Activating a New Era for Social Change

Monday June 25, 2012
Article by Editorial, Axiom News

At this year’s Social Change Institute, Jessy Tolkan shared an intriguing view of how the nonprofit sector can reframe the current political climate for social and environmental change — which many view to be far from collaborative —  and come out stronger than ever.

Recent government attacks on the nonprofit sector can be viewed as a powerful compliment. When foundations or environmental and social nonprofits are seen as a threat, they are turned into an opposition that cannot be taken lightly. We’ve become a force to be reckoned with.
Now is the time to focus our energies. A redoubling of effort to continue occupying people’s hearts and minds and for an increasingly large mandate — from Canada’s Omnibus budget bill to dredged-up American debates on women’s rights to climate change.
The most powerful tool we have is our ability to collaborate to present a compelling, inclusive vision of our future. 
Let’s put individual mandates aside, agree to not agree on everything, and combine our strengths to win the hearts and minds of the public by offering real alternatives that speak to identity and values.
This will involve going beyond our core base. As both Tzeporah Berman and Andrea Reimer pointed out at this year’s Social Change Institute, good people are, and need to be, everywhere: business, government and nonprofits. We need to seek these people out and find a common ground to address the challenges of our time.
We have many great examples of social change collaboration to draw from: British Columbia’s carbon tax; the Tar Sands Coalition; and the American Sustainable Business Council, to name a few. 
New collaboration models are also evolving for the scale of change needed. Models like change labs, which bring together diverse coalitions of stakeholders to work together in a way that builds awareness of the whole, leading to progress on complex challenges.
As the government’s ability or desire to support social change work decreases, our role in creating alternative models for social economy will become even more important.
Social enterprise will be a major player in this new ecology. The model not only provides more dependable revenue than grants, it creates jobs, while transforming commerce — two powerful levers for anyone wanting to affect large-scale change.
A number of intermediaries are emerging to grow social enterprise including the Skoll Foundation, Ashoka and the Unreasonable Institute, as well as physical hubs for collaboration like the Centre for Social Innovation. 
Social impact bonds are another tool, affording us the ability to invest in preventative measures that benefit community.
These are some of the brightest possibilities we see as the social sector is called upon to reach new heights.  
If these beginnings can be delivered on and expanded upon, social change will reclaim public discourse, and the powerful complements we find in adversarial relations today might just get some of the credit.