Three ways to inspire more global activism

When it comes to action on the world’s leading challenges, how can we move from ‘making sense’ to ‘making change,’ or from knowledge to empowerment? Three speakers from 6 Degrees share their advice.

By: , , /
September 25, 2019
Young protestors march as part of the Global Climate Strike of the movement Fridays for Future in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Once again, a range of activists, artists, movers and shakers have descended upon Toronto for the annual 6 Degrees global forum on inclusion, run by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. This year’s forum features some well-known names, including Canadian writer Cory Doctorow, Pussy Riot co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, and many more. (OpenCanada chatted last week with another familiar face, retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, who receives the 2019 Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship Wednesday evening, as part of the event.)

One of the central themes to this year’s forum — beyond the continuous aim to share insights and tools for a more inclusive society — is finding a pathway to action. In other words, identifying what it takes to reduce the barriers preventing action and encourage more global citizens to act on the issues they care about.

While many discuss such a dilemma September 24 and 25 in Toronto, we asked three speakers from this year’s event — from Canada, France and Kenya — to share their best advice. Here’s what each of them had to say:

Give youth more decision-making roles.

— Caro Loutfi, executive director, Apathy is Boring, Canada

I was 23 years old, waitressing and finishing my undergraduate degree when I took on a paid summer internship at Apathy is Boring, a youth-led, non-partisan organization that educates youth to be active citizens in Canada’s democracy. Fifteen months later, I took on the leadership of this national non-profit. This was possible because I was asked, supported and listened to in having my voice heard. Placing youth in decision-making roles and involving us in decision-making spaces leads to increased engagement and innovation and allows for intergenerational learning.

Apathy is Boring works to support youth in making the leap from believing democracy is a good thing, to acting on it. It’s not an attitude problem — young Canadians care about issues — it’s an action problem, and one related to how they are choosing to be heard on the issues they care about. Youth are increasingly showing up in informal civic spaces, such as protests and social media movements. They are not, however, consistently showing up in formal civic spaces, such as voting on election day. This will only change when youth are supported, educated and asked to participate in formal civic spaces. Apathy is Boring’s RISE program shows that this is possible — the issue is that it requires capacity and resources to do the hard work of changing individual behavior. We need governments, policymakers and individuals in positions of power and influence to prioritize civic education and youth engagement programs so that every young Canadian can participate and shift towards action.

Caro Loutfi is the executive director of Apathy is Boring, working in a non-partisan manner and on a national scale to engage Canadian youth in democracy. 

Lessen the fear of civic participation.

— Aude Favre, journalist and YouTuber, France

To move from an interest toward real action, I think anger is key. In my case, I was so angry that I could not just lay back and watch the world deteriorate anymore. I was angry at people manipulating the truth online. Angry at politicians doing so. Angry to see that people started trusting ill-intentioned strangers more than journalists. Angry to imagine what my country could become if people didn’t take action. Donald Trump coming into office really scared me. November 8, 2016, is the precise moment that helped me cross that line. It was a point of no return. After that, I decided to create a YouTube channel in which I could debunk fake news and show people what journalism really is about. That was the start of “WTFake.” I am very happy because I know that my work has a positive impact: many people write to me saying that they changed their mind about journalists and thanking me for my work.

Also, getting older makes me realize how short life is. I don’t want to wait to be 80 years old, to realize that I could have made a bigger difference in the world. What legacy do I want to pass on to my children? I ask myself that question everyday, this is what motivates my involvement for an enlightened society. Even if I fail, at least, I want to tell them that I tried my best.

I think a lot of people want to act for good, but most people are scared to go into the unknown, with no guarantee of success. Psychologists call it “risk aversion;” we prefer a sure outcome over a gamble with higher value. I think this is a major problem for mankind. And that is why I deeply believe that public policy should encourage people who are willing to act. Fighting against “fake news” is key, but it is not the only major issue our generation has to tackle. Environmental and anti-racism efforts are very important as well.

Public policies should help people free themselves of their fears, by helping them financially or socially. The world can no longer wait; we need empathic people, inspiring others to stand up. And we need a lot of them — now.

Before starting the YouTube channel WTFake, French journalist Aude Favre worked in TV for more than 10 years. 

Reduce bureaucratic barriers.

— Nanjala Nyabola, writer, researcher and political analyst, Kenya

My work primarily focuses on providing knowledge or information to help people better understand their contexts and ideally help them make better decisions. I think improving the quality of information that people have is a big step towards action.

I believe that so much of the energy that could go towards action keeps getting stuck in bureaucratic quicksand, that people have become so concerned with doing things in the administratively correct way that they don't pay enough attention to getting things done at all. Don't get me wrong, I am not in any way encouraging people to do away with standards or protections that have been created, particularly to protect vulnerable people. These are absolutely important. But I do believe that when people have a passion for social change, they shouldn't have to spend two or three days a week dealing with administration. It might seem like a small thing from macro perspective but if a small school-feeding program has to spend two days doing administration or hiring technical specialists to make sure that they are meeting donor or governmental demands, that's a huge diversion in their capacity. It is important to balance the quest for internal efficiency with keeping the end goal in sight. The goal with everything should be balance, and I think in making the connection between social change and public policy we have veered too much towards bureaucratic correctness and away from objectives.

I think the role of government and public policy bodies in this regard should be to absorb and defuse some of this burden. Instead of passing it on to the small organization or individual, absorb it. Send your accountant to that small non-profit to help reconcile their books. Volunteer your auditors. Build systems where the complexity stays within the larger organization and only the bare minimum bureaucracy gets passed on to the individual or the small organization trying to make a difference. Be willing to modify systems to ease the burden on individuals or small organizations. If we agree over what we are all working towards, we should be able to build systems that work best for the people who will use them, not just for preserving bureaucratic stability and continuity.

Nanjala Nyabola is a writer, independent researcher, and political analyst currently based in Nairobi, Kenya.