A Better Changemaker Curriculum

The changemaker space is in need of disruption. Like all other spaces, it has its gatekeepers – those who control our access to opportunities, grants and networks of other people with whom we want to collaborate. Their relative position of power gives their world views, values, and theories of change (all deeply informed by their beginnings, backgrounds, and lived experiences) preeminence. They disproportionately decide what is and what is not a problem, who is and who is not a problem-solver, and the best way to go about solving a problem. It can all be very narrowing and suffocating. Indeed, for some time (a long time), their favored problem-solver has been the non-profit founder with an “S” on his (it is usually a him) chest  swooping into a community that is not his own to save the day.

We can do better than that.

It’s time to do better.

We have a diversity of problems in the world.

We need a more diverse set of problems solvers.

So, how can we accomplish that?

We can begin by designing a changemaker curriculum that’s more accessible and inclusive. Toward this end, the Better Changemaker Curriculum highlights skills traditionally overlooked in the changemaker space like humility, relationship collateral, and cultural competence. Business modeling, accounting and strategic thinking are important (and still included); but, they’ve been demoted. Don’t get me wrong. They’re still valuable. But, if you do not possess them (i.e., you did not major in Business or get an MBA), you can always hire someone who does. On the other hand, being authentic, vulnerable, listening deeply and hearing what’s actually being said by those with whom you work are elemental to social change.

However, before exploring the curriculum, here’s my working understanding of a better changemaker:

A better changemaker is a values-based, relationship-centered problem solver who acts upon their agency to change the world. They are highly attuned to the possible inadequacies of their efforts, sensitive to their role and place in the process of social change, and know that sustainable social change takes a diverse, inter-generational coalition of human beings committed to building a more just and livable world.

Now, let’s talk about the curriculum.  

The curriculum is composed of a mix of tasks that students perform via imagining, manifesting and sharing their work with the outside world, skills they learn in courses, workshops, and other programs, and mindsets they master via coaching, mentoring, and guided self-inquiry.

I’ve developed a taxonomy of these tasks, skills, and mindsets that’s divided into six main categories: Agency, Solidarity, Confident-Humility, Integrity, Self-Ownership and Critical-Consciousness. Each is explored in depth below.


All social change begins as a conversation between an imagined tomorrow and the world as is it is today. You listen, pay attention and envision a new reality for yourself and others. You have the capabilities and confidence in your own voice and identity to act, bring something into being that does not yet exist and assess what you have created according to your values.


  • See the world as it is
  • Imagine it differently
  • Articulate a vision and mission
  • Set objectives
  • Map out a theory of change
  • Put forward a value proposition
  • Assess your skill-set and fill in the gaps
  • Create compelling content, projects and experiences worth engaging


  • Pitching Ideas
  • Storytelling
  • Human Centered-Design
  • Business Modeling
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Impact Assessment
  • Using ICT and Media
  • Marketing (traditional)
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Branding (graphics and logos)
  • Project Management (scrum and/or agile)
  • Budgeting and Accounting
  • Website Development
  • Resource Mobilization
  • Fundraising


  • Beginner: You begin what you want to begin where you are at and with whatever expertise, connections, and resources that you’ve got. And, if what you’ve got is not enough (and it never will be), you bootstrap, DIY, utilize free services, piggyback on pre-existing infrastructure, look for workarounds, and teach yourself whatever skills you need but currently do no have along the way. You have one mandate: begin.


Sustainable social change requires a diverse coalition of human beings committed to bringing forth a more just and livable world. Since coalition-building is about relationship-building, sustainable social change is about building deep, authentic relationships with your team, partners, allies, board of advisors, and the communities whom engage with your work.


  • Seek out others (like and unlike yourself)
  • Share your story with them
  • Ask them about their stories
  • Listen with open-minded curiosity
  • Earn their trust by being fully present
  • Identify areas of shared interest
  • Extend an invitation to collaborate


  • Building a team
  • Building an advisory board
  • Building community
  • Gift giving
  • Power networking
  • Public speaking
  • Evaluating prospective alliances
  • Negotiating effective partnerships
  • Collaborating with local, regional, national and global organizations
  • Calling upon others who are more powerful than yourself
  • Mapping out the political landscapes surrounding your work (who can help and/or hold back your work)


  • Bridge-Builder: You harness your networks, persuade others to join you and stitch together a diverse set of stakeholders into a unified coalition to amplify your agency. Most importantly, in order to realize the change you want to see, a community will have to alter its behavior in response to engaging your work. So, you’ll earn an invitation to meet them and another to work alongside them in co-creating change.


Reality is too complex and interconnected for you to know everything you need to know to solve a problem. Do not be deterred by this fact. Embrace it. Seek out the gaps in your knowledge and become more nuanced and thoughtful in your thinking, more highly attuned to the possible inadequacies of your efforts and more sensitive to your role and place in the process of social change.


