Young Social Pioneers (YSP) is FYA’s program that’s designed to back and support young people who have the initiative, drive and ideas to lead change in their communities and across the planet.
Ruby Claire was a Young Social Pioneers 2016 participant, and she says the program changed her life. She firmly believes that the program is integral for any young person with an established initiative or a good idea that’s directed at systems change and social impact.
Here, Ruby speaks about how to lead social change, even when the odds are stacked against you.
Here are her six steps for making change.
Do you ever open up your feed or flick on the television and feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and frustration? Do you ever feel a pervasive sense of guilt, too? Guilt because you’re not doing enough, guilt because of your privilege, guilt because of your apathy?
It’s hard to know what to care about, where to put your energies, and what to stand for when you want to stand for it all. Here are five steps you can take to create the foundations of a strategy for social change.
1. Identify the problem you’re passionate about
Spreading yourself thin is not an effective way to approach social change, and we need to stop putting problems that need fixing on a hierarchy. The first step is to figure out what your ‘thing’ is and focus on that.
I’ve struggled with the dilemma of the long list, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find it’s helpful to think local before global, and to think of an issue where change could be effected through simple means.
When I did this a couple of months ago, what came out on top was my desire to help victims of sexual assault report crime in a safe and comfortable way. As a New South Wales (NSW) resident, I decided to focus on my home state and a platform relevant to my community: social media.
2. List your strengths and figure out how to use them
It doesn’t just take time and passion to make change, it takes expertise and credibility. If you’re approaching anyone, from a policy maker to the local librarian, it’s important that you arrive in a way that makes them trust you and your judgement.
Write a list of the strengths that you’re proud of. I spent three years working in marketing, so wrote down the specific skills I obtained during that time, including strategy, tone and branding guidance, and ads management. I also wrote down the number of social media followers I had, the list of media contacts I had who I thought would be able to support my cause, and the fact that I had lived experience in this space.
3. Ask questions
It’s important to talk to experts in the field to figure out exactly what the issue is and why it should change. Relying on lived experience is strong, but not strong enough. Everyone’s experiences are different and can shape them in unique ways.
I put together a short survey about experiences reporting sexual assault in NSW. I posted this across social media and wrote a caption that subtly encouraged people to share the survey. I obtained 100 responses in a short amount of time.
I then spoke to lawyers in my network. I asked them how these issues are usually dealt with in the court system. What do other states do differently when it comes to reporting? Why was my experience so terrible?
4. Make contact
The survey results revealed that yes, there was in fact a systemic issue. Survivors weren’t feeling safe when they were reporting, they weren’t connected to support services after speaking to officers, and they didn’t feel like there was any point to the process at all.
The problem was, I wasn’t a psychologist, and I wasn’t about to become one. I didn’t really know what I could suggest in order to improve NSW Police’s internal systems.
However, one of the astounding things that came from the survey was that a lot of victims didn’t know what support services were available for them. I decided that the best thing I could do was ask NSW Police to improve on their communications, make their website more accessible, and to utilise their social media more effectively (they hadn’t mentioned sexual assault reporting processes since June 2017!)
So, I wrote a letter. I posted this letter to every postal address I could find for the NSW Police. I received an email requesting a meeting four weeks later.
Letters, phone calls, LinkedIn messages, Tweets and Facebook inbox messages can be effective if they are targeted to the right people.
5. Propose a solution
I landed a meeting, excellent! I alluded to a solution in my letter, but what was it?
Well, truth be told, I didn’t have one. I was surprised NSW Police responded, let alone suggested a meeting! I whipped up a two-page strategy that included the kind of things you’d include in a pitch deck: data about the issue at hand, what my solution was, and why my solution would be effective. I sent it to the same people I sought advice from in step 3.
I printed out five copies of the strategy, donned my best op-shop suit and went to the assigned office address. I put the copies of the strategy on the table, made my case and said: “now what?”.
It’s important to figure out what the practical solution to your issue is. We all have ideal solutions: No more sexual assault! No more poverty! No more injustice! But practical solutions are different. What can you do right here, right now?
Remember, social change takes time and involves hundreds and thousands of baby steps. Recognise that you are part of a long march.
6. Push, push, push!
Don’t just pose a solution and lose hope because you haven’t had a reply to your email. Keep going. I email the NSW Police every month. I can almost imagine their team rolling their eyes saying “eugh, AGAIN? What do we tell her this time?”. But I didn’t ask for change to make myself feel better, I asked for change so that other victims can feel safe.
The NSW Police are now forming a three-year strategy and are in the process of updating their website to make it more accessible and informative. It’s a tiny step for a much larger issue, but it’s a step, and it’s worth celebrating.
Apply to be part of the Young Social Pioneers program in 2019! This year, we’ll deliver themed bootcamps that provide tailored support, capability development and community for young people leading social change projects and initiatives. Applications close July 5.