The hard conversations of social change

The hard conversations of social change

The world is changing. Can you feel it?

Not only is the fourth Industrial Revolution and the New Work Order well under way, but there are systemic shifts occurring across the globe; people joining forces to challenge and disrupt the balance of privilege and power. The voices of minority and vulnerable groups in our societies are rising.

Last week the March for Our Lives saw millions of school students across diverse demographics join and lead with other movements, such as Black Lives Matter, to take action and change one of the most intractable areas of US rights and legislation: young people who haven’t yet reached voting age.

In Australia, after an unjust, but ultimately successful, Marriage Equality Survey and change of legislation in 2017, the Palm Sunday rallies last weekend brought thousands out onto our streets to march for refugees and asylum seekers.

We are globally debating the role of platforms such as Facebook and demanding transparency by corporations, governments and leaders.

Last week the fourth Nexus Youth Australia Summit was held in Melbourne, bringing together over 200 young philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and activists to discuss systems change and philanthropy.

The Summit featured thought leaders exploring where philanthropy has been, where it’s going, and who we need to make change happen. Speakers like the extraordinary Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Sara El Amine from the Chan Zuckerberg initiative, spoke of reimagining philanthropy, the importance of being connected and proximate to the problems we are working to solve, and of organising to create systemic change. We also heard from remarkable young Australians leading change including 17 year old Georgie Stone on transgender issues and Bryce Taylor, Adele Peek, Jirra Harvey and Milly Telford on First Nations.

Speakers addressed how to reimagine the systems that shape our world and the need to get uncomfortable and to have hard conversations, in order to begin the change journey.

This is why we discussed power; who has it and who doesn’t, and why? We spoke about this in the context of gender and the rise of the #metoo movement with journalist Tracey Spicer AM, campaigner Renee Carr, author Jamila Rizvi and actor Yael Stone. We spoke about structural power with YLab Director, Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran and Author/Activist, Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Without first recognising power imbalances we can’t begin to make the necessary shifts toward becoming more equal, inclusive and effective.

Along with discussing who has a seat at the table, our rationale and approaches are also being debated. This recent article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review observed:

“Social entrepreneurship and enterprise advocates construct social problems as knowledge problems that can be solved by technical innovation driven by competition among individual social entrepreneurs, operating through for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid enterprises.

In contrast, a political approach sees social problems as power problems. Dealing with them requires collective political action by organized constituencies that use the power of democratic government to overcome resistance to structural social change. Successful examples of this approach include the social movements that fought for abolition, public education, agrarian reform, labor rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental protection, in the United States and elsewhere.”

As Brooke Horne from the Marriage Equality movement said so eloquently at the opening night of the Summit, “sometimes change comes knocking at your door personally, and sometimes it comes organisationally.”

At FYA, we have been on a journey from philanthropic funder to innovator to influencer to systems changer. It’s been a journey of over 30 years so far, and we still have much to learn.

What we are learning is that in social entrepreneurship, community organising, collective impact or coalition building, there are some fundamental first principles:

First, as advocate Georgie Stone so clearly said on our first day “nothing for us, without us.” Rather than swooping in as super heroes creating solutions for problems we aren’t directly connected to, the principles of co-design ensure those with the lived experience are empowered to create the solutions to the problems they see.

This core principle takes us far beyond merely consulting or involving people, but challenges us to cede resources and power to those proximate to the problems and therefore solutions.

Second, uncomfortable (and frustrating) as this may be for some in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, systems change is political. We must be prepared to back new alliances, collaborations and campaign, and advocate for change.

Third, we must commit to the long-haul; because systems change takes us to the heart of what we understand to be the public good. It therefore requires a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplined, cross system disruptive and ultimately deeply transformative process. This takes time and must be resourced accordingly.

Systems change can easily sound like dry, disembodied jargon. However, each of these principles require dedicated drive, passion, and a learned set of skills and capabilities to work effectively in and across systems to create change.

When resources are finite and our challenges are as significant as those our society faces, collective action is the key to leveraging diverse ideas, expertise, time, talent and resources.

If there is one irrefutable truth, it is that if the same people who designed the systems of the past, design the systems of the future, we will end up with the same results.

That’s why the team at FYA’s social enterprise, YLab, have created the eight archetypes required for systems change in an online course. This work reflects the principles above, and will help young people explore, understand, and build the skills to effect change from whatever context.

We know that young people worldwide have the ideas and innovative thinking needed to build, create and campaign for solutions to some of our world’s most pressing social challenges. With resources like YLab’s online learning suite and opportunities for collaboration like NEXUS, we have the potential to empower them to take a seat at the table and co-design the systems which shape our world.

Thank you to the NEXUS Summit partners for their generosity, including principal partner, NAB and gold partner, Wilson Asset Management as well as The Pratt Foundation, English Family Foundation, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the Myer Foundation and Wheelton Philanthropy.

Congratulations to the NEXUS Australia volunteer organising team led by Chair Rachel English and supported by Dean Delia from FYA as well as the incredible Amanda Miller who has been involved in every Nexus Australia Summit since the beginning.

The Nexus Youth Summit is a global movement now in 38 countries. It was gratifying to hear the visionary co-founder, Rachel Gerrol, reflect at the close of Nexus Australia that Australia’s Summit has continually pushed the thinking and agenda of this global movement.

Nexus Summits’ should continue to be a confronting, inspiring and challenging catalyst for social change if we genuinely believe in justice and equality for all.

Jan Owen AM

FYA CEO

PS My shadow CEO for 2018, Sherry Rose Bih Watts and I shared a few reflections at the end of Nexus here

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