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How does social change happen?

In the story of the blind men and the elephant, we learn that different people touching different parts of the elephant “see” different things. One touches a leg and surmises it must be a tree. Another touches the trunk and imagines that it must be a snake.  Of course, the elephant is a complex living creature.

Social change, likewise, looks different depending on your vantage point.  So, to explore economics system change from multiple vantage points, this webinar invited panelists who hail from community-based economic development, electoral organizing, and group facilitation to be in conversation with each other. The result is a fascinating discussion uncovering both unexpected intersections and areas of alignment.

Our panelists for this discussion were:

  • Sendolo Diaminah, co-director of Carolina Federation, a statewide group that combines electoral work with base-building local grassroots community organizing. In 2020, the group organized its first campaigns in four North Carolina counties.
  • Lela Klein, co-executive director of Co-op Dayton, a nonprofit incubator of cooperatives. Klein was part of a team that engaged in a 6-year-long co-op organizing campaign that culminated in May 2021 opening of Gem City Market, a food co-op in West Dayton, a primarily Black neighborhood.
  • Tuesday Ryan-Hart, cofounder and system change strategist for The Outside, a social change consultancy that helps build infrastructure for equitable systems change and which works with a wide range of groups across the globe in areas such as employment policy, hunger alleviation, homelessness, and refugee assistance.

Among the questions discussed in this webinar were the following:

  • What are leading barriers to changing economic systems, even at the local level? What are some effective techniques for overcoming those barriers?
  • How does one go about organizing a facilitated process to engage in equitable systems change? What are some key questions to ask going in?
  • What does base-building organizing involve in practice? How does it differ from traditional voter mobilization strategies?
  • What are the elements that enable a community to sustain a community economic development campaign over multiple years?
  • What are some examples where organizing has led to major economic changes? What are some of the factors that led to those successes?
  • What steps can nonprofits and philanthropy take to support economic systems change work?



Carolina Federation, Carolina Federation DNA, April 2021.

Steve Dubb, “Carolina Rising: Base Building Lessons from North Carolina,” NPQ, December 8, 2020.

Steve Dubb, “In West Dayton, Ohio, a Food Co-op Heralds a “Black Renaissance,” NPQ, June 16, 2021.

Gem City Market, Annual Report 2019-2020. August 2020.

The Outside, The Big Bang of Equity and Systems Change, May 31, 2018.


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