Stephen’s report as a participant of Leading Social Change program

Earth First
Stephen Nugent

Be the Change You Want to See

The famous quote from Mahatma Ghandi, ‘be the change you want to see in the world’, captures the essence of an innovative program recently run by Global Learning, an organisational consultancy group based in Canberra.

With the title, Leading Social Change, the program started in early May and ran through to the end of July. It focused on two key themes, the nature and practice of leadership, and the social change that participants wanted to work towards achieving.

The three month program involved the 23 participants in a one day introductory workshop, a two day ‘deep dive’ residential, project work, fortnightly action learning gatherings and a final transition day. Over the course of the program, I developed some new and empowering perspectives on leadership.

Leadership is not just about the official roles we have, nor is it something that other ‘important’ people do. It’s something we can all do, a choice we can all make. I’ve come to appreciate that the qualities of a good leader are very much the same as the qualities of an effective person living authentically in whatever role or station in life they find themselves.

It seems to me that it’s more useful to talk about practicing leadership rather than being a leader. This change in focus developed over the course of the program and in conversation with a friend and deep thinker here in Orange.

The distinction is subtle but important. The idea of practicing leadership is empowering, as it is something anyone can do at any time. We don’t have to be a Manager, President, Chairperson or Committee Member. We can practice leadership as part of a work team, in our family, as a member of a sporting team or even at a dinner party.In short, we can practice leadership in any group we belong to and for any cause we believe in.

Social Change
The other key theme, social change, is where the program connects more directly with the usual subject matter of Earth First.

We were a fairly diverse group. Participants included an organic beef and lamb farmer, a squadron leader in the Australian Air Force, a fine foods provedore, a retired university lecturer, an urban designer, a conflict resolution mediator, university students and a number of people involved in Healthy Soils Australia. But at our first meeting, there was one theme that dominated and that seemed to bind the group together, climate change.

One of our group described the work of an organisation in which he is involved as ‘hospicing’ the passing of the old economy and ‘mid-wifing’ the birth of a new, low carbon economy to replace it. This resonated with me as the death or end of something significant, can raise strong emotions including grief, fear and anger. These emotions are certainly evident in the current debate on carbon pricing.

The program affirmed for me the importance of the work being done by climate scientists and its connection to the carbon tax debate. Climate scientists have an important role to play in creating understanding of the changes that are occurring and the challenges we face. Understanding and time are great healers and facilitators of change.

While we might despair about the power of big corporations that actively work to stop government action on climate change, we should take comfort from Margaret Mead’s quote, ‘a small group of thoughtful people could change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has’. I hope that our Leading Social Change group has, in some small way, lived up to this ideal.

And the main thrust of the course can be seen as a challenge for us all – to identify the social change that we want to help achieve in the world, to incorporate that change into our daily lives, and in living that change, to practice leadership for others in the community to follow.

Green Tip of the Week
Courtesy of Leading Social Change: listen deeply, live authentically, be the change you want to see but never take yourself too seriously.

Green Dates for the Diary
Today, Saturday August 13 – Orange Farmers’ Markets at the Showgrounds
Wednesday August 24 – ECCO General Meeting at the ELF

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