Communication of Vision
Help them articulate their story and present their projects to gain support from others, build momentum, and build a clear vision within their team.
Globally Stated Visions
By clearly articulating their goals and visions, learners will build momentum and receive support from others. Adam Cheyer, founding member of Change.org and co-founder of Siri Inc and Viv Lab, explained that he always has a “globally stated vision,” a short sentence or two that he shares with just about everyone he meets. This vision holds him accountable, and helps him gain support from others for his projects.
World Change 2.0
There is no better way for learners to improve their public speaking skills than to simply practice. Aspiring changemakers should constantly share their vision because everytime they do, their message becomes clearer. The Transformative Action Insitute's World Change 2.0, a guidebook to personal and social change, has worksheets with prompts that guide learners to craft compelling stories about their projects (see Chapter 3 and Worksheet 1).
At a workshop on Engaging with Social Media, the presenter suggested that in this Facebook-era we often have about 15 seconds to grab our audience’s attention. This outlines how important it is for learners to craft messages with few words and compelling images. Learners need to explore and find the graphic design tools best suited for their projects. For presentations they can explore Powerpoint, Google Slide, and Prezi. For marketing and graphic design, they might enjoy Piktochart and Canva. There is also Flaticon which is a huge database of icons they can explore.
Theory of Change–Framework–to articulate your theory of change to gain momentum and build partnerships.
Plus Acumen–Online Courses–for social entrepreneurs including one on storytelling for change.
Let them dream, be visionary, and be ambitious, and encourage them to set achievable intermediary goals.
Dreaming and Scaffolding
It's important to let learners dream, let them be visionary, let them think big about all the projects they can do. When learners have project ideas they want to develop, their education suddenly becomes more relevant. Instead of working to please their educators, teachers, and parents, they work to reach their own goals. However, long-term goals can feel overwhelming at times, and learners benefit from scaffolding their goals into achievable steps.
Institutions across the world, including the U.N.-mandated UPEACE in Costa Rica and the Northern Outdoor Leadership School, use SMART goals to help learners scaffold their long-term ambitions into achievable steps. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, although there are different variations. To learn more, check out this short video How to Set SMART Goals. In the midst of my research, I made a friend who aspired to become a social entrepreneur but did not know where to start. Through a conversation, we broke down his dream into steps he could start the next day, these steps included books to read, people to talk to, and places to go. The next time I heard from him, he was traveling around Southeast Asia working with different organizations exploring ways to contribute to the world.
Character Lab also outlines how “just dreaming about a positive future doesn’t work.” They share a strategy called WOOP, developed by Professor Gabriele Oettingen from NYU. It consists of helping learners identify a specific wish, imagine the potential outcomes, foresee potential obstacles, and develop a plan to move forward. In collaboration with Professor Oettingen they developed a free WOOP Playbook which provides tools and resources for educators wanting to use their strategy.
Systems & Critical Thinking
Help them discover and understand the interconnection of existing systems and stakeholders that could be influenced or involved in their projects.
For the 5 Ps
Systems thinking is about exploring the entire ecosystem where one operates: building a complex understanding and seeing interconnections. Critical thinking is about challenging assumptions, doing thorough analyses, and questioning sources. Together, systems and critical thinking often help learners unleash synergies and develop projects that benefit the 5 Ps: people, planet, profit, peace, and partners.
Impact Gap Canvas
The Impact Gap Canvas is a tool to help learners develop their projects through systems-led thinking, an approach that tackles the root causes of a problem while building off existing initiatives. The creator, Daniela Papi-Thornton who works for Oxford’s Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship, points out that often people try to tackle problems before truly understanding them. To remedy this situation, she launched “apprenticing with the problem,” 3-6 month programs in which students explore their problem in-depth. She even launched a business competition called Map the System where the goal is not to provide a solution but to clearly define a problem. Papi-Thornton also created this social impact educator toolkit for educators wanting to use her canvas.
Often, building a complex understanding involves talking with various stakeholders. For such projects involving ethnographic research, “Empathy mapping” helps participants make sense of the data they have gathered and the customers they are hoping to serve. This process, often used as part of Design Thinking, invites learners to think about what they perceived after interviews or field visits through all their senses: what they saw, thought, sensed, felt, and heard. For more details, see How to Run an Empathy User Journey Mapping Workshop, by Harry Brignull.
Daniela Papi-Thornton: Reclaiming Social Entrepreneuship–A Ted Talk–on how to create systems-led solutions.
Creativity & Innovation
Encourage them to take risks, be creative, and be innovative. This can be done in parts by setting up cultures of group trust in which everyone is open to others’ ideas and through encouraging them to go out and meet existing experts.
Ideation for Innovation
Helping learners generate ideas on all the possible ways to develop their project often leads them to develop new and innovative ideas. Ideation is one of the phases of Design Thinking, a process developed at Stanford d.school to help designers of any field develop products and experiences through empathy. In the ideation phase, participants are invited to generate as many potential solutions to their problem as they can. It is about quantity over quality—all ideas are good! After generating a ton of ideas, groups then sort through all of them, combining the best ones into something even greater, and that is often when innovations arise. A key to productive ideation is to set a culture of trust in which learners are willing to take risks to share any ideas.
