The role of social movements in systems change

Author: Skoll Centre, Topic: Systems Change, Interest: Systems Change Observatory

This month, the Systems Change Observatory (SCO) explores how social movements support systems change. Jessica Jacobson and Dr Sudhir Rama Murthy spoke with Charmian Love, Skoll Centre Social Entrepreneur in Residence working on climate and new economic movements, and Dr Jacqueline del Castillo, social movement and innovation scholar with a focus on health equity and social justice.

Social movements build solidarity

“Solidarity—there’s no feeling like it. People talk about it, they use the word, they write about it, they try to invoke it. Naturally. But to really feel it? You have to be part of a wave in history. You can’t get it just by wanting it; you can’t call for it and make it come. You can’t choose it—it chooses you! It arrives like a wave picking you up! It’s a feeling—how can I say it? It’s as if everyone in your city becomes a family member, known to you as such even when you have never seen their face before and never will again. Mass action, yes, but the mass is suddenly family, they are all on the same side, doing something important.” – Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson

Social movements must mobilise a critical mass of 3.5% of the population to achieve radical change (see research by Dr Erica Chenoweth). Building solidarity, or a deep connection to others engaged in the same struggle, helps social movements build this critical mass. For example, the social care futures movement has been building solidarity by hosting unconventional conferences, singing karaoke together, and having pre-pandemic tea and cake to share stories and encounters with the current social care system. Social movements build solidarity within movements, across movements and across generations – for example the women’s movement has progressed through multiple ‘waves’ across many cultures and geographies.

Social movements work across boundaries

“These levers are hard and rusted, and the best chance we have is to get everyone’s hands on those levers at the same time and pulling in sync.” – Charmian Love, Skoll Centre Social Entrepreneur in Residence

Social movements build solidarity across many boundaries, including social, cultural, political and organisational. Research into long-standing social movements such as HIV/AIDS and disability rights reveals that people in social movement often navigate a complex array of relationships, including institutions, funders, dissenters, and even, other social movements (del Castillo et al. 2017).

By Source and Author Noted Above
Source and Author Noted Above