Educating changemakers

“We are a platform and school for people who want to make a positive difference in this world.” Yes, team 1 is full of people who definitely want to make a positive difference in this world, and are actually already doing so! “Knowmads Hanoi – We educate changemakers.” Changemakers: I’ve heard this word several times during our weekends together. Usually this word is used with a lot of enthusiasm and determination. What does change making really mean? And what is our approach to change in this Knowmads program? How does it connect to my own life and work?

Saturday morning we started with a lecture from Mr. Don Tuan Phuong about NGOs and Civil Society in Vietnam. We learned that civil society is ‘the aggregate of NGOs and institutions that manifest interest and will of citizens or individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of governments.’ Aha! So this is all about change making. According to Mr. Don Tuan Phuong NGOs have a broad vision they wish to implement.

In the previous weekend, we had a chance to hear a story about social change. Mr Binh told us all about his efforts in changing societies’ vision and behavior towards the LGBT community. According to Global Action Plan (GAP), an NGO at the forefront of Education for Sustainable Development and related programs for sustainable behaviour change, most behavior-change campaigns are designed along the ‘scientific’ model of:

Information > Knowledge > Value Shift = Behaviour Change

Yet, in practice this isn’t very effective. We are bombarded with information these days. This doesn’t necessarily make us change our behavior. Why would there be anyone still smoking cigarettes if this model is true? So, we need more than just information to instigate change. According to the brothers Heath, in addition to engaging the rational mind it is crucial to engage our heart, feelings and emotions as well[1]. If added to that you pave the way, give people a clear idea of how to arrive at the destination you want them arrive, a sustainable change in behavior is very likely to happen. Right now I think of Mr. Binh’s story about changing the LGBT parents’ opinion and behavior. Through personal stories and connection, the parents started realizing that their child is not sick and needs their support in the community. So, it’s about making people care!

[Just a side thought: I believe that storytelling can be a very effective way of engaging people’s hearts in issues. I like the storytelling project of one of my classmates, Duong,  a lot because of this!]

GAPs change model, or ‘empowerment model’ as they call it, therefore looks like a spiral:

change spiral

To empower people to change their behaviour we can enter at any point in the circle and help them (or ourselves) to formulate the right questions in their search of information about a topic they are interested in, or help formulate clear intentions for action, or give feedback about the results of their actions.

Most NGOs rely on volunteer work. When I think of it, it is amazing how many people want to offer their energy and time to contribute to their community or society. This may be well organized under official institutions or this may be individuals helping out their family or neighbours. All this work is highly valuable and productive. However, all this work is not measured in GDP. Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures the well-being of a country. GNH is divided into nine domains. One of these domains represents time use. Knowing how people spend their time gives an idea of ‘the amount of productive activities that are being done in a country’[2] which contributes to the well-being and functioning of a society.

Just as it is rather complicated to know and measure the well-being of a country, Mr. Don Tuan Phuong told us it is difficult to measure success of a social enterprise. A social enterprise can generate profit and must be financially sustainable. However, its’ focus lies on creating a positive impact on society. On a governmental level income can no longer be seen as the only way to measure the ‘success’ of a country. In social business it is equally important to reflect on how we measure success since this will direct our attention and energy. These questions are important to me and I will make sure I will reflect on the meaning of ‘success’ and how it could be measured with regards to my own project as well.

With two self-development sessions this weekend we had a lot of opportunities for self-reflection. Saturday afternoon, Phan Y Ly’s session turned out to be around the theme of vulnerability. Writing our names with our bodies in front of the group and sharing our life’s stories with our teammates showed us the beauty of vulnerability. To me, when I see someone’s weaknesses and vulnerability I see someone’s humanness. It are those imperfections that give me a reason to love someone, not the perfect image that we would like to portray of ourselves. Turning this observation to myself I see that I need my love exactly because I have weaknesses and difficulties. Our homework: try to find a habit of covering up/hiding our vulnerability and experiment with being vulnerable the next time the situation occurs.

Sunday we had a chance to learn from Ms. Van. We spent some time reflecting about the act of complaining. I found out that I complain to put an event or situation I’m not satisfied about outside of myself. In this way I don’t have to show my true feelings and weaknesses: I don’t have to be vulnerable. Communicating from our vulnerability is so much harder to do. But probably so much better for the relationship with the person we are communicating to. There I found a perfect habit I can use for the homework we got from Phan Y Ly!

[1] Heath D. and C. Switch: How to change things when change is hard, 2010


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