What is a change agent (or changemaker, change leader, etc.)?

Definition of a change agent

With every passing generation, every passing decade, even every passing year, more of us are motivated and inspired to help build a better world. We not only want a world more aligned with our values and beliefs, we want to play a meaningful role in making that world a reality ourselves.

This is the era of the change agent.

A 2021 Deloitte report surveying over 14,000 Millennials and over 8,000 Zoomers from across 45 countries found that over 45% of respondents have made choices regarding the type of work they are prepared to do or organizations they will work for based on personal ethics. Over 35% have been a volunteer or member of a community organization, charity, or nonprofit. Twenty-six percent of Millennials and a third of Zoomers said that they had participated in demonstrations, protests, or marches within the past two years.

A decade-long study of 150,000 Millennials by the Case Foundation found similar results. In the report, Jean Case (Founder, Millennial Impact Project) says, “We’ve continued to see millennials seek out possibilities across all aspects of their lives to have a positive impact on society and question norms that might pose barriers to implementing their ideas for social impact.” The study found that Millennials are “everyday changemakers,” striving to drive impact not only through their careers but through non-work-related actions: 

  • 72% of Millennials surveyed voted
  • 70% have based purchasing decisions based on social impact
  • 69% have donated to meaningful causes,
  • 69% have shared content regarding social impact, and 
  • 58% have signed petitions.

Boomers and GenXers are no slouches either. According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, millions and millions of Boomers and GenXers around the United States are showing great concern for social and environmental issues.

In short, now more than ever, we yearn to be change agents (or changemakers, change leaders, or whatever label you want to use). 

And yet, so often that title feels too big, too abstract, or just not quite right for us. We feel we don’t deserve it. We aren’t sure if we have a meaningful role to play in combating the climate crisis, oppression, poverty, authoritarianism, and all of humanity’s other great challenges.

We often think of change agents only as those out at the front of the lines during protests or the CEOs or leaders of paradigm-shifting organizations or the type of person who gives a TED Talk. Or maybe we even afford that title to that friend of ours who is so informed and provocative on social media.

All these types of people can be and often are wonderful, impactful, much-needed change agents. But there are many different types of change agents who make their impact in a variety of roles, at different scales, and at different levels of visibility and acknowledgment. Some are out in front of millions. Some are radical and provocative. Some are incredible visionaries. And, many are none of these things at all. They work in ways that are subtle and often go unseen and underappreciated. Quite often, they have nothing to do with activism. Quite often, they make a change only within small communities or their family of origin.

The low-level employee who inspires and encourages new values and norms at the workplace is a change agent. The engineer who builds a website to organize an advocacy event is a change agent. The young adult who goes to therapy to undo damaging messaging and belief systems from their childhood (and thus prevent themselves from perpetuating it further) is a change agent. The parent who goes to great lengths to ensure that their child is seen, nurtured, and validated is a change agent. The artist who through their work expresses their reactions to the world or articulates the world they yearn for is a change agent.

A change agent is anyone who takes action to drive change in themselves or the world, regardless of their employment status, education, social authority, visibility, age, or role. 

To become a change agent is not necessarily to become more “activist-y.” It’s not necessarily to become more bold and edgy on social media. It’s not necessarily to create or lead an important organization or project.

To become a change agent is to discover and unleash your own unique gifts and role in service to the greater good. And yes, everyone has unique gifts and roles to play in change. Everyone has the ability to make meaningful change in the world. Everyone has the capacity to be a change agent, if they desire to.

This course is designed to help you find and unleash those gifts, to help you understand the meaningful roles you can play in change, and to help you articulate to yourself your deepest purpose in life so you can go out and live it in the world.

You are a change agent, if you want to be.

Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the Executive Director of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, two sons, and cat. Learn more about Peter's store here.

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