Over the years, Ashoka has reviewed tens of thousands of proposals for change by people passionate about solving social problems. As a result, we have noticed a common skill set among the most successful changemakers.
A changemaker’s core skills are:
Empathy forms the basis of social cohesion and innovation. It is the foundation that guides decision-making, reflection, and action. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and perspectives of others and to use that understanding to act. In a changemaker environment, empathy isn’t just an add-on or nice-to-have; it’s critical to creating the conditions in which real learning can take place. At Ashoka, we view empathy as the new literacy – the essential ingredient to effectively communicate, collaborate, and navigate relationships. Empathy is more important than ever in a world defined by change and interdependence. Therefore, it needs to be modelled by educators, embedded in school rituals, learned about in classes, and practiced at every opportunity. When applied, empathy is the skill that ensures students shape solutions that are guided by humility, understanding, and compassion.
– From ‘Changemakers: Educating With Purpose’
In 2006, then Senator Barack Obama, spoke of an “empathy deficit” that the country, and world, is experiencing. He stated, “You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this—when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers—it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”
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Changemakers are leaders, but not the kind we’re used to. For much of our history humans have been organized around repetition, which is the opposite of change. Leaders in these types of organizations have traditionally made decisions based on principles of authority, exclusion, and control. However, In a world defined by change, people must organize themselves differently. Changemakers are leaders who embrace new forms of social influence and interaction. They view decision-making as an inclusive, collaborative process where everyone has something to offer to the success of a project. This type of shift requires actively listening to others and seeking to identify and build on the individual strengths within the group. Better understanding your own strengths as well others’ will help to define roles within the group and foster greater potential for creative, collaborative problem-solving.
Teams are inherently dynamic. The individuals who comprise them are constantly changing. So too are the environments they inhabit. In order to set and achieve goals in highly complex and unpredictable environments, changemakers must come together and form cohesive teams in order to navigate the complexity and unpredictability associated with a world of change.
Changemakers actively cultivate relationships and partnerships with others. They work toward building strong teams that embody trust, sharing, collaboration, and empathy. Think of a rainforest where trees are competing for a finite amount of sunlight but must lock root systems in the soil to survive. In the same way, innovation and changemaking thrive through collaboration not individual triumph.
The process of changemaking is intertwined with the end goal—one of the reasons why we frequently prompt you to check if your process aligns with your values. Are the strengths of the team being utilized? Are all voices valued equally?
– From “Empathy and Teamwork are key for building innovation ecosystems.”
A team is not a team unless everyone is an initiatory player, and in this world, you cannot afford to have anyone on your team who is not a changemaker.”
In some ways, collaborative problem-solving is the most difficult to define because it is not one skill alone but requires a host of skills. These skills include:
One way to think of collaborative problem-solving is to use the metaphor of weaving. Weaving brings many different strands together to create something new. It is inherently complex, sometimes messy, and requires an understanding of how things fit together. In weaving, we don’t question that all strands are interconnected and equally important for the end result to be coherent and useful. We understand that if we make a mistake while weaving we can learn from it to make our solutions better.
Our rapidly changing world will demand more from today’s generation of young people than from most in recent times. It will require you to draw on all of the changemaker skills.
Co-creating a space where people feel that they can speak out in spite of their fears is a vital step in the process of learning how to become a changemaker. Empathy researcher Brene Brown explains that being empathetic requires that we be present and wholly engaged without our ‘protective armour’. People wear armour to try to become invisible or fit in with others to hide what they consider to be defects or embarrassing qualities for fear of being judged, labeled, or bullied. It is difficult to feel empathy for others when you are cut off from yourself.
For this reason, we’re starting the change closest to home. Everyone in the changemaking process needs to feel valued, seen, and heard. Because of the culture we inherited and the way our brains work, all of us carry biases. This isn’t wrong or bad, it’s what we do with them that matters. Being humbled can lead to personal transformation.
The exercises below will help you to:
Once the principles of the safe space have been defined and agreed upon by all, they can be used, reinforced, and referred back to as needed throughout the time you share together.
Design Thinking & the Deskless Classroom(Exercise, Time will vary)
Create a Classroom Contract(30-45 minutes)
Learn how to listen: Are you a good listener? (video 5 min + opportunities for deeper thinking)
Empathy & Equity: From the Stanford D.school, this exercise gives designers to an opportunity to pause and notice their biases(15 min daily over the course of week).
Cross the Line: (30-60 min.) We live in a diverse world. In this exercise we will explore the diversity among us by thinking about our values, our backgrounds, our teachers, and our experiences.
CCDI: Explore Power and Privilege (Toolkit with various exercises)