are certainly living in an era of change.  Whenever you get ‘changemakers’ together the discussions are thoughtful and energizing.  As a society we need to create more such opportunities for people of varying perspectives and backgrounds to come together.

July 1, 2011