5 lessons in creating sustainable social change

5 lessons in creating sustainable social change

In the weekend I presented at the Engineers Without Borders Conference in Auckland.  I loved the theme of the conference - 'How NGO”s, business, and public sector can collaborate more effectively to improve community health wellbeing and opportunity.'

This is a theme that is close to my heart at the moment.  I have a firm belief that the only way to create real sustainable social change is through an approach that involves all the sectors - government, business, community, NGO's/Not for Profit, and funders.  Each has a part to play both for the skill set and knowledge they can offer, but also for their contribution to partnerships.

My presentation was about the lessons I've learned while I've been working in the area of social change.  So I thought I'd share that presentation here just in case it was helpful for someone.  Of course I've shared this on my business site as well, but you never know ... someone might stumble across this post and find something that resonates.

Hi, and thanks for coming to this session.  I’m Janette.  The geek in me is really excited about the theme of this conference because I really do believe that the key to long term sustainable positive social change is through cross sector collaboration, and I’m a firm believer that business has a big part to play in that.   Both in terms of the practice that business employs, which can be useful when applied in other sectors, but also through partnership.

I’m hopeful that by sharing some of my experience and some of what I’ve learnt along the way you might find something you resonate with, or maybe can apply to your own work.

A little on my background – I have a business degree and spent nearly 20 years in the screen production industry.  Over the course of the last nearly 10 years both on purpose and by accident I’ve been involved in what I broadly describe as the social sector, and social enterprise.

I’m the founder of Take My Hands, a social enterprise that collects medical equipment here in NZ and distributes that to organisations and agencies that work with those in need in the Asia Pacific region.  I still run by company, the Playground, and I am the development manager for a Collect Impact Initiative focused on improving educational outcomes for youth in West Auckland, based on evidence that suggests improved success in education leads to better health and wellbeing, better relationships, employment and other life outcomes.   Under that there are several collaborative bodies of work that are basically aimed at removing or minimising the barriers to education that exist for our most at risk and vulnerable youth in West Auckland.


I thought I’d start by flashing back to 2010 and talking a little bit about how it started.  I was having a cup of tea at a conference talking to a prosthetist about what they did with all the artificial limbs, and they said that they dumped them, which upset me.  So I did some research.

I heard two stories that motivated me.  The first was of Aman, a young boy in Pakistan that was cricket mad.  When he hit his ball into a field, the rules of their village game were that you had to go get it.  So when he crossed the field to go and get it, he stood on a landmind which took his leg.  More than that it took away his ability to go to school and therefore live or have a normal life.  The same year that that happened I discovered we had dumped the equivalent of nearly 60,000 boxes of usable medical equipment.

So I jumped online again and found the The Hope Rehab Society who wanted the limbs, and the Wellington Artificial Limb Centre who had limbs and limb parts they were prepared to give me and the upshot of that first project was I got 400kg of limbs to Pakistan for $50. And they started to help people.  Ashen here is just one of the recipients of that equipment.

This helped me realise my first lesson

You can make a difference if you just start.  That’s all I did …. I just started … I didn’t wait till I was rich or retired or had time, in fact that whole project probably took me one day of my time.   All I did was start with one email.

However, there is kind of more to it than just starting and Joel Barker says it far more eloquently and each line of this quote helps spell it out:

  • Vision without action is merely a dream …. I’ve come across people who have ‘great ideas’ but always have an excuse for not adding in the action:
    • I’m just an ideas guy
    • I couldn’t really to that, I don’t know how
    • I have to make a living first
    • Or they just procrastinate
    • All of that is basically bollocks – you can start with action – you don’t have to do it all at once, it’s a case of one step at a time.
  • Action without vision passes time …
    • to me these are the people that are do things but with no thought to how what they are doing fits into the bigger picture … or even how what they are doing is taking them toward their dream
    • they are the people who don’t finish things, or are always on to the current obsession or are easily lead astray by those around them even if it contradicts what they were into previously
    • Again all of this is bollocks. One of the things I do with all the projects, ideas and opportunities that come my way is that I bench mark them against where it is I’m going, my goal or vision and check whether its going to help me get to where I want to go …. That answer to that can sometimes be no … but at least I know and can choose whether I invest time in it or not, knowing that its not part of the bigger picture.
  • Vision with Action can change the world
    • This to me means – not only having the ‘idea’ but taking action that has meaning  but with that – hold your dream firmly but your process lightly.



I started to get stories and pictures back about the people that had received equipment, and I started to get asked by others to get involved and provide equipment.   So I thought it was time to do it properly.   I asked some awesome people to be  on a board, and formalised the organisation and then we got into Launchpad (Akina) - a social enterprise accelerator. 

The programme encouraged me to think more broadly and deeply about what we were doing and our model.  I also started to think more about how to make what we were doing successful and started to grow a belief around cross sector collaboration.   I stumbled across the Collective Impact Framework and I had a real interest in what it could offer.

