Can faith drive social change?


Anne Evans joined Ashoka’s leadership team in 2010. A Yale SOM Charter class member in 1978, she has worked in all sectors, including as a partner in a management consulting firm, executive director of the National Gallery of Art and co-founder of the Nomadic Kenyan Children’s Educational Fund.

Q: Why did Ashoka develop the Faith and Changemaking program?

There is a bubbling of creativity and innovation among believers, especially young people. They are eager to make religious communities more relevant in the 21st century. But there is no general narrative on the degree of renewal that occurs. We felt the time was right to give faith-inspired changemakers a way to come together, learn, and support each other with Ashoka as a neutral host.

“Even though there is energy, creativity and innovation among believers, organizations don’t know how to adapt. Hierarchy is alive and well in denominational institutions.

With everything Ashoka does, we view self-sustaining change as imperative, especially given the historical moment we find ourselves in: moving away from a time of hierarchy and transactional relationships so that information is widely available in the everyone’s pocket, which gives everyone a certain amount of power. . This change requires fluid, collaborative systems and leaders who understand that success means generating a sense of belonging in others by enabling individuals to have impact and groups to be motivated and powerful.

We came up with the idea for the Faith and Changemaking program because while there is energy, creativity and innovation among believers, organizations don’t know how to adapt. Hierarchy is alive and well in denominational institutions.

Q: Who participated in the inaugural program?

We launched the call for faith-inspired changemakers and 140 people from 22 countries and 10 different faith traditions responded.

Basically, we saw three different types of change makers. Spiritual innovators, people who create new models for living a spiritual life in the world. They may or may not be part of traditional faith-based organizations. We have also seen social entrepreneurs who are driven by their faith to do something fundamentally important in the world. And we’ve seen what we call institutional entrepreneurs. These very courageous people are trying to execute a change of perspective within existing religious organizations.

In May, Ashoka hosted the Masterclass for Faith-Inspired Changemakers for 70 people. A subgroup continued in an additional six month program which we call the Lab. We try to build mechanisms where people can walk this road together. We found this extremely helpful; they must be able to talk to each other and share with each other because it is solitary work.

Q: What does the change look like?

Some people call this flipping the model. Instead of telling people, “Come to services and we’ll tell you what’s meaningful and important,” it’s about asking them, “What helps you feel that you are living the call of the divine? and how can we help you bring your faith into action?

Young people today want to find meaning in their work and in what they do in their lives. If they want to continue to be part of religious communities, there has to be this change that allows them to see their role as powerful and making a difference.

Too often, even when youth clergy build commitment, many of them are held back by a framework that says they are responsible for creating the opportunities instead of really putting the youth in a position to ask what needs to change. . our community? What can we do about it? Letting young people lead is deeply powerful.

We have seen this in abundance at Ashoka. When young people step forward and make a difference for others, they see their own power and the next time a problem arises, they will step up again to help find a solution.

I recently listened to a panel in Ashoka where a young man from Brazil described the impacts of climate change: deforestation, lack of clean water and people suffering from hunger in his community. He and his friends got together and planted fruit trees. They have created ambassador programs in cities in Brazil. Now, thousands and thousands of fruit trees have been planted; he started a whole movement.

When you hear a young man talk about work like that, he gets fired up. They see how important they can be. And for many young people, a grounding in faith can be the foundation of what they do in the world.

Q: How do people use what they have learned through the Faith and Change program?

One of our first cohorts comes from South Africa. He is currently organizing faith-based changemaker courses in a number of countries in Africa. The first was for 300 women; it was such a hit that he was swamped just by word of mouth for additional lessons.

That’s what it’s all about, going people to people, empowering them to lead by helping them think through their ideas and supporting the people who bring them to life. This will eventually wake up the more institutionalized faith-based organizations to the fact that they too need to be part of it.

“Imagine the impact if a good portion of the $1.2 trillion that religion contributes to the US GDP were spent in a way that consciously empowers others to play a part in improving society.”

Q: What kind of impact do you hope to see from this work?

Religion-related businesses, institutions, and places of worship contribute about $1.2 trillion a year to GDP in the United States alone. Imagine the impact if a good portion of the $1.2 trillion were spent in a way that consciously empowers other people to play a part in improving society.

This is an incredibly powerful time to bring about change, as it is reinforced by the nature of what our society is going through right now. We expect there to be major institutional changes as religious leaders work on new ways of leading. Ultimately, we want everyone to experience the power of putting love and respect into action for the good of all faith-inspired players, including.

Q: You mention that organizations evolve more slowly than individuals or even society as a whole. What are the obstacles for institutions?

History has put us in hierarchical mode. The Industrial Revolution valued people who improved in a specialized skill. You worked in a silo. You didn’t need to know what the person next to you was doing. Our school system was even set up according to an industrial apprenticeship model (one teacher and several students). Today we are playing a whole new game. It is difficult for institutions created from a model of industrial mentality.

The everyone-changemaker model says you can’t understand everything, you don’t need to know everything, you don’t need to be the leader at the top. Instead, you must allow others to lead. People in existing institutions, who can see the change happening, realize that they need to disassemble all the components of the organization to allow for a more open, fluid structure that embraces approaches like lean start-up models and a mindset of testing and supporting people who are willing to take risks.

This often requires deep and detailed work to change the existing culture, governance, incentive structures and processes within an organization. But when leaders can articulate a vision, often the people at the top level – people who can see that their future will depend on their ability to make this transformation and therefore have real motivation – are the ones who are integrated enough to get the barriers. apart.

Ed Schein, who was a professor at MIT, said it needed a clear vision, concrete first steps and motivation for change. If you have these three components, and I would add this new frame from everyone a changemaker, then you have a chance to make it happen.

Q: How did you decide to do what you then did with Ashoka?

I come from a family where faith was important; all my life I have been surrounded by people who had a living relationship with the divine. But, while I hold on to my faith, I haven’t talked about it in the context of work.

Then, in one of my first meetings with Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka, he said, “What we stand for is love and respect in action for the good of all. Everyone is valuable. Everyone is powerful. And that means anyone can be an agent of change.

I thought, “He’s talking about love in a staff meeting?” Ok…” Then I realized that I was in a place where it was possible to be all myself. That was over ten years ago, and I did a number of things with the organization, but they were all based on these principles of everyone as a change agent.

Launching this project to bring together people of faith who believe that change is love and respect put into action has been an exercise in wholeness for me. We help give changemakers the courage to step into their whole being and say that faith is part of who I am.


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