Monday 23 Jan, 2017

A “How-to” Guide for Changing the World

Casey is a Marketing Manager at EF Educational Tours. Her family has lived in New York, Thailand and Turkey. She once ate bugs in China and insists they’re not that bad.

As 2017 kicks off, and we’ve all made New Year resolutions that we swear we’ll stick to this time around, it’s natural to reflect on the different ways that one can impact change in the coming year. It is equally natural to get overwhelmed trying to figure out what that perfect first step is, desperately Google “how to change the world” and, ultimately, give up. So, when we sat down with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and renowned business woman Sheryl WuDunn at our Human Rights Summit in June, we wanted to learn how these two incredible authors broke into the industries they did, and were able to make such a lasting impact.

It turns out that there is no “How-To” guide for changing the world. There are, however, some universal tricks of the trade that they were able to share with us to help demystify the world of economic development and figure out that critical first step in how to get involved. Here are just a few of our favorites.

1. Get out from behind your desk.
Understanding an issue in its entirety is exceptionally difficult to do well if you’re dissecting it from a location that isn’t directly impacted. Oftentimes this builds an understanding of a problem, community or potential solution that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. In other words, program leaders risk designing strategies to tackle what they think the problem is, rather than what it actually is. By getting out from behind your desk, you give yourself the unique opportunity to kick the tires on your ideas – and to work with and empower communities to create sustainable change that they believe in, and that works.

As a journalist, Kristof credits his mantra of getting out, seeing things and bearing witness in the field for his success. Journalists are uniquely positioned to give voice to communities around the world, empowering them by giving a global megaphone that levels the playing field in instances when, in Kristof’s words, “talent is universal but opportunity is not.” As the media landscape evolves, however, this is increasingly difficult for journalists to do:

2. Present the facts.
Presenting the facts˗˗from both sides of any argument˗˗helps builds empathy, credibility and consensus for a diverse range of perspectives. By focusing on facts, activists create inclusive dialogue, rather than divisive rhetoric, that helps disparate individuals, communities, organizations and governments find common ground. Moreover, seeking a diversity of opinion helps empower communities and individuals affected, making these movements sustainable in the long-term.

While this is ultimately needed to make connections, find patterns and move large-scale initiatives forward, it’s not always easy to do. The topics that Kristof and WuDunn cover in their work are highly emotional and abstruse, and building fact-based foundations can be challenging. Yet, they patch together multiple perspectives to do just that:

3. Start small.
It’s hard not to get distracted by the ever-tangled web of challenges and opportunities at hand. It often seems that everywhere you look there is something that needs to be addressed, which can be paralyzing. The good news is that according to WuDunn and Kristof, you don’t need to be everywhere in order to make lasting change – you just need to find that one thing that you care about, and one community to serve. It is by changing communities one at a time that one single individual can begin to turn tides.

While at first this approach can seem disjointed, it can actually be a means of discovering global patterns that would otherwise remain veiled. For WuDunn it was by uncovering individual cases of women’s rights abuses in Asia, Africa and Europe that a larger pattern of violence against women came to the surface, and ultimately led to her to co-author her third book, Half the Sky. And for Kristof, it was one story that forever haunted him that launched his prolific career in writing about social justice:

4. Follow your passion.
The beauty of the human rights movement is that it spans interests, industries and continents, and encompasses everything from medicine and education, to law, programming and construction. Tackling today’s human rights challenges cannot happen in silo; it requires concerted cross-disciplinary policies and collaboration, and demands the mobilization of people that are passionate about what they do, and equally passionate about inspiring global change.

WuDunn’s passion for economics and business, for instance, didn’t deter her from pursuing issues in human rights. Rather, it shaped it. Her background has allowed her to identify economic stability as the key to political and social stability. And it’s by leveraging her experience in finance and consulting that she has been able to help double-bottom line, socially responsible businesses around the world thrive–with that, providing the economic stability needed to bring amity to their communities.

It turns out that Ms. WuDunn and Mr. Kristof did, in fact, have a formula that explains global action: empathy and empowerment. It’s by raising future generations to be more globally aware, to gain multiple exposures to multiple perspectives, and to be empathetic to those in need, that we sow the seeds of change. And it’s by empowering our students, entrepreneurs and communities that we teach them not to surrender to problems, but to address them. We sit today on the precipice of immense potential, and on the foundation of immense progress. And that is what gives these two great authors hope:

Our 2018 Summit will tackle the Influence of Technology on Society in Berlin. Click here to browse all itinerary options.