Great News! It Doesn’t Take a Visionary to Change the World

Take heart. According to Researcher Sandra Waddock “a personal desire to make a difference” – matters.

As reported by the Network for Business Sustainability, Waddock studied the emerging DifferenceMakerssystems and institutions that frame the discussion of corporate sustainability and responsibility today.  She found that the “difference makers” were not charismatic leaders and visionaries with a clear long-term agenda. Instead, they “stumbled” into their ultimate vision or made sense of it after the fact.

Waddock writes that these “difference makers” had a deep sense of purpose drawn from a recognition of injustice, or a more general desire to make the world a better place.   And that the key to their success was a pragmatic vision; a willingness to take multiple small steps toward what they viewed as desirable system change, rather than attempting to implement a grand vision all at once.

Small Steps Do Matter After All

If you are like me, you are eternally grateful to hear this.  We are continuously reminded that this “incremental change” stuff is for the birds.  We can’t get from here to there with  small steps.

But as I sit at my desk reading 27 letters from the Water Rockers, a group of Grade 6 students who are fiercely proud of their environmental efforts, I have to think that good things can come in small packages.

Blue W is a unique community-based program dedicated to promoting municipal tap water as a healthy, easily accessible alternative to purchasing bottled drinks.

Blue W is a unique community-based program dedicated to promoting municipal tap water as a healthy, easily accessible alternative to purchasing bottled drinks.

The Water Rockers started a Blue W Program  in their little town this Fall.  They go into the village and sign up businesses.  They even have a fundraising program to sell reusable water bottles.  They tell me that they write for the local newspaper and have been on the front page, and they have been on the local radio five times.  They write – did I know that they parade down Rainbow Hall on Waste Free Wednesday’s banging their homemade instruments, dressed in crazy clothes celebrating litterless lunches.  And they know it is really working because they used to fill “four giant bins” of garbage every week and now they are down to one.

I think the most astounding thing is  – they think it would be “cool” to meet me.  Let’s be serious, I think it will be really cool to meet THEM!

Social Entrepreneurs are Everywhere

I know that behind those children is an innovative teacher who knows how to glue all parts of the curriculum to social and environmental responsibility. Need to practice persuasive writing:  research a speaker for our upcoming festival and tell them why they would want to come to our school.   Must learn graphing and charting: keep a 3 year running history of waste per capita waste on the bulletin board in the hall.  Public speaking a requirement: let’s go talk on the radio about the Blue W program and the Water Rockers.  A subtle but powerful difference in approach, one that creates authentic student engagement, achievement and citizenship.  Shouldn’t we all want that for our kids?

Waddock concluded, after researching the social entrepreneurial efforts of  difference makers’, that it does not take a visionary to change the world.  What it does take is a willingness to risk action that moves a system or organization in the desired direction.   That might include banging a drum on Waste Free Wednesday in Rainbow Hall, setting your students free in town to advance a Blue W program or quitting your six figure salary to start a sustainability training business.

We are all shifting the system, inches at a time.  Sometimes so imperceptibly, it seems we are standing still.  And then sometimes you get 27 inspiring letters from 27 outstanding young people and you feel privileged  to be part of the “difference maker” club.  It really is beautiful to be in such good company.

Read More about Dr. Sandra Waddock’s Research

 

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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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One Response to Great News! It Doesn’t Take a Visionary to Change the World

  1. GreenHearted says:

    Yessss! *That* is the kind of transformative learning and action that can take place when educators put sustainability at the centre of their curriculum planning. Indeed, if we’re not consciously teaching FOR sustainability, then quite likely, by default, we’re teaching for UNsustainability. Kudos to the Water Rockers and their teacher(s).

    Just one (small) point. To these kids, what they did was not small. Perhaps the “small steps” conundrum is a relative thing. So small kids doing what might look small to grown ups is actually big stuff. But incremental change (or, in this country these days, one step forward and two steps back) by large governments *who know better* — that is small stuff that doesn’t matter.

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