Who is a Changemaker?

Above: RADIUS Fellows Sarah Beley, Patrick Lee, Jeff McGregor, and Irina Molohovsky with RADIUS mentor Wes Regan (centre) at Promote the Vote’s 100 in 1 Day urban intervention in June 2015

by RADIUS Fellow Patrick Lee

Who or what is a changemaker? What makes someone a Radical Doer or a social innovator? Is doer even a real word? Am I a doer?
These were some of the questions running through my mind when I heard that RADIUS was seeking applicants for its inaugural Fellowships in Radical Doing program. The RADIUS Fellowship program takes emerging changemakers and accelerates their personal development through workshops, mentorship, and coaching. Over the course of five months, fellows support each other and get an introduction to Vancouver’s social innovation community.
In an effort to answer some of these questions, I turned to Google and found that doer is indeed a real word. Not surprisingly, it describes someone who does things. That being a relatively low bar to meet, I could confidently say that I am a doer. Huzzah! But a Radical Doer? A changemaker? I wasn’t so sure. According to the Fellowship program description, perhaps I was, but there was something about the label that didn’t feel right to me.


Fellows mingle with other Cascadia Social Innovation Train Tour participants at the Oregon Public House in Portland, June 2015

When I applied for the Fellowship program, it was on the heels of starting Promote the Vote, a non-partisan project devoted to increasing citizen engagement through dialogue. Promote the Vote provides workshops on dialogue skills to support and encourage everyday Canadians to dialogue with their friends and family about voting. Dialogue is about listening for understanding and being curious and open to other perspectives. These are practical communication skills that help people find common ground and areas for collaboration, especially when addressing big, complex problems. Promoting dialogue between Canadians about political issues should not be radical changemaking, but sadly real dialogue is sometimes missing from our day to day conversations.
Fortunately, my discomfort with the label changemaker did not prevent me from applying for and being accepted into the Fellowship program. As I attended RADIUS workshops and events, I met many different changemakers from very different backgrounds. From non-profit environmentalists to for-profit upcyclers, and innovative educators to entrepreneurial government workers, I was inspired by the diversity and depth of the social innovation community. The experience helped me realise why I am uncomfortable with the label changemaker. It is not because I do not think I am creating change. Rather, it is that labeling a person or group of people as changemakers implies that not everyone is one. My experience in the Fellowship program suggests the exact opposite – that we are all changemakers in our own way.


RADIUS Fellows Sarah Beley and Jeff McGregor

The belief that everyone is a changemaker is really at the heart of the Promote the Vote project. It is not only the belief that everyone is a changemaker in the voting booth. It is also about everyone’s role as a changemaker in conversations at the kitchen table and the water cooler. Everyone is a leader and role model to someone else in their life and has the ability to create change with every conversation they have with a friend, family member, neighbour or co-worker. I believe that dialogue’s focus on listening, understanding and respect has the potential to transform the way we talk about (and think about) politics in Canada. That transformation begins with each of us recognizing and embracing our roles as doers and changemakers within our communities.
For more information about Promote the Vote, visit www.promotethevote.ca.