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ARTICLE | Civil Society & Power: Creating Bolder, Braver Social Change

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ARTICLE | Civil Society & Power: Creating Bolder, Braver Social Change

Community Change, United Kingdom

Change itself is constantly changing. Where it occurs, who’s involved, what blocks it and what boosts it. At the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK), our mission is to better understand how social change happens and to unleash civil society’s capacity to create it.

The SMK's vision is of a confident and powerful civil society in which people work together to drive change. We call this capacity ‘social power’, and our mission is to unleash it.  

Our Social Change Project engaged a diversity of changemakers in exploring the question: What can we learn about how social change is happening in the UK today that can strengthen civil society’s future efforts?  The Project’s 18-month learning journey deepened our understanding of the myriad ways in which civil society works to drive change, and developed tools and insights to reveal what makes some change efforts successful, common characteristics of effective changemakers, and the internal and external constraints that prevent civil society from sparking social change.  

Achieving bolder, braver social change requires a systemic shift in how civil society sees, thinks about, and acts on power. We need to grow our power to make change happen, but also to acknowledge and transform the power dynamics that create barriers to solidarity and collaboration in our work for change. Power shows up in our organizations in ways that are both individual and societal, formal, and informal. The goal of our Power Project was to explore how to see power more clearly and develop strong strategies to transform it. A key insight from this work is that all changemakers – and particularly the formal social sector organizations - need to look inward as well as outward to reimagine their work as an ally and partners.   

When an understanding of power is embedded into every part of the social change process – and reflected in how we talk about and act for social justice - our work becomes more relevant, effective, and authentic.  The result will be truly transformative, generating more human connections, stronger communities, and hope for change.  

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Sarah Thomas

By Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is the Power Project Lead with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation. She has twenty years’ experience in the charity sector, where she has held leadership roles at a range of community and educational projects. Sarah is passionate about inclusive, participatory approaches to social change that contribute to creating a kinder, more just, and sustainable world. She has an MA in Power, Participation and Social Change.

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