April 10th, 2017

3 key takeaways from the launch of How Change Happens

On Thursday 6 April, strategic adviser for Oxfam Great Britain Duncan Green launched his new book How Change Happens, accompanied by a panel discussion on the theme of how change happens in a post-truth world.

The book follows Green’s blog From Poverty to Power, and his book of the same name. How Change Happens is both a fitting and practical sequel, based on real and complex case studies of how people work together to bring about positive social change.

Power relationships are central to change and Green focused on the ‘power with’, that is, what we have when we work with others, and the ‘power within’, which recognises our own rights and understanding how to assert them. 

The panellists were Judith Grayley, Member of the Victorian State Parliament for Narre Warren South; Dr Kylie Fisk of the International Women’s Development Agency; Rebecca Wilson, of Australian Progress, and Nkosana Mafico of the Council of Young Africans Living Abroad. Their panel discussion complemented the book’s central themes, and while the discussion traversed several fascinating topics, three key points have been highlighted below:


  1. This is not a ‘post-truth’ era, but a ‘post-data’ one.

    “Fortunately, reality still exists,” said Green, but he also suggested that the Trump campaign showed that minds are changed through emotional appeal, rather than facts, he suggested. NGOs and others need to recognise this by “mobilising the base to sway the middle” and telling stories that elicit a personal response. Kylie Fisk gave excellent illustration of how we need to move with agility between detailed and disaggregated data and effective story telling, and link the two closely.

  2. Personal relationships and face-to-face interactions are key. 

    Yes, even in the era of pervasive electronic communications this is critical. Judith Grayley gave examples of how her multicultural constituency has united and mobilised in the face of racism. Rebecca Wilson spoke of how door-knocking was the single most important strategy in the success of Obama’s two presidential campaigns. Both speakers pointed to the ever-lasting value of face-to-face interaction in changing minds and mobilising for a cause.

  3. The economic and political importance of diasporas is only just beginning to be realised. 

    Nkosana Mafico spoke of the role of diasporas in emergency response, and transfers of finance from diaspora communities to home countries that now far outstrip official development assistance. Mafico highlighted the diverse and rapidly evolving ways that diasporas are now engaging with their home countries and communities, at distance and through direct personal journey and contact. This has big implications for volunteering too.


The central messages of the panel discussion were around the primacy of personal relationships and mentoring to effect change; the centrality of women’s empowerment and networking; and the framework between rigorous data collection and the ability to tell convincing stories of change. These are elements that are central to AVI’s work and guiding principles of sustainable social, economic and environmental change.


For more information:

Read the Devex article Q&A: Oxfam advisor urges NGOs to grow ‘curious’

Read the ACFID blog "This is the kind of talk that destroys academic careers", Duncan Green launches his new book 'How Change Happens'