It's all about power

What you need to know:

  • The Power Project calls for a new way of thinking about power, and action to build solidarity in social change
  • There is a genuine desire in the social sector to create more equitable ways of working with people with first-hand experience of inequalities. Some attempts are successful, but many more are failing – and experienced as tokenistic or even exploitative
  • As a result, social sector organisations face an existential threat. Alienated from the people they were created to support, they risk losing legitimacy and even perpetuating the very inequalities they work to tackle
  • The new guide, It’s All About Power, will start conversations about power at the very heart of social sector organisations. The aim is to help the whole of civil society become far more than the sum of its parts – and unleash our collective power to create change

The Power Project has been a two-year inquiry, hosted by the Shelia McKechnie Foundation (SMK) and funded by Trust for London, into civil society, social change and first-hand experience of poverty and inequalities. Despite its expertise and resources, the study found that many people simply don’t find the social sector a welcoming or useful place through which to seek change and are choosing to work apart - and this is a loss for all of us because it reduces our collective strength.

The challenge

Change-makers are passionate about what they do and want to get it done, for everyone’s sake. But trying to drive change on behalf of others isn’t working. In fact, it's perpetuating the very inequalities it's trying to address. Learning to work together, in active solidarity, when our experiences, insights and ideas might be very different, is hard – but it is a critical challenge of our time. Understanding power can help.

The challenge facing the social sector is systemic and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This guide shares insights and tools to help you see power more clearly. But transforming power dynamics, to achieve meaningful solidarity for more effective and more legitimate social change, requires a commitment from everyone. Trying to drive change on behalf of others isn’t working.

SMK is challenging the social sector to embrace a new way of thinking about power to create deeper solidarity for social change, and that is where the new guide, It’s All About Power, focuses. Acknowledging that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, this is not a checklist. Instead, it includes tools and suggestions to start conversations that will help shift unconscious behaviours, organisational cultures and structures, policies and decision-making, and how resources are used.

The tools have broad application and can support deeper solidarity with people with first-hand experience of all kinds of inequalities – however rooted in gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation – or to support an analysis of power in any situation.

From the authors

"We’ve learned a lot over the past two years and recognise that building greater solidarity for social change is a continuous process – but one with incredible rewards.

We have had our own conversations about the way that power plays out in many aspects of our work. As a result, we’ve made changes to the way we recruit, our governance, the way we host conversations or approach projects and funding bids.

By stimulating these conversations across the sector, we hope in turn to learn more about our own power and how we can join it with others’."

What's next?

Over the next two years, SMK will help social sector organisations and individuals to explore the ideas in It’s All About Power and what it means to put them into practice. They’ll be supported both by the Foundation and a peer learning group who share similar ambitions, learning side by side.

15 March 2022