Activism 101: How to Make an Impact

By Ashleigh Hollowell, Office of Development Communications Posted Fri, 08/24/2018 - 10:25

For working female professionals in the heart of a city fueled by change makers and activism, finding the most effective way to get involved and make a difference can be challenging — given the range of complex issues that need attention.

According to top women leaders from Bay Area nonprofits who were part of a panel discussion, “Activism 101,” hosted by the Women in Leadership & Philanthropy initiative at USF, women should seek ways to channel their motivation toward difficult issues and advocate for causes with challenging outlooks.

Finding Your Cause
Homelessness, health care, malnutrition, income inequity, abuse, and corruption are just a few issues facing communities both locally and globally in 2018. Narrowing down a cause and effectively advocating for it is not a simple task, given life’s time constraints and resources.

“I think I probably have a story like many folks in the room. Sometimes things just choose you,” said Jennifer Loving, CEO, Destination Home. “So much of change that happens is just a small group of people who are really committed to something together, and then they bring other people into their sphere.”

Working with complex issues can bring up strong emotions like anger and fear. Rather than becoming discouraged by feelings, Loving recommends channeling those emotions to spark your activism.

Here are some ideas on how to zero in on your cause:

  • Know your core values and write a purpose statement.
  • Take the time to be mindful and reflect on personal passions by writing a list and identifying the ways to advance a cause. This will narrow your focus and help to pinpoint the skills you can use to best affect change.
  • Look at how your passions relate to other important causes. Sometimes multiple causes can live under one main passion and you can use that passion to work toward more than one.

Charting Your Path
After identifying a cause and finding the capacity and resources to assist with change-making, Camille Erin Llanes-Fontanilla, executive director of SOMOS Mayfair, Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder, Executive Director, Kurandza, and Loving all advise to actively maintain commitment to the cause.

“It is so important when you’re figuring out a cause, and you’re figuring out a project, to really talk to the community that is involved and the people who are going to benefit from your activism,” Colabianchi said.“See what they need and what is actually going to make a difference for them and their community.”

Consider these tips for for getting involved:

  • Sit down with the community involved and listen to what will benefit them best.
  • Remember that volunteers establish a level of authenticity and begin paving the foundation for effective advocacy.
  • If advocacy for the cause you are working toward is met with opposition, understand how to navigate resistance and use it as an opportunity to continue the push and battle for change making.

The path to advocacy will look different for each person and is tailored to different skills, but it’s important to identify a cause and find a way to make an impact, the panel members said.

And, Loving said, standing strong — even if you are only one of a few standing for the cause — can pay off. 

Find out more about Women in Leadership & Philanthropy