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We Need More Changemakers

This article was written by Felicity McLean, Senior Sustainability Consultant at Salterbaxter, a creative consultancy at the service of sustainability. To view the original article, click here.


Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? To really create the transformative change needed to reach net-zero, to transition to a circular economy and a regenerative world, we need to think differently. To quote Margaret Attwood, to survive and thrive ‘climate change’, we need an ‘everything change’ mindset. We need more changemakers, more radical thinkers, less tinkering around the edges, and more design for impact and inclusion at scale. 

When the business mantra has turned to one of ‘build back better’, ‘leave no one behind’ and green transformation, where do we start?

Enter, the social entrepreneur

Social entrepreneurs are on the front line, often providing access to employment, food, affordable energy and other critical services to those who are struggling. They can also inspire businesses to become more innovative and impactful. And, not least, they can challenge established social systems to better address societal challenges. They are the ultimate systems changers, challenging the status quo, putting impact first and being radically inclusive in their approach.

Leading social entrepreneurs include Muhammad Yunus, founding father of Bangladesh microcredit lender Grameen Bank giving economic access to the unbanked, Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia turning access to knowledge on its head, or Tom Szaky, which through his organisation Terracycle is tackling one of the greatest challenges of our time: waste. 

What do great social entrepreneurs have in common? 

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” ― Bill Drayton, Leading Social Entrepreneurs Changing the World

Empathy – Lived experience driving action

Empathy drives insight, which drives innovation and drives action – social entrepreneurs are often working on a challenge they have direct or lived experience with. The passion and understanding of these issues is not something you can learn in a business school or through content.  Every social entrepreneur has a story, and an ah-ha moment that drives them to be the change.

Tenacity – where there’s a will there’s a way

The deep-rooted lived experience that fires energy to transform with tenacity. Social entrepreneurs are essentially working towards a world where their services are no longer needed. This is not about getting things done. This is about changing the patterns in an established field. It’s about tackling issues head-on, with energy, and most likely on a shoe-string budget.

Creativity – a new approach to tackle existing challenge

Social entrepreneurs are not content with a quick fix product, they won’t rest until they have cracked the underlying systemic issue, and have innovated to tackle that.  The difference between an impact initiative and a solution? Illiteracy rates in a country are high, with girls increasingly dropping out of school. You might approach the challenge by building another school, providing more books, etc. Social entrepreneurs go to the root of the issue, understanding why illiteracy exists, tackle the barriers – social, cultural, environmental, and addressing the systemic issues surrounding our surface problem. Therein lies the innovation. 

Inclusivity – the ‘village to raise a child’ mentality

Social entrepreneurs are also collaborative by nature – looking to the community, the public sector, businesses and brands to help accelerate their mission. Design is bottom-up, inclusive and human-centred at the core. ROI is designed for beneficiary first, financial return second which is reflected in funding structures (i.e. impact investing vs capital investment). 

How can the business sector ‘be more changemaker’? It starts with us (all).

Imagine if we approached our critical climate issues with the same empathy, tenacity, creativity and inclusivity, as systems-changing social entrepreneurs. While we cannot all push the emergency stop button on our current roles to set up new, systems changing enterprises (we need multiple and interconnected skills and functionalities in an ‘everything change’ world), we can adopt changemaking methodologies, mindsets and partnerships – to help us accelerate towards transformative change in the workplace, supply chain and broader society. 

We cannot all be social entrepreneurs, but we can all do these things:

 Internally: Build a culture of changemaking

  • Apply a human-centred approach to problem solving – learning from social entrepreneurs in approaching a sustainability challenge – go through a process of discover, design, develop, deliver to land on solutions which are relevant, inclusive, feasible and impactful.

  • Radically inclusive stakeholder engagement – who are the voices which never make it into the room? How can we co-create solutions from an ‘everyone’ perspective? 

  • Think in systems not silos – what are the drivers and barriers to mainstreaming sustainability in the broader system we are working in? Who do we need to partner with, or what do we need to innovate to address those barriers?

  • Champion changemaker skills – nurture and incentivise changemaking amongst us all – inclusivity, tenacity, empathy, and creativity by building a culture of changemaking. Encourage outside in thinking, with reverse mentoring, working action groups, and co-creation with stakeholders, consumers, and beneficiaries.

It is estimated that partnering with and supporting social entrepreneurs could have a positive impact on the lives of nearly 1 billion people. So how can we engage our teams, clients and stakeholders to work with and support social entrepreneurs that are focusing on inclusion of those who are vulnerable?

Externally: Activate changemaking across business, products, and society

  • Innovation challenges to source and support social innovation – uncover, support and scale radical innovation to accelerate towards sustainability ambitions, access new markets and new opportunities with inclusive solutions for a sustainable world.

  • Creating products, services and operations that are ‘changemaking’ – understand where there are gaps that a social business partner can fill, by integrating social impact into products, services and operations. Both IKEA and Ben & Jerry’s have developed local collaborations that seek to address local, social and environmental challenges. By doing this, you can accelerate and empower vulnerable people to move from dependency to independency.

  • Partnership to support the wellbeing of people and planet at a societal level – tackling complex social and environmental challenges requires corporations to go beyond their regular business and often multi-stakeholder partnerships. There are great opportunities to partner with social entrepreneurs and enterprises that may not have a direct link to your line of work to facilitate innovation on a more systemic level.

To win in a ‘change everything’ world – do, say, act and be more changemaker

Aside from more connected, creative teams, and more authentic, relevant and inclusive contributions to society, the whole business benefits from a ‘be more changemaker’ mentality. 

Integrating changemaking will enable companies to walk the talk of sustainability leadership. 

Investment in changemaking acts as a proof point for how business is exploring new, more sustainable models and scenario planning against key risks. Integrating changemaking into day-to-day as well as activating communities of aligned stakeholders towards a shared vision – a core component in the shifting expectations on business today. Changemaking will position you as a convener, innovator and thought leader across the issue-landscape.

Felicity has worked for over a decade in social innovation, sustainability and comms with leading brands, non-profit organizations and social enterprises. Her experience spans strategy design, innovation, and strategic communications, and she’s driven by impact, action and the collective power of ‘us’.

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