Around the same time I was working for a Trust as their business development manager. There was a big push toward growing the youth programme.  The experience in another community had been slow and grinding and we had interest from West Auckland.  Being a westie I was aware that there was an openness that existed there so I put forward the idea to create a research project that would

  • 1 – allow us to find out relatively quickly what the need was in the community and where the services of Trust might best fit.
  • 2 – allow me to explore a model in more depth that I believed could have an impact.

So I found funding from Lottery Community Research grant to do a community led research project looking at whether Collective Impact had the potential to help improve health and wellbeing outcomes for youth in West Auckland.

And above all it taught me lesson 2



  • Your idea/vision and your assumptions - try not to operate with assumptions - test them!  Is it really a problem, to who, why, and do they want it fixed
    • I've done this in several different ways that I think are successful
      • Pilots (Short, robustly evaluated, tests of a programme or solution)   A Pilot offers:
        • Limited time and scope which helps manage risk for everyone
        • Mistakes can be made at a small scale, are less of an impact and are often easier to fix
        • Provide a proof of concept that you can roll out later.
        • For TMH
          • that first project (of 400kg of limbs) was the test, or proof of concept, and we do a test project with every new partner.
          • The success of those tests are used to inform a longer bigger project or relationship.
        • Research Projects
          • Allows you to go in and ask – often a great way to gather info as it’s a ‘no obligation’ contact
          • For A @ W the research project was the test – allowed me to really find out about what has happening in the community and I wasn’t a threat to anyone … I wasn’t in competition for their business or their patch … people love to talk about what they do.
        • Case Studies
          • Case studies can be handy too to drill down into details so again for the A @ W Collective Impact initiative the case study on Alternative Education was a really great way to find out the detail and apply the model to a real life situation theoretically.
        • Through tried and tested tools
          • Market Validation
            • Will give you info on:
              • Price, Placement and Promotion
              • Who your market really is
              • And your product or service – and this info can help you adjust your design as needed
          • How
            • Interviews etc – asking for a little time and advice is a powerful tool – if they say no, then no biggie, and if they say yes, you are also softly marketing your product.
            • Look at what the Influencers are the cool guys or guys in the know
              • Music industry – previews of tracks to bloggers and producers
            • Check out the competition – what are they doing really well that you can steal ideas from and innovate from there.

Test -  Who are your market/people you want to impact, and what do they really value?

For this I've used a few helpful tools

  • Key stakeholder matrix
    • Helps identify key stakeholders and what was important to them.
    • Identify your Stakeholders and put them along the top
    • Identify the impacts you believe you are having
      • NOTE: ask them also what impacts your work has on them you might be surprised.  And ask them to rate each impact.
    • Fill in the rating of importance
    • Take an average (in the final column)
    • This helps identify your priorities, and from there work out what impacts you should report on, but also can help inform the focus of your work.
  • TMH experience
    • We started off thinking waste minimisation was the most important, but found through this that social impacts in the pacific are more important.
    • That is now being used to inform our furture strategies.


Test: What does your community need?  Is the way you think you can help really going to help?

  • Community Index and Priority Index
    • This tool was developed by De Wet Schutte and we adapted it to use with our research project.
  • Community Index
    • identifies the hierarchy of needs of a community and people are asked on a measure how important it is to them, and how happy or satisfied they are in that area.
    • Tool used so that those that have low levels of literacy can particpate
    • Then the Priority list is developed/
  • Priority Index
    • Takes that information  and using the difference between the two – creates an index of priority
    • Where those with high importance but low satisfaction are prioritised and further investigation done to find out what the issues are and from there solutions can be developed.


Test: Your Process

  • Using best practice – its probably not rocket science and someone has probably done something similar before and draw on not for profit, business and government sector – learn from their mistakes if you can.
    • A @ W – collective impact model
    • YESS – Juma Model
    • TMH – online retailer model
    • How can you adapt a model to your community?
  • Using Your experience – review, reflect and record
    • A @ W – We have review meetings every quarter – comparing the 'plan' to the reality
      • What worked better than we thought?
      • What went as expected?
      • What didn’t go as we thought?
      • What can we do to help mitigate or prevent that happening again or impacting on us and what we're trying to achieve?
  • Reference group check ins
    • Its helpful to test what you're thinking with others that have far more experience in their field and can contribute their perspective to what you are doing.
  • Track everything and reflect on that.
    • Assume you will be scrutinised and therefore how do you answer any questions your devil’s advocate, or scrutineer or doubter might ask – process, consultation, inclusivity, etc.

As a result of the ‘test everything’ approach we’ve been able to build some really solid and robust models and enterprises.

