What Makes a Changemaker?
When Kara first asked me to get involved with this project, I wasn’t actually familiar with the term changemaker. A simple Google search brought up a broad selection of enterprises and organizations with no real unified stream. Digging a little deeper, I found that there were many “changemakers” working to be impactful with their particular social cause, though after reading all sorts of fascinating stories about the world’s most inspiring and influential people, I still didn’t have a strong sense of how to define a changemaker. Can anyone be a changemaker? How do you measure the changes they are making? Does helping one person make you a changemaker?
The term changemakers (in its current application) began to show up in the early 70s. It was associated with individuals, referred to as social entrepreneurs, who were making an impact in the social and environmental realm. The “Founding father” of the social entrepreneur movement was Bill Drayton, who established and is the current Chair of Ashoka’s Changemakers, an organization dedicated to finding and fostering social entrepreneurs. They indeed operate with the vision that “everyone is a changemaker.”
On a more global scale, when we think of luminaries who have been impactful, who’ve influenced political policy, inspired millions and set in motion social change, we think of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, even Bono. The term does also apply to business leaders, or “Captains of Industry”; people who have made a difference in technology, development, finance, etc. The distinction here is that their success/performance is often measured in profit and return. However, many of these changemakers succeed in straddling both the social and capital realm. Think of Carnegie, Gates, Buffet and even Steve Jobs.
But defining a changemaker remains somewhat elusive, particularly when you consider how many people does one have to reach? At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Jobs, who millions of people regard as a dreamer and visionary, who changed their lives immeasurably for the better (people really love their Apple products). At the other end, you have someone like Hilde Back, a Swedish woman of modest means who sponsored an impoverished Kenyan boy so that he might attend school. That boy went on to Harvard Law School and finally the UN, where he became a human rights lawyer. He never forgot his sponsor and eventually he started a scholarship fund for kids like him in Kenya —and his benefactor Hilde couldn’t be more surprised that her donation had such an amazing effect. One small act of kindness can inspire a big one (http://www.hildebackeducationfund.com/).
Do you need to be a great leader? Hold multiple degrees or have come through adversity? Of course not, everyone can be a changemaker. We all have it within us to make a difference in the lives of others. We may also be surprised by what great things our actions can lead to.
Wendy is an Associate with the Nine Lions Team. Being part of the 100 changemakers project has been a real eye opener for her, learning about the diverse and meaningful ways that people do make a difference everyday.