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How to build strong + people powered movements for social change

Thanks to Facebook Memories I’ve rediscovered these ten positive, proactive steps to build a strong, human movements which I first shared a few years ago.

They were written by David Cohen, co-founder of The Advocacy Institute (who died late last year). I find them challenging, inspiring and deeply practical. I’d encourage anyone involved in movement building to journey with them and trying to reflect on them.

They’re wise words for anyone in the business of trying to achieve social change.

1. Remember where you come from, that you are part of something larger. Celebrate your origins and roots.

2. Listen to the insights and experience of people who are affected by the issues and participate in the efforts. They are the real experts – amplify their voices. Keep professional experts “on tap, not on top.”

3. Keep balance in your work and personal life. Work hard, yes. Meet responsibilities, yes. Make an extra effort, yes. But also add humor and rest. Avoid pessimism and martyrdom.

4. Recognise human frailty and accept it. Set the example by not holding yourself – or others – to rigid or impossible standards that drain the organisation’s energy.

5. Motivate others by sharing responsibility, paying attention to others, and encouraging those who make the extra effort. Give praise when it is merited.

6. Model behavior, or set a good example, by fostering cooperation, sharing information with others, and encouraging others’ leadership. Don’t dominate. Leave space for others to share their knowledge and skills.

7. Insist on a calm approach to solving problems. Set real deadlines. Avoid a crisis mentality.

8. Share credit generously within the organisation, sector, and among allies.

9. Be equally civil to those who share your views or tactics, and those who do not. Agree to disagree and do so without personalising disagreements.

10. Recognise that there are incremental steps in the advocacy journey. Celebrate how far a group has come and what it means to the lives of people. New experiences – like meeting with a bureaucrat, politician, or editor – are as much a success as winning a favourable policy. They build confidence and empowerment that, in many ways, are the most profound and lasting changes. Saver them.

Interestingly these positive statements were based on a list written by a 1980s environmental organiser, Byron Kennard entitled ‘Ten Ways to Kill a Citizen Movement‘ – its also worth a read!

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