  • Become a student of the problem you want to solve
  • Study the interlocking system of rules, regulations, and cultural constraints in which it exists
  • Study its history – What has been tried before? By whom? When? Where? What was the outcome?
  • Investigate its political-economic context – if the problem is solved, who wins? Who loses?
  • Tear off your hero’s cape and become a student of the community with which you want to work
  • Honor their answers to the questions above


  • Saying “I do not know”
  • Saying “I need help”
  • Ego Management
  • Exercising narrative humility
  • Systems Thinking
  • Path-dependent Thinking
  • Thinking in terms of trade-offs


  • Sidekick: You move from hubris to humility by saying “I do not know” and “I need help” to your team, board, partners and the community with which you work. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. However, in general, you act upon the world with others side-by-side. Not top down. You do things with each other. Not for each other. 


You know your “why” and guiding values. You hold fast to them. You’ll have to. Because, social change takes years, if not decades. And, along the way, our status-obsessed culture will spur your ego into undermining your solidarity with others. Our distraction-engineered-economy will conspire with your bad habits and our society’s failure-averse reward system to erode your agency. No matter. You commit to being all in for the long-term and ship your work.


  • Commit to solving a problem  
  • Ship a solution
  • Watch it fall short (it will)
  • Watch it fail (it may)
  • Get knocked down (you will)
  • Separate who you are from this outcome (if you need help with this, which you may, then go see your people)
  • Get back up (you can)
  • Learn
  • Iterate
  • Get better
  • Ship again
  • Repeat, ad infinitum


  • Self-Management
  • Saying “No”
  • Reframing mistakes
  • Self-reflection without giving into your chorus of self-doubt
  • Lengthening your time horizon for seeing results
  • Self-Care
  • Mindfulness
  • Living in balance
  • Emotional Resilience
  • Time management
  • Trouble shooting
  • Keeping promises
  • Stress management
  • Keeping a sense of humor


  • Blue Collar: Changing the world is work. Hard work. It’s a labor of love that’s mostly unglamorous, in many cases unrecognized, and generally modest in its monetary rewards (if any at all). Regardless, you always show up, put in the hours and hustle when no one is looking. Day in. Day out. You pack your lunch-pail, roll up your sleeves, and earn your calluses by doing whatever it is that needs getting done.
  • Tough-Mudder: Creating change is an obstacle-ridden process. There’ll be setbacks, dips and hurdles. You’ll be crawling on the ground, groping in the dark, leaping through flames, and getting shocked unexpectedly by dangling wires. You’ll get heckled. Trolls will jump out at you. Expect this. Welcome this. Obstacles are opportunities to get better. They are the architects of your destiny.


Agency and Solidarity are elusive. None of us ever have a permanent grip on either of them. Here’s why. We humans are largely at the mercy of what we do not know about ourselves. And, since the surest way to change the world is to change oneself, we go on an inner-journey to meet our whispering fears and insecurities. By meeting them, we meet ourselves.


  • Seek out solitude
  • Sit in silence
  • Ask big questions of the universe like: Why am I here? Why is there good and bad? What’s next after I end?
  • Critically reflecting upon the human constructs you have internalized
  • Measure the depth of your submersion into the dominant consumerist culture
  • Question your past
  • Reconsider your upbringing
  • Explore your wounds (hint: it’s where the wonder exists)
  • Critically reflect upon the story of you
  • Be gentle with yourself


  • Being okay with being alone
  • Self-reflection
  • Self-awareness
  • Radical-authenticity
  • Seeing the world as “both/and” instead of either/or


  • Padawan-Learner: You descend into the deepest, darkest, dampest caverns of your interior to meet your Vader. The place where your fears erode your confidence, your self-doubt dissipates your voice, and your insecurities have you retreating into an I-know-I’m-right-me-first-I-want-gimme-mine, take-take-take, self-centered world of isolation. It’s by stepping into and through the darkness that you claim your kyber crystal.  


Unwinding our humanity is too big of a job to be done in solitude. We need others. So, we seek out others, gather in circles together, and do it together with each other through dialogue. With the help of others, we get a glimpse at a better version of ourselves. We help others do the same. And, together, we all remember that the world as we know it is not fixed. It is malleable. We are subjects in the world, agents of change. 


  • Be vulnerable, curious and sensitive with others  
  • Look critically at the world and your role in it
  • Deconstruct your power and position in society
  • Acknowledge any unearned privileges
  • Give voice to any unwanted oppressions
  • Listen to others with empathy
  • Populate others’ lives with the complexity they deserve
  • Patiently sit in the midst of sometimes difficult conversations
  • Accept one another via a process of learning about and from one another


  • Ask and welcome questions
  • Give and receive critical feedback
  • Manage difficult conversations
  • Intercultural competence
  • Know the power of language
  • Diplomacy
  • Conflict resolution techniques
  • Reading body language and being aware of one’s own


  • Peopling: You work with others to overcome all the human designed divides that separate you from one another – culture, nationality, politics, religion and more. Through dialogue, you act as mirrors for one another, mutually revealing each other to one another and yourselves. Together, you move from separateness to oneness with each other.

*Freire P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Company

The Better Changemaker Curriculum is one component of a new project I’m launching called IMAGINE U. Go take a look. And, if you are interested in learning more reach out to me.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn