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April 27, 2021

Changemakers, and How to Be One – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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©© GettyImages/Mantaphoto

"Don't just exist. Do something meaningful with your life. Discover a problem and fix it."

Israelmore Ayivor, Ghanaian writer and public speaker

If you were to conduct a poll, asking people to name who they regarded as genuine "changemakers," you'd likely hear Bill and Melinda Gates, Nelson Mandela. Perhaps Oprah Winfrey and Seth Godin.

The reason many of us know the people above is that they are, or were, Changemakers with a capital C. But do you have to operate on a scale as grand as theirs to be a changemaker?

A Changemaker for the Rhinos

South Africa's rhino population, which makes up 80 percent of the world's rhino population, is heavily threatened by poachers.

Much of the poaching is centered in the Greater Kruger National Park. Big game poachers aren't nice people. When confronted, they don't apologize for trespassing and leave. They respond with high-caliber rifles.

So you'd imagine that anti-poaching units all consist of large, tough and uncompromising men with even bigger rifles, right? Well, maybe not.

In 2013, Craig Spencer, then head warden of one of the private game reserves that form part of the Greater Kruger National Park, founded the Black Mambas: an all-female anti-poaching unit. All female, all unarmed.

Within a year, this highly trained team was so successful that it was asked to expand its operation to other regions. And what makes this initiative special, is that these women don't only protect rhinos and elephants.

Their communities are reeling from the negative social impact of fast money pouring in through the criminal economy of poaching. Drugs, crime and violence go hand-in-hand with poaching.

The Black Mambas educate their communities to understand that the long-term benefits of rhino conservation are far greater than the short-term profits of poaching. They're protecting their children and changing their children's future. By the way, a black mamba is a highly venomous snake, the kind whose children you shouldn't mess with!

Less Plastic Is Fantastic

The sprawling Kaptembwa slum in Nakuru, Kenya, is home to poverty, rotting garbage, overflowing sewers, and unemployment. It was also the home of Lorna Rutto. Like Craig, it's unlikely you'll have heard of her.

Lorna was still at school when she started noticing how much plastic trash there was. She started recycling bits of plastic by melting them and reshaping them into jewelry and small ornaments, which she went on to sell.

After finishing college, she embarked on a career in banking, but felt that she wanted to do more than have a corporate career. In 2009, she started a company that collects plastic waste and uses it to manufacture highly durable, environmentally friendly fence posts.

These are now used widely across Kenya. In switching from timber to plastic, Lorna's initiative has saved more than 250 acres of forest, and more than a million kilograms of plastic have been taken out of the environment. Most important of all, Lorna has also created more than 300 jobs. She is another unsung, big "C" Changemaker.

A Changemaker Making Hope Contagious

"Making hope contagious." I love these words so much that I wish they were mine. But they belong to Marlon Parker.

Marlon grew up in the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa. "The Flats" is notorious for drugs, violent crime, and gangs. He grew up with his single mom trying to maintain their family.

By the age of eight, he was selling sweets and carrying shopping bags to earn money. After completing school, Marlon found a job at the airport. There, one of his colleagues told him that IT would be a good area for study, because it was "a career for the future."

Neither Marlon nor his colleague knew exactly what "IT" meant. Aged 19 at the time, Marlon had never touched a computer. Undeterred, he enrolled at university. He paid his own way by giving extra classes to fellow students who struggled with the subject of statistics.

After a while, the university noticed him and offered him a post as an associate lecturer. Later, as a graduate, Marlon was bothered by what was happening in his community. It hit close to home when his younger brother got sucked into the world of gang crime.

Marlon Put His Mind to IT

Marlon decided to put his IT knowledge and skills to use, to address the social ills he witnessed daily. He asked the university, where he was still lecturing, if they'd be willing to make one of their computer labs available.

His idea was for a few of his friends to learn how to use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to design social innovations that could bring about change in the community. The university agreed, and 14 of Marlon's friends (mostly ex-gang members and drug dealers) got involved. Many other youngsters became interested in learning how to use ICT to design social innovations.

Word spread, and the demand was so great that Marlon registered a non-profit organization in less than two years. RLabs, an integrated IT-based social innovation lab, was born.

In its own words, RLabs use hope, innovation, technology, training, and economic opportunities to create environments where people are impacted, empowered and transformed.

It has expanded to 23 countries on five continents. To date, it has touched the lives of more than 200,000 people through its programs.

"Making Hope Contagious" is RLabs' slogan. (Oh, and just so you know, Marlon completed his bachelor's degree and first postgraduate qualification without owning a computer!)

Small Changes, Big Impact

Do you have to be a Marlon, Lorna or Craig to be a changemaker? In my opinion, you don't.

Considering innumerable challenges around the globe, every one of us can be a changemaker. How? Here's how:

  • Refuse to be drawn in by negativity.
  • Be resolute in treating every person you encounter, irrespective of race, color or creed, with dignity and respect.
  • Teach others that language matters – not which language you speak or choose to use – but how you talk to and about people that are different from you.
  • Call out any form of discrimination.
  • Volunteer, reach out and teach.
  • Be the best you can be for your family, workplace and community.

Because, as U.S. social entrepreneur Bill Drayton said, "If everyone is a changemaker, there's no way a problem can outrun a solution."

Changemakers, and How to Be One

During the #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about changemakers, and how to be one. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:

Q1. What is a changemaker?

@PG_pmp They are willing to take the risk to change the status quo and lead the way to something better.

@AnshuGupta15 Changemakers do not only come up with solutions, but also create ample opportunity for everyone to change themself in life for a bigger win.

Q2. What do changemakers do differently? What makes them changemakers?

@JKatzaman A changemaker doesn't accept conventional answers if they seem wrong or don't make sense. They're bold enough to do something about it.

@Midgie_MT Changemakers might be people who are intentional and passionate about making a difference to others or for a cause.

Q3. What characteristics do you associate with changemakers?

@DrKashmirM Honesty, persistence, patience.

@NeViNShCe1 Courage, vulnerability, resilience, creativity, passion, discipline, flexibility, optimism.

Q4. Are changemakers born or made?

@SizweMoyo They are made – but they choose to become.

@ColfaxInsurance I think they're made (for the most part). Their experiences, and the experiences of those around them, help shape who they are and how they respond and react and how they advocate for the changes they want to see.

Q5. Do changemakers need specific skills, yes or no? Why?

@Yolande_MT Maybe it's not a requirement, but I do think it helps as many major changemakers tap into their areas of expertise to establish programs for social change.

@lg217 To be an effective changemaker, I feel that you need strong problem-solving skills as well as strong creativity. The reason is because every problem has a solution and the Changemakers are the experts when... dealing with different problems.

Q6. Who do you consider to be a changemaker, and why?

@Midgie_MT I see @BreneBrown as a changemaker because of what she is bringing to leadership, encouraging us to "stay awkward, brave and kind." I see @Yolande_MT as a changemaker because of how she approaches all that she does and the positive impact she has!

@MicheleDD_MT Greta Thunberg – a global powerful force for climate change who refuses to back down when dismissed or ridiculed by powerful people.

Q7. Being a changemaker can be challenging. Where do changemakers draw their energy from?

@TwinkleEduCons From their team, their supporters, their cause, their passion. Sometimes from their pain or anger – whatever they or someone else close to them went through to reveal the need for this change. From their sense of justice and what is right and fair in this world.

@MarkC_Avgi From their passion about the issue & a deep-rooted commitment to do something about it, regardless of opposition that they know is likely to exist & they will face.

Q8. How do changemakers work through obstacles?

@emapirciu Changemakers work through obstacles with optimism, hope, and self-confidence. However, I think they don't see obstacles most of the time. Only opportunities.

@NeViNShCe1 Sometimes with a sledgehammer and sometimes gentle like a fresh breeze of spring wind. And sometimes they take the obstacle and disassemble it.

Q9. How important is it to celebrate changemakers? How do we do this at work?

@HloniphileDlam7 It is very important because that impacts on their strength to go on. Workplaces must have 'A day of Gratitude' when everyone can thank someone at work who has made a difference in their lives. One can change your way of thinking or influence you to forgive, study, etc.

@SustainedLeader We need to teach our children that the changemakers that create positive change are the heroes to be celebrated and followed, not sports figures, super-heroes, or other irrelevant people or concepts.

Q10. What one thing will you do this week to be more of a changemaker?

@Dwyka_Consult Strive to impart knowledge rather than provide an answer. Knowledge will help someone answer the question in future.

@MicheleDD_MT Continue to be an advocate for positive change in our workplace. Speak about it every opportunity I get. Look for allies in the cause.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.

Coming Up

While we're doing our best to be kind people bringing about change, there's an aspect of doing good that we need to be aware of: the thin line between being kind and becoming patronizing.

In our next #MTtalk chat, we're going to talk about when people are kind, when they're patronizing – and how to tell the difference! In our poll this week, we're asking what patronizing behavior you experience most regularly. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.


In the meantime, here are some resources to explore strategies to communicate better without patronizing. Some of them may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club.

Managing Volunteers

Transformational Leadership

Intentional Change Theory

Mission and Vision Statements

Carroll's Pyramid of CSR

How to Preserve Your Integrity

Servant Leadership

Coping With Change

Coaching Through Change

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Managers and leaders have been using Mind Tools for over 25 years

Now, 24 million learners globally benefit from our extensive Content Library, development tools, and custom learning experiences. See how Mind Tools for Business can help develop your managers and leaders.
Find out more

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