It is the time of year when we get busy celebrating the holidays with family, friends and colleagues. For many of us, it’s also the time of year when we think about how we can give back. That might mean writing a check, buying a gift for someone in need or volunteering your time. But have you ever considered further defining the role you play in creating change in your community?
Pulling from hundreds of examples, Ashoka (www.ashoka.org), a global organization that builds and cultivates a community of change leaders, has identified six common types of Changemakers. Which type of changemaker do you want to be?
- Social Architects
Just like architects who design buildings, create new physical structures and improve existing ones, social architects create new social structures in the form of policies, programs, technology and movements (or they alter existing ones) to change human behavior and in turn solve social problems. Within the new or altered social structures, social architects redefine roles and how resources are used and allocated. In today’s world we often call social architects “disrupters.”
Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, and Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach for America and Teach for All, are social architects who have created new ways in which society educates its children (and adults), greatly expanding access to education and improving the quality of education in underserved communities around the world.
Influencers use learning and decision making as their mediums to create change. Their goal is to influence how people think and make decisions about a particular issue or set of issues. They use tools like films, articles, blogs, videos, conferences and classes to create a change in mindset and behavior.
In 2011 I worked with two influential thought leaders, Joy Anderson and Jackie VanderBrug at the Connecticut-based Criterion Institute, “a non-profit think tank that works with social change-makers to demystify finance and broaden their perspective on how to engage with, and shift financial systems.” One of the key initiatives that we worked on was Gender Lens Investing, a movement that promotes investment strategies focused on creating a financial return while also benefiting women. The idea was (and still is, although it has evolved since then) to create more investment capital going into women-owned businesses, companies that employed women and produced goods and services that benefited women and girls. Criterion Institute’s role was to convene influencers and engage them in dialogue around the issue to promote and advance Gender Lens Investing on a global level.
- Skills Catalyzers
Skills catalyzers focus on the use of expertise and skills to influence change. In short, they figure out how to put human resources to work to create social impact.
My client, Stephanie, is creating a program for stay-at-home moms who want to re-enter the workforce via the non-profit sector. They first need to gain experience and brush up on their skills to put their expertise, time and ideas to work in the non-profit sector. Stephanie is designing her program to not only help women who have been out of the workforce relaunch themselves, but also to provide a pipeline of talent to the Boston non-profit sector area.
Investors use money and support to bring about change. Philanthropy or donations are no longer the only way to use your money for changemaking. Impact investing is a great example of how money can be used to create better communities.
Veris Wealth Partners is a U.S.-based wealth management firm that helps investors, especially women, generate financial returns and reach their impact-investing objectives. Veris helps their clients invest money in issue areas like climate change and the environment, women and girls, community wealth building, sustainable agriculture/food systems and sustainability/mindfulness.
Inventors use technology and tools to create social change. An increasing number of universities have programs that encourage students to invent products to solve sticky social problems.
Here’s an example of how one woman put her idea to work to bring clean water to communities. While studying for her PhD in Chemistry at McGill University, Teri Dankovich invented the very first paper-based antimicrobial water filter. Folia Filters™ work similarly to a coffee filter but kill bacteria and can be used anywhere in the world to make safe drinking water. Spoken with a true inventor’s spirit, Teri told me, “I think the best advice I can give to someone with an idea is to go and try it. Even if it’s not going to be perfect at first, that doesn’t really matter. You’re going to learn something about what you’re trying to do, and you can make it better from what you learn.”
Connectors build relationships between people and groups of people to bring about change. They unite people through a specific issue or problem sometimes in a particular space like at a conference, or online through a Facebook or LinkedIn group. If you’ve noticed someone working to organize you and your neighbors to make change happen in your community, you’ve witnessed a connector Changemaker at work.
Erin Chung, Founder of Women for Progress, an organization that aims to raise awareness, educate and connect individuals to activism on a wide range of issues including gender equality, gun violence prevention, environmental protection, racial justice and human rights, is a great example of a connector.