Our goal at Virgin has always been to disrupt business to make people’s lives better. We’ve done away with outdated practises and challenged the status quo. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a very worthwhile journey.
Then, just over 10 years ago, we had a light-bulb moment. If we can change business for good, we should be able to change the world for the better. So we launched our non-profit entrepreneurial foundation Virgin Unite, and incubated ground-breaking initiatives like The Elders, The Carbon War Room, The B Team and Ocean Unite.
Through this experience, the serial entrepreneur in me found a new friend: the serial advocate. From working on drug policy reform to wildlife and ocean conservation, from championing LGBT equality to fighting against climate change, I’ve learned so much along the way, which I’d like to share to help others. Here’s my top five practical tips on how to create change.
1. Know what drives change
Positive change isn’t easy to come by. You need to know what drives it. Who are the key decision makers or influencers? Does public opinion matter? Will quiet diplomacy help? What is already being done? I have yet to find two causes that follow the same playbook. Do your research, and build a roadmap for change.
2. Consider the other side
Don’t expect the world to roll over as you campaign to make it a better place. Listening to other perspectives is important. Why does someone feel that treating drugs as a criminal problem is a good thing? Why are people opposed to marriage equality? Before you preach, listen and try to see the world through the eyes of the other side. Playing devil’s advocate is your best strategy to mount an effective response.
3. Keep it local
I strongly believe in the power of universal values, particularly when it comes to human rights. But I’ve also learned another lesson: most change is local. One of the most effective strategies is to identify and mobilise local stakeholders that will own the cause and take action. After all, they are the ones who vote, who inform their communities, and speak to their elected leaders.
Richard Branson microphone media press
4. Don’t make stuff up
Many public debates are plagued by a remarkable amount of misinformation, deliberate or not. What appears like a short-term advantage in the transience of the 24-hour news cycle is actually a vulnerability. Being dishonest and disingenuous will become a matter of record, and it will come back to haunt you. Stick to the evidence and never stop being curious, inquisitive and truthful.
5. Master technology
I’ve been privileged to work with a digital team that understands better than most how different audiences correspond to different sectors of the online (and offline) universe. A post on Facebook, an opinion piece on LinkedIn, a snapshot on Instagram can serve very different purposes. Knowing your audiences, understanding how and where they communicate is not just a marketing skill; it’s the bread and butter of advocacy.
As long as I’m alive I’m going to continue to change the things that I cannot accept – and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.
Do you have a tip for creating change? I’d like to hear it in the comments below.