My friend and inspiration, Robert Egger, wrote a blog post several years ago that I found serendipitously by following other links on his site, about how we define ‘power and influence’ and what makes an organization really poised for significant impact.
Here’s what I think is so important about what he says, and, more significantly, the way that he lives and the way that he has built an organization, the DC Central Kitchen, as a testament to these ideas:
We will only ‘move the needle’ on the problems that plague us when we start to use ALL of the tools we have at our disposal. That means advocacy, yes–we should take every opportunity to bring others into our work and push for policy changes, and we should make every opportunity that we can to do the same–and also direct services, especially when they’re done in ways that bring new attention and new energy to our collective causes.
And, so, social work students, you don’t have to choose between working with people or changing the world.
You can, and should, do both.
That means that we have to build organizations that are always thinking about how to leverage their reputations for policy impact, how to engage their clients in social change, and how to innovate their services so that they change the conversations around their issues.
And it means that we need to cultivate cultures that embrace the idea of ripple effects, so that we understand how change in one program, or one community, or even one life can (does not always–this is not ‘starfish’, but, instead, change theory) plant seeds for larger changes.
And it means that we need to train practitioners who can walk between these two worlds, of individual care and concern and broad-scale movement building. Indeed, who don’t even see them as two separate worlds, but, instead, as different scales of engagement in our shared world.
As Robert said in his post, “Listen…change is a mush of ideas. It’s not about one group advocating while another group “feeds the poor.” It’s about using media, money, volunteers, laws, votes, the power of the pen and the miracles that come from caring…and using them TOGETHER. Divided we are weak. We ALL need to tilt our heads a tad and start to see the gold that lies at our feet. Direct service programs like the Kitchen–we’re cool, and we know that we are not the answer. BUT…we sure as hell can lead a lot of thirsty horses to water if you give us the opportunity.”