This is the twenty-second in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change.
When our world is shaken by a tragedy, such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, we are left with unbearable sadness and grief. We mourn with the families of the victims and feel compelled to do something – anything – to comfort those who were affected. It is during these painful times when we are reminded of what truly matters. And, in our collective grieving, we try to make sense of the senseless by seeking solutions that will make change.
For those change agents who work to improve the well-being and safety of the vulnerable and the voiceless, a tragedy like this injects a renewed sense of urgency into their work. In this series, Insight #8 – Living in the Market, we talk about how social change agents continuously engage with the external environment to advance their work and align with the needs of that environment. This level of engagement includes joining the broader conversation, especially when a community’s sense of order and security has been shaken.
Change agents who are creating transformational change are relentless about seeking connections and find common points of interest in unexpected areas. In times of tragedy, such agents of transformational change are often moved to action. They are able to mobilize a new base of support and move their issue forward by finding alignment with other change agents in the market. It is their strong desire to make transformational change and their ability to see our interconnectedness that drives them to ossify the informal networks that are formed when such horrible events happen. Rather than remaining silent about an issue like gun violence because it may not seem related to their cause, change agents identify the parallels and intersections of gun violence to the issues that they are most passionate about – creating opportunities to advance the common cause. Our Board Chair and Founder of Share Our Strength, Bill Shore, modeled this behavior at a recent convening.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Bill Shore was asked to join a high-level meeting of leaders in philanthropy, media, social sector, corporate sector and public policy, to explore ideas about reducing gun violence. Bill Shore shared key lessons from the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and identified the common threads that could apply to creating a national movement on this issue. He described the need to mobilize those who are indirectly affected, to find ways to sustain the movement for a decade or more, and to stay focused on addressing problems that affect the vulnerable. His testimonial contributed to the national conversation while it also raised the visibility of the work of Share Our Strength.
Leaders of change, like Bill Shore, walk boldly into unfamiliar territories knowing that points of connections exist and are there to be discovered. How can you seek connections and move your issue forward? Here are four steps you can take:
- Know your facts. Become familiar with statistics about gun violence in your community. How does gun violence affect the population you serve? How many of your stakeholders have been affected by gun violence? How does this issue impact the outcomes you are trying to achieve?
- Start talking. Be honest with the data you present and genuine in your efforts to connect with people who may have different ideas. Talk about the work that you do and share points of connection. For example, if you know that a percentage of the population you serve meals to have been victims of gun violence, share that data point with others. Join panels or groups that are discussing the issue, write op eds, blogs or post on social media to get your voice in the conversation.
- Be part of the solution. Politicians, community organizers and nonprofit leaders are seeking solutions. Find a forum and offer ideas on how to tackle the problem based on your organization’s past success. How did your group tackle a difficult issue? What was the right sequence of events that led to moving an issue forward? What was the wrong thing to do?
- Ask people to join you. Offer the people you meet the opportunity to see what you do and then ask them to join your cause. Be clear on how they can become involved.
The loss of 20 young children and six adults is difficult to reconcile. The only way that we, as a human family, can reconcile with this terrible loss is by making progress in whatever social impact area we care about. Regardless of the causes you fight for everyday, I hope we can collectively honor the lives lost by being a voice for the voiceless and by working together to dramatically improve the lives of the vulnerable. Life matters and we are all connected. For inspiration, below is an excerpt from the Sandy Hook Promise which was launched by the friends and families of the victims on the one-month anniversary of the shooting:
This is a Promise
To turn the conversation into actions
Things must change
This is the time.
This is a Promise
We make to our precious children
Because each child, every human life is filled with promise
And though we continue to be filled with unbearable pain
We choose love, belief and hope
Instead of anger
This is a Promise
To do everything in our power to be remembered
Not as the town filled with grief and victims
But as the place where
Real change began.