5 Tips on Starting a Social Movement


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At the World Bank Group, we want to help create a social movement to end poverty and to enhance shared prosperity. But how do you do that? More broadly, how do you start any social movement?

It's not easy. The world is littered with failed attempts. The roadblocks are numerous - including skeptics casting doubt, saying the task is impossible and that others have tried and failed. Why spend time on a futile endeavor? Even if Albert Camus thought he was happy, Sisyphus never did get the boulder to the top of the mountain.

But in nearly three decades of working to fight poverty, I have come to conclude that optimism in the face of seemingly intractable problems is a choice. If your cause is just and you are working in an institution with the means to truly make a difference in the lives of the poor, optimism of the spirit is a moral responsibility.

Here are five quick ideas on helping propel a social movement forward:

  1. Find a cause with a connection to people’s deepest passions about right and wrong, a cause that makes them think about what really matters, about creating a better world for their children.
  2. Identify concrete actions that will push the movement forward. 
  3. Set concrete targets and an end date by which to accomplish the actions.
  4. Enlist partners who share the passion and ensure that the movement is not about any individual or organization. The cause has to be so important that individual and group identities can be temporarily put aside in pursuit of the goal.
  5. Measure progress toward the goal and be relentless in using data to push the movement forward. 

The greatest social movements have taught us that with enough determination and commitment, extraordinary things can happen. All of us share a responsibility to act in the face of inequality, poverty, and injustice. If we don’t act, nothing changes, injustice persists, and poverty becomes more entrenched. I know we can build a movement to end poverty and enhance shared prosperity that will change the world, even in these difficult times.  We can make it happen. Join us by tweeting your ideas with the #whatwillittake hashtag, or by leaving a comment here.

Jim Yong Kim is the President of the World Bank Group.

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Join the Conversation

Ugwuja George
October 09, 2012

Here in Africa, starting up a social movement to positively impact the world is more difficult that starting up a rebellion. Young minds are not encouraged, evil does get very famous because politicians try to buy them with funding. But we the positive minds still insist on making positive change. We choose to follow the right part not because we get support but because we know its the right thing to do...our challenges are there for us to conquer and our values remains long after the success. Therefore, we still insist on movements that will promote Universal basic Education, climate change adaptation plan and food security measures. We must keep the movement moving. Ugwuja George Odinakachi. Founder, Back to School Film Campaign

John Buraho
May 23, 2019

Well done George. as they say, small things grows into big things. the fight can start with only one person but as long as the ideas put forward support are supported by good ethics, no matter how long it take people will realise that its worth supporting the cause. stick on the cause and make it clear and clean enough for them to understand.

Angelina V. Angeles
October 10, 2012

I believe possibilities for starting a social movement are endless. Those who are in the fringes of society generally have a nebulous idea of how to improve their lot, but more often than not no one is available to lead them attain a certain goal.

On the other hand,there are situations, too, when many people want to be a leader. The question is: do you have what it takes to be a leader?

A great leader must be endowed with a sense of justice and fair play, one who is able to gain the trust of everyone she/he is interacting with . He or she must be courageous, or else no one is going to follow someone who is lame and cowers in fear in the face of challenges. One must be steadfast with his/her logical decisions, understands people's problems and strives to find a solution to those problems. A leader assumes full responsibility of the tasks at hand -no matter what the results are, and gives credit to where it's due. Moreover, as opposed to followers who generally stick or simply conform to norms, she or he must be able to go beyond what's expected of her/him. Strong leaders are humble and yet could articulate themselves clearly with effective communication skills. Ideally, one must be endowed with a pleasing personality with a sense of humor, so that when things don't go the way it's been planned, have proved too difficult or gone awry, he/she can keep the spirit of the group and have them stay focused. Being creative and developing fresh ideas, respecting the views of the team members and not mocking them no matter how silly the ideas are, are additional traits of an effective leader.

We know that in this world, some people are born with the innate characteristics of a good leader. Others learn it the hard way, constantly improving their leadership skills so much so that they can lead through any situation, thus gaining the respect and confidence of others.

I've lived in Tokyo for over 35 years but have been in close touch with the economic realities in my native Philippines. There is so much that needs to be done there to improve the lot of the poor. I wished that one day soon I would be able to start a movement that would empower especially the marginalized women and the out-of-school youths.