As there are over 7 billion people on earth, the odds are high that someone else has launched similar projects before, and learners are better off building on those ideas instead of reinventing the wheel. In World Change 2.0, Scott Sherman, Founder of the Transformative Action Institute, suggests creating an innovation matrix that compares practices done by existing organizations addressing similar issues. Aspiring changemakers are encouraged to go out and visit organizations doing similar work, schedule phone calls and interviews to talk with leaders in the field. As Sherman puts it:
“the point of this exercise is not to criticize other organizations . . . . you are just offering your own alternative ideas—creative new approaches to the problem that may be more effective. The other key organizations in your field may be your greatest partners and allies, so a key part of the matrix is figuring out how you can build on their pre-existing attempts to solve the problem. How can you collaborate with them?”
Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity–A Ted Talk–on how schools influence students' creativity.
Innovation Library–A Compilation of Resources–on social innovation.
Encourage them to build self awareness and metacognitive skills. This can be done by creating space for them to reflect, self-assess, monitor their progress, and revise their plans.
Learning to Learn
At the Northern Outdoor Leadership School, self-awareness is identified as one of the 7 key leadership skills. Self-awareness is about setting goals, monitoring progress, revising one’s plan, and reflecting upon how to improve. Participants build their self-awareness through structured and loose reflection times, formal and informal journaling exercises, and a constant flow of feedback within the group. Self-awareness is a skill that helps participants learn to learn, and it helps participants transfer their learning beyond the program.
Developing metacognitive skills often goes hand-in-hand with building self-awareness. For instance, Next-Generation Education at Gakugei University recognized that to prepare students for the 2030s, a volatile and uncertain future, education needs to foster learners’ metacognitive skills. They have developed a series of self-assessment tools for students to reflect on their work. Waterloo University's Center for Teaching Excellence has created these metacognition teaching tips which include both general approaches and specific examples on how to lay out assignments to foster learners’ metacognitive skills.
Have them reach out, create connections, find mentors, track their networks, and develop a collaborative mindset. This can be done through various collaboration initiatives, group projects, and co-creation.
Collaboration is key. But how do you make your aspiring changemaker realize it? Giving them opportunities to work in groups can be useful, especially if they have a positive experience and realize that they can reach greater potential working with others. Many of our existing systems, such as our grading system in school, promote competition, and as a result, it often takes learners time and numerous good teamwork experiences to see the benefits of a collaborative mindset. Bringing in guest speakers to talk about their success in shaping teams can help students see the value of collaboration.
Aspiring changemakers will most likely need to build a team to work on their projects. Adam Cheyer, founding member of Change.org and co-founder of Siri Inc. and Viv Lab, told me he starts every team with 4 key members: a visionary who holds the vision, a marketer that can convey the mission, a road map creator that can coordinate operations, and a builder who translates ideas to actions. Depending on the project, every team looks different. It is ultimately up to the project leader to determine who is needed on the team and how to optimize the strength of existing connections.
During an interview, Tonya Surman, CEO of the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto, outlined the importance of facilitation skills—being extremely aware of the energy in the room, building trust and empathy, and weaving people’s strengths together—to unleash greater potential. Good facilitators move groups powerfully and effectively.
The best way to unleash learners’ facilitation skills is to give them a chance to practice. This could be encouraging them to lead group discussions, facilitate dialogues, or lead a reflection or a meeting.
Beyond shaping a team, aspiring changemakers can look at the bigger picture and see how they can shape ties within their ecosystem. Often, a strategic partnership can unleash opportunities that would have been impossible otherwise. Ashoka's Social & Business Co-Creation Toolkit aims to help in that regard by empowering changemakers to harness the power of existing ecosystems. Collaboration for Impact is another quick “how-to” guide to help partners align vision and mission for co-creation.
One collaborative concept I was surprised to stumble upon numerous times is the principle of comedic improv: “Yes, and….” The essence is to encourage people to build upon others’ ideas instead of protecting their own idea as the best. There are numerous easy ways to set up improv games (such as Yes, let's!) that can be used to foster learners’ collaborative mindset. Simple improv exercise can be led easily even without prior experience. Scott Sherman, founder of the Transformative Action Institute, uses improv games in his training sessions for social entrepreneurs. Stanford d.school fellows also use improv exercises to get their participants in the right collaborative mindset for the Design Thinking process.
Help them create a roadmap and timeline to align their work with their projects.
Jean Bibeau, a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, taught project management by creating a hypothetical situation in which students were going to move to a new house. Students had to brainstorm all the tasks needed to do so (call a moving company, pack boxes, invite friends for help). Then, they had to group similar tasks into categories to outline different ways of sorting tasks (chronologically, by person in-charge). Finally, students had to plan a timeline for all the different tasks. This was a relatively short exercise, but right after, students were asked to follow a similar process to create a project management plan for their own enterprise projects.
There are thousands of tools, applications, and websites to help people with project management. Most methods have a few things in common; they help scaffold projects, establish timelines, and split tasks logically within teams.
