by Eva Shiffer

How do you change the world if you are not in a position of formal power? How do you start a social movement, with nothing more than your passion for change or your disdain for the status quo? How do you ensure your gains aren't just little blips in an otherwise downward spiral?

These aren't new questions, but to many they are currently gaining more urgency, as ordinary citizens around the world try to mobilize their communities to make the change they are passionate about. For all of you good people out there, here are 3 secrets of invincible coalitions. The most powerful coalitions share these characteristics:

  1. Clear on the goal: United behind one enticing, measurable, sexy goal. ONE.
  2. Agnostic about motivations: Allowing people to join you for their own reason - if they share your goal
  3. Diverse in sources of power: Include people whose influence is different from yours

Let's take this step by step:

Clearity of the goal

We all have many different issues we care about and might dream of a once-and-for-all coalition, that works on all of these worthy causes. However, if you want to bring people together to achieve difficult change, you have to keep it simple. Define one goal and phrase it in the most enticing, heart-grabbing way you can find. Make sure you can measure whether you have reached it ("making the world a better place" is a laudable intention, but you'll never know whether you have reached it and will attract a lot of people for whom a better world looks very differend from yours). And, when people want to join you in your strife, insist, that you agree about the goal.

Openness about motivation

So, after you have been really strict and specific about your shared goal, now is the time to loosen up. Let go of your convictions that your motivation is better and purer than that of others and don't send out the motivation police. One of you wants to reduce infant mortality out of religious motivations, while another one sees the quest for a solution as an enticing intellectual challenge that will further her career as a researcher. Well, so what? As long as your are aligned behind the same goal, working toward the same North start, motivations don't matter. I have seen a lot of potential coalitions fall apart or never form because of narrow minded doctrine and differences in minimal details of the participants' motivation. While the bad people couldn't stop laughing. And didn't have to stop laughing and start fighting, because the internal conflicts of the coalition were enough to do it in.

Diversity of Power Sources

Most of us like hanging out with people just like us. We talk the same, think the same, eat the same food, watch the same shows and don't have to explain much to each other because we communicate in the secret language of shared culture and expectations. Researchers hang out with researchers, left-wing environmentalist students hang out with left-wing environmentalist students, church-goers with other church-goers and so on. So it seems natural that you can build the most trusted coalition by locking hands with the people you already know and trust. Unfortunately these coalitions will be as unbalanced as an elephant balancing on one leg. The most powerful coalitions are the ones that unite people with very different power sources: This means e.g. bringing together those who make laws, have access to funding, have cutting edge knowledge, and can mobilize communities.

To do this successfully, you may have to reach out to groups you never talked to, who are in the game for different reasons and with whom you have to slowly develop a shared language and base of trust. But this hard work will be rewarded by a movement which may well be unstoppable.