What makes me a change maker?

I have a lot of trust in people. I think that this is the most important thing. To be able to trust.

I ask myself where does trust come from? In my life, I did experience a lot of good things. Along that I always was sure to be able to change things to the good. So I do trust in our ability to change when things are going wrong.

Sometimes this faith though, is shattered by current events.

In the movies I do start to cry very often, and I do feel with the characters. The same thing happens to me with people. To feel good – I need people around me to feel good. So I do care a lot about them.

Sometimes though I‘m lost and do not perceive my surrounding. It costs me to listen quite often.

I did study social sciences with in a politically very engaged environment. Getting involved in political processes and protests was an important part of my life, ever since. I made great friends and acquaintances being a political activist.

Sometimes activism was more about getting to know beautiful girls than for the cause though.

So as time went by I did find a girl to stay with during a seminar about discrimination. I became a father of two children. Watching them grow made me even more wanting to be a change maker as their future and the future of so many other children is in danger. We have to stop climate change.

All this and some details more I guess make me a change maker.

 

Education is the key word

Social change is such a huge word, full of different implications. It is so huge that in some way it makes me unsure. But yes, in a certain way I think I am a social change agent.

The social change I try to determine regards the acceptance that we live in a diverse society and that people have to learn to treat others equally and respect their rights.

The key to social change is for me the education. Get people educated, make them aware of what they need and of what the society in which they live needs. Education is somehow for me more important than politics. I know it sounds strange but it has probably something to do with the totalitarian system I grew up into, system I totally distrusted.

Being a social agent meant for me over the years offering counseling to people who do not know what their rights in Austria are or how to get to them.

Being a social agent means also being a teacher, talking to young students, listening to their opinions, discuss necessary changes in the society with them.

It also means delivering workshops for institutions, which do not work with a diverse group of clients, listen to their doubts and fears and try to understand them and find together solutions for their daily work.

It means of course listening to my family, friends, neighbours and co-workers, picking up their concern about the social system of Austria and thinking together of ways to make it better for all of us.

And if I need something for the future it is you, you all again with your worries but also with your proposals and solutions. We are in this together.

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From the ground to heaven

For me it means being a mean to an end. Sometimes you don’t know if a social change action is going to be successful but you just make the most of it. Trying to make this world a bit better just by your little existence and contribution. It’s like a good virus. Your contact is something that inspires other people even if they know it was your contact/ touch. You don’t need to be visible, just do your job in the shadow. Being an example we can inspire other people.

A social change agent can be anybody, either they know it or not. If that person is trained, the impact of his/her actions may be bigger and reach further. There is the importance of being humble and try to change ourselves before we try to help others’ change.

A social change agent needs to deal with his/her ego, and understand and believe that we all are one, but with differences. He/she needs to change him/herself by introspection, learn from others, listen carefully, be openhearted, empowered, social skilled to ensure the approach, be aware of him/herself and the surroundings. But most of all, the most important thing for me is the belief that has to be behind every movement he/she makes: change is always possible and believe it until the very last moment. There must be this deep faith in human being.

There is a quote I heard a few months ago which matches a lot with me: “Que tu vida sirva para mejorar la de otros”. It means: “make your life a tool to make other people’s lives better”. My interpretation of that quote is that you can use your existence to make others better, even just by a little seed you plant today. That seed can be your example in a certain moment, a word, a training, or your whole professional career.

 

What is to be a change agent?

For me, being a change agent is an intrinsic adjective of human being…

We as people sharing the same world, the same planet, we have the responsibility of taking care of each other, to empower those who might need a small pull to be able to go on in life…

At the same time, I believe that, as humans, we have the “moral” responsibility to change what needs to be changed because it is unfair, unjust, hurting, etc…

When I was young, I heard my mom saying to someone: “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

A change agent work, in a first stage, on the individual level… In our surroundings, there are a lot of empowering opportunities. We act within our family, with our parents, with our children, with our friends, at school and at workplace…

Everybody can be a change agent and raise awareness amongst his own community… This way, this empowered community will become more and more aware and strong enough to keep on empowering and spreading the knowledge in other groups…

We must not forget about the massive power that everyone has in his hand. We can all make the change we want to see!!!

 

Social change agent in the professional/political life

The talk in the forests with one partner of the group made me reflect on what it means to be a social agent. From my experience of volunteering with homeless people, I have always thought of a social agent as a person who offers services to disadvantaged groups. In this way, some of the job back home was to impose homeless people certain kind of rules before they receive help. These rules could be: city refuges’ timetables, quitting substances or leaving their puppets in order to get a bed in the refuges. This was a problem for a lot of them who decided not to try get in the refuges or access the social services.

Maybe the matter is not to point out at our demands in order to get them services but listen to what they need. For instance, there was a social program in the Netherlands to attend drug users. Instead of asking people for quitting drugs and then attend their homeless situation, they provided them methadone in the pharmacies –regulated doses– and after that the social workers started to work with them from a different angle.

That is what made me ask if my frustration with homeless people sometimes came from my identity of a white young male. I consider myself as a social agent and this point – change the angle – is what made me create the sculpture this afternoon in the park. I designed a ‘social change agent’ human sculpture of a person giving a hand to the other, and stretching it. The sculpture symbolized that the social change or transformation not only transforms the life of the user but also the life of the people who give the service. Also my sculpture was with bended knees symbolizing the thing that the person has to be flexible.

To sum up, my social change agent has to attend the social service user’s needs; listen to them; and try not to impose them what is supposed to be the healthy life style. For that, we need flexibility, patience and hope.