I’ve slipped these two handsome fella’s in here, not because of their obvious muscle bound physical prowess, but because they show that the test everything approach sometimes means getting in amongst it … these guys are my IT team for TMH and not the normal ‘loading crew' of muscle bound beefcakes we normally have.  However their involvement in the stocktake and loading process meant that they now have a much much better understanding of what we’re doing and how the process works at that end and that has now informed the inventory management and donor management system that they are developing for us.


And they are a good Segway into the next lesson.  LESSON 3 – DON’T BE SUCH A LONER

Back to the Story

Doing it on your own is hard.  It's a challenge to pick yourself up when you have those ‘what the hell am I doing’ moments,  and you can’t high five yourself in celebration when things go great … you just look weird.


  • They key to getting others involved is to find your champions.
    • Your Champions aren’t determined by their size, but by their passion for what you are doing … and then by what they do.  If they are passionate about what you do then they will help you create change, they will walk with you through the tough times, and they will bring their special ‘something’ to the project.
  • How do you find them?
    • Work out what you need and then ask around.
      • Ask people you think have info, asking for time and advice will get you everything from no to major support and involvement – be open to anything on that continuum.
      • Think about not just what you need to do, but who can open doors, provide credibility, now and in the future.  I break these into two different types.
        • Enablers – provide mandate, open political doors (not just government but community politics, sector politics etc) and know the gate keepers to the funds – where money is tight and where money might flow. ,
        • Activators – are the doers, the complimentary service providers, or partners who might have an active role in what you’re doing.
      • Think across cover the various sectors - , can provide you with what you need.   - every sector has a part to play so be open to their involvement.
      • Take the time to find out what they need – What is their pain point? What are their objectives?  And then spend some time thinking about how you might help them achieve that – and if there is an offer make sure you talk about what you can provide and what flexibility you might have to enable them to achieve what they want to achieve as well. Partnerships of mutual benefit are far more sustainable.

3 Key things here:

  1. Know what you need
  2. Know what you can offer (your assets)
  3. Know what they need.

Both TMH and the Collective Impact Initiative people with some clout on board – but they wouldn’t have come on board if we hadn’t ‘tested everything’ and also …. Cue Lesson 4 …. Proved our point.

Did I say build your evidence yet?  The importance of measurement (outcomes and impact) can't be stressed enough.   Its about what you’re measuring and how you communicate that.

  • Consider the outcomes of those you want to impact,
    • what are you really trying to change and how can you tell if you are doing that?
  • Consider the outcomes of those you to have on board - your champions and those you need on board. ,
    • Government
      • If its large scale change you need they are important and understanding their focus is important. E.g. in NZ
        • Youth
        • Cross departmental collaboration and cross sector
        • Evidence building
      • If its funding you need – even cross sector funding? What are the outcomes of those agencies or departments that you are already doing
    • Business
      • Have a commercial objectives which is obvious but Corporate Social Responsiblity is growing because of the ‘conscious consumer’ and environmental focus.  So consider how you can support them in achieving that and therefore a potential competitive advantage.
    • Talk to them (those you want on board) - their definitions aren’t always what you would define something as. Talk to them early!
  • Identify your assets – (which we all take for granted.)
    • What do you have to offer?  What are you expert at?  What are your networks and connections?
      • It could be that you are brilliant at connecting and reaching a hard to reach sector of the community, or you are brilliant at story telling, or your evaluation information is useful for others .... think broadly about your assets and again don't assume.
  • Notes:
    • Its not about bending what you are doing to fit what they want, but identifying what you are already doing that meets their needs.
    • Know what are their measures of success, their focus, etc.
  • Consider what you need to know for quality management and improvement
    • What do you need to know to help improve what you are doing, and become more effective at what you are doing.   How can you measure that and use that information?

THEN .... Its as much about how you say it! 

    • Translate …. Its not the responsibility of your audience to try and understand you, its your responsibility to communicate in a way they WILL understand.
      • e.g. community might want story, but government and business will want to see the numbers, know that what you are doing is evidence based.
      • NZ Treasury put out a really useful Cost Benefit Analysis (CBAx tool)   or have someone help you do it.
  • Build your evidence
    • Stats – your own and from other sources and research that help prove your point.
    • Anecdotal – stat’s backed up with story is really powerful – especially when its your or your audience/market’s story and its true. It helps you connect at an emotional level as well.
    • If you can connect at an intellectual and professional level AND at an emotional level then that can be really powerful.


  • Focus ahead means
    • You know where you’re going and why you’re aiming at that.
    • You know you have good people with you
    • You know you have good systems and processes
    • You know you have good evidence to support your journey
  • Looking out the window means
    • Being aware of what is happening around you and asking …
    • Is change happening, do we need to respond to that change and if so how
    • What else is happening that might help us get to where we want to go
    • What else is happening that I need to be mindful of.


Posted: Tuesday 1 August 2017

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