Why Engage in Social Change? New Report Gives Surprising Answers From Around the World

A new report highlights the effect economic conditions have on individuals as well as nonprofits in terms and scope of social change, furthering the question of what gets us and keeps us socially engaged.

The report,"2012 Social Change Impact Report," was commissioned by Walden University and facilitated online through Harris Interactive. The massive study gathered responses from nearly 9,000 people in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Jordan, Mexico and the United States in order to gauge the level of engagement and activity related to social change.

Those involved with social change do so through a variety of means; volunteering and working with nonprofits, donating goods and services and using social media. Those actions all have an underlying goal – the drive towards the bettering not only their community, but the world at large.

There are also many different reasons why a person would become involved in social change. Some people cite a personal experience that led them to engage. Others might be drawn due to a feeling of necessity or a desire to be a part of something larger than one's self, but all hold a commonality – the desire to illicit change through ones actions for the betterment of mankind.

The study found that an average of 84 percent of respondents revealed that being involved in social change is personally important to them, but various countries cite different reasons to explain why involvement in social change is important.

In the U.S. and Canada, for example, respondents cited their desire to help those less fortunate than themselves - 61 percent and 63 percent respectively. In India and Germany, conversely, people considered engaging in social change as a moral responsibility - 63 percent and 52 percent, respectively.

Given current economic hardships, there might be an inclination to believe that social engagement or activity declines during such periods, but nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that it is actually more important during lean times to get involved.

While monetary donations are often the first to be reduced (only 20 percent stated they were more likely to donate money during down times) more people depend on their hands, not their wallets, to help spur change: 29 percent of respondents indicated they are more likely to volunteer when times are hard.

To understand the significance of the findings within the report The Christian Post contacted Dr. Gary Kelsey, core faculty member in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Walden University.

CP: How should both established and new nonprofits interpret the data contained in the Social Change Impact Report in terms of driving interest and action?

Dr. Kelsey: I believe new nonprofit organizations can benefit from the report by using it as a source for organizational planning, program development and fundraising, or fund development, planning. From a strategic planning perspective, the report provides a great deal of "environmental scanning" information that can be used by organizations to proactively create a future that moves them forward in meeting their mission. The information is truly a "reality-check" that can help organizational leadership make decisions and should spark real dialogue about "charity vs. change."

Both new and established nonprofits will find great benefit in using the report to create strategies for engaging volunteers. The information about generational differences and preferences can be quite helpful in the recruitment, training, management and recognition of program volunteers and board members who are also volunteers.

Understanding that most people will not increase their level of activity during bad economic times, how could an increase in social change come about?

Simply understanding the concept of social change and recognizing that critical societal issues exist, and are not easily addressed, is very important. I am hopeful that individuals will begin with a dialogue on important issues, even if they feel they cannot act. It has been my experience that individuals are still generous with their money and time when they are truly moved by a problem or event. For example, when we talk about family violence in general, it is easy to be apathetic about the problem. However, when three children are killed by their father, which happened over the weekend here in the Twin Cities, this problem becomes real, and people act. There has been much dialogue about how the "system" could allow this to happen, and what systemic changes need to be made in order to directly address the root cause of the issue. Since this terrible event, there has been an immediate increase in the number of calls to the local family violence shelter hotline.

The key is to make broad social change issues real so the average individual understands they not only must get involved through volunteerism, financial support, etc., but that their involvement can make a real difference. Leaders of nonprofit organizations must find ways to communicate how individual and group action can make a real, long-lasting difference. Often, this comes by telling "stories" about how individuals and/or small groups made a difference and how this has impacted other family members, future generations, etc. When an issue seems overwhelming or appears to only take place "far away," it is difficult to engage individuals. When people see the connection between a problem, issue or event and themselves, the often will act. Or when the victim of an event, either man-made or natural, is seen and heard, we relate to that individual or group.

Would you say that participation in social change while in a digital format is less helpful or productive than if the action of social change occurred in a physical environment?

I think it is a reality that younger generations have embraced a digital world and gain, as well as communicate information online. Finding ways to engage these individuals via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook stories and video and giving them specific ways they can assist via technology (online donations, signing online petitions, sending e-mail messages to a policy-maker, etc.) is an effective way of engaging technology and these groups of individuals. However, we also need individuals willing to act outside of technology.

Could it be possible to change the world from your smartphone as some younger people might believe or do you still have to "get your hands dirty"?

A very effective way of empowering/supporting nonprofit organizations to address important needs is to simply click on a "donate now" button with an organization's website. I do believe that communicating with important decision-makers and policy-makers via the smartphone is another great way for younger people to engage. However, we also need individuals willing to act outside of technology as well.