Creating a Social Movement? Gather Allies!

Leader-activists ignite passion for the cause.

Dr. Christina Economos, a leader in the field of social change, studied past successful social movements that shifted Americans’ attitudes dramatically on systemic societal issues. She and her team developed a critical understanding of how social movements take shape and identified ten key elements in the creation of a successful social change model. Economos’s work has contributed to my approach to Grand Challenges, in which I have adapted those ten key elements and grouped them into three phases.

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In a previous article, I examined the first phase. In this article, we dive into the second phase. In an upcoming post, I’ll unpack the third phase.

Activate These Four Elements to Gain Momentum

Gathering AlliesIn this phase, Gathering Allies, leaders become activists who ignite passion and fuel the momentum of your grand challenge.

Four elements take shape as a Grand Challenge gains momentum; all four contribute to gathering allies who have the power to transform your Grand Challenge into a broad social movement.

  1. Developing a Plan: The plan garners buy-in, involvement, and coordination at all levels. People find it reassuring to encounter a sound strategic plan: It means that they are joining something well thought out. The plan must show how all the initiatives work together. It must be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities and adapt to the unexpected; the Strategic Foresight Cycle is useful here, as it provides valid information about emerging trends, in terms of both their speed of approach and impact as they unfold.. And–this is crucial–the plan must be shared widely. Gathering allies into a social movement demands access to an inspiring–yet practical–plan.
  2. Activating the Champions: People step forward who, once identified and activated, become the committed cadre who fuel the engine of a Grand Challenge. Champions inspire others to join the cause. Among them must be visionary leaders, people able to hold a shared vision like a sacred promise. Look for people who lead with strength, stamina, wisdom, and intelligence. But look also for critical thinkers who are comfortable with push-back.  Champions aren’t just cheerleaders–they ask tough questions that help strengthen your work. 
  3. Coalition Building: Every Grand Challenge uses the power of coalitions. As you gather allies, identify the organizations that have an investment in addressing the Common Agenda; i.e., their mission depends on successfully achieving the Common Agenda. For example, when I was working on Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation, we worked with CVS Caremark, the US Army, and Harvard Medical School. Each was invested in our success for very different reasons unique to their individual missions. Nonetheless, each invested. Coalitions produce new Champions and extend the reach of Grand Challenge.
  4. Government Involvement: Any intractable social problem needs the attention of local, regional, and national governments. These are important allies, too. Invite relevant levels of government into the Grand Challenge. Present the scientific and economic data from the first phase, Frame and Build the Case, to gain the support of respected political leaders. Governmental agencies can play an important role in raising awareness and shifting public sentiment. It’s wise to get them involved in the early stages. Don’t wait until it is time to introduce or amend legislation. You want them on board long before this arises. 

In closing, I want to call attention to an aspect of gathering allies that is crucial to the Collective Impact model I use. You need not just allies, but allyship–a commitment to building and nurturing supportive relationships with underrepresented, discriminated, or marginalized individuals or groups, to advance their inclusion and amplify their voices.

Embedding equity practices in creating a social movement is essential. In Collective Impact, a working group forms to ensure the work achieves fairness and justice for groups and populations that suffer under structural constraints. This group holds a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion among the allies coming together at this phase.

Gathering allies increases the momentum and impact of a Grand Challenge. It undergirds it with solid planning; directs the energy of diverse Champions toward execution; builds coalitions invested in the Common Agenda, and increases government involvement early on. 

This second phase of creating a social movement prepares the way for Implementing the Plan, the third phase, about which I will write in the future.

Solving social problems is inherently SOCIAL-it happens in community. I’m looking for researchers, academicians, and those on the front lines who are battling overwhelming issues. The community will include leaders in all aspects of society: nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, independent agents, and thought leaders.

If you’re passionate about Grand Challenges or would like to be, visit my Medium account, where I am publishing on Grand Challenges. Let’s work together to address these sticky, systemic, complex, and wicked issues once and for all, for the sake of future generations of life on Earth.

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