Historically, I’ve been known to be one who tends to have strong opinions. In recent years – believe it or not – I’ve been more selective in my decisions to share my opinions, particularly in social media settings. Still, there are certain things that I feel so passionately about that I am indubitably inclined to lend my voice to discussions about said topics. The thing is, we all have things that we feel passionately about, and everyone has an opinion about something. In fact, one might argue that opinions are basic human rights.
But we should be cautious to remain on the right side of the thin line between talking heads and change-makers. I believe that the first step towards making a change is acknowledgement. So, in that respect, it is certainly important to talk about things that you want to see change. However, I challenge you to take a step beyond simply talking about the things that you’d like to see change, and actually be the change you wish to see in the world.
Here are some ways that you can be the change:
Organize a group of friends or family
Though it’s important to be civic-minded, actual civic engagement does not need to be a full-time job. Sometimes a big impact can be made by choosing strategic times to spring into action. A friend of mine organizes a group of friends to pass out gift cards to random people each Christmas. She and her friends could have blessed perfect strangers on any day of the year, but I think the act goes a little bit farther when you forego receiving gifts and sacrifice time with family to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Start a non-profit organization to promote change on a larger scale
Forming a non-profit organization is a more time-intensive commitment to address a particular issue. It is a way to garner more resources and have an even greater social impact on a long-term basis.
It’s good practice to do some preliminary research prior to starting a non-profit to see if there are other agencies with the same mission that you can team up with instead of reinventing the wheel. Still, you may find that you have a unique idea for change that no one else is doing. And if that’s the case, creating a non-profit could bring value to your community as well as a partner to existing agencies that are doing similar work.
Volunteer with a local organization that shares your mission
Let’s face it. Most of us are too busy to create a new company or launch a new initiative from scratch. But, we’re no less concerned about the causes that are dear to us. Plus, chances are that there may be an existing organization that is already doing work to address those needs. Sites like Volunteer Match and Idealist help connect individuals and groups with volunteer opportunities.
Host a town hall meeting or forum to develop strategies with other like-minded individuals
I have to admit that I’m usually leery of town hall meetings, because not always – but often, they tend to be forums for people to exchange angry insults with no true resolution. However, when properly executed, town halls have the ability to unite people and produce plans for true change. I recently attended a town hall meeting that was organized by an elected official and a community activist. The focus of the meeting was not to lament the many challenges faced by their community, but rather to acknowledge, address, and devise a plan to overcome those challenges. The approach employed was to consider that members of the community were best qualified to identify their needs and thus, provide insight into what could be done to improve conditions.
Speak up and speak out
There is unspeakable power in the tongue (pun intended). Simply put, our words can have the extraordinary ability to change the world. Being the change can call for verbally defending your cause, even when it’s not convenient or comfortable to do so. You may use your words to inform people who have no prior knowledge of the issues that you feel passionately about. It’s important, though, to be mindful of the difference between providing sound information that is validated by facts, and simply stating your opinions. In fact, being savvy enough about the initiative that you support can make the difference when it comes to getting others to join your cause.
You can also use your voice to speak up and speak out against injustices when you witness them. Being an advocate to those who are unable to advocate for themselves is a huge way to be the change you wish to see in the world.
Kashanna Eiland is the co-founder and Executive Director of Empowerment through Education and Exposure, a nonprofit agency that promotes post-secondary education and career opportunities for Chicago youth. She is also a Social Impact Strategist and Speaker who aims to help socially conscious individuals and organizations bring their bright ideas to fruition.