In her considerable 35 years of experience, Ann Bell has learned several lessons on how to create change:
- Practice patience. Social change takes years to effect. In the early years, her eagerness for change could make her angry, but in the long years of activism since then, Ann learned that anger does not advance the cause and "all you do is feed the frenzy." Now she concedes from a broader perspective that nobody ever really likes change. She always marched to a different drum and surrounded herself with people who believed what she did, and is therefore "very much at peace with who I am, and I'm going to work at what I believe in—I don't need to do anything else."
- In order to gain support, make lots of personal contacts and explain to others exactly how you are going to help them.
- Never assume anything and always have your facts on hand. This is something Ann learned when she was in nursing: "Get your facts, write them down and document them, because if you don't, you're going to have trouble." Women who are involved in making change have to be very sure of their facts and also of themselves. She counsels learning to be confident within.
- Things don't just happen—you have to make them happen.
Advice to emerging activists
I'm a granny but I can't be a raging granny. I can be an activist granny, and I can work, and I will continue to work.
- Research the issues that are meaningful to each generation of women. For emerging activists, "find your strength from your own personal experiences." Some are driven from within, as Ann has been, and others find their strength in external sources.
- Identify and cherish your influences. Ann's mother advised her to follow her own compass, "to live a full life and do what comes from inside me," and she always has a project going on that will give something back to her. An example of a project that provided inspiration and energy was working with a close friend to produce and publish a popular children's book.
- To help women to understand the need for social activism, remind them of times when their considered opinions were not taken seriously. If Ann were addressing a group of women, she would tell them her own story of how she became active when her child was threatened by an inadequate school system. She joined the school board, on which only three women sat at the time. Their first action was to draft a nutrition policy, and when faced with opposition from those concerned with the potential loss of corporate sponsorship from soft drink companies, the Board managed to get the policy through by enlisting the support of nutritionists and a medical officer of health: "They wouldn't listen to us as women, so we had to bring in the expertise."
Ann's social activism work is rooted in her values. Although she recognizes that structural inequality exists, it can also be self-imposed, based on personal agendas. The public agenda can sometimes be changed more easily than personal attitudes:
I've proven with my life experience that we can change the public policy but after changing it, you've got to turn around and change a whole population. By the time you get half of them changed, they're dead!
Ann considers herself more accepting than she once was. Looking at pervasive inequalities all over the world, she believes that people must choose to get out of their situations, accept them, or do something to change them. But she is no longer angry or even frustrated; her activism has evolved into the conviction that collaboration with like-minded colleagues is necessary to create change. Her advice, in a nutshell:
- Don't take yourself too seriously.
- Know your issues inside and out.
- Stay focused.
- Be true to yourself.