Change at the Local Level: “Social Impact in the Everyday”

Winner of 180DC Opinion Article Competition: Ryan Lee

Why do we feel so helpless when confronted with global problems?

World hunger. Conflict in war-torn countries. The scourge of preventable diseases.

These are existential, wicked problems that plague humanity, demanding our attention 24/7. There are obviously no simple solutions to these problems, so it’s often tempting as an Average Joe to have the mentality that “I’m not Bill Gates so why should I bother caring?” Then, we totally give up on the concept of volunteering altogether because there doesn’t seem to be any possible impact that one individual person can make to solve world problems.

It’s depressing how often I see this mentality manifesting in the people around me, who endure a cycle of caring about an important issue, then getting demoralised, then giving up. At the start, they are ultra-inspired by a noteworthy and serious global issue and they invest in making a change, dedicating time and effort to this cause. More often than not, these individuals find that they’ve bitten off more than they could chew, feeling like their efforts are “worthless” because the problem simply takes a monumental effort to make tangible change. They then lose hope and motivation in making an impact, and eventually give up on making a change, or even start from scratch with caring about another huge issue.

I suggest that we should leave this pessimistic cycle and instead shift to a mentality of “Social Impact in the Everyday”, which specifically focuses on taking steps to address problems within our local communities. This approach is more accessible, effective, and sustainable than hyper-fixating on global problems. 

Social Impact in the Everyday is Accessible

Firstly, Social Impact in the Everyday solves the access issues that often prevent people from making an impact. Not everyone has the disposable income to go on aid trips or to travel to remote parts of the world for months to help the people there solve their problems. 

Meanwhile, your everyday community is literally around you on a daily basis. You don’t need to look far to find people who need help, and you can easily rally people to solve the issues around you given that they are people in your local community. It could be your technologically inclined neighbour who is technologically inclined, or your friend with a few spare hours every weekend. The human capital already present in your everyday community is invaluable, and it is so immediately accessible that it almost seems a shame not to tap on this.

Social Impact in the Everyday is Effective

Secondly, Social Impact in the Everyday is more effective because you already have a strong understanding of your local community. After living in a certain place for a long time, you begin to observe things that aren’t easily visible through a surface-level examination. You begin to see the dark underbelly in places seemingly chock-full of only rainbows, sunshine, and sparkles. These problems could be groups of elderly who remain uncared for, the poor in your neighbourhood who live in homeless shelters, or troubled teenagers who are about to drop out of school. These are all important problems within your community that aren’t easily seen unless you already know where to look.

As one of the few who are in the know, the onus is on you to act since others simply aren’t exposed to the problem at all. These everyday injustices around you are ones that you are most likely to notice, thus you are most capable of making a change.

With your lived experience of the severity of the situation, you know that intervention is necessary. The public sometimes likes to compare the severity of issues, often acting as if only groundbreaking global issues matter while overlooking local issues that may have simple fixes. For local issues, YOU know and YOU care, which may not be the case for the general public. 

Additionally, you can better intervene because you are equipped with authentic local knowledge and can leverage on relationships with community members that aren’t easily transferable. You know who to get in touch with, which actions will likely elicit the right reactions, and ultimately, what the best approach for social impact would be. Social Impact in the Everyday leverages on your local knowledge to produce a greater impact on hidden issues that the general public might not know or even care about.

Social Impact in the Everyday is Personally Motivating

Thirdly, Social Impact in the Everyday is much more personally motivating. Your instant reaction may be to think this is rather “selfish” because after all, why should people be concerned about whether they feel the benefit of their own charity work? I would like to dispel this notion because if people don’t feel affirmed that their work is purposeful and makes a tangible impact, then they invariably begin to lose the motivation to continue carrying it on. This is why large NGOs often use the strategy of sending pictures of the people your donations go to motivate you to continue donating. With the psychological reinforcement that your actions mean something, you are ultimately encouraged to continue helping those people. 

In your local community, this reinforcement is always going to be present because the people you help are people you personally know, who can easily express their gratitude to you, and you can see your community begin to change and evolve right in front of you. This was particularly evident during COVID-19, when many small community efforts to support the needy resulted in the mobilisation of an entire community, as more and more people were encouraged by each others’ efforts and were more willing to help out. With the affirmation that your efforts are paying off, it becomes much easier for you to feel like your efforts mean something and to stay motivated to continue fighting the good fight.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Social Impact ought to start and end within your community. I’m not advocating for a not-in-my-backyard approach or a hyper-local view on social impact, where we believe that everything outside of my local community is “not my problem”. Instead, I believe that Social Impact isn’t only achieved by major players such as UNICEF or WWF, and that each of us have the power and obligation to help our local communities by adopting the mentality of “Social Impact in the Everyday”. 

Look around you and stay motivated!

Wicked global problems do require our attention, but that is not to mean that community problems around us ought to be ignored, especially when we have the potential to contribute so much more to our local communities. As responsible community members equipped with authentic, personal, lived experiences, we ought to participate in community building and to keep the spirit of social impact alive in a way that is ultimately sustainable and prolongs our motivation to do more. We need to view our community as a permanent “work-in-progress” because while no community is perfect, each of us have a role in building a better future for it.

Keep your eyes open for new problems that may be arising. Have the courage and creativity to intervene and solve problems. Stay motivated and celebrate the little victories as you see your community change before your very eyes.

Who knows? Maybe your community-level social impact project could be the motivation that will springboard you into launching a social impact movement at the global level!

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