Those who work to effect social change often run up against questions of sustainability: how do we keep money coming in? How do we find resources for our work? These questions often swirl around an existential question: how do we stay operating in a resource constrained world? In this summary of a talk given by Marshall Ganz at the Global Affiliates gathering of the Leading Change Network, we are invited to rethink what sustainability means. In discussing the work of organising, he shifts the perspective on questions of sustainability from ‘how do we survive’ to ‘what kind of impact are we having and how do we measure that?’ The latter question  keeps the focus on the reason for existence, not just the existence itself; helping organisations consider resources as a means to the ends rather than ends in and of themselves. For any leader concerned about questions of sustainability, this is a must read.

The piece discusses how impact can be measured in multiple ways. Impact is about changes in the world, yes, but also about building real capacity within the people fighting for the change by building organisation and individual leadership capacity. I was first introduced to this approach while a student of Marshall Ganz’s at the Kennedy School of government in 2008, and it has shaped my work in contributing to campaigns for social and political change around the world ever since.

In 2012 Ko Awatea, the innovations arm of the Counties Manukau District Health Board in South Auckland, New Zealand, decided to use this kind of approach to change with regard the mental health and wellbeing of Pacific Islander youth. They launched the Handle the Jandel campaign. I have been lucky enough to support that work, which has gone beyond a marketing approach which seeks to solve problems by more effectively selling services to clients. They have focused instead on how to develop the leadership capacity within the youth themselves, to diagnose challenges and develop campaigns to address them. It’s this kind of work that the article points to as having the potential to shift structural conditions that contribute to the grievances and challenges within a community. For anyone interested in learning more about the kind of impact that transforms people, communities, and society, I highly recommend this piece.