‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.’ Margaret Mead
I work a lot with charities and voluntary organisations, and it never fails to amaze me what they manage to achieve on limited resources and huge amounts of goodwill. Small, owner led businesses sometimes have the same levels of engagement and commitment, and very occasionally, a larger business with a hands-on leader also achieves this.
So, what does it take to create change on a big scale? As Margaret Mead suggests, it just takes one person or a small group with a clear vision and bundles of determination. These people recognise obstacles, they have a vision and just go for it. In the words of Bigweld from the Disney Pixar film ‘Robots’ – ‘See a need, fill a need’.
So what sort of person is a change maker or disruptor? When we look at those who have started movements, they tend to be people who are motivated to make a difference. They aren’t interested in power or great wealth, they don’t necessarily want to be hugely successful or famous – they just want to make a difference.
You won’t normally find these people in large organisations or Governments – they don’t have the desire to work their way up or follow rules. They tend to be a little bit maverick, finding their own path through life and often trying their hand at many different occupations. They may be a bit of a misfit until they find their calling, and once their goal has been achieved, they will often hand over to others to take the movement forward in order to pursue new ventures or dreams.
Changemakers and disruptors
This week, we celebrated 100 years since women received the vote in the UK. This would never have happened without a small band of women and men prepared to stand up for female emancipation.
In 1953, Revd Chad Varah, Anglican priest and illustrator for Dan Dare, was so moved by the suicide of a teenage girl that he started his listening service – one man, one phone. Today, more than 17,000 Listening Volunteers in 201 branches around the UK and Ireland make up his legacy – Samaritans.
In 1990, Surfers Against Sewage was formed as a single-issue campaigning group to get rid of sewage in the ocean. Today, it’s at the forefront of global campaigning on plastics and marine litter and has just won the 2018 Charity Award for Environment and Conservation as a result of the Plastic Free Communities initiative.
Each of these three examples was started by a small group of people with one objective, each one’s impact has been huge and long lasting. The Suffragettes still have influence – their actions 100 years ago legitimised subsequent movements to promote equality for women and these efforts are still going on.
More than ever people are struggling with their emotions and the challenges they face in life; statutory services are buckling under the sheer weight of people trying to access their services. Samaritans is still there providing a safe place to talk without fear of judgement.
Surfers Against Sewage continues to lobby government for more action to clean up our environment and each year, its army of supporters grows larger with representatives around the world.
Leaving a legacy
I suspect that if you had asked any of those founders when they set up their movement if their legacy would still be around 25, 65 or 100 years later, they would have been amazed. They wanted to change something they felt was wrong and weren’t motivated by future wealth or glory – in fact, I doubt if any of them benefited financially from their original inspiration.
There are many more changemakers out there, in our communities, our organisations and the wider world, but often we don’t recognise or appreciate what they are up to or why.
Thoughtful and committed citizens
For change to happen, you need one person with a huge belief and the determination to see it through. These people are infectious, they act as magnets, drawing like minded people to them and inspiring them to spread the message. They have strength, courage and energy to keep going when lesser people would have given up.
And in the end, when the battle is won or the movement is marching successfully without its leader, they will go their own way, find a new mission or a different path, content that their germ of an idea has grown a life of its own.
Instead of celebrating our politicians, business leaders or stars of entertainment and sport, I feel we should be applauding those ‘thoughtful and committed citizens’ who see the injustices or problems and feel the need to do something about them without thought for reward. These are the people who make a real difference to our everyday lives and often go unrecognized.
Three cheers for the change-makers and disruptors.