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Building a true social movement

In almost all scenarios, people are initially resistant to social change. It's uncomfortable and may involve upending long-held traditions or looking at injustice from a new angle. People have a natural tendency to stick with what they know.

Typical barriers to changing how things are done include:

  • Social barriers: lack of community support, social norms and group conformity
  • Cultural barriers: tradition, culture, customs, religion
  • Economic barriers: lack of property rights, corruption, fiscal infrastructure
  • Political barriers: ideology, values

Overcoming these obstacles isn't always easy, and may require creative solutions.

Put technology to work

Technology plays a starring role in most social change movements by facilitating new friendships, discussions and global activism, simplifying the fundraising process and providing ease of access. Not only has technology proven to be a key solution to some major social concerns, it makes it easy to connect with others who care about the same cause.

Technology addresses barriers to social change by:

  • Improving and democratizing access to information. Today's unparalleled access to information is breaking down social barriers between different social classes. Online archives, research studies and a seemingly endless collection of how-to articles make it possible for nearly anyone to be well-informed on any number of issues.
  • Engaging participants. Let's face it, technology is fun. Virtual lessons and classrooms, streamed videos, documentaries and interactive historical displays breathe new life into educational programs. For social change to succeed, it must first engage — and technology provides a welcome vehicle for that.
  • Connecting people. Tech solutions make it much quicker to form connections with others across the board. There are many social media platforms with the goal of connecting, such as volunteers with causes they care about, doctors with patients and youth with mentors. True social change requires cooperation from individuals, communities, the civil sector and government, but technology can significantly speed up what would otherwise be a lengthy change process.
  • Raising money for good. Whether crowdfunding, marketing or collecting money for the next nonprofit campaign, technology is now contributing to turning capital profits into social good. Programs such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter help organizations and individuals launch fundraising campaigns that can have significant impact while raising awareness of a cause.

Consider the relationship between social change and state-building

State-building — how institutions that support stability in economics, politics, law and other social structures — is an uneven science. Understanding the political context of where you're working is vital. The people who have the most power are historically unlikely to disrupt the status quo. Social movements arise because power isn't evenly distributed. Nonprofit and civil society organizations and groups of all sizes work in this "gray" area.

Involve the community

One way to chip away at social barriers is to invite the entire community into the change process. Go out into the world and solicit feedback. Have coffee with community leaders and listen carefully to their fears. Resistance to change almost always gives way once more people are educated about the issues. In the meantime, advocate respectfully for your cause, provide information and persevere.

Involving people directly in decision-making is vital to the wellbeing of a functioning community. Everyone has a different role: participants participate, volunteers volunteer and donors donate. Although nonprofits can encourage people to connect and engage with other civil society organizations, they can't create social agitators from whole cloth. It's the job of social activists to routinely test the state's capabilities and the support of volunteers to see if they have the capacity to build a true social movement.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Fast Company: 6 ways technology is breaking barriers to social change by Abe Grindle (2015)

The Resistance to Change: Cultural barriers to change

The Resistance to Change: Organizational barriers

The Resistance to Change: Social barriers to change

Center for Global Development: State Building and Global Development (2016)



Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change