Encourage them to take action and dare trying, after all practice makes perfect.
Everything has to start somewhere. Empowering learners to do rapid prototyping will help them across disciplines—preparing a presentation, testing out a hypothesis, developing projects, gathering outside perspectives. Rapid prototyping is part of Design Thinking, a process developed at Stanford d.school to help designers across disciplines develop products and experiences through empathy. Instead of spending years developing a project before testing it, rapid prototyping is about trying to produce the smallest possible iteration of the project, get some feedback, and move to a next slightly better iteration of the project. As mentioned in this Guide to Design Thinking (which even comes with some Music for Active and Reflective Learning):
“if a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures . . . . prototyping is a powerful tool that can eliminate ambiguity, assist in ideation, and reduce miscommunication . . . . creating quick and dirty prototypes allows you to test a number of ideas without investing a lot of time and money up front.”
The Design Sprints is a book that offers a process to conduct rapid prototyping on just about any project in 5 days: “On Monday, you’ll map out the problem and pick an important place to focus. On Tuesday, you’ll sketch competing solutions on paper. On Wednesday, you’ll make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis. On Thursday, you’ll hammer out a high-fidelity prototype. And on Friday, you’ll test it with real live humans.” The book offers an array of facilitation tips, as well as activities that can be extrapolated and used in other group contexts to save time, gather input, and make efficient decisions.
Scott Sherman, founder of the Transformative Action Institute, developed an exercise called “Daring Greatly.” He introduces the exercise by talking about how in his twenties he made it a personal goal to meet great inspiring figures. He started reaching out and building connections, and just a few years later, he had met with the the pope, the Dalai Lama, and the Queen of England. After sharing his story, he invites participants to dare do something great that they would not have done otherwise. Participants have returned to him with all sorts of stories. One came back to him saying he had fixed the relationship with his brother with whom he had not spoken to in years. Another received a million dollars from funders who had previously refused his proposal because he had requested a much smaller amount which made his project seem less impactful.
Grit & Resiliency
Let them fail, help them see failures as learning opportunities, help them overcome challenges, and familiarize them with grit and resilience.
Abundance vs. Scarcity
On their journey to take ideas to actions, aspiring changemakers experience ups and downs. It is important to help them build grit and resilience: the ability to bounce back. Changemakers can benefit from overcoming their fear of failure. Angela Thieman Dino, preceptor at the Watson Institute, offers a class called “Leap of Faith” in which she crafts a parallel between shipwrecked survivors and the entrepreneurial mindset. She walks the participants through the journey of a shipwreck while conducting creative exercises and reflection activities that relate to students’ personal projects. Who do you want on your team? How will you react to uncertainties? Will you see scarcity or abundance?
Well-crafted initiative games can help learners see failures as opportunities. At UWC ISAK Japan Summer School, facilitators conduct a game called Beeps!, in which teams are challenged to cross a grid one at a time. However, some squares in the grid are designed as "beeps" by a facilitator, if a participant step on a beep, he/she must return to the start and another team member attempts to cross the grid. At first, participants who get beeped often get frustrated, but eventually, they realize that the beep actually gives their team more information to work with (as the beeps remain on the same designated squares as the game continues). The game is followed by a discussion in which participants reflect upon their learning and about failure as a learning opportunity. They are invited to consider how that applies to other settings.
To challenge students' preconception of failure, professors at the Université de Sherbrooke have developed a project in which students have to craft a resume of their failures. The goal is to help them introspect and see failure in another light. The teachers start the program by sharing their own failure resume with the students to put them at ease.
Waterloo Social Innovation and Resiliency–Learning Modules–including a section on the importance of resiliency in solving complex problems.
Sense of Humor
Have a sense of humor and encourage them to take their projects (and life) seriously yet lightly.
Wisdom of the Woods
Alexandra Conover Bennet is a Maine legend who has “over 30 years of experience leading professional canoe and snowshoeing trips in Maine & Canada.” On an outdoor leadership skills program offered at College of the Atlantic, we were talking about education while snowshoeing across frozen and beautiful Moosehead Lake in western Maine. When I asked her, “What do you think is the most important skill needed to be an outdoor leader?” She did not even have to think about it; “a sense of humor,” she responded. It was not the answer I expected, but the more I thought about it, the more I realize that having a sense of humor and being able to take things lightly are incredibly valuable to sustain any kind of work.
If they need financial support to achieve their project, show them different approaches to manage and fundraise for their projects.
Funding Is Available
Alain Olivier-Debois, a Canadian impact investor, always working on multiple projects to support social innovation, said: “If you have a good idea and the right attitude, there will be funding for you.” Finding funding for a project sounds challenging, but if aspiring changemakers have gone through the previous steps—built a complex understanding of their problem, built a team, developed a project plan, crafted a compelling story—they have a good start. There are numerous options they can consider for funding: crowdfunding, loans, grants, philanthropic donations, angel investors, equity investors, etc.
The best funding options will depend on the nature of the project they are building. The following are just a few suggestions, but there are hundreds of other options out there to be considered.