Our 5-Step Recipe for Social Change

Written by friends and colleagues, Dr Alessandro Demaio and Dr Mats Junek of festival21.

Born after 1980, we are the generation who witnessed the dawning of the technological age. The last generation to start life in the pre-digital era and the first era of digital natives; we've watched as information has become essentially infinite and plural during our teens and twenties. Facts have become just as important as the way they are framed, translated or (often) forgotten. We build relationships in the context of weak digital interconnections and witness how the democratisation of media has opened the sharing of our lives, our thoughts and sometimes even our lunch.

These digital technologies became ubiquitous supported by the belief that they would bring us to a better, brighter, and healthier future. A connected planet promised opportunities for collective thinking and action. What affected one of us, suddenly affects many - or even all.

In some ways, this has become true: we are now linked in a way that was previously impossible. We can unite behind single ideas no matter how separated we are -geographically, culturally, or linguistically. In other ways though, this new age presents us with unprecedented threats and challenges - big businesses and global marketing drive the spread and sale of unhealthy foods, increase pollution, and threaten cultural diversity.

In 2015, many of us feel inspired to tackle the great challenges we so clearly see. It seems clear that challenges like climate change and rising childhood obesity levels require swift and meaningful action. But what? And how? And where?

Working over the last months to found a new festival of thinking in our home city, we believe now more than ever in the opportunities and impact of positive social change. Engaged individuals and small groups, particularly young people, empowered by the digital age, can become the new generation who will reshape society for a better tomorrow.

As we prepare to welcome over one thousand young people to the largest convention space in Australia for a free masterclass on achieving social change, we offer our own framework on realising impact. We draw on our experience in social start-ups, academia and even as doctors to humbly distil what it is that we think makes change possible.

There is not - and there likely never will be - a comprehensive formula for successfully achieving social impact. There are, however, key stepping stones required to build the movement such that it might be capable of achieving change in the first place.

No matter how big a part each one of us wants to play in change - to lead, support, or to even learn more about it - thinking through these key steps might just unlock something big.


Any idea can be powerful, but to achieve impact it must be an idea that is communicated in a way that resonates. Simple, compelling and positive - people want to be inspired, not scolded into action. Ideas can be contagious, but they need to be honest and built on solutions.

If you cannot explain your idea for social impact in under 1 minute, and in language anyone could understand, you need to reframe your idea.


A well-communicated idea alone is sometimes still not enough for change. You must connect with people who believe in your ideas but have insight to ask why. A team that will never question the mission, but will question and challenge your concept at every turn. People with varied skillsets who can provide the input and feedback needed to build a stronger vision, and know how to translate your concept for a wide audience.

As the famous adage goes, alone we may go fast - but together we go far. A strong team inspired by a collective vision for change is an essential element of success.


Workshop, workshop, workshop. Refine your idea and be prepared for multiple, rapid iterations. Forget the non-essential and reduce your concept down to the essential key partners, messages, levers and outcomes. Trying to do too much, for too many, is always a danger. Focus on what you're trying to change or achieve and dissect the players, field and goals.

Knowing how to focus on a novel aspect of an issue, an innovative approach can often be a catalyst of growth and interest.


A good idea also challenges people to think about an issue in a new way - what they think of as normal, what difference they can make with tiny changes to their day-to-day activities, or perhaps the true impact their actions have on others.

We must never be afraid to address what we consider to be a problem, and knowing how to engage people and start a challenging conversation - albeit sometimes metaphorically - is key to shifting from our current path to a brighter future.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, one must be able to act. They say that every great accomplishment begins with the decision to try - and sometimes this first step is the scariest.

It can be a daunting task to take or support an idea, let alone put your name to a movement that may not go anywhere in the hope to create a groundswell for change.

We may not always succeed - indeed failure is a common part of the road to success. In fact failures - of which we have had many - are often the most valuable learning opportunities that provide key lessons for future success.

What matters is that you find the courage and resilience to try. Surround yourself with those that are similarly eager and daring. Be a part of change and in the face of a setback, keep trying.



To learn more about social change and innovation, join us at f21y - a part of festival21 - on December 11 2015 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

f21y is, a free five-hour masterclass that will equip you with the skills, connections to their peers, and the confidence to take their first steps in social change.

Speakers include Simon Griffiths (Who Gives A Crap), Kaitlin Yarnall (National Geographic), Kevin Sheedy (Former AFL player and coach), Murray Bunton (Agency), Alex Dyson (Triple J), Madelaine Scott (Madelaine's Eggs) and more.

To find out more or to book free tickets, go to festival21.com.au/f21y