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BALANCING CHANGE

Six years ago, in the last months of school I became ill. The plan was to start my own company after school. But because I got diagnosed with a chronic illness, that plan disappeared in thin air.

Despite that diagnosis, I still tried to work for myself, because that ambition was and is still very strong. Only at the beginning of this new phase of my life, my health became my number one priority.

In those years it was very important for me to find balance between my mind and body. My worst symptom is fatigue and at first it felt like my body suddenly didn’t do what I wanted. That did mentally a lot with me. I became insecure about my future and myself.

“The key to keeping balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.”

Years later I have that balance under control. I will never have the entire control over it, because my chronic illness is to unpredictable for that. But it feels so much better than in the beginning.

With finding that balance, I’ve learned to plan and listen to my body. In my private life it’s good now, but in the spheres of work it’s still not where I want to be. I have too many ideas and basically I just want too much. Being creative and ambitious with a chronic illness is not a good combination. For now I do what I can and step by step I learn more and more how to keep balance between my ambition and my chronic illness.

How is my balance a change agent story? Because of my illness I basically was forced to search for that balance. But ultimately everyone needs balance. Balance between work and fun or rest and bustle. When I see that someone can use balance, I try to help that person with statements that always help me. “Be kind for yourself.” “One thing at the time.” “Tomorrow’s another day.” “You’re good as you are.” “Stay Positive.” For me it is now a reminder, but for others maybe something they have never thought about.

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Being active as a social change agents in different ways

For me a social change agent is somebody who is willing to help others. By helping others I mean in all sorts of ways. I am a social worker to be, who is focusing on non-formal education and social cohesion. This is not necessarily helping people on the same level as what we know as a social worker in the Netherlands, but I still help people. I organize events to make a change, even though the change is only happening for one person.

I consider myself as a social change agent. At the moment I am still in college. Being in my final year, I have to write my thesis. For my thesis, I will be focusing on racism in The Netherlands. There is still a lot of education that needs to be done in schools on discrimination, racism and slavery, since the Netherlands has had such a big part in this. Besides being a student, I do a lot of other work. I am on the board of The Hang-Out 010, an organization for young LGBT people. We organize different events and we just offer a place for them to hang out.

A social change agent to me is somebody who is willing to put someone else’s need before his or her own, somebody who is willing to see things from different perspectives, somebody who is ready to make a change, even though they will face difficulties in making that change.

 

Deliberations on Working as a Reflective and Critical Friend

I feel like I am on a life journey in re-discovering what it means to me to be a social change agent. The following is an attempt to describe my reflections so far. There is much that I continue to be curious about and the journey is ongoing.

Throughout my life and in my role as a social change agent I have seen myself as the one who needs to know, the one who needs to provide insight, information and direction on how to do this that or the other, the one who can fix things, resolves problems, finds solutions. I appreciate that this approach resulted in projects being realised, goals being achieved and things getting done and something was being missed. I was too one dimensional in being the solution finder; what was being missed was the complexity in me and in others and therefore how I understood working with people.

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In all of the communities, groups and organisations I have been a part of, my experience is that complexity is ever present. I myself have experienced what I have thought of as ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings. For example I have been unsure of myself, I have wanted to be noticed, I have felt competitive, frustrated with others, envious or jealous as well as many other ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings. Because I thought of these thoughts and feelings as ‘difficult’ I understand more now that this limited my willingness to name, welcome and work with these thoughts and feelings in myself and I believe this limited my work in these contexts as a social change agent.

Whatever my role, whether as a group member, an activist, a trainer, manager or facilitator I have struggled with these ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings. It is not just the struggling with these thoughts and feelings it is also that I have not openly named and spoken about them. I have not consciously owned them as mine, as part of me. I have witnessed too that others are also affected by a similar raft of ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings as well as the struggle to own and acknowledge them.

Now when thinking about my role as a social change agent I am focusing on transforming my understanding of these ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings; they are just ordinary. Seeing them as ‘difficult’ rather than challenging to work with has got both me and those I come together with into trouble. This avoidance tactic often limited the work I (and we) were able to do together at best and at worst stalled the process or broke it down.

Something is changing and it is changing from the inside out. The difference feels both significant and subtle. My way of being in the world and how I see myself as a social change agent is changing. My old way wasn’t well rounded. It wasn’t embodied because I was reluctant to own, embrace and acknowledge my complexity. I am growing in confidence that handled well and with compassion, working with these challenges will aid us positively working together and achieving the social change we would like to see.

So this is where I am in my journey to understand what it means for me to be a social change agent. I recognise how challenging it is for me to change, but perhaps those of us who think of ourselves as change agents share this malaise, we see ourselves as being the facilitators of social change primarily and not as part of the social change we want to see happen?

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The way I approach my work now is different. I feel clearer that change is hard, for all of us and I am working on equipping myself in ways that will support both me and others to acknowledge and work with this. I have a growing awareness of how I can work alongside others as a resource and this will mean different things depending on the context. Sometimes it is sharing my reflections, asking questions, sometimes it is simply getting out of the way; allowing others to find their way, and remembering to include complexity at every level. Currently I am finding it helpful to describe my role as a social change agent as a ‘reflective and critical friend’ to both myself and others. One who supports individuals or groups of people to be the best they can be in their context by being curious and asking open-ended questions about what is going on – exploring and identifying what is significant, what’s important, what works well and what needs to be improved. What is impacting positively and negatively on our lives and our work together. It is an opportunity to identify more clearly the issues, the challenges and potential for each of us and our work together.