Creating Change: Lessons, Skills and Advice


Lessons learned

  • Give respect to help build others' self-respect and respect for others. I don't have to like everybody, but I must respect them, I have to love them. That commitment to respect helps me to relate to the people that I don't like.
  • Be really careful about doing the analysis of an issue. Know the facts and use both intellect and passion. It is about doing right, not protecting your pride.
  • Never go to a supervisor about an issue without going through the worker first.
  • Tell the funders what the money is about, how it will be spent—give them all the information.
  • Listen to key people to get the truth of what is happening.
  • Honour others and respect their strengths. Honour their position in an argument and even honour someone who has changed their opinion about supporting your issue.
  • Take the time to respect individuals' gifts and wait for the people who have trouble speaking. Some have a physical difficulty and some have an emotional one. Everyone in the room has something to give and we have to provide the opportunity for them to share it.
  • Help people advocate for themselves rather than always being "out there" yourself. My role might be to teach you how to do it, help you make the phone call and go over the script with you. The person who is poor might not have all her education but she is smart and has more insight than I do because it's her situation.
  • Do not coerce people, but invite them.
  • Be honest about your goals and activities.
  • Advocate for all involved, not only for yourself.
  • Hand-deliver key letters to city councillors and influential others to ensure delivery and head off excuses. Persuade people to go to City Council meetings because numbers count in discussions over a community issue.
  • Get over feeling mad and act with deliberation, not just react from anger.
  • As a leader, don't get yourself out there in front and then pull others to where you are. Rather, be very active where they are in order to help them see where they could go.
  • Relate to all the stakeholders. Listen to those most affected. Listening is the most important task, to hear from people what needs most to be addressed and find out the details of the issue.
  • Take some strategic direction from the people most affected by a problem and possible solution. If they're not going to act with you as you advocate for them, at least take their direction. Be gentle, yet firm.
  • Know how things work in government and business so that you manage yourself appropriately when you speak at City Council or when you attend a Law Amendments Committee. If you have five minutes to speak at City Hall, use it well.
  • Being beside a person who needs help might be the best social justice act you can do, rather than your speaking or doing. People need this more than anything: show that you believe in them and that you are psychologically present to them. There were times when I didn't "do" anything—I was there, but I didn't say anything.
  • The less said, but the more clearly it can be said, the better. It is more important than talking a lot.
  • Plan your meeting behaviour strategically. Know how you might catch the opposition off-guard. An example was when "first voice" people (those who are directly affected by an issue) and their advocates sat protectively together around a table. Those who needed to speak were more confident sitting with my arm right next to their arm. The "suits" came in and we were silent—that really floored them. Then the people spoke haltingly; they spoke because it was their story that was supposed to be heard. But the suits did not know what to do because they would just as soon have the meeting with the four of us advocates and try and worm their way out of things.
  • At the end of a meeting with those in power, leave a letter summarizing your key points, because you may have noticed that nobody took notes. After the meeting, send them your version of the minutes of the meeting and ask for a response, especially if they said at the meeting, "Well, we'll look into that." Too much may be left up in the air and as much as you want to trust the goodness of people, they often need help to be good! Sometimes, just a little reminder may be needed to prompt the right action; you might say, "You're not doing anything about that? That's so unlike you!"

Skills needed

I know better now how much I am asking of people to step up from poverty, unemployment, illness, and homelessness.
  • Negotiation strategies;
  • A respectful manner;
  • The ability to reveal passion without being harsh;
  • The skill to work with others: usually one person does not know all the questions and answers;
  • The ability to identify others' gifts as well as embracing one's own strengths.
It is difficult to stay strong when one is not listened to or assisted effectively. On one occasion, I was not treated fairly, and dismissed, which made me more aware of how easily one may lose self-esteem and confidence. I received much kindness from my family, the Sisters and other friends, but there I needed an advocate with me.