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How to start a movement

Aditya Chopra is a 2019-20 Oxford MBA candidate and participant on our co-curricular programme, Impact Lab. He reflects on one of the Impact Lab Masterclasses taught in Michaelmas term, movement building.

Its June 30, 2018. The temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degree Celsius) but 40,000+ people have gathered in Washington D.C. to protest against the U.S. government’s new immigration policies. In fact, on that very day, millions of people from all walks of life and across age groups are participating in similar rallies across 750 locations in the country –  from New York and Boston to Antler, a town of 27 people in North Dakota. They are all marching forward with the same message – Families Belong Together!

The issue of separation of families is pertinent and emotive, but do you think the issue itself is enough to bring millions of people to the streets? Is it enough for them to have a common vision? Is it enough for them to believe that their emotions can create a movement?

How exactly was this movement created? Then again, how exactly is any movement created? There is indeed a method to this madness and it was discussed in detail in the interactive Movement Building Impact Lab Masterclass. Impact Lab is a curated social-impact-focused program by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Here’s a snapshot of my takeaways from the masterclass.

What are movements for?

Movements are designed to achieve meaningful policy, social, cultural or environmental change for a social issue.

What are the types of movements?

Flowchart showing a journey of a bottom-up movement leader. 'belong to change' moving to a path of least resistance 'support change'. Moving to 'believe in change'  to 'others believe like me'. Reinforcing the belief to lead change to end with  'organise to spread belief'.
Typical journey of a bottom-up movement leader

Movements can be built in 3 ways – top down (using marketing campaigns), bottom up (by organizing people at the grassroots) or from within (by converting leaders within institutions). At the heart of these movements, what binds people is a common important issue which sparks a cord with their rationality and emotions.

How do you design a movement?

box containing how movement is designed. 1. voice, 2. pathway, 3. campaigns, 4. infrastructure

There are four components to focus on while designing a movement:

  1. Voice: Voice is the tone and style of communication, including creatives, which reflects the movement fully w.r.t vision, action, people and places.
  2. Pathway: Pathway is an individual’s journey within the movement – from initial interaction in the campaign to deeper engagement going forward.
  3. Campaigns: Campaigns offer opportunities to bring new members to the movement and to build loyalty within those already involved.
  4. Infrastructure: Infrastructure consists of roles and responsibilities, digital and organizing resources, and support for individual and self-organizing engagement.
Pathway showing 10 steps. 1. lead generation campaign, 2. Truth website, 3. three-part email welcome series, 4. pathway enters activism pathway, 5. milestones, 6.wants to be an investigator, 7. info transferred to CAYE team, 8.representative, 9.becomes an investigator and 10. advocacy team
An example of Pathway – Source: Impact Lab

After figuring out the above, it’s important to have a strategy to bring all elements together, including timing of launch of the movement, key milestones to achieve along the way and super supporters who can help scale the movement.

My reflections

The masterclass was helpful in providing a structure and methodology to movement building which was made real with case studies of real movements including Families Belong Together and the Sunrise movement which demanded a Green New Deal in the U.S.

During the session, all Impact Lab members spent most of their time in small groups discussing the case studies, ideating on designing a new movement, putting together key steps to follow and discussing the challenges which can come about, including their solutions.

As I reflect on the session, I am reminded of Gandhi, who said –

You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”

Systems Change requires new ways of thinking and doing

Carlos Blanco is a 2019-20 Oxford MBA student and participant on our co-curricular programme, Impact Lab. He reflects on one of the Impact Lab Masterclasses taught in Michaelmas term, an ever growing and popular discussion by social entrepreneurs, systems change.

An organisation in Pakistan that enables smallholder rural, off-grid farming communities to meet their farming and household needs using livestock as currency. A network of entrepreneurs built up in the favelas of Brazil. An NGO skirting anti-abortion laws by providing access to safe procedures in international waters. A private company building a new business model that monetises fuel efficiency while introducing more sustainable fuel sources. What do all these examples have in common? According to Dr Paulo Savaget and Professor Steve Evans they represent different ways to achieve Systems Change.

A solar powered water system in Pakistan
A solar powered water system in Pakistan

Systems change is hot stuff right now. Across organisations trying to create sustainable impact the new holy grail is to affect large-scale systemic change. But what is a systemic problem? What is Systems Change? And how do we affect Systems Change? On Tuesday 12 November Paulo and Steve provided a masterclass on Systems Change through the Skoll Centre for Entrepreneurship that touched on each of these questions.

There are many ways to conceptualise systems change

Paulo started by highlighting the characteristics of systemic problems. They can’t be solved by a single organisation, have no single solution, are bound within a system that is greater than the sum of its parts, are poorly specified, are self-reinforced and are interconnected.

Paulo then outlined early insights from the Skoll Centre’s System Change Observatory that identified seven ways Systems Change is conceptualised:

  1. Disrupting the status quo
  2. Influencing chains of cause-and-effect
  3. Empowering agents
  4. Coordinating agents better
  5. Scaling change in numbers or scope
  6. Scaling institutional or cultural change
  7. Scaling an organizational model

There are three pathways to action

According to Paulo and Steve there are three pathways to affect systems change.

Intervening in the configuration and features of a system

Paulo highlighted from his research (Sustainability Hacking: conceptual development and empirical exploration) on sustainability hacking to bring this pathway to life.

A sustainability hack is an unconventional solution that deviates from embedded institutions, i.e. the rules of the game, to address a systemic problem. Sustainability hacks work around the ‘rules of the game’ to accomplish ‘good-enough’ results promptly. Paulo went on to present the five ways sustainability hacks intervene in the configuration and features of a system: emulating value flows; repairing missed value; exploiting a loophole; mirroring feedback loops; reformulating the logic.

Getting the best out of interdependencies

Steve outlined that this pathway requires systems thinkers to first search for connections within a system, particularly those connections that are not obvious or seem illogical. If you can’t find those connections, you then need to expand the boundaries of the system and make the problem bigger to find the variables in the system people ignore.

Looking beyond the organisational-level

The final pathway involves understanding the four failed value exchanges among multiple stakeholders (e.g. investors, employees, suppliers, customers, the environment or society) across a business network:

  • Value missed – I give but don’t get a return
  • Value destroyed – I give but you don’t want
  • Value surplus – I have too much
  • Value absence – you want but I don’t give.

Steve argued that when organisations map each of the four failed value exchanges across their broad set of stakeholders they uncover new value opportunities that redefine the system in which they operate.

Systems thinkers and leaders need to reframe systemic problems and recognise their limits

Steve challenged the room to change how each one of us thinks about systemic problems. Instead of setting targets and objectives, he challenged us to influence the systems around us by reframing systemic problems with ambitious visions for the future. Paulo then reminded us that systems thinkers need to recognise their limits and understand that in complexity, we can’t find a solution, only ‘manage messes’. Most importantly, systems thinkers and leaders need to be humble and recognise the extent of their ignorance to affect Systems Change.

Author bio: Carlos Blanco is an Oxford MBA 2019-20 student. For the past five years he has worked with the not-for-profit, government and private sector in Australia to drive systems change. He is increasingly interested in building broad coalitions of government, not-for-profit and private sector organisations to address humanities most pressing systemic problems.