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How to provoke change on the issues that matter to you

If you’ve got any hint of provocateur in your nature, chances are there’s an issue you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s animal rights, climate change, cyber-bullying or marriage equality. But as a young person, what power do you have to really effect change?

Being aware that you’re part of a movement with shared values and objectives is a good place to start. That’s the advice from Dr Geoffrey Robinson, who teaches ‘Engaging for Change’ at Deakin University. ‘Don’t demand the impossible, but demand more than what establishment commentators think is possible,’ Dr Robinson advises.

Deakin alumni Elliot Costello is the co-founder of the Y Generation Against Poverty (YGAP) project that works to empower disadvantaged people in Australia, Kenya and South Africa. He believes the existence of social and traditional media means anyone can have a voice. ‘You have the capacity to do something,’ he says.

So, what’s the best way to be an effective advocate for a cause you support? This article helps you cut through the noise so your voice can be heard.

Become an expert for your cause

By studying your cause’s issue, you get the know-how to identify your cause’s goal and the ability to create an effective strategy and message. According to Associate Professor Steven Slaughter, who teaches activism and policy at Deakin University, provoking change relies on producing a clearly developed sense of a problem, then explaining and relating that problem to the public.

‘Initiating social change requires the creative use of relatable symbols and imagery to generate emotional support for social change. Without developing an emotional account of the problem, it is unlikely that significant levels of public support can be generated to put pressure on authorities to act to address the problem,’ he says.

So with the knowledge and tools to effect change, why can it sometimes be so difficult? Daizy Maan, Manager of Deakin’s entrepreneurship program, SPARK, explains that when you do stumble across roadblocks, it’s really how you overcome them that will determine what you learn. ‘Remain persistent, ask others and don’t give up,’ she says.

Spread your cause’s message online

Even if you’re still in high school, there are plenty of ways you can spread the word about your cause and influence others to act, especially with the power of today’s technology.

Online petitions on platforms such as Change and Avaaz can be are really powerful tools. Crowdfunding sites, such as Melbourne-based Pozible, give you the opportunity to raise funds for your cause too.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook allow you to gather a following, and they have lots of advertising tools you can use. You could even start your own #activism movement, or create a video for your cause and share it on Facebook, YouTube or Periscope.

And remember, there are lots of organisations that might already support your cause, such as GetUp! and Amnesty International, that you can subscribe and donate to. Getting involved will also help you learn how their members effect change together.

'Without developing an emotional account of the problem, it is unlikely that significant levels of public support can be generated to put pressure on authorities to act to address the problem.'

Associate Professor Steven Slaughter,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Start up a social enterprise

Taking it offline, getting a bunch of friends together to start a social enterprise, such as a cafe or service, means your business’ profits can support your cause. Deakin alumni Justine Flynn is the co-founder of Thankyou, a food and body care company based in Melbourne. A full 100% of their profits support international community development projects.

Another Melbourne outfit, Hosier Hoodies, works with street artists, printing their works onto hoodies. For every hoodie sold, $20 is donated to crisis accommodation for Melbourne’s homeless. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has a catering service that helps to empower people seeking asylum and Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of their profits to WaterAid.

Lobby government and media

Providing information about a problem often involves challenging what the government and mainstream media already think of the issue, Assoc. Prof. Slaughter says. This is the first step in promoting social change. He explains: ‘This provision of information is required to create networks and connections with other likeminded activists and inform the general public.’

A good example is the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), the largest youth-run movement in Australia, which aims to solve our climate crisis. Their most recent policy win, in August 2017, was getting Premier Jay Weatherill and the South Australian government to commit to building big solar in Port Augusta. It took the AYCC over five years to reach this success – writing reports, petitions and emails, crowdfunding billboards and TV ads, holding rallies, even lobbying solar companies about how sunny Port Augusta is!

As an individual you can effect change too. Deakin graduate Jay Stiles went from podiatrist to policy reformer when he was confronted with the reality faced by disadvantaged families. He recognised that structural change needed to take place, so he took on a health economics degree that enabled him to help design policy that ‘contributes to a healthier and happier Australia’.

Jay explains: ‘I was forced to think about how policy is framed and how spending is prioritised. I became doubtful policy was designed with the people I met in mind. So I sought about changing that.’

It’s clear that change doesn’t happen overnight and that you’ll need a heck of a lot of determination to succeed. So gather your supporters, be persistent and make sure you celebrate your cause’s wins – big and small!

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Assoc. Prof. Steven Slaughter
Assoc. Prof. Steven Slaughter

Associate Professor in International Relations, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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