Frustrated at the Pace of Social Change? So Are We!

Note: This post is part of an ongoing project, and as such, is frequently updated.
Most recent update: September 27, 2022.
In addition, see this January 2022 article in Nonprofit Quarterly,
for a summary of our most recent findings.

Do you ever feel like Sisyphus in your work to create a more humane world – like you’re taking two steps forward and 1.9 steps back? Does it feel sometimes like the struggle to raise money, to stay competitive, to do more with less… is just as hard, if not harder, than the “real” work of your mission?

With the health and humanity of our planet increasingly at risk,
changemakers shouldn’t have to ALSO battle the systems intended to sustain their work.

For decades, people working to create a more humane world have complained about the reality of simultaneously battling the conditions they are seeking to change in their communities, while also battling the very systems and structures that are intended to help get that work done. This is not just about systems like competitive funding and marketing, but also planning systems that embed reactivity into the process itself. Or accounting and human resource practices that focus on rules and money over people and caring. The list goes on.

During those same decades, consultants and other intermediaries have sought to fix many of those problems. Yet despite all those well-intentioned reform efforts, changemakers still struggle against those same forces.

Cover Page: Beyond Sisyphus Project Slide DeckCreating the Future is therefore seeking to re-imagine the systems that support social change efforts, to help accomplish what we all dream is possible for our communities.

And we are looking for people and groups who want to accomplish those same results!

The Project
Ideally the systems that support the work of creating a more equitable, humane, and healthy world would themselves walk the talk of equity, relationship, trust, and enoughness. Unfortunately, that isn't the norm for the systems upon which social change efforts rely. (See a comparison of aligned vs. current systems here).

B&W photo of activist Audre Lorde, with quote: "The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Creating the Future is therefore seeking to re-imagine those social change support systems.

• Imagine if the norm for resourcing and funding reflected the equity we want to see in the world (vs. power dynamics of “He who has the gold makes the rules”)

• Imagine if the norm for communications strategy was about linking arms to work together with all the people who care about your cause (vs. positioning your organization to compete with those caring individuals).

• Imagine if strategic planning routinely led to plans for visionary community improvement (vs. incremental, reactive steps to intervene against current problems).

• Imagine if accounting in social change groups held us accountable for the end results we want to see (vs. the financial means we use to achieve those ends)

• Imagine if evaluation moved beyond individual organizations learning what works, so that the whole field learned together, enhancing the results of everyone working on the same issues.

In the inquiry-and-invitation stage of this effort, we are using Catalytic Thinking to listen, learn, and think things through. Several first steps are happening at once, and because all our strategy work at Creating the Future is done as openly and inclusively as possible, we’re asking you to be part of all those steps!

Here are a few ways you can be part of this project right now:

1) Help connect!
After looking through the slide deck describing what we've learned so far, if you know folks who are talking about similar big-picture questions re: changing the systems that support social change, we want to meet those people! Whether they are seeking to re-imagine everything at once or seeking to create more narrow shifts in how social change is done, please introduce us. Send us a note to suggest folks, and if you can make a connection, that would be awesome.

2) Take Action!
We are definitely laying out the path as we are walking it. We hope you will be part of that effort - contributing who you are and what you have to share. Re-imagining all these systems will only be successful if we are all in it together. If you've been frustrated, feeling stuck, and want to help shift the systems that are keeping you feeling like Sisyphus - send us a note. The only way change will happen is if we are all reaching towards that change together. 

Together We Can Accomplish Anything!
If you are tired of feeling stuck – like Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill, again and again…

If you are tired of feeling conflicted between the values that underpin your mission and the stuff you have to do to support that work…

If you ever feel like the systems that are supposed to support your work are more trouble than they are worth…

And if you want to be part of creating systems that smooth out all those bumps in the road...

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
And together let's begin taking steps
to change the questions
that have the potential to change everything.

The photo of Audre Lorde is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

2 thoughts on “Frustrated at the Pace of Social Change? So Are We!”

  1. Hi Hildy — Thanks for putting this into the world. You invited feedback…so here goes.

    The Deck: On “Why Reforms Have Not Worked,” I long for as courageous an acknowledgement as possible of inequity as intentional — that our current approach, our systems are working as designed. (To keep current systems of power and privilege alive and well.)

    Communicating: The conversation you invite, it seems to me, is about consciousness. Quite literally waking up (from the Stockholm Syndrome?). What would it look like if we woke up from the lie that I am/we are broken and communities have needs and are not capable? What would it look like if we were 100% enfranchised, and unapologetically and joyously creating the world we want (see Detroit)? This is already happening. Now, more than ever, I crave stories.

    Participation/Format: If you host long Zoom calls about this, I will be hard-pressed to participate. I am motivated. What would it take to have many people around the world host conversations in person, collect written notes, record it all? Meetups? A conference? A quarterly in person conversation. A brown bag un-conference.

    That’s all for now — Thanks again. Look forward to reading other comments.

    • Andrea:
      Yes to everything you noted here. An updated deck is coming, and this will inform that tremendously. Thank you for so thoughtfully considering it all!


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