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Are You Narrating the Change? Why It’s Critical to Social Transformation

Passionate change agents are almost by definition consumed with their mission to change the narrative they confront. And given the depth of social challenge that social entrepreneurs take on, this single-mindedness is understandable and laudable. But as a brand builder who competed in the global economy against big, well-capitalized competitors, I learned early that having a better idea, or a better product, or even an innovative solution to a problem is necessary, but not sufficient.

If you seek transformational outcomes, in my experience, you need a movement of hearts and souls that will follow. In politics, pursuing the election means “broadening the base.” In brand building, winning follows from getting the “maybes” to purchase. In social change, transformation is gated by our ability not only to change the narrative but also to narrate the change as we go. Investing in this capability—to narrate change—invites the civic square to care about and act for the social change you aim at.

If you are an educational reformer, it goes without saying that you better have developed deep credibility within your realm—real standing with educators, real presence with “educational voters.” But the fact is that “educational voters”—those passionate souls who are as committed to reform as you are—are a very small part of the entire body politic. While everyone kinda cares, only a small dedicated core consistently votes education. Same is true in brand building—a small core of brand lovers is at the heart of every brand. Big brands, and winning politicians, and transformative social justice movements—each of these move out beyond the core and make their message relevant and actionable to a broader audience, the “maybes” who are on the surface less interested, less dedicated. But “yes” and “no” only control brands and elections if we let them—“maybe” is the largest constituent audience by far for every idea and issue in the social sphere. Making “maybes” become yes—this is “broadening the base,” building the brand. And making “maybe” into yes is a skill, a competence, a capability and a commitment that I believe should be a strategic imperative for every change agent.

Change the narrative; make the world better. Narrate the change; invite the world to help.


Jeffrey B. Swartz

About Jeffrey B. Swartz

Jeff spent the last 26 years at The Timberland Company, a global brand of footwear and apparel, the last 15 years as CEO. He was the third generation of his family to lead the Company. Having sold the business to VF Corporation in September 2011, Jeff now primarily focuses his time on sustainable social change, both in Israel and in the United States. He received his MBA from Dartmouth in 1984, and a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown in 1982. Jeff serves as a Board member of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, as a partner with the Partnership for Jewish Excellence in Jewish Education, as Chair of Yeshivat Rambam/Maimonides School in Brookline and is a Board member of haShomer Chadash Israel. He helped found and still chairs MAOZ-SEAL, a leadership program aimed at transforming Israeli civic society.

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