Lesson 3: Taking Action

Participants in the Instructor-Led Course:
Before the third class session, please read the materials on this page and complete the assignment.

Click here to watch George Washington University’s Kathleen Schafer discuss

How Do You Bring Change to Your Community?


  • You’ve already identified a problem you want to solve. Now you need to put out your ideas on how to solve it.
  • Next, move from ideas to action! Raise your community’s awareness of the problem and show them that there is another way – that change is possible.
  • Let people know they have a choice. Then start change by guiding them through that choice.

Leadership Principles at Work: Engage your community by giving them opportunities for direct action
In the late 1990s, the Serbian student movement Otpor was trying to gain support for its struggle against the Milosevic regime. However, many Serbians were “reluctant to get involved” because of a history of failed attempts to bring Milosevic down. As Ivan Marovic, one of Otpor’s leaders, said:

What we had to do is to show with our personal example, through small victories, that progress is possible. Instead of focusing on Milosevic and the need for him to step down, we actually did a lot of small struggles on a local level...based on some local problems, and when we managed to win in those fights, this is what increased our credibility, and this is what turned our supporters into active participants.1

By taking action on a local level, Otpor raised communities’ awareness of the problem Otpor was fighting: the Milosevic regime. Moreover, people also started to realize that progress was possible, and that they could work with Otpor to achieve real change.
Read more about Otpor’s leadership...
Watch Tavaana’s interview with Ivan Marovic, a leader of the Otpor movement...

Click here to watch George Washington University’s Kathleen Schafer discuss

Starting Where You Are


  • It takes time to help others through the process of change. Some initial resistance or fear is natural; you must address it in a straightforward way to help people through it.
  • Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your own concerns. This will help people connect with you as a human being.
  • Build from your core out; start with people you know and trust, then enlist others as you go.
  • Through your example as a leader, you can help others get in touch with their own strengths. By empowering yourself, you can empower others.

What to Do:

  • Identify the challenge in front of you.
  • Identify the benefits of the change you want to create.
  • Understand what it will cost us if we don’t change.
  • Use your network to begin the process.

Leadership Principles at Work: Confront opposition head-on
Manal Elnahhas, a local activist in Egypt, is helping lead an architectural restoration in downtown Cairo. However, initially the project met with strong opposition from shopkeepers in the neighborhood; she described them as “completely resistant...because they’re really scared of us and the repercussions of our project for them.” Shopkeepers were afraid the project would demolish their buildings due to their lack of aesthetic value, or that they would be expelled from their stores and not allowed to return. However, Manal decided to directly address their fears:

We held meetings with them to explain the project’s goal and how it would benefit them….After they understood the project, we gained a large number of supporters for the project among shopkeepers, and they helped us finish our work.2

By tackling this initial resistance head-on instead of trying to ignore it or work around it, Manal gained support for her campaign.
Read more about Manal Elnahhas’ leadership...

Click here to watch George Washington University’s Kathleen Schafer discuss

The Time to Create Change


  • What may have kept you from taking the first step to creating change? Identify any fears you have, but also understand the costs of doing nothing or delaying action.
  • Decide what you can do to motivate yourself to get started.
  • Find a partner to help you stay on task.
  • Take the first step!

Leadership Principles at Work: Start now!
Leaders of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s frequently faced criticism claiming that “now is not the time” for nonviolent action against racial segregation. Martin Luther King Jr., in turn, criticized the “strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills,” declaring:

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.3

Instead of waiting for a distant and mythical “better time” to create change, King and the other leaders of the civil rights movement seized the moment to act, and succeeded in bringing about legal change, despite much social and political pressure.
Read more about Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership and the American civil rights movement...


Assignment 3 - for Participants in the Instructor-Led Course:

1. Make a forum post with the following contents:

  • A short, concise statement of your vision that is rooted in your strengths and passion. Try to make it just one or two sentences.
  • A statement of your goal and two objectives: smaller steps that will help you meet that goal.
  • An analysis of potential resistance to your efforts to create change.
    • Who might your potential opponents be?
    • Why would they oppose your particular objectives?
    • What would your response to your opponents be? Remember to identify the benefits of the change you want to create, and describe what it will cost you and the community if this change doesn’t happen.

2. Reply to at least one other person’s forum post to give them feedback on the following:

  • How can they improve their vision statement? Could their vision be stated more concisely? Is it too vague?
  • How can they improve their goal and objectives? Could they be more specific or more achievable?
  • Can you think of additional sources of resistance to their goal? Do you have ideas on other ways they could respond to this resistance?

3. Use the feedback you receive to improve your original post, then post the edited version on the forum.


1 Marovic, Ivan. Interview with Tavaana. March 2010.
2 Elnahhas, Manal. Interview with the Online Activism Institute. 2009.
3 King, Martin Luther Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail. 16 April 1963.


Go back to Part II: Planning.

Go on to Part IV: Team Building!

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