Five Sure-Fire Steps to Social Change

by Matt Fieldman

As your 2015 Danny Siegel Changemaker-in-Residence, I’m hoping to inspire USYers from across the country to take on tikun olam in a real and exciting way.

In my travels to USY regions and events across the country, from Portland to New England, and even here in my hometown of Cleveland, I’ve heard USYers with great ideas.

For example, Josh Troyetsky of METNY is launching Peersomet, an app that does social justice while running in your pocket. Former USYer Elie Lehmann of HaNegev is launching MatchMe, a social enterprise that helps people give more by giving together. Others have shared their ideas informally after my talks; for example, my new USY friend “Sticky” Shenassa of Hagalil emailed me to talk about his desire to use his love of food to create social change.

The ideas and energy are out there; now it’s time to put them into action.

From my experience launching EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, Cleveland’s first and only nonprofit restaurant devoted to helping ex-offenders start long-term careers in fine dining, I wanted to offer five sure-fire steps that will take your dream and turn it into a reality. As a quick bonus, check out this talk by Alonzo Mitchell – a fellow changemaker in Cleveland – who explains in his TEDxCLE presentation how these steps really worked for his real-life projects.


1. Develop Your Vision

The first step is to have a clear idea of where you want to go, and what resounding success actually looks like. Use your imagination, and forget about reality; in fact, this scientist says that what truly unites and uplifts humanity is our ability to imagine. Our greatest Jewish leaders – Joseph, Herzl, Ben-Gurion – were all dreamers that could see beyond reality towards a brighter future. Follow in their footsteps.

2. Build Your Team

Now it’s time to share your vision with others and ask them to join you. You don’t need a lot of people; just a partner or two can make a huge difference. We all know the quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

In step two, you’re building that small group. Two important pieces of advice on team-building: In recruiting people to join you, look for diverse perspectives that balance each other. You want people who come from different walks of life and might even disagree with you sometimes.

Second, make sure to include a recipient of your project to tell you if you’re on the right track. There’s an important saying (attributed to both Gandhi and African proverbs), “What you do for me, without me, is against me.” It means that without including the voice(s) of your recipients/beneficiaries, you may actually be hurting them. Sadly, there are too many examples of great ideas that flopped because no one asked the people who were supposed to benefit what they really wanted and needed. So make sure that you find a representative of the people you want to help and ask them what they really think of your idea before you move forward.

3. Create the Plan

Who’s doing what? When? Pick a date and time that you’re going to launch and stick to it.

When we launched EDWINS, we picked October 1, 2013, about six months in advance. That opening date guided our every effort, and it’s now burned into my memory forever, especially because we held to it! The plan can always change, and it certainly will. There’s a great Yiddish phrase that reminds us not to get too stuck in the details: “Man plans, and G-d laughs.” Having a rough plan and the buy-in from your team are the only two critical pieces you need to launch; everything else flows from there.

4. Share With the Universe

Your friends and family can’t help unless you share your idea and your vision with them. Give them specific ways they can help. Once your idea is on their radar screens, you never know what connections they might make that can help you.

Technology is your friend: social media and e-mail are great ways to share your idea broadly and quickly. Don’t be afraid to contact people out the blue who can help you. Once you explain that you’re a teenager with a big idea and you want their help in making it happen, you’ll be surprised how many people will step up.

5. Evaluate

After your event, rally, bake sale, party, march, charity auction, parade, or whatever, remember to take a couple of hours to pull your team together and evaluate how you did. I like to have this meeting scheduled before the event actually happens; that way, it’s on people’s calendars and you can discuss while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. I always ask just three questions: “What went well? What didn’t go well? How can we improve in the future?” I encourage everyone to speak, then take detailed notes so we have this as a record for the next time. And if it went well, this is your chance to celebrate!

Hopefully you can commit these five steps to memory – or at least bring this blog post to your next SA/TO or USY Board meeting and discuss with your peers.

As always, I’m at your service to help you make change in your community and the world at large. Drop me an e-mail if I can be helpful!